Travel Green Destinations: Green Itineraries in Wisconsin

By Carla Minsky
Special to

Being eco-conscious and loving a good vacation need not be mutually exclusive constructs. At least not in Wisconsin, where hundreds of hospitality properties have been Travel Green Wisconsin certified. Here are complete “green” vacation itineraries for four of the state’s most popular tourism destinations. In other words, vacation fun, guilt-free.

Madison – For Urbanites

Here’s a city that effortlessly blends politics, the arts and academia with sports and the great outdoors. All on an isthmus between two lakes we might add. For those who love an urban experience but still want to leave a light footprint, then Mad Town’s the place for you. 

What To Do: Enjoy a show at the Overture Center for the Arts, a contemporary cultural center designed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli. This is home proscenium for the Madison Ballet and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The Center also books Broadway musicals, concerts, national comedy acts, singers, dance troupes, authors, and every manner of performance group in between. Then connect with your athletic alter-ego by attending an event at the Alliant Energy Center. There are bike swap meets, a fishing expo, state high school tourneys, a golf show and Canoecopia. Heck, there’s even roller derby!

Where to Stay: The Hilton Madison Monona Terrace is elegant, comfortable and right in the thick of all the action. Upgrade to a corner room with panoramic view of the State Capitol and Lake Monona. It’s an easy stroll in an enclosed walkway to the Monona Terrace Convention Center next door. Did you know: Frank Lloyd Wright originally proposed a design for Monona Terrace back in 1938 but it took until 1997 for his design to be realized. There are daily public tours for those who want to learn more about FLW’s organic architecture. Another top-notch lodging choice is the Graduate Madisonwhere original art and European décor grace the 74 suites of this boutique-style hotel.

Where to Eat: The Bayou is a New Orleans style tavern where Cajun flavors fill the menu. Try the oyster bar, the classic Etouffe and the dessert beignets. It’s Fat Tuesday every Tuesday here for any mid-week travelers. The manager, who says people know her by her first name Miya, noted that all the food is made from scratch, even the Cajun cheese curds. “We use local fresh cheese curds, then coat them with our special Cajun flour mix. They’re gooey and yummy!” The Bayou is open for lunch and dinner.

Green Lake – Deep and Clear

It’s both village and body of water. Green Lake is your classic resort community, sprung up around the deepest natural inland lake in Wisconsin with 27 miles of shoreline, bluff formations and stately homes.

Where to Stay: Hands down, it’s the Heidel House Resort. Once a private residence, it opened on New Year’s Eve 1945 and has grown quite a bit since. This resort estate now encompasses 20 wooded acres and the guest suites here take full advantage of the glorious lake views.

What to Do: Ease away the stresses of everyday life at Evensong Spa. Particularly impressive here is the indoor labyrinth. Walk the circular path to quiet the mind. Then, to soothe the body, you can’t go wrong with their signature Inner Journey Massage. Why not opt for the 80-minute version that includes a Tranquility Scalp Treatment. There’s a menu just for the guys too.

Where to Eat: The Heidel House has a trio of nifty options. For breakfast, order the Harvest Apple Cider Pancakes at the Sunroom. At lunchtime, head to the BoatHouse Pub for a bowl of Wisconsin potato and cheese soup. Enjoy the new winter dinner menu at the swanky Grey Rock restaurant.

Wausau – So Cultured

It has a feel of the northwoods, no denying that, yet it has an urbane feel to it as well. The lumber industry has long been the backbone of the economy here, but today tourism is right up there too. Translation: Wausau is a Chippewa word meaning “a far away place.”

What to Do: The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, housed in an English Cotswold-style residence, is known nationally for its annual juried “Birds in Art” exhibition that takes place in the fall and then goes on the road. The museum’s permanent collections are also focused on art in nature and primarily all things avian. “We pride ourselves on offering the best indoor bird watching on the planet,” director Kathy Foley said lightheartedly. The sculpture garden here with its bronze and stone sculptures is spectacular all year round, with the installation, created by artist Steven Siegel and titled “Let’s fan out,” a 30-foot-long undulating wall created with 24,000 pounds of recycled paper. What’s even more amazing is that this paper sculpture is expected to stand up to the elements for years to come. Look for snow sculptures to pop up in the winter too.

Where to Stay: The Jefferson Street Inn is a popular amenity-laden boutique hotel in the city’s historic arts and shopping district. Leave the car parked and walk to galleries, restaurants and upscale specialty shops. The Inn is also pet-friendly. 

Where to Eat: Just ask the locals and they’ll tell you City Grill restaurant off the main lobby of the Jefferson Street Inn is the place for cool atmosphere, great steaks, crisp salads, homemade soups and artfully presented desserts.

Vernon County – Room to Breathe

If you’ve targeted western Wisconsin for your next getaway, might we suggest Vernon County in the heart of grand coulee country. Its western edge abuts the Mississippi River and there’s also the very crooked Kickapoo River which flows in all directions of the compass for portions of its length. Geography lesson: A coulee is a deep gulch or ravine. This region of the state is also commonly referred to the “driftless area” because it was unglaciated.

What to Do: Allot plenty of time for seasonal activities at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, a massive 8,500-acre preserve through which the Kickapoo River snakes, bounded by bluffs and high scenic hills. In the winter, you can take advantage of the seven miles of groomed cross country ski trails, or go off trail on guided hikes to the ice caves or do some snowshoeing on your own. There’s also an ice skating pond – the Reserve has some skates to borrow but best to bring your own. Executive assistant at the Reserve Fran Campbell also put in a plug for their annual Winter Fest, held the first Saturday after New Year’s, with lots of seasonal activities to get you moving.

Where to Stay: The Kickapoo Valley Ranch Guest Cabins in La Farge are richly appointed cabins in a rustic setting, a nice juxtaposition for those who love the outdoors but love their amenities equally so. Ask to be introduced to their llamas while you’re there.

Where to Eat: This is actually a two-for-one recommendation. When you stay at the Queen Ann-style Westby House Inn & Restaurant, you will be treated to a gourmet breakfast served on English fine china that really is fit for a queen. During the holidays they also serve a traditional fruitcake topped with Marscopone Chantilly cream – this is a fruitcake you’ll love. The inn’s restaurant is open to the public May through October for lunch and afternoon high tea.

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