Color your world
10 fall weekend road trips
by Tim Froberg
Fall road trips in scenic Wisconsin are a must.
Autumn is hands-down the most beautiful time of the year in the Badger State. The changing leaves provide a visual feast of spectacular colors that can put a smile on the face of the crankiest of souls.
Yes, we’re still stuck in the bizzaro world of the coronavirus, where we’re encouraged to isolate ourselves from others. That doesn’t mean we have to stay home 24/7. Taking an in-state weekend getaway can be done in a safe manner, especially if it’s an outdoor experience and involves a day trip where we’re back in our beds at night.
So, if those Wisconsin Badger football-free Saturdays are beginning to bug you, take my advice and hit the road, Jack. Wisconsin is a gorgeous state and its autumn color show can be best described in one word: wow!
Allow me to play travel guide and present you with 10 boredom-busting road trips. They’re all in-state and within a three-hour drive. How do I know about these places? Well, I have a high-energy wife and rambunctious dog who won’t let me spend my entire Sunday glued to the television watching NFL action. I’ve personally taken most of these road trips and some are annual adventures – like Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo.
Did you know that country music legend Johnny Cash referenced Devils Lake and Baraboo in his terrific tribute-to-travel-tune “I’ve Been Everywhere”? So, if you don’t trust my advice, take the word of the late, great Man in Black, because he went everywhere, man.
Grab your car keys, Readers! Load those travel apps and Google maps, and visit these 10 in-state treasures.
Baraboo – a small town of roughly 12,000 in Sauk County – is a two-hour drive from Appleton and an ideal day trip.
If you like hiking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, or camping, Devil’s Lake State Park – a few miles south of Baraboo – is a must-see. Devil’s Lake is Wisconsin’s largest state park with 9,217 acres, 30 miles of hiking trails and a gorgeous lake. The park attracts three million visitors annually and is especially popular in late autumn when the fall colors explode. Take the Tumbled Rocks Trail where you get awesome views of Devil’s Lake while strolling through a mix of pine forest and fallen boulders that seem to have tumbled into perfect position for tourist-viewing. This is my favorite of the park’s many hiking trails and is a stunning path that begs for photos.
Devil’s Lake is known for its 500-foot-high quartz bluffs wrapped around the lake. Feeling brave? Try the more challenging 1.9-mile Devil’s Doorway loop where the bluffs rise 500 feet above Devil’s Lake, culminating in a spectacular rock formation.
Motorboats aren’t allowed on Devil’s Lake, but canoes, kayaks, and rowboats are popular rentals. Many of the hiking trails provide magnificent bird’s-eye views of the lake. It’s common to see majestic hawks soaring overhead, sometimes providing a prolific air show.
My wife and I visit Devil’s Lake each fall to hike and take in some of the best fall colors in Wisconsin. Dogs on a leash are welcome and it’s an annual must-see, must-sniff visit for my pooch, Jasper.
For more information on Devil’s Lake, call 608-356-8301, or go to devilslakewisconsin.com. There is a park admission fee and I must warn you that it gets busy on weekends.
If the great outdoors isn’t your thing, bring the kids to the famous Circus World Museum. Baraboo is the hometown of the famous Ringling Brothers, and the museum features exhibits and artifacts along with a daily live circus. Or visit the International Crane Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to conserve cranes and their ecosystems, watersheds, and habitat. Live exhibits with 15 species of cranes can be observed and nature trails can be traversed.
Looking for something a little different yet connected to Wisconsin’s autumn foliage? Take a quick 90-minute jaunt to Wausau and check out Granite Peak Ski Area. There, for a small price, leaf peepers can ride the resort’s chair lifts and enjoy spectacular views of the fall colors from atop Rib Mountain.
I’ve spent plenty of time on Granite Peak’s chairlifts during the winter ski season and can vouch for its jaw-dropping panoramic view of beautiful Wausau. For more information on the fall chairlift rides, call Granite Peak at 715-845-2846, or go to skigranitepeak.com.
After the chair lift experience, catch even more color on a hike or bike ride. Granite Peak is part of Rib Mountain State Park, which offers more than 13 miles of hiking trails. The Mountain-Bay State Trail – an old abandoned railroad – is now a well-known walking and cycling trail and one of the longest rail trails in Wisconsin, extending from Rib Mountain to Green Bay. Make sure to check out the fall colors from a 60-foot observation tower at Rib Mountain State Park, which stretches to 1,922 feet.
Want to do more hiking or look at some awesome rock formation and tumbling cascades? Visit the Dells of the Eau Claire Park – just east of Wausau – along the Eau Claire River, where hiking trails, including part of the well-known Ice Age Trail, are available. Nine Mile Recreation area – just south of Wausau – is another popular site for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The biking and horse trails are open through the middle of October.
Wausau’s downtown area is vibrant and charming with a pleasant small-town vibe. Stroll along the paved River Edge Parkway, which follows 1.5 miles of the Wisconsin River. Looking for a great brew and a burger? Check out Red Eye Brewing Company, Bull Falls Brewery, or the Great Dane Pub and Brewery.
photo by Dave Gilo
photo by Kevin O’Donnell
photo by Trygvie Jensen
Door County is a Wisconsin treasure that must be explored. It’s been described as the Cape Cod of the Midwest and the Door Peninsula’s breathtaking beauty wows tourists during fall color season.
The only problem is Door County is not a well-kept secret, leading to sometimes annoying tourist traffic on the weekends. But with its charming small harbor towns, quality parks, endless hiking trails, restaurants, shops, apple and cherry orchards – all wrapped around gorgeous forests and Lake Michigan – Door County is a slam-dunk, well-worth-it road trip.
Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek is a popular fall destination for campers, hikers, and bikers. With 3,776 acres, Peninsula is Wisconsin’s third-largest state park and offers nearly eight miles of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. It has a whopping 460 campsites available, along with hiking and biking trails along the forested bluffs of Green Bay. A beach can be easily accessed with kayaks and other watercraft rentals. Bikes can be rented at Edge of Park Rentals or Nor Door Sport & Cyclery, just outside the park entrance. Three group camps, a summer theater, a lighthouse, and an 18-hole golf course are also part of the park.
Potawatomi State Park on the shores of Sturgeon Bay isn’t quite as busy and offers excellent campgrounds and decent hiking trails. Limestone cliffs and steep bluffs along winding trails provide stunning views of the water. A 75-foot-high lookout tower provides an excellent view of the colors and Sawyer Harbor. Newport State Park, located on Door County’s more serene east side, is Wisconsin’s only wilderness park and offers a quiet retreat for the serous hiker and backpacker, with 30 miles of hiking trails along 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Ellison Bluff County Park and Door Bluff Headlands County Park also feature trails along beautiful limestone cliffs and are additional options for hikers.
You don’t have to camp out at a park to get the fall Door County experience. Ephraim, Egg Harbor, Sister Bay, Baileys Harbor, Fish Creek, Ellison Bay, and Sturgeon Bay are wonderful towns to visit with a wide variety of bars, shops, and restaurants like Trixie’s in Ephraim.
One of the most popular tourist stops – and for good reason – is Cave Point State Park near Jacksonport. Cave Point is known for its wondrous rock formations along limestone ledges, its stunning underwater caves, and its awesome views of Lake Michigan. The limestone sea caves are visible only while kayaking or scuba diving, and kayakers rave about the experience. Meanwhile, adrenaline junkies can take a plunge from the steep bluffs at Cave Point. Just know that cliff diving is not monitored (no lifeguards are available) and is far more challenging than a simple cannonball off the diving board of a local swimming pool.
If you don’t mind a boat ride, take the ferry across Lake Michigan to Washington Island, located seven miles northeast of the tip of the Door Peninsula.
Two ferries are available, one for people with vehicles (there are 100 miles of paved roads on Washington Island) and the other for passenger-only visits. Bikes can be rented on the island at Island Rides and mopeds at Annie’s. These can also be brought over on the Washington Island Ferry Line.
Washington Island is bike friendly and cycling is the most popular way to get around. It takes roughly 45 minutes to complete the trek around Washington Island. For a stunning view of the island, check out Mountain Park Lookout – just remember that it’s 186 steps to the top.
Washington Island has a small-town rustic feel and is ideal for outdoor lovers who enjoy camping, fishing, and hunting. Chances are good that you won’t go away hungry, since there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.
Rock Island – which is a nearby separate island and requires a second ferry ride – is a must for campers and hikers.
For more information on Door County, call 920-743-4456 or see doorcounty.com.
All photos provided
by Elkhart Lake Tourism
If you’re a day-tripper, as Paul McCartney might say, and want a close-to-home, easy-to-do visit, this pleasant Sheboygan County village is a brief 45-minute drive and offers natural beauty and great waters for boating and swimming.
Elkhart Lake is best known for its motorsport facility, Road America, just a few miles south of town. Weekend auto racing at Road America runs through Oct. 26, so there’s still time to catch a race or two. Road America has hosted auto races since the 1950s and is considered one of the world’s fastest permanent road-racing tracks. The track is open year-round for go-karting, geocaching, and motorcycle and driving schools.
But you don’t have to be an auto-racing aficionado to enjoy Elkhart Lake. It’s a tourist town and many folks from Milwaukee think nothing of making the 90-minute drive to enjoy swimming, boating, kayaking, and water-skiing on Elkhart Lake, once thought by American Indians to have a healing value.
Fishing enthusiasts will also enjoy the waters of Elkhart Lake, which is 119 feet deep and full of musky, northern pike, large and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, crappie, and bluegill. For a memorable fishing experience, call Jay’s Guide Service – which is run by Jay Brickner, a Wisconsin-licensed guide who has been organizing trips on the lake since 1996.
Elkhart Lake offers an impressive variety of culinary options including Paddock Club, Lola’s on the Lake and Lake Street Café. The latter is a charming downtown café where my wife and I always stop on our fall road trip to Elkhart Lake. And we never leave disappointed.
Like adult beverages? Enjoy a glass of vino at Vintage Elkhart Lake, a wine shop, tasting bar, and gourmet grocer. For a cold brew, check out SwitchGear Brewing Co., a craft brewery located inside the historic feed mill in downtown Elkhart Lake, or Route 67, known for its tasty beer and barbecues.
If you want to treat yourself to elegant living, check into the Osthoff Resort: a four-star hotel located along the shore of Elkhart Lake that offers a spa, private beach and two restaurants. It was voted as one of the top resorts in the Midwest by Conde Nast Travelers 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards and offers 245 suites, each featuring a kitchen, dining, and living room. The resort even offers a French cooking school, which allows guests to whip up French specialties in a group environment.
For more information, go to elkhartlake.com or call the visitor center at 920-876-2385.
All photos provided by
VISIT Lake Geneva
This beautiful resort city in Walworth County is a two-hour drive from Appleton and I loved it when I first visited Lake Geneva a few years ago.
Lake Geneva’s fall colors usually peak in mid to late October, and leaf peepers seldom leave disappointed. The 26-mile Geneva Lake Shore Path is a must for those who like to hike or just want to admire the leaves along with the gorgeous houses. The trail takes visitors around Lake Geneva alongside mansions and impressive homes in quiet, lakeside neighborhoods. For a bite to eat along the way, stop at Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn on the town’s quiet west shore, or Harpoon Willie’s in nearby Williams Bay.
Just don’t get too ambitious and try to walk the entire trek, which my wife and I attempted a few year ago – only to conk out at mile 21. That’s the day I decided marathons are not my thing,
Watersport enthusiasts should know there are more than 100 public beaches on Lake Geneva that are safe for swimming. There are plenty of boat and kayak rentals available, and the fishing is considered good as well. Campers who desire a nearby beach for swimming and fishing can try Bigfoot Beach State Park, named after Chief Big Foot, an early Potawatomi tribal leader in the area.
The town is full of fun outdoor activities for people of all ages. Feeling adventurous? Let your hair down and fly through the air at Lake Geneva Ziplines. Afterward, enjoy a couple cold ones at Geneva Lake Brewing Co., Sprecher’s Restaurant and Pub, or Barrique Wine and Brew Bar.
Marinette County isn’t a tourist hot spot like Door County, but it’s a hidden gem with scenic woods, beautiful waterfalls, and lots of hiking and boating opportunities.
I once worked in Mariette County and my favorite getaway was Dave’s Falls near Amberg. It’s one of 12 waterfalls in Marinette County and a good one, overlooking the Pike River and featuring a tranquil, woodsy setting, two waterfalls, gorgeous rock formations, and a wooden walking bridge. It’s an awesome place to hang out and is easy to find, located right off U.S. 141, about a mile south of Pembine.
Other popular Marinette County waterfalls include Long Slide Falls, Eighteen Foot Falls, Caldron Falls, Veteran Falls, and Smalley Falls. If you’re into whitewater rafting, you must check out Piers Gorge. It’s technically not in Marinette County, but just a few miles past the Wisconsin-Michigan border and offers some of the Midwest’s best whitewater rafting.
Outdoor enthusiasts often come to play in Crivitz, a small resort town known for its hiking trails and water recreation. Lake Noquebay Park and Governor Thompson State Park are popular destinations for campers.
Peshtigo River Tours offers some excellent canoeing and kayaking opportunities during the late summer and fall months. I once tried the Peshtigo River’s kayaking adventure and have lived to tell about it, managing to survive a few man-meets-water, flip-flopping moments.
Minocqua is no secret to nature lovers. It’s a tourist and outdoor haven, located in northwest Oneida County, about a two-and-a-half-hour trip from Appleton.
