Wisconsin hiking, biking, running, climbing and more.
Get out there and enjoy the great outdoors of Wisconsin!
Are you a backpacker, section hiker, or thru-hiker? Are you training for a half or full marathon, or perhaps the IRONMAN in Madison? Do you have a biking bucket list or an annual mile goal?
No matter which of the above categories you fall into, then you’ll be pleased to know Wisconsin has more then 2,500 miles of hiking and running trails and more than 90 bike trails in the “rails-to-trails” system.
Did you know that of the 11 National Scenic Trails in the U.S., Wisconsin has one of them? It’s the Ice Age Trail, a 1,000+ mile trail that traces the last advance of the glacier that covered much of the state during the Ice Age. There are lots of Wisconsin B&Bs along the way, so get to work on achieving “Thousand Miler” status with the Ice Age Alliance.
Other popular Wisconsin hiking destinations include Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, the northern and southern units of Kettle Moraine State Forest in Southeastern Wisconsin, Wyalusing State Park at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, and Timm’s Hill of Price County which is the highest natural point in Wisconsin. There’s also the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in the Northern part of Wisconsin. Make sure Copper Falls State Park, a secluded waterfall hike, is on your list too while in the north.
For trail runners, try the 22-mile La Crosse River State Trail in Southwestern Wisconsin or the 20-mile Old Abe State Trail in Northwestern Wisconsin or the 24- mile Sugar River State Trail in Southern Wisconsin. Any one of those should help with your distance running regime.
Our state is one of the crown jewels in the nation’s rails-to-trails conservancy program, with more than 90 Wisconsin bike trails in the system. These are former railroad corridors that have been converted into recreational trails. In 1965, the Elroy-Sparta State Trail became the first rail trail in the U.S.
Most of Wisconsin’s 41 State Trails are rail trails. Try the Badger State Trail in south central Wisconsin, the Glacial Drumlin State Trail in central Wisconsin, the Gandy Dancer State Trail (in the Golden Age of railroading, workers were known as “gandy dancers” because they worked in rhythm using Gandy brand tools to pound spikes) in far Northwestern Wisconsin, and the Ahnapee State Trail near Door County.
The League of American Bicyclists bestowed Platinum status on Madison as part of its Bicycle Friendly Community Program which ranks cities across the United State, with Madison joining just a handful of other cities to reach this impressive ranking.
Don’t pedal by the hundreds of miles more of quiet country roads that wind through pristine forests.
Will it be the exercise challenge or the stunning scenery that takes your breath away? We’re guessing both.
Wisconsin’s connection to the land plays out poetically in pioneering naturalist Aldo Leopold’s 1949 book “A Sand County Almanac” which chronicled his vision of a land ethic and how caring for people cannot be separate from caring for the land. He wrote it from his home in Baraboo, Wisconsin, which you can still visit, now the Aldo Leopold Foundation, to learn how to be a better land steward in your own life.
Other Wisconsin conservation heroes who have come and gone before us include John Muir, an early advocate for national parks and a founder of the Sierra Club; Owen Gromme, the “dean of U.S. wildlife artists” who brought attention and action to important conservation issues through his paintings; Warren Knowles, the state’s 37th governor, who spent his entire life supporting conservation efforts; and Gaylord Nelson, former governor and U.S Senator who chaired the Wilderness Society and founded Earth Day. Today, there is George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, the only place in the world to see the complete collection of all 15 species of cranes.
Fascinating, diverse Wisconsin wildlife exists in every corner of the state. The Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail brochure series from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is a set of five highway-based viewing guides that offer the best birding and wildlife watching opportunities in the state.
A must for any birder is the Horicon Marsh, the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States with nearly 270 species of waterfowl and a major fall stopping point for Canada geese.
Eagle watching in Sauk Prairie is spectacular, thanks to a section of the Wisconsin River that rarely freezes. Alma along the Mississippi River is known for the nesting ground for wintering bald eagles.
