Although rural Wisconsin might not jump immediately to mind when you think of great places to visit, this Great Lakes Midwestern state has a whole lot to offer in terms of history, culture, and spectacular nature. Also known as “America’s Dairyland,” Wisconsin is a haven for cheese production.
The fertile fields of this state are full of cattle, and you can sample fresh cheese and milk virtually anywhere – even at gas stations. Wisconsin is also a very scenic state, with rolling green hills, rocky bluffs, and valleys, dense forests and not to mention, 84,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 15,000 lakes. This makes it a massive haven for fishing and water sports.
There is also plenty of sils, biking, and trekking all over the state. It officially became a state in 1848 and is full of fascinating historical monuments, buildings, and preserved town squares. Stepping into many small towns in Wisconsin is just like going back in time. As well as its famous dairy products and beer, the state also has a proud maritime history on both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.
This list of the best small towns in Wisconsin to visit will give you an authentic taste of the state and an appreciation for all it has to offer.
Table of Contents
- Best Small Towns in Wisconsin to Visit
- 1. Cedarburg
- 2. Stevens Point
- 3. Ephraim
- 4. Washington Island
- 5. Cambridge
- 6. Sister Bay
- 7. Elkhart Lake
- 8. Ashland
- 9. Columbus
- 10. Bayfield
- 11. New Glarus
- 12. Mazomanie
- 13. Chippewa Falls
- 14. Hayward
- 15. Port Washington
- 16. Baraboo
- 17. Eau Claire
- 18. Fish Creek
- 19. Mineral Point
- 20. Sturgeon Bay
- 21. Egg Harbor
- 22. Janesville
- 23. Princeton
- 24. Eagle River
- 25. Stockholm
Best Small Towns in Wisconsin to Visit
Picturesque Cedarburg is only 20 miles away from Milwaukee, but you will definitely feel like you’re in a whole new universe. This ex-lumber town is now a bustling and beautiful tourist destination with a winery, plenty of shopping, and excellent dining.
Cedarburg hits just the right note between small-town charm and tourist attractions. You’ll see standard-covered bridges and plenty of stunning architecture, but you’ll also enjoy world-class cuisine, concerts, and some of the best wines in the state.
So plan to spend a few days in Cedarburg on your next trip to Wisconsin. You certainly won’t regret it.
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2. Stevens Point
Stevens Point is one of the key stops on Wisconsin’s famous Cranberry Highway, and you would be hard-pressed to find a more scenic small town in the entire state. If you don’t already love cranberries before visiting, Stevens Point might make you a convert. Locals claim that you can get a big whiff of cranberry the second that you step into the town limits.
One of the best aspects of Stevens Point is how photogenic it is. The cranberry orchards are bright, and orangy-red, and make the perfect backdrop for all of your vacation pictures.
The downtown area is really nice too. Make sure that you swing by their local farmer’s market for a true taste of the Wisconsin countryside. Finally, if you’re feeling ambitious and athletic, check out Green Circle Trail, which winds its way along the Wisconsin River.
See Related: Where to Stay in Door County
Ephraim is the jewel of Door County Peninsula, boasting impressive views of Wisconsin’s Peninsula State Park. It also happens to be one of the most historic sites in the entire state.
If you’re a history-lover or just want to learn a little bit about Ephraim’s importance, check out the Ephraim Historical Foundation. You can get a map of all of the best sites in town and explore to your heart’s content.
Although you could spend several days soaking in Ephraim’s history, there are a few sites that you should put on your “must-visit” list.
- Pioneer Schoolhouse Museum
- Answerson Barn History Center
- Door County Trolley
- Goodleston Cabin Museum
You can also rent a bike and explore the town on two wheels for a fun and fit adventure.
4. Washington Island
Washington Island is easily one of Wisconsin’s most unique places to visit. This small, friendly, and vibrant community are right off the coast of Door County Peninsula. Nature lovers will feel right at home on Washington Island, as you can get excellent views of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
You can also explore the lavender fields and shop at Washington Island’s family-owned boutiques. There’s a good chance you can pick up something spectacular for the people back home, or even a nice present for yourself. Of course, supporting Washington Island’s art community helps them out too.
One of the key highlights of Washington Island is definitely the Viking church. Although it’s off the beaten path, it’s well worth looking for. Schoolhouse Beach is another excellent destination and a great place to catch stunning views of the bay.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Wisconsin
Like Washington Island, Cambridge is renowned for its art, specifically its pottery. So if you want to pick up a few key pieces for back home or simply learn about the history of pottery in the area, Cambridge is a small town in Wisconsin that you need to put on your “must visit” list.
Cambridge’s claim to pottery fame came about in the 1980s and has since launched this little town to nationwide acclaim. Rowe Pottery Works is one of the top places for local artisans to create stunning pieces, and you should definitely pay them a visit.
Cambridge has plenty of outdoor activities to partake in too. The CamRock Park system is full of exciting trails for hikers and trekkers of all skill levels. So make the most of your vacation by relaxing and getting back to nature.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Hayward, Wisconsin
6. Sister Bay
If you want to check out one of the best waterfronts in all of Wisconsin, Sister Bay is an exceptional option. This Door County town is famous for its waterfront access and a great spot to try your hand at water sports.
There are plenty of activities available for visitors of all ages and skill levels. Try kayaking, paddle boarding, or canoeing. You can head out onto the open water or opt for a tour of local caves and historic lighthouses. Back on dry land, there’s plenty of history to experience as well.
The eerily named Death’s Door Maritime Museum is an excellent place to learn about fishing in the region. In addition, there are brilliantly restored farm buildings that give you a taste of how agriculture looked at the turn of the 19th century.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Oshkosh, Wisconsin
7. Elkhart Lake
Elkhart Lake is a perfect option if you’re looking for an exceptional place in Wisconsin to get back to nature. This picturesque small town has plenty of wholesome fun for the whole family. If you like exploring the outdoors, you’ll love hiking around Gerber Lake and Little Elkhart Lake. There’s also the opportunity to spot brilliant wildlife at Kiel Marsh Wildlife Area.
Like many small towns in Wisconsin, Elkhart Lake was a pivotal point during many essential parts of American History. Wade House Historic Site and Henschel’s Indian Museum are two excellent places where you can learn all about why Elkhart Lake is on the map.
Of course, the lake is an excellent attraction in and of itself. Go fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, or pontooning on guided or solo tours.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Hudson Wisconsin
Ashland sits right on Lake Superior and is one of the most historically-relevant small towns in Wisconsin to visit. Since most of the towns on our list have plenty of historical relevance, that’s saying quite a lot. Ashland has a rich Native American heritage and was an important port for French fur traders.
Today, you won’t find too much fur trading going on, but you will get to bask in lovely views of Lake Superior or relax on one of Ashland’s many beaches.
Maslowski Beach is a great option. Downtown Ashland is simply idyllic, with a lovely town center, brownstones, and plenty of exceptional architecture.
It’s a good family-friendly destination and is bound to be the highlight of your Wisconsin trip.
Scenic Columbus is relatively close to Madison, so it’s a good place to visit if you want proximity to a larger city with small-town charm. This lovely little town has plenty of historic architecture and a welcoming downtown area with plenty of good dining and shopping. You could easily spend the entire day soaking in the sights of downtown.
Columbus’ Antique Mall is a beautiful spot to pick up unique souvenirs or that special gift for you. One of the things that set Columbus apart is the number of charming accommodations that you’ll find right near the town center. If you love whimsical bed and breakfasts and authentic country charm, Columbus is the town that you should visit.
Bayfield is another excellent small town right on Lake Superior. This destination is notable because you use it as a home base to explore the Apostle Islands, a chain of 21 small islands full of sandstone sea caves and bountiful nature. You can only get to these islands by boat, so book your visit from Bayfield and prepare for a wild adventure.
You’ll find plenty of stunning nature in Bayfield, back on dry land. This town is bursting with orchards, and you can spend a wholesome day picking your very own blueberries. Bayfield also has some decent nightlife. Many of its bars and restaurants offer live music or other events, ensuring that you will never have a dull moment.
11. New Glarus
If you want to experience a charming slice of Switzerland without leaving the country, check out New Glarus. It’s one of the best small towns in Wisconsin to visit if you love incredible architecture and Alpine-style buildings.
One of the first things you’ll notice about New Glarus, especially during the summer, is how many flowers there are. Many residents put out window boxes bursting with bouquets in every color under the rainbow. Check out the Swiss Historical Village Museum if you’re curious about why Switzerland found its way to small-town Wisconsin.
New Glarus is also a foodie destination, with no shortage of delicious things to eat and drink. You can grab a pint of delicious Spotted Cow at the New Glarus Brewing Company or grab some cheese and chocolate right downtown. It’s a fairytale kind of place that you won’t forget anytime soon.
Dane County’s Mazomanie is a quaint little stop that seems almost frozen in time. This former railroad town is now a highly historic destination jam-packed with bed and breakfasts, art galleries, and historic buildings. If you want to see what Wisconsin was like in the 19th century, check out Mazomanie.
Although most people go to explore the historical relevance of Mazomanie, there are also plenty of other things to do in this small town. Realistically, you could spend several days there.
In addition to the historic downtown, the Mazomanie Bottoms State Natural Area is a prime spot for hiking, fishing, and hunting. The Mazomanie Bottoms State Natural Area has plenty of trails for hikers of all skill levels.
There’s also boating, fishing, and sunbathing right on the Lower Wisconsin River.
13. Chippewa Falls
While 90s heartthrob and doomed Titanic passenger Jack Dawson put Chippewa Falls on the map, there’s more to celebrate about this naturally lovely Wisconsin small town.
It’s got a friendly charm about it, and it sits right on Lake Wissota, so you can soak in nature and enjoy every courtesy that Chippewa Falls has to offer. One of the top reasons why Chippewa Falls is one of Wisconsin’s best small towns is its downtown. Some of the eateries seem like they were trapped in time, with retro offerings and a homestyle feel.
There’s also plenty of opportunity to bike around the town, a zoo, and exceptional entertainment right on the Chippewa River itself.
Chippewa Falls is also a great place to visit during any season. Enjoy hiking and water sports during the summer and ice fishing during the winter. No matter when you arrive, you will be greeted with open arms.
See Related: Best Water Falls in Minnesota to Visit
Hayward is another perfect spot in Wisconsin to explore the great outdoors any time of the year. If you’re looking for a good, honest place to take your family where you can experience country hospitality and spend wholesome time together, Hayward is the spot to go.
Many of their restaurants and bed and breakfasts are family-owned, and there are local places to rent outdoor gear for your next adventure. The Chippewa Flowage is an excellent place to get some sport fishing during the summer or try ice fishing for walleye during the chillier months.
There are also plenty of trails that are perfect for hiking during the fall, spring, and summer and double as exceptional cross-country routes once the mercury dips.
15. Port Washington
Port Washington is relatively close to Milwaukee, so it’s a great place to explore if you want to be close to the big city and get the tranquility of the country at the same time. This historic small town has a very famous namesake, George Washington, and was a massive part of the fur trading business during the 1600s.
As with many historically relevant small towns in Wisconsin, Port Washington is a tourist destination today, famous for its restored buildings and small-town charm. One of Port Washington’s many claims to fame is its pre-Civil War architecture. Many of these buildings are lovingly restored or preserved, so you really get a glimpse of what the town used to look like.
This small town has artisan boutiques, lots of trails, and fantastic boating. There’s also a whole host of lovely bed and breakfasts where you can set up a home base throughout your entire stay.
While most of our towns have some historical relevance, Baraboo has a particular claim to fame that is just downright delightful. During its heyday, the Ringling Brothers Circus made Baraboo its winter home, putting Baraboo on the map for history lovers and circus aficionados alike.
Visiting Baraboo is like taking a peek right inside the big top tent. The Circus World Museum is a comprehensive exhibit full of old carnival paraphernalia, including wagons and relics from the day-to-day lives of the performers.
The A.I. Ringling Theater is a restored masterpiece that you can tour, and there are circus-themed bed and breakfasts to stay in. If you want to take a break from the hubbub of the circus, check out some of the many hiking and trekking trails all around Baraboo itself.
17. Eau Claire
If you’re looking for a quirky, cute, artistic small town in Wisconsin to visit, you couldn’t do much better than Eau Claire. Eau Claire is a haven for artists and nature lovers. Idyllically located right at the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, this town is a hotbed for all things cultural.
There’s an excellent chance that you’ll run across some live music, poetry, or even a festival happening. Like many of the towns on our list, Eau Claire is also a great place to learn about Wisconsin’s exciting history. It used to be an essential logging town, so make sure you visit the Wisconsin Logging Museum and Paul Bunyan Logging Camp to understand its role in the industry thoroughly.
Of course, there’s also plenty of nature to explore. Mt. Simon Park is a great place to spend the day, or you can go biking at Lowes Creek County Park. During the fall, Eau Claire is the place to go in Wisconsin to spot some of the most delightful foliage around.
18. Fish Creek
Door County Peninsula’s Fish Creek is a great little town that’s totally walkable and full of artists. Although there are several boutiques right on the main drag, there are a few galleries that you shouldn’t miss when you visit.
- Guenzel Art Gallery
- Hands On Art Studio
- Peninsula School of Art
Fish Creek is also a delightful place for foodies to visit. Many local restaurants specialize in fish boils, a local homestyle meal that’s sure to become one of your new favorites. In addition to the art galleries, you’ll find plenty of museums and restored homes, like the Alexander Noble House Museum, which dates back to the 1800s.
Nature enthusiasts will love meandering through Peninsula State Park or the area right around Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. You might glimpse some spectacular wildlife and will almost certainly be treated to amazing views.
19. Mineral Point
Mineral Point is one of the oldest small towns in Wisconsin, named for its zinc deposits. This former mining town is a charming place to stop in Wisconsin if you want to check out some fascinating history and nature.
It’s also right on the Cheese County Trail, making it one of the best small towns in Wisconsin to visit if you consider yourself a true foodie.
Although there are plenty of things to do in Mineral Point, many people love to wander down High Street and just soak up the architecture. The First Methodist Church is a charming building, but there are also plenty of homes and restaurants along the way.
Don’t forget to bring home some souvenirs. Mineral Point is famous for its pottery, fudge, and jewelry.
20. Sturgeon Bay
Sturgeon Bay is a small town with a big personality. It sits right between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, and you can learn all about the town’s heritage and history in shipbuilding and sailing the great lakes. The Sturgeon Bay branch of the Door County Maritime Museum is an excellent place to learn about WWII navy ships, and Sturgeon Bay’s lighthouses will transport you back in time.
Today, Sturgeon Bay is still very rooted in maritime activities. Fishing is big business in this small town, so make sure that you sample some of the local delicacies when you visit. Fish boils, and fish fries are popular.
21. Egg Harbor
Door County’s Egg Harbor is an idyllic lakeside town that’s perfect for visiting during late spring and summer. If you’re looking for an excellent spot to relax away from the crowds, do some water sports, and bask in the beautiful scenery, you won’t find anywhere that rivals Egg Harbor.
The landscape around Egg Harbor is really interesting, making it the Wisconsin destination for nature lovers. You’ll see a lot of limestone on the Niagara Escarpment and be able to explore miles of biking and hiking trails right around the town limits.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite from biking or hiking, it’s time to grab a snack. Egg Harbor has plenty of wineries and cheese shops where you can grab a pairing or two.
Wisconsin’s Janesville is a highly historic small town with plenty of prestigious listings on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the best spots to visit is the Milton House, a hexagonal home that was an integral part of the Underground Railroad. There’s also the Lincoln-Tallman House and the Rotary Botanical Gardens.
As with many of the best spots on our list, Janesville has no shortage of natural places to explore. There are tons of biking trails in and around the town.
Ambitious hikers can even take on the Ice Age Trail. Janesville is an excellent spot to visit at any time of the year, but it’s best during the summer and fall months. The trails around Janesville have plenty of bright foliage, and you can pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it.
If you love hunting for a bargain, Princeton is the ideal small town in Wisconsin for you to visit. Not only will you get the incredible nature and charm that you get from most of this state’s tinier towns, but you’ll also find a gigantic flea market.
Every Saturday between April and October, you can search for treasures. If you don’t strike gold, don’t worry. There’s always Woolbright’s River City Antique Mall and MNM Antique Mall!
If you get a little bit hungry while shopping, you’re in luck. Princeton has some fabulous little cozy cafes and local restaurants. The culinary scene in Princeton is notable for two reasons; the homestyle dishes that are on the menu and the friendly service that every guest gets when they walk through the door.
24. Eagle River
Eagle River is a beautiful place to visit if you want to see some of Wisconsin’s smaller lakes. This lovely little town is dotted with small lakes, lodges, and accommodations. It’s a great spot to get a little rest and relaxation, and there are plenty of fishing and water sports as well. You can camp out right by the lake and enjoy a clear, bright sky full of stars and an unparalleled sunrise.
Although you can certainly make your visit to Eagle River a predominately family-oriented endeavor, there are also things to do right in town. For example, Eagle River hosts Cranberry Fest every October. This time of year is excellent for touring the cranberry marshes and partaking in locally sourced and made cranberry snacks.
Stockholm’s tiny population welcomes visitors with open arms! Friendliness and creativity are two of the significant mandates in Stockholm, so if you visit, expect a truly unique experience. In addition, thanks to its earlier settlers, Stockholm has a substantial Scandinavian influence, so you are bound to see plenty of interesting, European-style architecture.
On top of that, there are plenty of little artisan shops and boutiques. Even people who don’t usually like to shop will want to spend some time perusing Stockholm’s stores.
You’ll find all sorts of craft items that you won’t get anywhere else, and be sure to bring home a great souvenir. If you decide to quench your thirst with a glass of Wisconsin’s finest, there are also wineries nearby.