Great Family Vacations in Wisconsin If You’re on a Budget

Wisconsin Family Vacation | © Gideon Tsang / Flickr
Wisconsin Family Vacation | © Gideon Tsang / Flickr
The state of Wisconsin is a wonder to explore, whether alone or with some company. Also, the state is ranked #15 in the U.S. when it comes to affordability, making the opportunity to travel around the area that much more doable. So for those heading out on the road with family in the Badger State, here are some ideas on how to keep everyone entertained without a blow to the wallet.

Southern Wisconsin

Ice Age Trail camping: starting at $12 per night

One of 11 National Scenic Trails in the U.S., the Ice Age Trail is a 1,000-plus-mile (1,609-plus-kilometer) footpath entirely in the state of Wisconsin. Stretching from Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls to Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, the trail follows what was carved out over 12,000 years ago by a continental glacier. Camping is available starting at $12 per night, and the trail is excellent for both hiking and snowshoeing. For those interested only in day hikes, check out the Ice Age Trail Alliance website for recommendations.

Ice Age Trail © Ilona L / Flickr

Camp outside Racine: starting at $28 per night

Racine is a great opportunity to experience the best of both worlds. You can camp just 15–20 minutes away in Sanders or Cliffside Parks for $28 per night, and enjoy Wisconsin’s fifth-largest city by population during the day. Racine offers wonderful beaches along the coast of Lake Michigan. Near North Beach is Kids’ Cove, an excellent playground to enjoy. You can also check out the Racine Zoo, Racine Art Museum, or head to Pier29 Water Sport Rentals!

Camp in the Southern Hills: starting at $24 per night

Nestled between Madison and the Mississippi, the Southern Hills is a rare spot in the state of Wisconsin untainted by continental glaciers. Wisconsin Riverside Resort offers nightly tent camping prices starting at $24 and nightly cabin camping prices starting at $85. Lake Joy Campground and Tower Hill State Park both offer camping starting at $25 and $24 per night, respectively. All three of these locations are no more than approximately an hour from some of the top sites in the area, including the Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark, Sugar River State Trail, Orchard Lawn, Cheese Country Trail (open to hikers and ATVs), and the Pendarvis State Historic Site.

Cave of the Mounds © Richie Diesterheft / Flickr

Central Wisconsin

Camp in Door County: starting at $30 per night

The peninsula that is Door County is dotted with campgrounds from tip to tail, most of them starting around $30 per night. It’s no wonder since the county is home to five state parks and 250 miles (402 kilometers) of shoreline. A few particular points of interest include the Door County Maritime Museum and Washington Island (only a ferry ride away). Alternatively, consider living in the oldest lighthouse in Wisconsin at Door County’s northernmost tip at Rock Island State Park. In return for providing tours and light maintenance, your week-long stay in the lighthouse is free!

The Wisconsin Dells: starting around $30 per night

Also filled with campgrounds, the Wisconsin Dells is known—other than for its dells—for its indoor and outdoor water parks. Camping options start around $30 per night. Resorts, such as Baker’s Sunset Bay Resort, often offer accommodation and water park packages. For example, their Have Gas, Will Travel package includes a $50 gas card, a $50 gift certificate to Bobber’s Restaurant, four tickets to Kalahari Indoor Waterpark (between $34 and $45 value each), four tickets to Kalahari Outdoor Themepark (value of $15 for children and $35 for adults), and two nights at the resort. The value of the package sans resort lodging tallies up to between $296 and $420. The rates for the entire package, including the resort lodging, start at $388.

Wisconsin Dells © Chad Fennell / Flickr

Explore Green Bay: starting at $32 per night

Green Bay is a fun city to check out with the National Railroad Museum, Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Botanical Garden, and the Bay Beach Amusement Park, which includes a little over 20 rides with an old-timey feel. Admission and parking are free, and tickets (one or two of which are required per ride) cost 25 cents. Lodging options include camping no more than a half hour from the city at Apple Creek Campground, or you can stay in the city proper at a place such as Bay Motel for $49 to $81 per night depending on the number of guests.

Northern Wisconsin

Camping in Minocqua: starting at $20 per night

As a hot spot for water sports, Minocqua is a family vacation staple. Quite literally on Minocqua Lake, nearby camping is available starting at $20 per night at places such as Patrica Lake Campground. Other than water activities, the area has many trails, such as the Bearskin State Trail, for biking, hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing, providing entertainment year-round. A few attractions not to miss are the Wildwood Wildlife Park (where kids can pet and feed some of the animals), the Northwoods Children’s Museum, and Scheer’s Lumberjack Shows.

Minocqua © Preston Rhea / Flickr

Camping at Amnicon Falls State Park: starting at $16 per night

This destination is the place to go if you’re looking for a little river fun paired with the relaxing sounds of waterfalls. Amnicon State Park offers camping starting at $16 per night, plus $8 per night, per car. Swimming and fishing are both allowed. Approximately 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) of trails make for good hiking, and a playground will entertain the kids. This picturesque adventure can simultaneously be engaging and soothing, so kick back while the kids splash around.

Camping in Bayfield: starting at $15 per night

The Bayfield area is well known as a vacation spot. Within the technical city limits, the population is less than 500, yet thousands flood the area during the summer. The scenic area is very popular for cycling, and the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior beckon from the shore. Accessible by ferry, kayak, or other water transportation, the archipelago provides hiking trails, lighthouses, and sea caves to explore—not to mention the views!

Apostle Islands © Jim Sorbie / Flickr