ESSENTIAL RV WISCONSIN:
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO EXPLORING IN THE BADGER STATE
by Lindsay Menting
ESSENTIAL RV WISCONSIN:
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO EXPLORING IN THE BADGER STATE
by Lindsay Menting
When you think of Wisconsin, you probably think of cheeseheads. It's true: in this state, we're known first for our dairy and our die-hard sports fans. (Some of the best sports teams in the country play here, but we're only slightly biased.) Trust us natives, though, when we say that's only the beginning. Our Midwestern state is home to full forests, glistening lakes, vast farmlands and a number of city hotspots.
With all this packaged into one picturesque state, Wisconsin makes for a great RVing destination. Whether you're looking for family fun or natural wonders, you'll be met at every turn with kind-hearted people ready to show you why they love their home.
Here are the best ways to adventure the Dairy state, traveling our four favorite routes—filled with scenic roads, endless landmarks…and maybe a little cheese along the way.
WISCONSIN SCENIC BYWAY - HIGHWAY 60
Traveling 100 miles along the Lower Wisconsin River, Highway 60 is designated as a Wisconsin Scenic Byway and a highlight for road warriors. Not far off the beautiful shoreline are the greater Madison, Milwaukee, and Wisconsin Dells areas. Venture off to any of these cities and you’ll be presented with infinite opportunities for excitement, whether you find it in nature or on busy, more metropolitan streets.
Madison, Wisconsin is not only the state capital but home to a bustling college town and progressive city. You can feel a different sort of energy as soon as you arrive. Here are some of our favorite things to do.
OLBRICH BOTANICAL GARDENS
Olbrich Botanical Gardens are a center for raw beauty and nature, just outside the cityscape. 16 acres of outdoor gardens give visitors the opportunity to stroll the grounds and take in the wonder of regional and exotic wildlife. Admission is free and guided tours are available, along with many seasonal events and concerts.
State Street is the true heart of Madison, stretching from the capitol building to Library Mall of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here you'll experience the truest school spirit and Wisconsin pride. You’ll find hours of entertainment, from art and music on the sidewalks to book stores and restaurants of all cuisines. Walk a couple of blocks over and you’ll be met with the bright blue water of Lake Mendota, and the UW-Madison terrace that overlooks it.
We recommend two campgrounds with full hookups: Madison KOA or Lake Farm County Park Campground. Both are a quick drive from State Street or the Botanical Gardens—and both feature an array of amenities to go along with the grounds. Madison KOA has a pool to splash in, and Lake Farm even has a boat launch.
CAVE OF THE MOUNDS
The Cave of the Mounds is a national natural landmark. Named after two nearby hills (Blue Mounds) this natural limestone cave is often called the Jewel Box of major American caves. Being carved 488 million years ago, you can find many variations of mineral formations inside, an incredible sight for eyes both young and old. Guided or self-paced tours are available.
Blue Mound State Park Campground, the Cave of the Mounds’ namesake, features great camping amenities for RVers to unload and enjoy.
Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s most populated city and a hub on the shore of Lake Michigan, but that doesn’t mean that nature and culture aren’t all around.
MILLER PARK STADIUM
Home to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team, the uniquely designed stadium sits just on the outskirts of Milwaukee, giving a space for tailgaters to have their fun right outside the action. If you’re looking for a true Wisconsin experience, head to a game, grill a few hot dogs and listen to the sound of the bats crack.
MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM
Teetering on the edge of the city and the shore of Lake Michigan, this iconic building features four floors of over forty galleries of work—and it’s one of the largest art museums in the country. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed the incredible building that is a work of art in and of itself. Called the Quadracci Pavilion, it contains a movable wing-like brise soleil that opens during the day and closes at night. It’s hard to miss when driving through the city and an absolute must-see to start your time downtown.
The Wisconsin State Fair RV Park is unique as the only RV park in metro Milwaukee, close to many renowned attractions and situated on the fairgrounds for the annual State Fair. Not far from the State Fairgrounds, are the Summerfest fairgrounds. All summer long the grounds are home to different festivals, celebrating cultures, food, and music. If you’re traveling during the summer it’s a must-stop, no matter what festival happens to be going on!
KETTLE MORAINE STATE FOREST - NORTHERN UNIT
Looking to head back to nature? Look no further than Kettle Moraine State Forest. Not a continuous forest, but rather 56,000 acres divided up into units. We recommend visiting the Northern Unit about 45 minutes north of Milwaukee, featuring 125 miles of trails for hiking and a 115-mile scenic drive. The rolling hills of this state park were left during the Ice Age, leaving us with lots of beautiful landscapes.
