It doesn’t matter if your kids are toddlers or teens, Wisconsin is a destination for the family’s Best. Vacation. Ever.
Check out this original article in the Wisconsin Travel Guide for more travel inspiration!
Outdoor Adventure for the Whole Family
Beautiful Door County is a favorite for families. At a remote part of this peninsula, in Newport State Park, you’ll find a US International Dark Sky Park. On a clear night, pack blankets, chairs and flashlights, find a spot in the grass, and then just lay down and look up. Time stops when families point up at the cosmos, swapping stories under the Milky Way, planets, shooting stars, and in rare instances, the colorful Northern Lights.
From shipwrecks to towering lighthouses, the sights on a Door County boat tour will be something all members of your family will remember for a long time to come. These small-group tours take you along the scenic coastline, slowly floating through limestone caves and providing a fun lesson on the area’s history.
Scientific studies show that nature is beneficial to a child’s development (and reduces parents’ stress levels), which are both excellent reasons to go hiking in the Badger State’s bucolic countryside and parks. Some of the hiking trails are leafy and cavernous, maybe with a small waterfall or scenic overlook onto a lake. Others keep young trekkers engaged with manmade wonders, such as the giant rusted metal dinosaur sculptures in Jurustic Park in Marshfield.
Art sculptures, some climbable, also dot the trails in the 20-acre Stevens Point Sculpture Park and the Green Circle Trail, near Stevens Point. Kids get excited when they round a corner and discover another sculpture among the trees. The sculpture park connects to the Green Circle Trail, a lovely river-adjacent route for longer hikes and bike rides. For an easier hike, try the half-mile trail at Cave Point County Park in Door County, a place so pretty that it’s a popular wedding site. The trail will take you past birch, maple and beech trees to the limestone cliffs along Lake Michigan’s rocky shoreline. The trail links up with the adjacent Whitefish Dunes State Park, where kids — and their adult companions — can roll, slide and play together in the sand dunes.
Family Fun on the Farm
Kids get giggly when they pet goats, feed piglets and frolic in pumpkin patches. Hinchley’s Dairy Farm in Cambridge does all that but with an added twist — it gives guided tours of its real, working farm, explaining how the business operates and cares for its animals. At the end, everyone gets a chance to milk a cow!
Cow’s milk is used to make cheese, Wisconsin’s most famous food. That homemade cheese has spurred a new crop of “pizza farms” across the state. These trendy farms are more than just a pizza dinner, they’re an experience. A ride through the scenic, hilly Norwegian Valley leads to The Stone Barn pizza farm in Nelson, built in 1896 alongside a pretty pond. There, share a custom-made pizza loaded with fresh cheese, picked-from-the-garden herbs and other fresh, locally grown ingredients. They’re cooked in an outdoor, wood-burning oven, and eaten at tables and picnic benches set out across the property. After dinner, kids can run around in the open fields and go for a scoop of ice cream while the adults sip on local craft beers or wine, and maybe pop into the on-site antique shop.
Wisconsin’s locally made cheese is sold in just about every retail store statewide. In restaurants, make sure kids try some Wisconsin cheese curds — little deep-fried cheese chunks. A popular off-the-highway stop to buy and sample Wisconsin cheese is Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha. The mall-like space has a restaurant and a fun-to-browse gift shop with triangular, yellow “cheesehead” hats, a popular accessory for Green Bay Packers football fans. Speaking of “the Pack,” sports-loving families should squeeze in a visit to the Packers’ historic stadium, Lambeau Field, if not for an actual game, then a behind-the-scenes tour of this national sports landmark.
Awe-Inspiring Islands, Caves & Castles
The 22 Apostle Islands above the state’s northern edge — an area referred to as “Up North” — are one of the state’s most beautiful places. While it takes more than just a drive and a hike to see them, the Apostle Islands sea and ice caves are worth the effort to experience. Waves and erosion from Lake Superior have carved out reddish-brown sandstone arches, caves and caverns on several of the islands, which you can explore by boat or kayak, followed by a hike. An added bonus: Some cave tours reveal a bit about the culture of the islands’ original inhabitants, the Native American Ojibwe people. Make sure to check ahead before heading toward the islands, as weather sometimes closes access to the caves.
The only way to see the limestone sea caves at Cave Point County Park in Door County is to kayak out to them. Since the wind and weather can make the water a bit choppy, exploring these hidden gems is a fun challenge for families with older kids, and it’s best to go with a guide like Cave Point Paddle and Pedal.
Weather is never an issue at Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, the state’s longest underground cave. Descend 70 feet below ground to see thousands of pointy stalactites and stalagmites, and learn about geology, biology and conservation. Once back above ground, kids love to pan for “gems” or challenge their parents to a round on the Tee-Rex mini golf course.
What about visiting Wisconsin with the kids when the weather is cold and snowy? Don’t miss it! Winter is an ideal time to go through the spectacular, freshly carved and colorfully lit Ice Castles in Lake Geneva. It’s like stepping into Queen Elsa’s palace, and you’ll watch the awestruck wonder play across your kids’ faces. Winter sports are also huge, from downhill skiing at one of the ski mountains to snowmobiling, snowshoeing or ice fishing in the Northwoods by St. Germain.
Unique and memorable activities are scattered across the state, but perhaps one of the most famous family attractions is Wisconsin Dells, rightfully known as “The Waterpark Capital of the World.” Each of the more than 20 — yes, 20! — indoor and outdoor waterparks are epic, and loaded with colorful waterslides, exhilarating bowl drops and lots of out-of-water family activities, too.
While you may choose the role of spectator as your kids zip down a high-speed, 60-foot-high waterslide like the Screaming Hyena at Kalahari Resort, take comfort in knowing there are plenty of peaceful rides to enjoy together, too, such as floating along a lazy river.
A new slide, ride or attraction debuts nearly each year at “the Dells.” Among the recent additions, Chula Vista Resort launched Ultimate Rush, a ride that slingshots you 15 stories into the air, and Soar Like an Eagle, a dual-racing zip lining course — the longest in the country — which runs along the Wisconsin River.
Can families find awe-inspiring fun in Wisconsin year-round? The answer is a phrase you’ll hear a lot in Wisconsin: You betcha! And if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out these trip ideas.