Hikers and cyclists will want to hit Bearskin Trail, an 18-mile crushed red granite path starting in downtown Minocqua. This fabulous nature trail takes you past stunning blue lakes and thick forests along Bearskin Creek and across trestle bridges. Deer sightings are common, while racoons, eagles, and osprey are sometimes spotted.
A smaller yet spectacular back-to-nature trail is Fallison Lake Hiking Trail, a 2.5-mile loop through a gorgeous forest of white pine, sugar maple, white birch, balsam fir, and aspen. A boardwalk and rustic nature center can be easily accessed.
There are countless clean, clear lakes to play in. Minocqua has one of the highest concentrations of freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams in the country. Fisherman flock to waters like Minocqua Lake, Crystal Lake, Clear Lake, Kawaguesaga Lake, Tomahawk Lake, Bullhead Lake, and Clawson Lake in the summer and fall months for pike, largemouth bass, walleye, musky, and panfish.
You can always give your rod and reel a rest and take a boat tour with businesses like Minocqua Pontoon Cruises and Minocqua Party.
There are countless campgrounds and beach sites, including Torpy Park on the island’s north side where a beautiful sand beach awaits.
And the fall colors? Yeah, they’re pretty spectacular. Grab a color map at the local tourist bureau, gas up your car, and prepare to be wowed by the jaw-dropping foliage seen on scenic drives practically everywhere in the area.
For more information, go to www.minocqua.org or call 715-356-5266.
This quaint northern Wisconsin town of less than 1,000 draws countless tourists in the summer and fall.
Located on the shores of Lake Superior at the northern tip of Wisconsin, Bayfield’s main attraction is the Apostle Islands, a stunning group of 22 islands for campers, hikers, kayakers, scuba divers, and those who just like to explore nature.
Want a simple day trip? Call Apostle Island Cruises and take a three-hour boat tour. The grand tour takes visitors past Devils Island – home to the famous sandstone sea caves and Raspberry Island Lighthouse, built in 1863. The well-known mainland ice caves of the Apostle are currently inaccessible but are a major draw in the winter months.
If you want a longer stay or a camping opportunity, take the Madeline Island Ferry for a trip to the only inhabited Apostle Island, where you can hike along the shore of Big Bay State Park and grab a bite at Café Seiche in La Pointe.
The mainland isn’t so bad, either. Although the highly popular Bayfield Apple Festival has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, tourists continue to flock to Bayfield for a bite of the apple – literally. Bayfield is known for its apple orchards, which draw armies of tourists. And what could be more natural than a tourist from Appleton visiting the unofficial apple capitol of Wisconsin?
Try the Bayfield Fruit Loop: a self-guided tour of 16 apple orchards and fruit farms like Erickson’s Orchard and County Store, Bayfield Apple Company, and Hauser’s Superior View Farm. You can sample and purchase apples and baked goods like apple pie and apple cider doughnuts along with blueberry bread, jams, and jellies, while washing them down with delicious apple cider.
“Bayfield is all about the apple in the fall,” said David Eades, executive director of the Bayfield Chamber & Visitor Bureau. “All the orchards are super busy. It’s a celebration of fall. And our fall colors are phenomenal. They usually peak a little later than other areas– usually around the middle of October, if not later.”
Hikers should try the Big Ravine Trail or the Brownstone Trail, which runs nearly three miles, starting in downtown Bayfield and winding along the Lake Superior shoreline.
For more information, call 715-779-3335 or see bayfield.org.
All photos provided by
As urban as it appears to be, Milwaukee is a friendly, down-to-earth city with more outdoor recreational activities than one would think.
Whether you enjoy beer, hiking, cycling, jet-skiing, or just a quiet walk along the lakefront, Milwaukee has more to offer than just a Brewers game or Summerfest trip.
There are plenty of great boat cruises to pick from. My wife and I tried a Milwaukee Boat Line tour of the city and it was well worth it. We were even able to take our dog for the 90-minute boat ride on Lake Michigan and Jasper gave the tour a paws-up.
Milwaukee Kayak Company is another popular water option for the adventurous tourist, letting you explore the Milwaukee River at your own pace or with a guide. And if you’re with a group that likes a cold brew or two while exercising, try the Milwaukee River Paddle Tavern, a fun excursion along the Milwaukee River in a paddle boat.
Looking to take a scenic hike? Stroll down the Riverwalk, a three-mile public walkway along the Milwaukee River that takes you through the historic Third Ward and Beerline B neighborhoods, past restaurant patios and impressive architecture.
