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Weekend Getaways From Milwaukee

by Staff

As Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee is home to more than half a million people—plus cool beer culture, festivals and a stellar art scene. But if you’re craving a temporary change of pace and scenery, head to these cities and towns in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois for lakeside views, charming main streets, enticing restaurants and active adventure. The following destinations are all within 200 miles of the Cream City, making for a quick weekend getaway without tedious hours in the car.

Lake Geneva shoreline.
Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin—50 miles from Milwaukee

Just 20 minutes from the Illinois border, Lake Geneva’s resorts, 19th-century mansions and boutique-filled downtown all contribute to its reputation as an idyllic Midwest lake escape. Geneva Lake is the state’s second-largest spring-fed lake and the star of the show. Excursions on Lake Geneva Cruise Line offer a glimpse of the stately Victorian homes ringing its shores. But if you’re more of a landlubber, soak up the experience from the water’s edge with a hike on part or all of the 21-mile Lake Geneva Shore Path. Or lounge the day away on Riviera Beach, near downtown. Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, the area offers a vast selection of farm-to-table and down-home eats. Simple focuses on local artisan food producers, while tried-and-true Next Door Pub serves some of the best ‘za around.

Lambeau Field.
Evan Siegle

Green Bay, Wisconsin—120 miles from Milwaukee

Although Green Bay is primarily known for its beloved Green Bay Packers (and you can, and should, take a Lambeau Field Stadium Tour), there’s a whole lot more to this waterside town. Next to the Packers’ stadium, the Titletown entertainment district lets visitors play year-round, with restaurants, shopping, a weekly night market and seasonal sledding and ice-skating. Away from the action, explore the grounds of Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, a wooded, 535-acre haven for rehabbed animals like owls and foxes. Down the road, eat cotton candy and ride the mini train at Bay Beach Amusement Park. Or roam 47 glorious acres with 85,000-plus plants from Wisconsin and beyond at Green Bay Botanical Garden.

Devil’s Lake State Park.
Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Baraboo, Wisconsin—120 miles from Milwaukee

While Wisconsin Dells tends to be the big draw in this region, don’t overlook the charms of nearby Baraboo. It’s where you’ll find Devil’s Lake State Park, a verdant oasis with over 10,000 acres and 29 miles of hiking trails. Under-the-radar Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area, just 15 minutes from Devil’s Lake, treats hikers to grand sandstone boulders and a waterfall. Mirror Lake State Park is a peaceful retreat named after its glassy, calm lake, 3 miles from the Dells. To connect with nature at a slower speed, take a tour of the lavender fields at New Life Lavender and Cherry Farm or pick seasonal fruit to your heart’s delight at Ski-Hi Fruit Farm.

Bob Stefko

Chicago—95 miles from Milwaukee

A small-town escape is always a good time, but it’s hard to top a weekend in the Midwest’s largest city. Chicago provides near countless ways savor its splendor, from the Chicago Architecture River Cruise to The 606 Trail, a new 2.7-mile multi-use trail and green space. Join an off-season tour of Wrigley Field or shop ’til you drop along The Magnificent Mile. World-class museums like the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago beckon locals and visitors with engaging exhibits. The city’s boutique hotels, like the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and The Publishing House, appeal to travelers with their bespoke flair.

Courtesy of Galena Country Tourism

Galena, Illinois—170 miles from Milwaukee

With an array of architectural styles from the 1820s on throughout its Historic District, Galena, in northwest Illinois, transports visitors to the past. Learn about its storied buildings and more, and get off your feet, aboard the Galena Trolley. Find 125 brick-clad shops and restaurants along downtown’s picturesque main street; peruse Galena Apothecary for natural beauty products and vintage wares, find a new favorite read at Galena Book and Paper or linger over a plate of Nana Lu’s meat lasagna at Vinny Vanucchi’s Little Italy. To get a bird’s eye view of the region, visit Horseshoe Mound where you’ll spot three states or zip above the trees with Long Hollow Canopy Tours.

Courtesy of Granite Peak

Wausau, Wisconsin—190 miles from Milwaukee

In the heart of Wisconsin, Wausau’s popularity has steadily increased over last few years, especially among the adventure and arts set. It’s home to Rib Mountain State Park, dotted with striking rock formations that are billions of years old. About five miles north is Granite Peak, a favorite resort among Wisconsinites, featuring 60 trails across 200 skiable acres. If you’d prefer to stay indoors, head to Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, where wildlife and nature are rendered as exquisite sculptures and vivid oil paintings. Downtown, a robust events calendar draws crowds for festivals and markets year-round. At Wausau’s 300 Block, a canopy of vibrant umbrellas hangs overhead (the display makes for a whimsical photo backdrop if your socials need a little pep!).

Fenelon Place Elevator.
Ackerman + Gruber

Dubuque, Iowa—175 miles from Milwaukee

Once a notable maritime hub, Dubuque is now a hub of activity for families and adventurous travelers. The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, a family-friendly riverfront attraction, combines 12 large aquariums and educational exhibits the kiddos will love. To see the beauty of the great outdoors, hike 15 miles of trails in the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, a 1,432-acre National Historic Landmark just outside of town. Or ride the Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s shortest and steepest railroad cable car, to tri-state views. Downtown Dubuque also features 40 kaleidoscopic murals by local and international artists.

Courtesy of St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau

St. Charles, Illinois—110 miles from Milwaukee

St. Charles is a historic hamlet where you can slow your roll and take it all in. The city is particularly famous for its family-operated Kane County Flea Market (open March through December), one of the very best in the Midwest for antique furniture pieces and collectible artwork. After some retail therapy, journey downtown for live music performances and outdoor dining. Or catch a performance at the Arcada Theatre, with a Studio 54-style dance club juxtaposed with a 1920s speakeasy. Cap off the old-school feel of this getaway with a Paddlewheel Riverboat trip on the Fox River.

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