Don’t overlook urban birding, with the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on the shore of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee a stellar birding location thanks to its mix of woodland, grassland, wetlands and lakefront. Climb the 60-foot-high observation tower for a panoramic view.
The Important Bird Areas program in Wisconsin, administered by the National Audubon Society, is a good starting point to map out birding locations, with 88 locations around the state.
One more tip: Explore Wisconsin’s State Natural Areas, which protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin’s native landscapes and provide some of the last refuges for rare plants and animals. There are nearly 700 in all, giving you options spanning spring wildflowers to fall colors. Considering volunteering at these sites while you’re here too.
Wisconsin leads the nation in production of artisan and farmstead cheeses, thanks to the work of master cheesemakers around the state. The Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin organization will back us up on that claim to fame.
There are more than one million cows in the state and more than 90% of the milk produced by said milking cows is made into cheese.
Wisconsin produces 600 varieties of cheese, and that’s more than double the amount of runner-up state California. Cheese curds the freshest form of cheddar and are best eaten deep-fried with a beer batter, in our humble opinion.
Wisconsin won big in the 2018 World Championship Cheese Contest, carting home the most awards of any state, the most awards overall, and the most category awards.
Visitors have been known to plan an entire Wisconsin vacation around stops at cheese factories and cheese stores. No judgement. In fact, we rather like that idea of a dedicated Wisconsin cheese tour.
If you’re a cheese connoisseur or someone who just craves curds, the Artisan Cheese Trail with B&Bs along the way is all you need to know.
Wisconsin golf courses come with a top-notch pedigree that surprises many.
There are some 500 public golf courses in the state, with fairways designed by major champions including Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic and the PGA Champions Tour American Family Insurance Championship are here, and Wisconsin will host the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Perhaps the most important golf milestone took place in 2017 when the U.S. Open, the grandest stage in golf, was contested in Wisconsin for the first time. The venue was Erin Hills in Erin, just a short drive from Milwaukee, and only the sixth publicly accessible course to host the championship, which says a lot given it was the 117th U.S. Open. You can golf Erin Hills plus the golf the two other public courses in Wisconsin designed by the same designers who created Erin Hills, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry - Wild Rock in Wisconsin Dells and Troy Burne in Hudson.
Few would argue that it was the courses of Kohler - Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run – that put Wisconsin on the golf map. The newest course, Sand Valley, Nekoosa, in Central Wisconsin, was named the “#1 Best New Golf Course for 2017” by Golf Digest.
Other noteworthy courses include SentryWorld in Stevens Point and University Ridge in Madison.
Time to tee it up with a Wisconsin B&B getaway that revolves around golf.
Two other golf options, by the way - disc golf and frisbee golf. Wisconsin has nearly 300 public disc golf courses, putting it in the top five in the nation for courses and tournaments. Courses range from compact 3-hole layouts all the way up to 27 holes. Most courses are free.
Ultimate frisbee, on the other hand, is a seven-person team sport played on a football field. In this keep-away game, players move the Frisbee by passing, with one point earned per goal in the end zone. Strategy and athleticism define this sport.
Switching gears from courses to courts, Wisconsin is a hotbed for pickleball. You read that right, pickleball, with major tournaments played in Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee.
For the full-court experience, pack your tennis racquets and play at well-maintained public courts around Wisconsin.
Wisconsin family vacations are known to be legendary, with multiple generations gathering annually at a Wisconsin B&B in the style of a cabin, lodge, lake resort, country house or farmstead to just be together.
Start the day with a hearty breakfast to fuel toddlers to grandparents for the fun ahead. Then settle on an activity, with advice from the innkeeper on what not-to-miss in the area always a good thing.
This is a tried-and-true way to reconnect with each other and the simple pleasures in life.
Our state is known as one of the friendliest places on the planet, so it should come as no surprise that there are Wisconsin pet-friendly cabins to accommodate the entire family, Fido included.