Great family hiking is also available at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center and Lakeshore State Park. Or, rent a bike from Wheel Fun Rentals or Bublr Bikes, which has nearly 100 stations throughout the city, and hop on the Oak Leaf Trail.
Refuel at one of Milwaukee’s public beer gardens like Estabrook Park Beer Garden, the country’s first beer garden after prohibition, or hit The Vine at Humboldt Park for a brew and giant pretzel.
Kayak renters can dock at many awesome bars, restaurants, and microbreweries along the way such as Blue Bat Kitchen and Tequilaria, the Harp Irish Pub, Lakefront Brewery, or Milwaukee Brewing Co., where my wife and I dined on the patio while kayakers and party-boat enthusiasts buzzed along the river.
For more information, call 414-287-4254 or see visitmilwaukee.org.
Step back in time
Camp Wandawega gives visitors no-frills experience
photos by Matt Scheffer
Time travel is impossible. It’s “Back to the Future” and “Star Trek” nonsense.
Taking a trip to a unique back-to-nature venue that offers vintage charm and the experience of a simpler time is another matter.
That’s what Camp Wandawega is all about.
The rustic, back-to-basics, 25-acre resort nestled in the woods of southeastern Wisconsin near Elkhorn offers travelers a truly memorable experience. It rents cabins, cottages, tepees, and Boy Scout-style tents to families, businesses, and groups. Events such as weddings, company retreats, bachelor parties, and family outings represent a big chunk of the business and the entire property can be rented. There is a two-night minimum and individual night or room rentals aren’t available. Neither are campsites for those bringing their own tents.
Located on the picturesque shores of Lake Wandawega, the resort is basically a recreation of a 1920s-style summer camp. Most rental units lack modern conveniences such as air conditioning and plumbing and feature vintage décor. The recently built Hillhouse is the exception, with Wi-Fi availability, air conditioning and many modern-day amenities.
Canoes, kayaks, and rowboats are available at no additional charge, and the lake is a huge draw for swimmers and anglers. Tennis and basketball courts are also offered, while counselor-led nature hikes are huge, lending to the summer camp theme.
Camp Wandawega isn’t for everyone. Just ask Tereasa Surratt, who owns the resort with her husband, David Hernandez. Yet, it is wildly popular and has been known to draw the likes of corporate executives, movies stars, and supermodels.
“It’s very much like stepping back to 1925,” said Surratt. “One of our sayings is there’s not much new since 1925 and not much improved. People like it because they say it’s like stepping back in time. It really is. It’s like doing a time capsule experience and going back to 1925.
“I think people like to get off the grid and have that experience. Everything right down to your coffee pot is from the 1950s and earlier. Most people don’t know what a percolator is. We do cheat a little with the Hillhouse, which is our luxury offering and has modern conveniences like AC and luxury sheets. It’s more for people who like the idea of camping, but really don’t love camping.”
The back-in-time theme is working well. In 2019, Camp Wandawega was named as one of the 100 most incredible hotels/resorts in the world by Fodor’s Travel, coming in at No. 15. Interest in Camp Wandawega’s rental units is so high that it usually has a one-year waiting list. Because much of the business is event-based and most of them have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the resort currently has fall vacancies. To inquire about a vacancy, go to campwandawega.com and book via AirBnB. The resort is open year-round.
The resort has an interesting history, dating back to the 1920s. It was once a speakeasy and mobster hideaway that drew folks from Chicago for drinking and gambling. It also operated as a brothel at one time before the madame was eventually imprisoned in the 1940s. It later became a family-run lake resort and then a retirement home for Latvian priests and a Latvian church camp.
Surratt and Hernandez purchased Camp Wandawega in 2003. Both work full time at a Chicago adverting agency while also running the resort. Hernandez first discovered the place as a child when his family spent summers at the camp.
“We’re just really learning the business, so we ask for everyone’s forgiveness,” said Surratt. “It started out as a hobby and it’s turned into a time-consuming hobby. We still live in Chicago, so we love it as a retreat for ourselves, too.”
The couple is upfront about the no-frills experience and encourage guests to read what they call Camp Wandawega’s Manifesto of Low Expectations, which alerts guests to communal kitchens and bathrooms, concrete floors, and camp showers. However, that hasn’t stopped a steady stream of customers from booking.
“It takes a certain kind of person to come here,” said Surratt.” We don’t try and deceive anyone. We tell everyone on our website what we’re about. We’re still small, but we’re definitely growing, and we’re surprised with the growth we’ve seen. We’re not smart enough to have seen all this coming, but we’re very grateful.
“We try and not do what everyone else is doing.”