Planning a Trip to Wisconsin
In 2018 and 2019, I made trips back to my home state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is my home because I was born in Milwaukee and grew up on farms in the southeastern part of the state. I also attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1962 through 1966.
After joining the Navy and later living in Taiwan and Maryland, I still called Wisconsin my home. This, undoubtedly, is because my parents lived in Wisconsin until their deaths and my siblings still all live in the Badger State.
Since 2007, I have lived as an ex-pat in Thailand. Every two years, however, I have been drawn back to my home state.
In this article, I give suggestions for planning a trip to Wisconsin. This includes where you should go and what you should do. I also share personal experiences related to my trips to America's Dairyland.
Where is Wisconsin?
Wisconsin is located in the northcentral section of the continental United States. Popularly known as one of the Midwest states, Wisconsin is bordered by the states of Illinois to the south, Michigan to the north, and Minnesota and Iowa to the west. Lake Michigan is to the east of Wisconsin and Lake Superior to the north.
Why Travel to Wisconsin?
Traditionally, Wisconsin has been a summer vacation haven for tourists from other states and countries around the world. Its many lakes, rivers, forests, and parks attract nature lovers who delight in camping, fishing, swimming. and other water sports.
Scenic pictures of the barns and silos of farms, milk cows, green pastures, and cornfields have made Wisconsin famous as America's Dairyland.
The cities of Madison and Milwaukee also attract a great number of visitors. Beautiful Madison built around four lakes is Wisconsin's capital and also the home of the internationally renowned University of Wisconsin.
Finally, you can not escape the friendly hospitality of Wisconsinites.
When to Visit Wisconsin
Due to Wisconsin's geographical location, you can expect to experience long cold winters and late springs. Consequently, most people visit the Badger State from June through September. If you are not afraid of the cold weather, however, Wisconsin offers skiing on its many hills and mountains and ice fishing and ice skating on rivers and lakes.
How to Get Around in Wisconsin
Travel by personal vehicle is the best way to get around in Wisconsin. There are major interstates that can whisk you to major cities within and outside the state.
If you are arriving in Wisconsin by air, major airports in Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay have major rental car agencies.
Although there is bus transportation between major cities, it is slower and usually will not take you directly to your destination. There isn't much transportation by train with lines running primarily between Milwaukee and Chicago and from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Where to Find Tourist Attractions
Major tourist attractions in Wisconsin are found in the Madison area, at Wisconsin Dells, Green Bay, Door County, and the Milwaukee area. Each is highlighted in this article.
The Madison Area
Madison situated in the southcentral part of Wisconsin in Dane County is 77 miles west of Milwaukee and 122 miles northwest of Chicago. It is the state capital and also home of the University of Wisconsin. As of July 1, 2016, Madison had an estimated population of 252,551 making it the second-largest city in the state.
Built around Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, and Lake Wingra, Madison is an extremely beautiful city. Madison sits on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.
I first became acquainted with Madison in the early and mid-1960s when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin. I lived in dormitories next to Lake Mendota and have fond memories of the lake and UW campus. On many occasions, I took the Lake Path from my dorm to the Student Union which was next to the lake. One time, our dorm had a picnic on Picnic Point which can be reached by walking around the lake. During the summer, students could go swimming and sailing on Lake Mendota.
During my non-class and non-study time, I was often on State Street, the main thoroughfare from the heart of the UW campus to the State Capitol. On State Street, you will find college bars, restaurants, hotels, and apartments for students.
Madison has many parks and Vilas Park is one that I visited many years ago when I was a student. It has a zoo and I believe that the park is situated near Lake Wingra.
An interesting attraction less than one hour from Madison is Devil's Lake State Park. Devil's Lake is in the south range of the Baraboo Range in Sauk County. It is two miles south of Baraboo and offers fishing, hiking, and climbing. My college dormitory once had a spring picnic there in May of 1965.
After visiting Madison, I would strongly recommend making a short trip up to Wisconsin Dells. The Dells are 57 miles from Madison and lie on the Wisconsin River in a region of glacier-carved sandstone formations. In addition to having unusual rocks along the Wisconsin River, Wisconsin Dells has many water theme parks and other entertainment centers. Mirror Lake State Park is also very close to the Dells.
When I last visited Wisconsin Dells with my family in 1978, we took a very interesting scenic boat ride on the Wisconsin River. I remember the boat stopping at one location as we watched a young Dells' employee successfully jump across two rocks five feet apart.
Via I-43, Green Bay is 121 miles north of Milwaukee in the eastern part of Wisconsin. Although it only has a population of 105,000, Green Bay offers many interesting attractions.
For football fans, Green Bay is the home of the NFL Packers. While visiting the city, it is possible to tour Lambeau Field and the Packers Hall of Fame inside of the Lambeau Field Atrium on almost any day when the team does not have a home game.
For non-football fans, Green Bay has a zoo and the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. There is also the National Railroad Museum which has the world's largest steam locomotive.
While still living, my parents liked to go gambling at the Oneida Casino which is opposite the Austin Straubel International Airport. The casino has numerous slots, action-packed tables, and high-stakes bingo.
Lambeau Field Experience
As long as you are in Green Bay, it is worth-while to make a short 40 mile trip up WI-57 N into the Door Peninsula. It lies between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Door County has a long shoreline and many parks. Countless campers each year visit Peninsula State Park on the Green Bay side that is home to sheltered Nicolet Beach. On Lake Michigan, Newport State Park is a wilderness park.
Door County is well-known for its cherries and fish boils. It is also home to most of the relatives on my dad's side of the family.
Door County Wisconsin
No vacation in Wisconsin would be complete without a visit to the largest city Milwaukee. Traditionally known for its breweries, Milwaukee is a port on Lake Michigan located 90 miles north of Chicago. The population of the city of Milwaukee was about 600,000 in 2015 and Milwaukee County had almost 960,000.
Milwaukee holds a special place in my heart because I was born there and lived in Milwaukee County until the age of nine.
I would suggest visiting Milwaukee during the summer months when there are many attractions. The biggest festival is Summer Fest which is held for two weeks over the Fourth of July holiday. It is set up on the lakefront and brings popular entertainment to the public in a carnival atmosphere.
About a month later at the beginning of August, the State Fair is held for 15 days in the western suburb of West Allis in Milwaukee County.
Milwaukee is also home of the National League Brewers and they play their games at Miller Park.
If you visit during colder weather, take advantage of attending an NBA Milwaukee Bucks game or other attraction in a newly constructed entertainment arena in the revitalized downtown area.
Finally, don't miss out on a one hour free Miller Brewery tour.
Facts about Wisconsin cities, counties, and parks are taken from Wikipedia.
The Author's Personal Wisconsin Trip Experiences
After arriving in Wisconsin during the summer of 2018 and 2019, I visited siblings, maternal aunts, a distant paternal second cousin, and did some ancestry research over three weeks.
After landing in Green Bay, my second oldest sister Patty who has a farm outside of Manitowoc picked me up at the airport. I spent a lot of time with Patty and brother-in-law Donnie and they accompanied me on some excursions out of the Manitowoc area.
Since I hadn't seen my only two living maternal aunts since 2004, we made trips to Marshfield in the central part of Wisconsin. I was especially happy to see Aunt Sissy who is now 95!
I then made a shorter excursion to Door County to meet with a distant second cousin. Margie has helped me do ancestry research on the Kuehn family and I was anxious to find out if she had any new findings. Margie took me to visit the cemetery in Jacksonport where my great-grandfather and great-grandmother are buried and also to see Egg Harbor where my father was born.
My other siblings live in southeastern Wisconsin so I traveled first to Honey Lake in the Burlington area to see my youngest sister Connie. I also went to Burlington a few miles away to see my brother Philip and attend a reunion with my old high school football players. Finally, I drove to West Allis to get together with my oldest sister Beatrice and brother-in-law Ernest. This gave me a chance to see a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game at Miller Park in 2018.
In 2019, I returned to my alma mater at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. While there, I enjoyed seeing my old dormitory and fraternity house and doing some ancestry research at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
These were two ambitious trips but I wanted to do them now while I am still in fairly good health.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn