Wisconsin's Most Beautiful Road Trip Destinations
Thus far, 2018 has been pretty stressful; so stressful, in fact, that we forgot exactly how lucky we are to live in Wisconsin. The Cave of the Mounds! The lit up capitol building! Our insane amount of waterfalls! Yeah, we have a lot of reminders of how our state is pretty much the best. So, get out this weekend and relax, while you explore the best of Wisconsin at the most beautiful places in the state that you never knew existed.
Step into a fairytale at this chapel South of Baileys Harbor in Door County. It was completed in 1947 and is 12th-century Norwegian style, modeled after a church in Lillehammer. The inside is covered in frescos and ornate wood carvings. If for some reason you want a Frozen-themed wedding, this is the best place in the state to get married.
There are four waterfalls in Amnicon Falls State Park. The Amnicon River forks around an island, with two waterfalls on each side. Upper and lower Amnicon Falls are certainly pretty, especially with the old covered bridge over the lower falls, and temperamental Now and Then Falls is interesting. But Snake Pit Falls sounds like a badass place to go skinny dipping.
Near the popular Devil’s Lake State Park you’ll find Parfrey’s Glen, a deep ravine with a trail maintained by the DNR. It’s cool, damp, and often foggy or misty, making for some creepy photo ops. The walls of the glen are sandstone, but with striations of various geological periods, making this a must for any rock and mineral lover.
This five-story grist mill was built in 1864, only 16 years after Wisconsin became a state. It was one of the largest structures around and served as a gathering place where farmers had their grinding done. A dam was constructed to create a mill pond, and thus a photo op (and museum) was born.
Cascade Falls is unusual because it’s right in the middle of a Osceola, a town that sprang up because the falls supported a mill and brewery. You can take steps down to the falls right off the main road. Bonus: there’s a Dairy Queen across the street so you can revitalize after sightseeing with a Blizzard.
When the temps drop super low for a long period of time, these caves near the Apostle Islands turn into an icy wonderland. You have to walk on frozen Lake Superior to get there, and park officials only deem that safe every few years when the conditions are just right. They were last accessible in March of 2015, and 100,000+ visitors got to explore the glistening curtains and columns of ice.
Unless you’re a student of UW-Madison, you might not know there’s a teaching garden in the middle of campus. It sprang up in the 1980s around a Queen Anne-style home built in 1896 as a way to woo the first dean of the College of Agriculture. Seems like an appropriate place for some lovely plant life, then.
The Black River splits here at Little Manitou, making a double falls that’s just as magical as a double rainbow. Downstream a few miles is Wisconsin’s highest waterfall, Big Manitou, but you get better views at the little one.
Get away from the screaming children and bachelor parties in the Dells and head to Mirror Lake. It’s only a few miles away, but it’ll feel like light years from the waterpark capital of the world. There’s enough to keep everyone busy here, including camping, fishing, boat rentals, hiking trails, and cross-country skiing.
This little stream drops about 70ft diagonally across a granite cliff. It pools in a few areas before trickling down again. Despite the fact that it’s in a remote part of the state, it’s only a short hike from a parking lot, so even the laziest people can enjoy it.
A 530-acre park surrounds the state’s largest natural arch, carved out of the sandstone by wind erosion. Under the arch is the Raddatz rock shelter, where evidence that humans lived there dates back to 8000 to 9000 BCE. That makes it the oldest documented site of human occupation in the upper Midwest and lands it on the National Register of Historic Places.
More steep rapids than traditional waterfall, but don’t inflate your raft, it’s too rocky. Instead, hike along side of the Pike River, have a picnic, and blow up your Instagram.
A gift to UW-Madison from the Thai government, the pavilion is one of only four located outside of Thailand. It was constructed in Thailand, shipped to the US in pieces, then reassembled by Thai craftspeople in Madison. There are no nails or screws used in the pavilion, but there is a ton of gold leaf for a little bling.
We don’t have as many sand dunes on the Western shore of Lake Michigan as they do over on the Eastern shore, but the best ones we do have are at Whitefish Dunes in Door County. Even still, much of the shore is rocky, which while not as flip-flop friendly, is just as photogenic.
A dam used to block the Willow River from entering the area of the falls, but in 1992 the dam was removed and now it’s back to being pretty again. This is a particularly wide waterfall, and looks even better in the winter with ice all around.
The gorge at Pewits Nest was created by retreating glaciers, making caverns and a place for Skillet Creek to flow. Swimming in the creek is the big draw here; it’s shallow and has a sandy bottom with clear water. It’s a short hike from a small parking lot.
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Lacey Muszynski is a Wisconsin native who really had no idea about all the waterfalls. Follow her on Twitter: @worthhersalt.