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Outdoors in Wisconsin

Wisconsin may be known for its farmland and chilly winters, but the abundance of natural beauty and year-round outdoor activities in this state may surprise you.

Shaped by glaciers and surrounded on two sides by Great Lakes, Wisconsin’s varied terrain offers groups a variety of scenic landscapes to explore. From hiking the bluffs to kayaking around the state’s islands, groups looking to enjoy nature and get a little taste of adventure can head to these areas around Wisconsin.

 Lake Geneva

Named for Geneva Lake, one of the area’s three nearby lakes, Lake Geneva is a popular resort city halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago with plenty to see and do for groups looking for a little fun outdoors. It’s known for its historic homes boasting unique architecture that surround the lake, as well as several distinct attractions that keep visitors coming back for generations.

“It’s got a lot of attractions and amenities and natural resources available to anybody to enjoy that keep people coming back,” said Deanna Goodwin, marketing director at Visit Lake Geneva.

The Geneva Lake Shorepath, a 26-mile trail around Geneva Lake, is one of the city’s premiere attractions that showcases the city’s history and natural beauty. It’s open year-round for groups to walk and offers gorgeous views of the lake and the historic homes surrounding it. Groups can also experience the lake with a boat tour through the Lake Geneva Cruise Line.

At the Adventure Center, in the Grand Geneva Resort, groups can hike, bike, play disc golf and take archery classes during warmer months. In the winter, the center turns into a hub for winter sports and activities, such as skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

Groups looking for a bit of adventure can zip line through the forests surrounding Lake Geneva. In addition to nine zip lines, the property features ropes courses, skybridges and climbing walls.

One of the city’s most unusual outdoor attractions is Safari Lake Geneva, a conservation park that features exotic animals such as giraffes, zebras and water buffaloes. Groups have the opportunity to view these animals up close as they tour the park in their vehicles for their own safari experience.

La Crosse

Most of Wisconsin’s land was leveled by glaciers, except for a small area in the southwestern portion of the state known as the Driftless Area. La Crosse, a city bordering the Mississippi River, falls in this region, giving it a somewhat different landscape compared with the rest of the state.

“Being in that Driftless Area, we have so much natural beauty with being surrounded by the bluffs and having the Mississippi River essentially in our backyard,” said Ben Morgan, director of group sales and sports services at Explore La Crosse.

The area’s rugged terrain and proximity to the river offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun for groups. One major attraction is a riverboat tour of the city on the La Crosse Queen, the city’s historic paddle-wheeler, where groups can learn about the city’s history and enjoy the natural beauty of the Mississippi River. Groups can paddle on the river’s backwaters or any of La Crosse’s numerous waterways.

Back on land, groups can hit the scenic trails, have a picnic or simply enjoy the view at Riverside Park, situated right next to the Mississippi. For a gorgeous view stretching into three states, groups can check out Grandad Bluff, the tallest of the bluffs in the region, which overlooks La Crosse. It offers a park, hiking trails and shelters for groups to gather. Nearby Goose Island County Park offers an excellent place for groups to enjoy nature, see wildlife, fish, canoe or kayak. La Crosse is also an excellent city for bikers, offering plenty of bike rentals and trails for all levels of experience.

Stevens Point

Located in central Wisconsin, Stevens Point is known as a hot spot for outdoor recreationalists. The city’s vibrant arts scene and urban feel combined with its easily accessed and abundant outdoor activities make it an excellent stop for groups year-round.

“It’s that connection from both the outdoors to the creative, entrepreneurial spirit of the community that gives it that extra life,” said Melissa Sabel, director of marketing for the Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

One of the area’s most renowned features is the Green Circle Trail, a 27-mile scenic hiking and biking trail that loops around Stevens Point and connects many of its other outdoor attractions. It starts in the Schmeeckle Reserve, a 280-acre nature preserve, where groups can hike trails, learn about the area’s wildlife in the visitor center and rent gear such as bikes, snowshoes and skis. Attached to the Green Circle Trail is the Stevens Point Sculpture Park, a popular attraction where groups can walk a half-mile trail and see over 40 unique sculptures. Guided tours are available, but groups can also explore the 20-acre park at their leisure. Nature enthusiasts can head to the George W. Mead Wildlife Area to check out the habitats of Wisconsin’s diverse wildlife.