Ask your innkeeper for recommendations on pet-friendly parks in the community, pet-friendly beer gardens and al fresco dining spots, pet boutiques with toys and treats, even festivals with pet participation.
As the Wisconsin Department of Tourism likes to say, pets are welcome in Wisconsin and they can bring their owners too if they like!
Wisconsin’s brewing heritage is the stuff of legends. Records of the state’s earliest breweries date back to the 1830s when German immigrants brought their knowledge of brewing techniques to the state. By the Civil War, there were nearly 160 Wisconsin breweries.
The titans of beer – think family names including Pabst, Miller and Schlitz – helped Milwaukee earn the unofficial title as “the beer capital of the world.”
Many of the oldest still operating breweries in the U.S. are right here in Wisconsin. Along with Pabst Brewing Company which dates to 1844 and Miller Brewing Company which opened in 1855, there’s also Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe which opened in 1845, Stevens Point Brewery founded in 1857, and Leinenkugel’s which opened in the Chippewa Valley in 1867.
The beer scene in Wisconsin has come full circle with many cities and towns once again having at least one local microbrewery, with many of those artisan breweries sourcing locally for ingredients.
While beer is king in Wisconsin, the wine landscape is nothing to sniff at, unless you’re taking in the aroma of a fine Wisconsin wine made with cold-hardy grapes before enjoying a sip. Would you be surprised to learn there are 100+ Wisconsin wineries, with Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac dating to the early 1840s when Hungarian nobleman Agoston Haraszthy discovered the sloped land of the Wisconsin River Valley and planted grapevines. In December 1849 he followed the gold rush to California and is considered one of the fathers of the California wine movement.
We mustn’t leave out distilled spirits either, as the craft cocktail craze is only gaining in popularity in Wisconsin and across the country. With the Old Fashioned Wisconsin’s unofficial state drink, you can be assured brandy tops the list of choices at many distilleries, with whiskey a contender too.
Two more Wisconsin-made libations to quench your thirst and satisfy your taste buds – hard cider and mead.
A Wisconsin bed & breakfast vacation is restful and restorative by its very nature. Now add in B&Bs with spas right on-premise, inns with massage therapists, properties that partner with local spas, inns with labyrinths, places that host yoga classes and meditation retreats, even locations for forest bathing, and transformative travel is well within your reach as you plan Wisconsin spa getaways for yourself and the most important people in your life.
Wellness tourism is one of the fastest growing pursuits around the world, not surprising given the stresses of modern life. Basic human needs like being in nature, knowing where your food comes from, getting a good night’s sleep, and making time for the people most important in your life can often be addressed with a B&B getaway.
Condé Nast Traveler Magazine and Travel + Leisure Magazine have recognized Wisconsin spas including Sundara Spa in Wisconsin Dells, Kohler Waters Spa in Kohler and Aspira Spa in Elkhart Lake with their prestigious readers’ choice awards. Edgewater Spa in Madison, Well Spa in Lake Geneva and Evensong Spa in Green Lake are sanctuaries from stress too. With Wisconsin inns nearby all these, you can enjoy rejuvenating spa treatments, and then retreat to your B&B to keep that spa glow going.
While traditional massage and facials top the list of most popular spa treatments, there is growing interest in healing energy therapies such as Reiki and Ayurvedic spa treatments including reflexology.
For yoga, you choose – hot yoga, power yoga, aqua yoga, aerial yoga, hatha yoga, yin yoga, restorative yoga and more.
Guided meditation and mindfulness are the mainstream now, and it’s about time, given the many documented benefits.
Have you taken stock of your well-being lately?
Silent sports are pure joy in Wisconsin. Turn your gaze to the water on any given spring, summer or fall morning and you’ll see people gliding across mirror surfaces on kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard.
One of the most spectacular places for Wisconsin kayaking is the ancient sandstone sea caves of Lake Superior, the largest and most pristine of the Great Lakes. It’s here you’ll also find the Apostle Islands archipelago, a string of 22 islands plus a 12-mile segment of shoreline comprising the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The other Great Lake, Lake Michigan, is popular for charter fishing, to be sure, but also sailing, especially along the Door County peninsula.
The largest inland lake is Lake Winnebago, where boating and fishing are part and parcel of the warm weather lake culture.
Wisconsin’s stretch of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road provide scenery second to none, with lots of Wisconsin B&Bs dotting the road map. Enjoy a river cruise on the La Crosse Queen. Take the Cassville Car Ferry, one of the few operating car ferries on the Upper Mississippi River.
Essentially, you’ve not really vacationed in our state unless you’ve gotten out on the water, starting with a Wisconsin kayaking trip.
WANT TO GET MARRIED AT A WISCONSIN B&B?
THE STATE’S B&B ASSOCIATION SAYS THESE INNS ARE PERFECT FOR YOUR I DO’S
The bed & breakfast industry already has a sweet reputation for catering to couples in love. Think charming inns, whether historic or contemporary, quiet breakfasts, manicured gardens, and bedrooms with ensuite baths appointed with high-end linens and comfy featherbeds. So it’s only natural that innkeepers would expand on the romantic appeal of their properties with forays into the destination wedding business. The Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association informally surveyed its member inns to see which innkeepers really love hosting weddings, as evidenced by having a wedding planner on staff, officiating the ceremony themselves, or even baking the wedding cakes. For more romantic B&Bs, search by amenities that include weddings, elopement and honeymoons.
When winter weather spans a good number of months, you find ways to enjoy it. That holds especially true in our state where Wisconsin ski resorts and snow sports are more popular than ever. The state has 700 well-groomed cross-country ski trails and more than 250 snowshoe trails.
Let’s start with the cross-country category. Along with conventional daytime routes, there are lighted trails that help extend your options and candlelight ski events that have become so popular the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has real-time updates so you know when events are filling up.
The American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race, which starts in Cable and meanders to a finish line in Hayward, is the largest race of its kind in North America and ranks among the top three in the world. Racers can choose the classic ski race with skiers staying in tracks and that’s 55 km, or the skate course that has skiers creating an “x” when pushing off like speed skaters do and that clocks in at 50 km.
State parks with pristine cross-country ski trails include Lapham Peak near Milwaukee, Mirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells, Willow River near Hudson, the Brule River State Forest in Brule, Copper Falls State Park near Ashland, and Kettle Moraine State Forest near Greenbush. A popular Nordic ski center is Minocqua Winter Park with 80+ km of groomed trails. In Green Bay, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary has groomed flat trails ideal for beginners.
For downhill skiers, try the 1950s-era Trollhaugen Outdoor Recreation Area in Dresser in the northern part of the state or the ancient Penokee Range at Whitecap Mountains in Upson with views of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. In central Wisconsin, Granite Peak at Rib Mountain State Park in Wausau has 75 runs spread out over the face of this 700-foot mountain, the tallest mountain in Wisconsin, made of a single chunk of quartzite that dates back two billion years. In southern Wisconsin, Cascade Mountain and Wilmot Mountain have both plowed millions into improvements over the last few years.
Snowshoeing is another terrific snow sport option. It’s a great workout, doesn’t require a tone of technical equipment and can be enjoyed in county and state parks and often right on the properties of Wisconsin B&Bs.
To really get the heart pumping, try fat biking on frozen lakes and snowy trails. You might say Wisconsin serves up the perfect storm for this sport – a warm and welcoming bike culture, great trails, and a love of the outdoors that doesn’t drop off when the temperatures do.
For the romantic in all of us, ask your innkeeper about horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Never tried ice fishing? Wisconsin B&B owners can hook you up with gear and guides and maybe even a toasty warm ice fishing shanty.
One final tidbit: The first snowmobile sled was invented in Wisconsin by Sayner resident Carl Eliason. Today, the state has 25,000 miles of snowmobile trails and Eagle River is “The Snowmobile Capital of the World.”