Resting on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan, Door County has 300 miles of scenic shoreline home to 34 outlying islands. Also, there are no less than 53 public beaches. These range from the popular Whitefish Dunes to the Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island — one of the world’s five limestone beaches. There are many charming small towns that dot Door County’s coastline from Egg Harbor, named one of The Culture Trip’s most beautiful Wisconsin towns, to the lovely village of Ephraim. In addition, 11 historic lighthouses can be found, one of the largest clusters of lighthouses in any US state.
Crawford County is nestled amid three major rivers — the mighty Mississippi to the west, the Wisconsin River along its southern boundary and the meandering Kickapoo River, dubbed ‘the most crooked river in Wisconsin’. This scenic place is the ideal destination for exploring southwestern Wisconsin’s dramatic bluffs and fertile farmlands. Traveling the Great River Road takes visitors past picturesque Mississippi River towns like Ferryville, which has one of the most spectacular river panoramas in the county. A slight diversion eastwards stops by the tiny village of Mount Sterling — home to an award-winning goat cheese creamery making one of Wisconsin’s most famous exports.
At 1,584 square miles, Marathon County is Wisconsin’s biggest county in terms of area. It is naturally home to an abundance of beauty combining both urban charm and miles upon miles of forest, lakes and rolling hills. The county seat Wausau, nestled around the edges of the Wisconsin River, offers all the amenities of a big city. It has a beautiful downtown district featuring boutiques and specialty stores plus a thriving art scene. This art scene includes the Woodson Art Museum — home of the annual, internationally juried Birds in Art exhibition. South of the city, beautiful Rib Mountain State Park features hiking trails and downhill skiing. Meanwhile, the Dells of the Eau Claire River to the east of Wausau is home to a scenic rocky gorge with rapids and waterfalls.
Located in its northwestern reaches where Wisconsin meets Lake Superior is Bayfield County. This spot is home to a wealth of beautifully contrasting landscapes from rugged lakeside cliffs and deep forests to rolling hills and picturesque towns. Lovers of the outdoors will want to make a stop at some of Wisconsin’s most scenic natural spots. The stunning Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and its stunning sea caves, easily accessed from the Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway, is just one must-see. Culture vultures will love the county’s artsy character. A longtime haven for artists, thanks to its outstanding natural beauty, the county is dotted with many art galleries and studios.
Located just northwest of Wisconsin’s state capital Madison, Sauk County is an area brimming with diverse, natural beauty. Sauk County has a wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities. It contains the beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin’s most visited state park, with its hiking trails and cross-country skiing. There’s also Natural Bridge State Park, home of the state’s biggest natural rock arch. Fans of architecture will want to make a trip southwards to the artsy little town of Spring Green to see Taliesin. This is the former home and estate of influential American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Lying on the border with Minnesota, Polk County is rural northwestern Wisconsin at its best. In its westernmost reaches sits one of the county’s finest natural features, the St Croix National Riverway. This is where the scenic St Croix River cuts a scenic path through rocky gorges and dramatic bluffs. Visitors will find spots like Interstate Park — a hiker’s dream and Wisconsin’s oldest state park. The beautiful Cascade Falls in the small town of Osceola is also here. Inland, picturesque farmsteads populate the landscape nestled between the county’s many lakes. This is a haven for swimming and boating during summer months and for ice fishing during Wisconsin’s cold winters.
Located up in the wilds of Wisconsin’s Northwoods on the border with Michigan, Vilas County is famed for its gorgeous lakes. With no less than 1,300 lakes — one of the world’s highest concentrations of freshwater lakes — fishing is naturally a major pastime. Thousands of anglers head to the county each year to fish for walleye, pike and musky. Rugged woodland nestled between Vilas County’s many lakes offers more than 50 designated trails for hiking, biking and birdwatching. A visit during autumn reveals the county’s majestic forests in all their glory.
La Crosse County
With an idyllic setting on the banks of the upper Mississippi River, La Crosse County is one of the most scenic areas in southwest Wisconsin. The county seat of La Crosse is a lovely riverside city where visitors can take a trip on the mighty Mississippi via paddle wheeler. Or, discover art galleries and charming boutiques in its historic downtown. You can also see some of the most scenic views in the state from atop Grandad Bluff — a 600-foot-high bluff with views both across the city and the Mississippi River Valley. Take the Great River Road northward to Lake Onalaska for a break from the hustle and bustle to fish, canoe and kayak.
Famous for its Swiss heritage, Green County is a popular southwestern Wisconsin destination. Here, visitors can sample traditional Swiss cuisine, award-winning cheeses and delicious locally brewed beers. Head to New Glarus, the hub of Green County’s Swiss culture, for beautiful old-world architecture and folk festivals. Then, stop off at New Glarus Brewing Co — named one of The Culture Trip’s best Wisconsin-based craft breweries — to sample its wares. Plenty of accessible backroads and two designated trails make Green County a haven for cyclists whose travels take them via beautiful rural scenery and charming farmsteads.
This is a must-visit Wisconsin destination for both lovers of sport and the great outdoors. Sawyer County has no less than 300,000 acres of forest home to more than 200 miles of biking trails and 10 golf courses set among rolling hills and pristine pines. Sawyer County’s outdoor recreation doesn’t end there; the region also contains 55,000 acres of beautiful lakes attracting anglers hoping for record-breaking catches. Unsurprising then that the county seat, Hayward, is home to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.