A big city, a great big lake, many miles of America’s longest river, forests that seem to stretch forever, arts, culture and fish boils — never forget the fish boils — keep Wisconsin on tour operators’ minds.
It’s a big state, with many ways to structure a tour. All of them can deliver elements that are distinctively Wisconsin, whether that is soaking in NFL history, splashing in an indoor water park, dining aboard a classic lake cruiser, appreciating one of the world’s great architects, bending an elbow at the end of a brewery tour or, yes, cheering at the spectacle of a fish boil.
Lambeau Field and Packers Hall of Fame
Can an office replica be a museum’s most popular exhibit? Yes, if it belonged to former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Packers fan or not, you’ll enjoy great stories from the team’s history, which includes 13 world championships, at the Packers Hall of Fame. Visit Lambeau Field next. One certainty: It will be warmer than it was for the 1967 Ice Bowl, when the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in -13 degree weather.
Frank Lloyd Wright Trail
This driving route of approximately 200 miles through nine counties in southern Wisconsin provides an expansive education about Frank Lloyd Wright, often called America’s greatest architect. A highlight is Taliesin, Wright’s home, studio, school and 800-acre estate near Spring Green. In Madison, check out the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center and the First Unitarian Society Meeting House.
The odd combination of a natural wonder — limestone formations and canyons along a five-mile-long gorge on the Wisconsin River — and the human-made novelty of indoor water parks and other attractions keeps the Wisconsin Dells a hugely popular group destination. Combine nature and novelty with a Duck tour aboard an amphibious vehicle that starts on land and drives straight into the Wisconsin River.
It’s no trouble finding a brewery in Wisconsin. There are well over 200, and the state tourism department displays information on more than 140 with tours. Two with high volume and big reputations are Miller Brewing and the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. Tours can involve a lot of walking, but there’s a tasty reward at the end. Bottoms up!
Up and Coming
America’s Black Holocaust Museum
For two decades, America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee was without a viable home, but a new facility opens this year in the Bronzeville neighborhood to take visitors on a journey from 1619, the year the first enslaved Africans arrived in America, to the present. It is both a historical and a memorial museum and was founded by Dr. James Cameron, the only known lynching survivor.
International Crane Foundation
A stop at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo is a passport-worthy excursion because it is the only place on earth to see all 15 of the world’s crane species. The site reopened this year after a two-year, $10 million transformation. Two miles of trails through the rolling countryside complement numerous indoor exhibits that tell you about the foundation’s extensive conservation efforts.
Maritime Lighthouse Tower
Ten-story buildings aren’t the norm in bucolic Door County, which is why the brand-new Maritime Lighthouse Tower in Sturgeon Bay stands out. Start at the top for the panoramic view of the working waterfront, the sparkling Green Bay and the Sturgeon Bay shipping canal. Then work your way down through 10 floors of interactive exhibits about the region’s maritime history, people and industries.
Great River Road
The Wisconsin Great River Road, already a National Scenic Byway, achieved All-American Road status this year, meaning it has features that do not exist elsewhere in the U.S. and is itself a tourist destination. Only three dozen routes have this status. Two other Wisconsin routes have National Scenic Byway status: Door County’s Coastal Byway and the Lake Superior Scenic Byway.
It’s a long way from Wisconsin to Africa, but the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells delivers an African theme along with an outdoor water park, an indoor water park and more than 750 guest rooms. A Kalahari experience makes it clear why the Dells area calls itself the water park capital of the world. Pack a swimsuit.
Grand Geneva Resort
Season of the year doesn’t matter much at the 356-room Grand Geneva Resort. Groups can enjoy spring flower season, golf on two 18-hole courses through the warm months, community excursions on rental scooters, canopy tours, horseback rides and more. When winter comes, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and sleigh rides are on tap. Bundle up.
Door County Fish Boil
A pillar of fire, a plate full of freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish and a slice of homemade cherry pie: Those are key ingredients in a Door County fish boil. Don’t forget the butter, of course. There are almost a dozen group-friendly fish boil restaurants. Among the favorites are the White Gull Inn and the Old Post Office Restaurant. Thank Scandinavian settlers for the tradition.
Dining on Lake Geneva
What’s better than cruising around southeastern Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva to see Gilded Age mansions, forested hills and other delights of nature? Taking that same cruise while enjoying lunch or dinner. The Lake Geneva Cruise Line offers meal cruises on the Grande Belle of Geneva and other on-the-lake options aboard several other boats of smaller scale.
Norwood Pines Supper Club
Dining at a Wisconsin supper club, a restaurant genre that’s difficult to define, would complement any tour. Think rustic setting, friendly staff, massive steaks, shrimp cocktails, pork ribs, relish trays, fresh rolls, cheesecake and good-as-they-get Manhattans. The Norwood Pines Supper Club at Minocqua in the Wisconsin North Woods checks plenty of the boxes. If you leave a Wisconsin supper club hungry, you’re just not trying.
Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty
Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty in Minocqua is ready-made for groups with its 1890s logging camp theme, seating for 350 — all on one level — and lots and lots of food. It’s family owned, and the proprietors brag about the early start their bakers get every day to make mountains of sugar doughnuts, available online if you want to sample before heading to the Northwoods.