If you’re looking to head a bit south, taking Rustic Route 86 will allow you to meander through the Southern Unit of the State Forest.
Another spot to check out nearby is Holy Hill, a 1926 church that sits atop rolling hills. Climb to the top and you’ll get breathtaking views of the Wisconsin landscape. (Hint: if you go in autumn, you’ll see fall foliage like never before.)
No need to go far for the perfect RV hook up, Kettle Moraine has a great KOA.
Did you know that Wisconsin is home to 11,981 lakes? And boy do we love lake life. The choices are endless, but one of our favorite destinations is Elkhart Lake. You can find spas, top-notch restaurants, and of course endless activities on the water.
Plymouth Rock RV Resort is the perfect place to lay your head down and enjoy the great community and activities they have to offer.
WISCONSIN DELLS/BARABOO AREA
DEVILS LAKE STATE PARK
An absolute highlight in the southern Wisconsin region is Devils Lake—located about two miles south of Baraboo and featuring over 9,000 acres of breathtaking views, it is the biggest state park in Wisconsin. You can climb the 500-foot high quartzite bluffs, or enjoy a day on the water. One of our favorite spots in the area for hiking is Pewits Nest, a natural gorge about 10 minutes from the lake. You don’t have to go far to park your RV and there’s plenty of online information about camping the area here.
CIRCUS WORLD MUSEUM
Located 20 minutes from Devils Lake State Park is an intriguing landmark called the Circus World Museum. While we’re sure you’ve been to a museum or two in your life, you’ve probably never been to one about the circus. Circus artifacts and exhibits compliment what are daily live performances.
Looking for a great RV stop that puts you close to both Circus World and Devils Lake? Fox Hill RV Park and Campground offers full-service amenities, from a pool to a snack bar, to let you indulge in the magic of the area.
NOAHS ARK WATERPARK
Wisconsin Dells is a small town that boasts the title of Waterpark Capital of the World! It’s impossible to get bored in “The Dells.” We recommend hitting Noahs Ark Waterpark for the day. After you’re done slipping and sliding, you can head to Monk’s Bar and Grill, a long-standing staple, and hit one of the many fudge shops downtown.
While not a particularly quick drive from Highway 60, Lake Geneva is a highly worthy jaunt—a favored destination for not only Wisconsinites but Midwesterners from all states. A gorgeous drive that includes a true slice of Americana in pristine farmlands takes you to a resort town any traveler will love. You can start by taking a serene dinner cruise on the Lake Geneva Cruise Line that includes a narrated tour of the looming historical mansions that surround the shores. (Think Wrigley Estate, which sold for an incredible $11.25 million dollars in 2018.) Golfing at the award-winning courses around town, strolling the boardwalk, spending some quiet time in front of the lakefront library and browsing the quaintest of antique shops are all main attractions.
You can even park your RV at the beach! Big Foot Beach State Park features picturesque locations and RV hookups to help you better enjoy your time in Lake Geneva.
DOOR COUNTY COASTAL SCENIC BYWAY
This scenic byway is our favorite for its sheer beauty. Often referred to as the Midwest’s Cape Cod, and the Gateway to Lake Michigan, water is everywhere you turn. You’ll find so much charm to revel in, winding along the peninsula. Here are a few of our top picks:
BAILEYS HARBOR/EGG HARBOR/BAILEYS GROVE CAMPGROUND
You can’t find more small-town allure than Baileys Harbor and Egg Harbor. These two quintessential coastal communities are a nautical wonderland, with wonderful people to match. You can head to the beach for some relaxation, the water for great fishing, or even climb some of the local lighthouses.
In Sturgeon Bay, you’ll find a bit more hustle and bustle—and some of the best fishing in the world. (Sturgeon Bay is actually named the number one bass fishing spot in the country!) Historic charm abounds in the town, with shopping, music and dining all part of the ambiance. You’ll be easily wrapped up in the historical district and, of course, water sports. Water life in the summer turns to snowmobiling, skishoeing and ice fishing in the winter. Head to the Potawatomi State Park to soak it all in.
No matter the season, we think Tranquil Timbers camping resort wraps up your Sturgeon Bay experience perfectly.
PENINSULA STATE PARK
Eight miles of shoreline and almost 4,000 acres of land constitute the Pennisula State Park. If you can only make one stop in Door County, make it this one. It’ll sum up your summer dreams, and everything Door County has to offer. You can even park your RV on site.
Though not technically a part of Door County, driving to the bottom of the peninsula will take you to Wisconsin’s mecca, Green Bay: home to Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers have held steadfast to their small town home field since the 1950s. You’ll feel the history, excitement and pride, even if it’s not a game day. Be sure to pick up a foam cheesehead to don for the rest of your journey.
THE GREAT NORTHERN ROUTE - HIGHWAY 2
The Great Northern Road runs cross-country, from Seattle to Maine. Some of the best spots litter the Midwest stretch. With 16 million acres of forest, Wisconsin's Northwoods offer a slower pace of life, with epic nature to compliment the journey.
APOSTLE ISLANDS NATIONAL LAKESHORE
Traveling to the very northern tip of Wisconsin, you’ll find Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a stretch of shoreline composed of 21 islands. Travelers often describe being transported to a simpler time here. Black bears, bald eagles and falcons frequent the diverse landscape of sweeping cliffs, caves, and beaches. So many 19th-century lighthouses are littered throughout, and you can even find a shipwreck offshore. Paddle, cruise or sail on out to one of the islands for the day to get engrossed in nature.
When the Wisconsin winter hits and Lake Michigan freezes over, the sandstone caves of the islands become known as the ice caves, filled with sparkling icicles. If you happen to miss the winter season, there are still plenty of spectacular scenes to explore here. You can learn more about camping on the islands and the surrounding area here. An ideal location to park your RV is Apostle Islands Area Campground.
MARINETTE COUNTY WATERFALLS TOURS
Marinette County is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts: there are 230,000 acres of county forest, 444 lakes, and 920 miles of rivers and streams. There are also more waterfalls here then you’ll be pressed to see anywhere else in the Midwest, including those along the rushing Pike, Thunder, Peshtigo, and Menominee Rivers. Pick anyone of the trails found here to have an awe-inspiring, day of cascading waters.
This site gives a list of Marinette County campgrounds, so you can find the most convenient spot, depending on which tour you choose.
Minocqua is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Wisconsin—if you consider yourself a waterbug, take note! The town is referred to as nature’s original water park. There are thousands of small lakes, rivers, and streams throughout—as you might guess, the water activities are endless. Enjoy the Northwoods charm with plenty of seasonal events like harvest festivals and summer shows (even a lumberjack show).
End your day at Patricia Lake Campground, a beautiful sanctuary for RVers to rest their heads.
CHEQUAMEGON-NICOLET NATIONAL FOREST
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest stretches more than 1.5 million acres across Wisconsin’s Northwoods. While we don’t expect you to see it all, you’ll be able to drive through much of the lush colorful foliage in the fall or glistening snow-covered branches in the winter. Hayward is one of our favorite towns to stop in to experience all of the wildlife and nature the forest has to offer. It even features one of the state’s best Friday night fish fries (a Wisconsin tradition and must for visitors) at Lost Land Lake Lodge.
Spend your night stargazing and park at Hayward KOA.
GREAT RIVER ROAD - NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY
Another classic American road trip is the Great River Road. It runs its Midwest course along the Wisconsin Minnesota border. Venturing off its northern path you’ll meet the eastern part of Wisconsin and all it has to offer:
EAU CLAIRE/CHIPPEWA FALLS
These neighboring towns are filled with creativity for the soul. Here you’ll be welcomed with open arms and greeted with a breath of fresh air. There’s enough just in this area alone to get a true Wisconsin experience. Our first recommendation is to visit the Leinenkugel’s Brewery and take a tour. As the seventh-oldest brewery in the country, you’ll get a hefty helping of Wisconsin history along with your tasty brews. We also suggest continuing your Wisconsin history lesson by making your way to Carson Park Stadium to see the Hank Aaron statue (he began his career with the Eau Claire Bears!), visiting the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum and stopping by the award-winning cheese shop, Marike Gouda. Looking for more of a thrill? Go tubing down the Chippewa River.
Head to Stoney Creek RV Resort after all of your explorations.
BRUNET ISLAND STATE PARK
Traveling a bit north, this state park includes the 169-acre island resting in the Chippewa River and the surrounding shoreline. Here you’ll be able to observe tons of wildlife, like beautiful birds and the deer that populate the land.
Park your RV in the picturesque mainland and stay the night.
ELROY-SPARTA STATE TRAIL
The Elroy-Sparta Trail is a unique 32.5-mile trail, the first rail-trail of its kind. It was constructed over the former Chicago and North Western railways and is now one of the most popular biking trails in the country, twisting through forests and gorgeous railway tunnels. You can ride, drive or walk through the local communities as well as take in lush foliage.
Park your RV at the Tunnel Trail Campground for a well-needed break.
So, did we convince you there’s more to Wisconsin than just cheese? RVers will find that Wisconsin’s winding roads have all the necessities to build an incredible road trip. Pack up and hit the highway—your memories are waiting!
These sites are helpful for all sorts of camping, travel, and RV parking information in the Wisconsin State and National Parks:
PHOTOS COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK