As trends change and vacation plans become all the more extravagant, many have forgotten about the secret gem that is northern Wisconsin. Referred to as “Up North” by Wisconsinites, this area is blanketed in forests, bursting with lakes, and dotted with quaint towns. If you’re looking for a family and budget-friendly adventure, look no further than northern Wisconsin.
And the best part? Northern Wisconsin’s a year-round vacation destination. The summer is filled with boat rides, hiking, stargazing, and bonfires. Autumn boasts changing leaves, cool temperatures, and dead mosquitoes. Winter warms the soul with a cup of hot cocoa, pillows of snow, and abundant opportunities to strap on a pair of skis. Spring brings about sprouts of green, the return of animals and their young, and cuddling up on a rainy day with a good book.
We make our way Up North at least a few times every year and always manage to hit up our favorite places, which we’re going to share with you. If you’re feeling extra generous, please shoot this post a like and a share and, as always, enjoy! One last thing before you get too far, remember to…
Pin our picks for the Best of Northern Wisconsin!
Tremblay’s Sweet Shop
Started in 1963, this “Olde Tyme Candies” shop has been a family-favorite for years. In fact, no trip to Hayward is complete without a stop at this Main Street store. At just $6/lb you’ll find yourself filling your wicker basket to the brim with individually wrapped Salt Water Taffy. Mixed amongst the old-fashioned candy (Slo Poke’s, Mary Jane’s, and Coconut Long Boys) you’ll find an array of more recent favorites too—Laffy Taffy, Blow Pops, and Gummy Worms. Did I mention there’s an entire wall devoted to all the different flavors of Jelly Bellies? Yeah, this place caters to kids and adults alike.
Is candy not really your thing? That’s fine, they have a huge display of homemade specialties. Fudge, truffles, brittle, almond bark, nut rolls, clusters, caramel, hand-dipped chocolate… this list goes on and on! My favorite is the chocolate-peanut butter fudge, but if you’re ever unsure about a flavor, pop a sample in your mouth beforehand!
One of the most notable things about Tremblay’s is that you get to watch them make all the homemade specialties, whether window-shopping or standing in the store yourself. Watching them pour out chocolate onto the table, slice it up, and throw it through the air like putty is seriously jaw-dropping. And if you’re not planning on making a stop in Hayward, there are also stores located in Eagle River, Wisconsin and Stillwater, Minnesota.
Website: Tremblay’s Sweet Shop
Scheers Lumberjack Shows/Lumberjack World Championships
By the late 1800’s, northern Wisconsin was one of the nation’s leading lumber producers, thanks heavily in part to the northern part of the state. Since then, much of the industry has vanished, but the memory of logging has been kept alive in the hearts of Wisconsinites. In its place, they created lumberjack sports. These include: log rolling, boom running, pole climbing, cross-cut sawing, axe throwing, springboard chop, and underhand chop, amongst others.
Log Rolling: two competitors stand on either end of a long and try to get the other to fall off… without pushing them or crossing onto the other side of the log! This is the most popular sport, and kids as young as four and five can begin competing.
Boom Running: a race from one dock to another and back, across nine logs, without falling in!
Pole Climbing: If you get nervous easily, cover your eyes for this event. Competitors speed climb up either a 60- or 90-foot pole and back down.
For a complete description of the events and times, head to the website below.
Scheers Lumberjack Shows are a mix of sport, history, and comedy. They’re good an audience of all ages, and even have a special “Yo-Ho!” event for the kids. Shows take place almost every day in the summer, but make sure to book in advance! Shows take place in both Hayward, WI and Minocqua, WI—so take your pick!
The Lumberjack World Championships are taking place from August 1-3, 2019 in Hayward, Wisconsin. Spectators and competitors alike flock from countries across the world to watch the best of the best compete for a “World Champion” title.
Website: Scheers Lumberjack Show
Website: Lumberjack World Championships
Namekagon River Tubing
Nearly 100 miles long, this river snakes through some of northern Wisconsin’s most pristine forestland. The relatively calm water and rocky bottom makes it ideal for a plethora of outdoor activities. The river begins at Namekagon Lake as a small trout stream, perfect for fishing. As it meanders around its dozens of islands, through lakes and wetlands, it picks up in size as it eventually merges with the St. Croix River, a tributary of the Mississippi River.
Canoeing and kayaking are popular pastimes, many of which are several day-long trips, with campsites dotting the shores (and probably some of the islands too—I mean, how cool!?) South of Hayward, the river has the potential to speed up into Class II rapids in a few areas, but generally the water is too shallow. Instead of rafting, many people choose to go tubing down the river. This is my personal favorite river activity, as it’s a good bled between relaxation, swimming, and fun!
I’m sure there are many tour agencies that offer this service, but I’m going to recommend two I know and trust.
The first is through the Hayward KOA, located in Hayward. You don’t have to be camping here to punch your ticket to an afternoon of fun. You can choose to canoe, kayak, or tube down the river. The KOA will then shuttle you to the drop-off point, and pick you up later at a designated spot down-river. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! 😉
Website: Hayward KOA
The second is Jack’s Canoe Rental, located in Trego. Again, you can rent tubes, canoes, and kayaks. For tubing, shuttle service is free with the rental of a tube, and you can go as many times as you’d like during the day (between 9 AM and 3 PM and weather dependent, of course). If you bring along a cooler, they’ll even pitch in a free tube for it and rope to tie it to your own tube… making it a whole day adventure!
Canoe and Kayak rentals pay an additional shuttle fee, but patrons can choose from a variety of different rental options and trips (just a few hours to a few days), giving options to beginners and experts alike.
Website: Jacks Canoe Rental
This is, hands down, my favorite place in the entire state—if not the entire world (which is saying a lot!) Just off of Wisconsin’s northern shore in Lake Superior, 21 islands surround the state’s uppermost peninsula. These rugged, sandstone cliff islands jut out of the water with spectacular magnitude.
Several different options exist for island cruises, but most are out of Bayfield. Nine historic lighthouses are present on six different islands, which are a photographer’s dream. You’ll be amazed with the picturesque coastline of these islands and the light blue water that surrounds them (You thought bright blue water was only in the Bahamas??? Think again!)
Camping is available on 19 of the islands, but the most popular is Madeline Island. A ferry runs directly from Bayfield to La Pointe (the island’s only city). You can walk aboard, bring your bike, car, or entire camper. Campsites on this island fill up extremely fast, so make sure to book almost a year in advance if you want a site (I’m not joking). There are a few first-come-first-serve sites, but they’re always immediately filled, so don’t bank on it.
Madeline Island boasts a quarter-moon beach cay with white sand and calm, shallow water. Lounge around, sign up for the sand castle building contest, go snorkeling, cliff jumping, biking, hiking, or take a walk on shore’s rocks during sunset. Lake Superior’s water is notoriously cold, but once you’re numb you can’t feel it anyways. 😉
If you’re just there for a day-trip, check out the Madeline Island Museum, grab a bite to eat at The Beach Club, a drink at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, and ice cream at Grampa Tony’s (just a few of our favorite places 😊).
The fun doesn’t stop when summer ends. When Lake Superior freezes, take the Madeline Island ice road (via a wind sled to be safe) to the only year-round occupied island. Take a winter hike, watch the aurora borealis, or explore one of the ice caves!
Website: Superior Trails – Madeline Island
Copper Falls State Park
Another year-round attraction, Copper Falls State Park is a 3,068-acre park near Mellen. Famous for its deep gorges and thundering waterfalls, the golden-brown color of the park’s Bad River derives its name from the copper mineral found in the nearby rocks.
Well-groomed trails and amenities, plenty of campsite options, and its pet-friendly atmosphere earned its spot on our list. Some of the waterfalls need to be enjoyed from afar, but there are several smaller ones for the little ones to splash around near. It truly is one of our favorite spots in northern Wisconsin!
Plus, when you go in the winter, nothing is cooler than half-frozen waterfalls. You can either take my word for it or book your own trip to see it yourself, and I suggest the latter! Are you a huge waterfall fan? Check out our post: Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica!
Website: Copper Falls State Park
American Birkebeiner Ski Race
The Birkie (literally burr-key😉) is North America’s largest cross-country ski race. The race starts in Cable and ends 50-55 kilometers later on Hayward’s beautiful Main Street. Skiers from all around the world come to northern Wisconsin to compete in this monumental event, and crowds pack tightly together with hot cocoa in-hand at the finish line to ring their cowbells and cheer on the exhausted athletes.
Does skiing more than 50 kilometers not sound like your idea of fun? That’s fine! You can choose to ski the shorter Kortelopet (29 kilometers) or participate in the un-timed Birke Tour (for 15, 26, or 46 kilometers) on the nation’s best cross-country ski trail, just for fun!
Still not interested? What about the Prince Haakon 15k (ages 13+), the 3.7km race for adaptive skiers, the 1.2-5k Junior Birke for ages 6-18, or the infamous Barnebirkie, a non-competitive 500m-3k race for youth aged 3-13.
Or maybe you hate winter, who knows? The well-maintained trail is open year-round for hiking, running, or biking!
Website: American Birkebeiner
Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame
More commonly known as “The Giant Muskie”, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is just that—a giant Muskie. Located in Hayward (the spot of one of the world’s largest caught muskies), guests enter the giant fish at the tail, and make their way through the museum to the fish’s mouth, which provides views of the surrounding area. It’s a great way to spend a few hours learning more about wildlife and fishing in northern Wisconsin!
Website: Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame
Locals live in them, visitors rent them. Cabins are woven into northern Wisconsin so tightly that the area, quite frankly, would look strange without them. Some are tucked away behind thickets of trees, some line the pristine lakes, others form a city block. A quick Google search will provide you hundreds and hundreds of options, which can be overwhelming.
So, we’re going to give you our favorite one, and a discount to use should you decide to book a few nights here (which you should 😉). It’s located 20 minutes outside of Hayward on 80 acres of land. There’s a small, 20-acre lake that only you have access to for the duration of your stay. I could keep rambling about how awesome this place is, but pictures do it a better justice than words.
When you book, send the promo code AGAPE2019 in your message to the host to receive 20% off. That’s right folks, that’s $50 off each night!
*Promo code is subject to availability. Discount is only available on bookings in May-June and September-November. The host reserves the right to deny any bookings.
Website: Airbnb Cabin Rental
Honestly, you can find a place to go horseback riding almost anywhere in northern Wisconsin. It’s a relaxing way to meander through the beautiful forest and check horseback riding off your bucket list (we know it’s on there). Here are a few local favorites for you to choose from.
Located in Spider Lake, just 14 miles east of Hayward. $32/person for a one-hour ride, $24 for a half-hour, $8 for a pony ride. Discounts available for groups of 8+, boys & girls club members, active duty military, and college students.
Located in between Stone Lake and Spooner. Several different rides are available: ½ hour ($25), 1 hour ($35), 1 ½ hours ($65), All-day (5hrs- $175), or pony rides ($10). Discount on all-day ride for groups 3+ or if customers pay in cash.
“Connecting with God by Connecting with Horses” is the tagline for this ranch. Located in Phillips, this ranch offers riding lessons, family packages, and birthday packages, amongst more! Riding lessons are for kids or adults, $25 for a one-hour private lesson or $25 for a 1 ½ hour semi-private lesson. The Family package is a 1- 1 ½ hour lesson and can accommodate group sizes 3-4 ($20/rider) or 5-8 ($18/rider).
Did someone say sleigh ride???
Located in Birchwood, On Twin Lakes focuses on taking time to slow down and reflect. “We have been blessed with an amazing piece of God’s green earth, and we want to share that with everyone we can.” The farm hosts weddings and events, provides camping, rides, and trails, and even farms produce and meat.
Sleigh/wagon rides are available year-round. Prices start at $75/person (for up to 4 people, $10 for each additional person).
Minnesota may be “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”, but Wisconsin has over 15,000, making boating a very popular summer activity. Go tubing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and knee boarding, try your hand at the jet ski, wave runner, paddleboard, or paddleboat. Or maybe you’d rather take a cruise in a pontoon up to a sandbar and spend the afternoon watching the waves roll slowly in.
Don’t have a boat? It’s likely that you can find several marinas within the vicinity of any body of water… so basically, everywhere. The two hottest tourist destinations in northern Wisconsin are Hayward and Minocqua, so we’ll recommend two great marinas, where you can rent any type of boat for the afternoon or for the entire week. And the best part? Add on a few tubes, skis, and other water toys for an additional price.
This marina strategically sits between at the meeting point between two of Hayward’s most popular lakes: Big Round Lake and Little Round Lake, but is a short drive away from the Chippewa Flowage (and about a dozen other lakes of your choosing 😉).
Located on Minocqua Lake, Wave Rentals offers a variety of different watercraft—from pontoons and fishing boats to kayaks and paddleboards.
Speaking of Minocqua… this quaint little town has an official population of less than 500. However, when the summer months start creeping around, that number grows exponentially. It’s a Northwoods hub for vacation, adventure, fun, and relaxation.
The year-round opportunities are endless. From the bustling, picturesque Main Street, live entertainment, art, history, water activities, trail hiking, hunting, fishing, ATV rides, and snowmobile trips, this area is stuffed to the brim with things to do, see, and eat. All these activities make Minocqua one of our favorite spots in northern Wisconsin!
Website: Minocqua, WI
Mini golf, a vacation classic. If you’re anything like us, you scout the area for the best courses and the loser buys ice cream. What can I say? We’re competitive people who love ice cream—and winning. (Jacob likes winning more, but let’s be honest, I’m mostly in it for the ice cream). Any vacation town in northern Wisconsin is going to have at least one course, so we’ve gone ahead and pulled the top ones off our list for you.
This course definitely isn’t jaw dropping, but it’s family-friendly, has a well-maintained green, and an attached ice cream/shaved ice shop. What more could you ask for?
A 19th century settlers themed mini golf, this course merges history with the present. It’s topped off with a covered wagon (AKA prairie schooner), water wheel, and of course—frozen custard.
This 1950’s fishing camp-themed course is complete with a fishing cabin, bait shop, and dock. But why let the fun stop there? Try out their new northern lights-themed laser tag!
With locations all over the country, this Door County mini golf is, you guessed it, pirate themed! Pirates, ships, and waterfalls await you at this award-winning course.
With newly-carpeted green, this is your average family-friendly course. The holes aren’t too complicated, making it perfect for the little ones.
Remember this unique Wisconsin sport? After the show, head across the street to the neighboring mini golf course. Sloped holes make for an interesting game as you (probably) compete for post-game ice cream! If you love mini golf be sure to check out our favorite courses in Florida here: Family Friendly Adventures in Tampa!
I may be biased, but some of the best apples in the world are picked in Bayfield. With its unique location on the shores of Lake Superior, the micro-climate helped it earn its name as the Berry Capital of Wisconsin. That’s right, it’s not just apples. There are several pick-it-yourself orchards filled with cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, as well.
The first Friday in October kicks off the annual Applefest, a three-day celebration that’s consistently rated as one of the nations top fall harvest festivals. Head on up to northern Wisconsin to check it out yourself!
Website: Bayfield, WI
The Whitecap Mountains
Although it’s a four-season resort, we suggest checking out these Upson, Wisconsin slopes in the winter. With four separate peaks, this mountain is Wisconsin’s snowiest ski resort! There are 43 downhill runs ranging from beginner (green runs) to expert (double black diamonds). It’s no Vail, Colorado with gondolas and 5-star restaurants, but for midwestern ski bums—this northern Wisconsin resort is the place to be. (Plus, if your K-12 child gets all A’s, they get a free season pass… talk about motivation!!) Want to hear more about Colorado’s resorts? Check out our post: Skiing in Colorado!
Website: Whitecap Resort
Bear River Pow Wow
The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians are a federally recognized Ojibwa Native American tribe located in northern Wisconsin. Each summer, Lac de Flambeau puts on an annual Bear River Pow Wow bringing together tribes from across the nation. Everyone is welcome to share in the celebration and this year’s Pow Wow is July 12-14, 2019.
Website: Bear River Pow Wow
Amnicon Falls State Park
This 825-acre state park is located in South Range (just south of Superior). Similar to Copper Falls State Park, the Amnicon River runs through this park, filling it with waterfalls and rapids. Picturesque in all four seasons (especially fall!) this park is perfect for hiking, camping, or picnicking with your family and friends.
Website: Amnicon State Park
Arguably northern Wisconsin’s most famous county, Door County is located on the tip of Wisconsin’s “thumb”—the peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan. Just like the Apostle Islands, Door County is filled with 300 miles of rugged coastline, long stretches of sandy beaches, and inviting blue water. Picturesque towns fill the space in between with cherry pie, art galleries, wine tasting, and local restaurants.
Website: Door County
Northern Wisconsin is more than just a summertime weekend getaway. Vast trails, quaint towns, and incredible scenery are the norm year-round. If you’re looking for a place to explore and reconnect, look no further than Up North. It’s more than affordable and will surprise even the most seasoned travelers with its beauty.