By Heather Kenny for the Orbitz Travel Blog
There's so much more to the Badger State than beer, brats and cheese (not that there's anything wrong with those--we love all three). But venture off the Dairy State's main highways and you'll find some of Wisconsin's most charming little hamlets, offering up intriguing small-scale art scenes, incredible farm-to-table dining, entertaining oddball festivals and beautiful encounters with nature. Give these small Wisconsin towns and the surrounding areas a try, either as worthwhile weekend destinations or quick springs from big Midwestern cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis.
Trempealeau, Wisconsin | Flickr CC: Joshua Mayer
Situated right on the Mississippi River and surrounded by tributaries, inland lakes, and nature parks, Trempealeau is the home base of an outdoorsy paradise for both water freaks and landlubbers. There's scenic biking along the Great River Trail, camping with views of limestone bluffs in nearby Perrot State Park, and excellent bird-watching and other opportunities to observe the local fauna at the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge. After your exertions, slake your thirst at the award-winning Elmaro Vineyard, which focuses on Midwest grape varietals, or fill up on the locally and responsibly sourced menu items at the restaurant in the historic Trempealeau Hotel.
2. Mineral Point
This pretty town in the southwestern part of the state has become a thriving artists' colony. The charming English-style stone buildings dotting the countryside and the 19th-century downtown are a legacy of the Cornish miners who settled in the area--which continues today in the cafes and pubs that feature Cornish specialties like pasties and figgyhobbin. But Mineral Point has its contemporary delights, as well, such as a recently restored 100-year-old opera house where you can catch concerts, movies and plays, and plenty of artists' studios and galleries.
Driftless Cafe, Viroqua | Photo: Dan Howard
Tiny Viroqua is a great base for exploring the Driftless Area, which is not a wasteland of slackers but a region untouched by glaciers, which resulted in some pretty dramatic geological features, including caves, underground streams and prehistoric rock formations (experience them in Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Sidie Hollow County Park). The town itself is renowned for stores and restaurants focusing on fresh and local foods, including the farm-to-table Driftless Café and the European-style Viroqua Public Market, where you can find an independent bookstore, antiques and crafts, and a cooperative art gallery. And don't miss the Farmer's Market at the Vernon County Fairgrounds: The county boasts the highest concentration of organic farms in the nation, so you're sure to find some pretty impressive produce here. Other solid options include wine-tasting at Vernon Vineyards and Branches Winery, renting bikes or snowshoes at Bluedog Cycles, and taking advantage of top-notch fly-fishing (check in at the Driftless Angler for lessons and supplies). Visit Viroqua's website for more info.
This picture-perfect lakeside town brings a New England vibe to the coast of Lake Superior. Sail or take a ferry to the Apostle Islands, where you can also explore the spectacular sea caves by kayak. In summer there is barely a weekend without some kind of festival, and plenty of orchards and berry farms to keep you in fresh fruit. In winter you can walk, ski, skate, or drive the ice road from town to Madeline Island. It's worth it to make time for the Bayfield Maritime Museum, which houses an impressive array of beautiful and historic watercraft.