With its many lakes and vast woods, Wisconsin is an outdoor wonderland. The families of meeting and conventiongoers can hike, bike, boat, swim or spend their days bulleting down waterslides in the state’s many world-class water parks.
Here are a few destinations that families shouldn’t miss in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Dells has always been known for its beautiful sandstone bluffs along the Wisconsin River, but to meet tourist demand in the area, it has evolved into a vacation mecca with more than 100 restaurants and 90-plus attractions, including more than 200 waterslides, miniature golf, zip lining, a casino and live entertainment at the Palace Theater in the Dells and the Crystal Grand Music Theatre.
Cruise companies take visitors on scenic excursions through the area. The area also claims the largest fleet of amphibious World War II ducks that offer both land and water tours for people interested in getting a closer look at the amazing natural landscapes, said Leah Hauck, communications manager for the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Meeting planners that want to book a conference or an event in the area have 8,000 hotel rooms and 500,000 square feet of meeting space to choose from. If they are interested in their attendees bringing families, many of the largest water park resorts do feature conference centers and meeting spaces, separated from the noise of the theme parks.
“We have a little bit of everything, not just traditional conference centers,” she said. “We have unique venues that we can take you to where you can get really creative.”
Representatives from one of the area’s newest resorts, Kalahari, mentioned that it sees a 20% increase in meeting attendance when families come along for meetings, Hauck said.
The capital of Wisconsin, Madison is on an isthmus. It sits on a spit of land bordered by two lakes: Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. The Yahara River cuts through the isthmus and connects the two lakes to each other.
Madison is very walkable, said Anna Shircel, public relations and communications coordinator for Destination Madison. Most of the city’s meeting and convention space and major hotels are located downtown, off the capitol square. Visitors can walk to beautiful parks and beaches from the downtown area and take advantage of all the wonderful shops and restaurants.
Touring the state Capitol building is free. The 200-foot-tall, granite-domed building is the only U.S. capitol built on an isthmus. Like most of Wisconsin, Madison is an outdoor-centric location with 240-plus miles of bike paths and trails and plenty of opportunities to get out on the lakes to fish, boat, ice skate, ice fish and swim.
Outside Madison, the Sassy Cow Creamery gives families a deep dive into what it takes to run a family-owned dairy. About 20 miles southeast of Madison is Stoughton, a Norwegian town with boutique shops and parks. The Livsreise-Norwegian Heritage Center is a great stop for families that want to know more about their Norwegian ancestry.
Minocqua sits in the heart of Wisconsin, surrounded by 2,300 lakes, rivers and streams and 600 miles of trails, making it an excellent destination for families.
“The outdoors are really kind of the centerpiece of our destination,” said Kailey Barutha, administrative assistant for the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce. “The heart of it is the woods and water.”
Boating, fishing, hiking and biking are popular here. In the winter, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing are king. Visitors can rent all the equipment they would need for a fun day out on the water, including boats, fishing equipment and bicycles.
The area is known for its Min-Aqua Bats show, the longest-running amateur water ski show in the country, and the Fred Scheer’s Lumberjack Show in nearby Woodruff is a must-see for families that want to learn more about the logging industry in the area and be entertained at the same time.
“It’s a very exciting, entertaining show,” Barutha said, with log rolling, pole climbing, power sawing, the canoe joust, axe throwing and the Boom Run, which requires participants to move as quickly as possible across nine floating logs without getting wet.
The area has 544 hotel rooms/condominiums, five campgrounds and 198 cabins. Pointe Hotel and Suites and the Waters of Minocqua are both good places to stay and host meetings. Both are within walking distance of downtown Minocqua’s boutique shops and restaurants.
Bayfield is known as the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. There are 22 islands, most of which are protected by the National Park Service. Families can take a day cruise to the islands from Bayfield, wending past old lighthouses and shipwrecks that are visible through the crystal-clear water.
Kayaks are another popular way to see the islands. A number of local businesses in the area offer guided and unguided kayak tours, said Paige Rautio, marketing director for the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau.
Hiking and biking are popular and a fun way to visit the many waterfalls in the Bayfield area.
The “local shopping is wonderful. It is all locally owned,” Rautio said. “There are no major chain stores whatsoever.” The food is wonderful too, she said, with many farm-to-table restaurants highlighting all of the things that make Bayfield special, including wine bread, a dessert that is filled with fruit and cream cheese, and white fish livers, a delicacy found only in Bayfield.
The Bayfield Fruit Loop takes visitors past the area’s many orchards and fruit farms, where apple pie sticks and apple cider doughnuts are a must-try.
All lodging in the area is locally owned. There are 400 rooms available, many of them in historic bed-and-breakfasts. The Lakeside Pavilion, an old roller rink in the center of town, is the biggest meeting space in town, with wooden floors and rafters and amazing views.
With its many lighthouses, white sand beaches and craggy, cave-dotted shorelines, Door County is a breathtaking destination on Lake Michigan. The area is water-centric, with 300 miles of shoreline, said Laura Bradley, marketing and sales manager for the Door County Visitor Bureau.
There are more than 50 public beaches in Door County, so “no matter where you are staying, as a family, you are never too far away from the beach,” she said. There are sandy and rocky beaches. “You have your pick of what you are in the mood for, and of course, being a historic destination, there are lots of museums they can tour and get a sense of what Door County used to be.”
The area boasts 11 lighthouses, many of them built in the 1800s. Visitors can take a tour and learn more about the area’s rich maritime history. Door County is also known for its 2,500 acres of cherry orchards that draw thousands of visitors in the spring. Visitors who come in the summer can visit the orchards and pick cherries. There are dozens of hiking and biking trails in the area and kayak tours that visit some of the highlights along the Door County lakeshore.
Families can take Segway tours or go zip lining. The meeting options in Door County are extensive, with 40 unique venues, from restored barns and art galleries to libraries, museums and large resorts. The largest meeting space is about 7,400 square feet, and there are 4,900 lodging units in the area.