Despite the city’s inland location, there’s no shortage of activities for groups on the water. Lake Joanis in the Schmeeckle Reserve and the Tomorrow River serve as excellent spots for kayaking and canoeing. Groups can also try their hand at fly-fishing on the Wisconsin River or Lake DuBay.

Seasonal activities for groups in the Stevens Point area include horseback riding at the Wild West Campground and Corral during warmer months and harvesting grapes in the early fall at the Rock Ridge Vineyard. In late summer, groups can head to Sopa Fairview Farms for a picturesque walk through a sunflower field.

Door County

Door County comprises a peninsula in Lake Michigan and Washington Island, giving it nearly 300 miles of shoreline and a beautiful natural landscape for visitors to explore. It’s well known in Wisconsin as a place to enjoy nature, making it a great choice for groups looking to spend time outdoors.

“Because our peninsula is 80 miles long, there’s such a wide variety of things to do,” said Laura Bradley, senior marketing and sales manager at Destination Door County.

Door County is famous for its collection of lighthouses and lookout towers, and many are open to the public for tours. In Peninsula State Park, groups can tour Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. They can also enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the coast from Eagle Tower. At the Ridges Sanctuary, a nature preserve in Bailey’s Harbor, groups can take guided hikes or cross-country ski in the winter.

Door County also offers a wide range of scenic boat tours for groups to get better acquainted with the peninsula, ranging from lighthouse tours and sunset cruises. For a more hands-on adventure, they can explore the county’s lighthouses, caves and shipwrecks with a kayak tour.

It takes only a short ferry ride to Washington Island for groups to experience even more of the region’s natural beauty. In the late summer months, they can take a stroll through the island’s expansive lavender fields. They can also check out the island’s famous Schoolhouse Beach, one of the few smooth-rock beaches in the world.

Apostle Islands

One of Wisconsin’s most unusual areas is the Apostle Islands, a collection of 22 islands in Lake Superior and 12 miles of shoreline on Wisconsin’s northern coast. What sets the Apostle Islands apart is its rich history and stunning scenery, which are bound to awaken the inner explorer in every visitor.

There are plenty of opportunities for groups to enjoy outdoor recreation on the islands because there are so many islands, and each offers unique activities and geological features to experience. Groups can take guided tours of Raspberry Island’s lighthouse and grounds, or they can head to Stockton Island to spend time on its beautiful beaches. Other must-sees in the islands are the breathtaking sandstone formations and sea caves of Devils Island. There are nine group campsites throughout the islands, as well as extensive hiking trails leading to lighthouses, abandoned quarries and historic sites.

Another reason to visit the islands is the beauty of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes.

“It’s an inland sea,” said Justin Olson, deputy program manager at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “It can be picturesque and gorgeous.”

Groups can enjoy a narrated cruise around the islands with the Apostle Islands Cruise Service, which allows visitors to experience stunning views of Lake Superior and see everything from the island’s lighthouses to its sea caves.

Back on the mainland, groups can hike the Lakeshore Trail, a 6-mile trail that offers a view of the mainland sea caves and scenic overlooks of the lake. They can also enjoy the lake from Meyers Beach or Little Sand Bay beach. Guided kayak tours offer groups a way to safely explore the mainland caves with any level of paddling experience.

No matter how groups choose to enjoy their time exploring the Apostle Islands, they are part of a rich tradition of those living, working and having fun on the islands.

“You’re just more footprints in the sand that have been here for generations,” said Olson.