8 Wisconsin Lake and River Getaways Perfect for Your Next Vacation

Dive into Wisconsin's cooler side at these beloved water-focused destinations.

As Wisconsinites will tell you, many of the state's best road trips inevitably lead to the water—Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Mississippi River or one of the many lakes that dot the state. Get ready for adventure in destinations such as Door County, Lake Geneva, the Wisconsin Dells and Bayfield.

at shore of Lake Michigan
Kevin J. Miyazaki

Door County

On a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, Door County contains 300 miles of shoreline and 10 waterfront towns. You'll find wineries, orchards, boutiques, art galleries, lighthouses and hiking trails. Spend your days exploring towns like Egg Harbor and Fish Creek; or head to places like Cave Point County Park, where beech forests, wetlands and shoreline studded with caves and limestone cliffs show off Door County's wilder side.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva

The famously clear Geneva Lake, ringed by resorts, vacation homes and 19th-century mansions, is anchored by the town of Lake Geneva on its east end, with Fontana on the west. Stroll the lakeshore path, seek fun on the water, or head into town for restaurants, shops and more. Let yourself be pampered at Grand Geneva Resort and Spa northeast of Lake Geneva or The Abbey Resort at the Fontana end of the lake.

Wisconsin Dells
Wilderness Resort. Courtesy of Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau

Wisconsin Dells

It's all about getting on the water in the Dells. Boat tours introduce today's visitors to the sandstone cliffs that first drew tourists to this region, and water parks thrill them with wave pools and towering slides. Nearby, Devil's Lake State Park offers 29 miles of hiking paths and 6 miles of off-road bike trails, plus beaches, boat rentals and camping.

sailboat bayfield wisconsin lake sailing water
Aaron Peterson


At the edge of the Lake Superior, the small harbor town of Bayfield forms a gateway to the Northern wilderness of the Apostle Islands. The nearly 70,000-acre Apostle Islands National Lakeshore covers 12 miles of cave-studded shoreline along a peninsula jutting into the lake and also includes 21 of the 22 Apostle islands. Boat and kayak tours help you explore the national lakeshore; and Madeline Island, the only Apostle not part of the lakeshore, is just a 25-minute ferry ride from Bayfield. On Madeline Island, explore Big Bay State Park and grab a drink at Tom's Burned Down Cafe (May through October).

Spider Lake Lodge in Hayward, Wisconsin
Spider Lake Lodge. Nate Luke


In northwest Wisconsin, days bring hiking in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and paddling the Namekagon River; nights bring campfires, cozy cabins and starry skies. Most visitors come to boat, fish and relax by the lakes, but there's also golf, Scheer's Lumberjack Village and the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

Osthoff Resort sunset courtyard
Courtesy of Osthoff Resort

Elkhart Lake

Most people come to Elkhart Lake (80 minutes north of Milwaukee) for weekends of swimming, boating and water-skiing on the 292-acre lake. But a world-renowned racetrack draws visitors too: the 4-mile Road America course, a favorite of amateur racers (and amateur racing fans). Kettle Moraine State Forest, meanwhile, offers hundreds of miles of trails for biking, hiking and running. Families appreciate kid-friendly events at The Osthoff Resort; adults enjoy treatments at Aspira Spa.

Beacons of Minocqua
John Noltner


Some 2,300 lakes surround this vacation hub in north-central Wisconsin. You might spend most of your time lounging by (or in) the water, but it's also fun to catch a show of the Min-Aqua Bats, who perform water-ski shows three nights a week over the summer. Nearby, you can watch speed carving and axe throwing at the Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Shows. Plus, Minocqua is home to nearly 100 shops, antiques stores and restaurants.

Sunrise over Golf Course at Whistling Straits
Destination Kohler


This tidy village of 2,000 is a quiet place to relax, savor exceptional meals, play golf or try a plush spa treatment, 56 miles north of Milwaukee. The town of Kohler was created by the Kohler Company in 1912 as a planned community and remains focused on businesses and attractions owned by Kohler, including The American Club, the Midwest's only AAA Five-Diamond resort hotel. Factory tours and a stop at the Kohler Design Center give visitors insight into the history and purpose of the town, but many guests come just to enjoy the deluxe lodging and its amenities.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles