We’ve got charm in spades here in Wisconsin, with tons of delightful, quaint small towns that each offer something different and are just begging to be explored. Whether you’re searching for a day or weekend trip, you can’t go wrong with any of these great small towns. Most every one of them boasts a nearby park or trail you can explore as well as a charming downtown to stroll. In no particular order, here are 15 small towns in Wisconsin you should plan to visit this summer:
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Chippewa Falls
There's a little something for everyone in Chippewa Falls. Sure, most people know it because of Leinenkugel's, but there's a beautiful, charming downtown, Lake Wissota and the breathtaking views it provides, biking the Old Ave State Trail and more. Get a stellar meal with a view from the restaurants all around the lake or try one of the awesome, retro, throwback places all around town. High Shores Supper Club is really not to be missed.
2. New Glarus
Another city that's so much more than the brewery that's helped make it famous. Plenty of towns can claim to be charming, but New Glarus has it in spades. People are welcoming and friendly, downtown is chock full of cute little shops, including a stellar cheese store and there's more Swiss Heritage here than pretty much anywhere else in the US. Nearby New Glarus Woods is a great place to get outdoors. And the restaurants here are beyond good. One of my top five meals ever was a breakfast at Cow and Quince.
You might only think of the circus when you think of Baraboo, but if the last time you were here was a day trip from the Dells as a child, it's time to head back. Sure, the winter home of the RIngling Bros. does still have the Circus World Museum, but there's also Devils' Lake State Park, the International Crane Foundation and the Leopold Center. The Al Ringling Theater has been restored and it not to be missed. Con Amici Wine Bar is a great place to unwind.
Most well-known for the state's biggest flea market, Princeton sometimes gets hung with a "discount" image that couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, you can find amazing things at the flea market, but there's also great antiquing here, plus a plethora of modern stores as you stroll downtown. They also love a festival here and have one celebrating flinging rubber chickens.
5. Mineral Point
What was once a thriving mining community of immigrants from the Cornwall area of England is now a delightful arts community. There's still plenty of history to see and experience here and the pasties are still delicious. It's in a gorgeous part of the state with rolling hills and plenty of outdoor activity.
6. Prairie du Chien
One of Wisconsin's oldest cities, Prairie du Chien is a great place to visit in the summer for the bird watching along the river - especially the bald eagles. The city itself is set on a bluff above the Mississippi River and was an important trading stop in our country's early years.
Corny, as they like to call themselves, is my favorite little town up along the shores of Lake Superior. They don't take themselves very seriously and are a town of folks who brave this part of the state year round. It's not as overrun with tourists in the summer as a few other places up here and of course, it's nice and close to Lost Creek waterfall and Siskiwit Waterfall. It's a no-nonsense northern Wisconsin town that has a charm all its own.
The cranberry capital of the state certainly pulls people in for Cranberry Fest in September, but it's a great place to visit the rest of the summer, as well. An outdoor dream, the marshes make for great kayaking and canoeing. there are great ATV trails and tons of hiking. With just 400 year-round residents, this place is a tiny town with a big reputation and they live up to it.
9. Two Rivers/Manitowoc
If you've never driven along Lakeshore Drive up to Manitowoc and Two Rivers, you've missed some of the prettiest driving in the whole state. Two Rivers sometimes gets overshadowed by it's slightly larger nearby friend in Manitowoc, but this little fishing village is a delightful place to spend the day. Both areas have tons of waterfront access and paths and there are a few lighthouses to explore. Manitowoc has a bunch of beautiful hand-painted wall murals and even if you think it's not your thing, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum is worth a visit. Try to go during one of their many special events and make sure to spend time talking to the vets who volunteer there - our sub tour was so enhanced by the men who shared their stories with us.
10. Elkhart Lake
Most well-known for nearby Road America, Elkhart Lake is a bit of a study in contradictions. If you've never been to a race, make plans to do so soon. It's an experience unlike any other and we're so lucky to have it so close. The town itself has all the appeal of a northwoods lake town - summer life is focused on the water. Everything here is walkable, but with nearby access to the Kettle Moraine, you might want to bring your bikes and see the area that way.
This area of the state is too often overlooked, but it's a lovely area with rolling terrain and a lot of history. A visit to Potosi Brewery is worth it for the brewing history museum. Stay for lunch at the pub - the food is spectacular. The city has been building up in recent years and it's a fun, walkable area set down in a valley.
Stockholm might well be the most adorable town in all of Wisconsin. It's literally picture perfect and looks like something out of a book or movie. For such a small town, they've got some of the best food and drink in the state. Head to A to Z Produce and Bakery for pizza on the farm or to Vino in the Valley for some delicious wine in the most spectacular setting. Maiden Rock cidery is making some of the most drinkable cider in the state. Stockholm sits above Lake Pepin, the widest part of the Mississippi River. Maiden Rock Nature Preserve offers awesome hiking and a stellar view out over the bluffs and river. There's also a 700-foot stone pier that goes out into the river.
13. Port Washington
A perfect, easy day trip for folks in Milwaukee, this fishing village is a perfect place to park the car and stroll where you may. Go early and with an empty stomach so you can start your day at Daily Baking Company. Take your little ones for a tea party at Baltica Tea Room. Or just stroll the quaint downtown and take in the beautiful, tree-lined streets and stunning water views.
In the 1980s, Cambridge was the epicenter of salt-glazed pottery in the country and that helped set them up as a destination for artists and art-lovers. There's a killer park system and delicious farm-to-table food.
Whenever I want an unusual present or one-of-a-kind gift, I head to Cedarburg's Washington Ave. There's blocks of quirky shops carrying all of the things you never knew you needed. It runs right along a creek and has one of the only covered bridges left in the state. The converted mill has been transformed to a winery and there's also a brewery with a great patio right on the water.