From the Wolf to the Flambeau, from the Wisconsin River to the mighty Mississippi, the state of Wisconsin is dotted with charming river towns, each with their own unique flair!
Here are just seven of my favorites, all of which are recent Discover Wisconsin choice destinations:
Set in Wisconsin’s gorgeous Driftless Area along the Mississippi River, this town of about 700 offers up stunning river views year-round as well as a plethora of recreational opportunities.
During the winter months, break out your tip-ups and ice shanties for some ice-fishing on the river. As for the summer, consider visiting in July for Stoddard Park Fun Days, which includes a kids' fishing tournament, food, refreshments and games.
Another charming small town, Merrill is located on the Wisconsin River in Lincoln County. Here, there are just as many things to do on the river as there are off.
Explore Merrill during the summer months for kayaking, canoeing, boating and more. Return during the cooler months for the Ice Drag Races held on the frozen Wisconsin River every winter. Hop off the river to discover the many local trails in the area, or head downtown to the Merrill Historical Museum for a heritage lesson.
Shawano—aka Wisconsin’s Barn Quilt Capital—is a captivating little town in central Wisconsin. It sits along the Wolf River, where locals and visitors alike regularly partake in kayaking, canoeing, standup paddleboarding and the like. You’ll certainly want to see the 300+ barn quilts scattered across Shawano County.
I recommend doing so by bike to cover a bit more ground while taking in the bucolic scenes and dairy air. After that bike ride, pop in at Twig’s Beverage and Sun Drop University for taste-testing at the sample bar and lots of “Did you know?” trivia.
This Grant County gem is located on the Mississippi River in southwest Wisconsin. Be sure to experience the Cassville Car Ferry as well as Stonefield, where you’ll find a re-created farming community from the 1800s that depicts Wisconsin's agricultural growth during this time period.
Also in the Cassville area is Nelson Dewey State Park, named after Wisconsin’s first governor. (Fun fact #1: Governor Nelson retired to Cassville in the late 1800s!)
Small in size but big in personality, the community of Ladysmith can be found in northwest Wisconsin along the Flambeau River.
In the summer, take in fishing, boating, hiking and birdwatching. In the winter, folks love Fun on the Frozen Flambeau, where you can compete at a toilet seat toss, bean bag tournament, bar stool races and lawn mower races while enjoying live music and much more! (Fun fact #2: This writer now considers herself an esteemed toilet seat toss champ!)
Wisconsin’s second-oldest city and the upper Mississippi River’s oldest community, Prairie du Chien is known for its rich history with records dating back to the 17th century.
The city is located in southwest Wisconsin along the Great River Road, which winds for 250 miles along the banks of the Mississippi River. This National Scenic Byway is known for its spectacular views of geological formations lining the riverbanks and adjacent bluffs.
Prairie du Chien perhaps deserves extra points in the “river towns” department since it’s in this city that the Wisconsin River meets the Mississippi. You will absolutely want to take in the views of both rivers, and you can do so at several outlooks in the area—don’t forget your camera!
Making our way to the Northwoods, Tomahawk is home to some killer sunsets thanks to its position on the Wisconsin River.
This quaint community also boasts an impressive ski show put on by the Kwahamot Water Ski Club. (Fun fact #3: “Kwahamot” = Tomahawk spelled backwards.)
If you’re a motorcyclist, bring your bike during the autumn months for beautiful fall views of the river. This charming river town is all about its natural beauty and friendly people—get Tomahawk on your travel list this year!
Have a favorite Wisconsin river town? Let me know on social media using #DiscoverWisconsin. Happy trails!
Mariah Haberman is the host of Discover Wisconsin, the nation's longest-running travel TV show. She hails from Evansville, where she was brought up in a family of seven in a small farmhouse outside of town. Some of her favorite memories include Lake Michigan fishing trips with her Dad, showing sheep at the Rock County Fair and buzzing around the farm on an ATV with her little brother. Tweet her: @MariahHaberman