Hills, History, and Hijinks - See it all in Southwest Wisconsin
Published on Wed, 06/28/2017 - 4:37pm
When it comes to summertime getaways, some places hold all the cards and never disappoint. Southwest Wisconsin comes to mind for the upper Midwest. As part of our continuing “Places We Like” series, some of the reasons why the lower left corner of this state has appeal include:
- Spectacular views
- Swimming and boating
- Food and drinks found nowhere else
- Quality entertainment
- Unique local treasures
Consider, also, a summer climate that isn’t always 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity—stuff that in your pipe, Disneyworld—and add it the scent of lush pine forests or freshly-cut hay, and it’s easy to see why this part of Wisconsin is one of the places we like. Check it out for your vacation getaway this summer.
This charming little town set amid rolling hills promotes itself as the place “where Wisconsin began.” Originally established in the early 1800s as a lead mining community, miners from Cornwall, England (think “Doc Martin” and the hills around Portwenn) arrived and made their imprint. Today you can tour restored miners’ quarters on Shake Rag alley, and enjoy famous Cornish Pasty in the Red Rooster Cafe downtown. Since the 1930s, Mineral Point has been a magnet for artistic expression, with dozens or workshops, galleries, and displays showcasing local talent.
mineralpoint.com — tourism information
artsmp.org — artist information
Just up the road from Mineral Point is Dodgeville, home of the state’s oldest active courthouse, three state parks, and quality mass marketer Land’s End. What to do? Enjoy ice cream, a hand-made malt or a real phosphate from the old-fashioned soda fountain at Corner Drugstore. There’s plenty of Wisconsin dairy industry evident in the many restaurants—even the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship is held here in the spring. The winding roads in the area make for exhilarating bicycling or windows-open motoring, too. Maybe you’ll end up seeing Stephens’ Falls freshet in Governor Dodge State Park, a rare waterfall in this area.
Mention tiny Spring Green in certain circles and people become animated. They’ll start gushing about the quality Shakespearian-style performances at the American Players Theater, located on 110 wooded acres just south of Spring Green. Or the bizarre (as in, “I’ve never seen anything like this before”) House On The Rock, which is one man’s epic project to his fertile imagination and eclectic, if unrestricted, collecting bug. Truly, you have to see it to believe it.
But to most people, Spring Green is synonymous with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright—he was born 28 miles away in Richland Center—and the opportunity to see some of his best local work, and even tour the world-famous Taliesin and the Hillside Home School and Hillside Drafting Studio. Plan on a driving tour to see all his local works as well as works from Taliesin students. If you want to see more of Wisconsin, the new Frank Lloyd Wright Trail begins in Kenosha on Lake Michigan and ends up in Richland Center.
Prairie du Sac
Overlooking the Wisconsin River is a little bit of Beaujolais, France. Or so it appears. The Wollersheim winery was one of the early “cold-tolerant” wineries in the state, dating back to the 1840s. A change in tastes and Prohibition spelled the end of winemaking at the estate until Bob Wollersheim and his wife JoAnn bought the farm in 1972 and planted vines. When French winemaker Philippe Coquard joined the family, the future was assurred. Situated on southern slopes, the vines overlook the Wisconsin River. In 2009 the family added a distillery to product Cognac-style brandy and other spirits. Explore the winery store, with guided tours and tastings daily.
Few towns can make you feel like a young child as does Baraboo. Where else can you visit a real, live Big Top Circus and a few minutes later find yourself on a real steam engine? With the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey traveling circus closing down, Baraboo’s Circus World Museum takes up the slack for lovers of clowns, stunts, death-defying acts, and other circus-y frivolity. The museum features exhibits, posters, and circus wagons.
For lovers of trains, be they steam- or diesel-powered, the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in nearby North Freedom has a full day’s worth of exploring. Rail cars, locomotives, and rail memorabilia are all on display. Take a memorable 55-minute round-trip train ride in a valley between the Baraboo Hills in rural Sauk County. Passengers ride in restored steel coaches built a century ago.
Just north of Baraboo is the International Crane Foundation, which works worldwide to conserve cranes and their ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways. It is the only place on earth where you can see and learn about the world’s 15 crane species. You will be amazed at these spectacular birds.
Speaking of birds, Baraboo is also home to the Flyways Waterfowl Experience, where you can learn about all the waterfowl that call North America home. Displays include antique and contemporary decoys and duck calls, duck stamp art, and even the opportunity to climb into a real duck blind set up as part of a surprisingly realistic duck-hunting laser arcade.
When you bill yourself as “The Waterpark Capital of the World” you better deliver, and the Dells delivers, and how! By the time you count all the indoor and outdoor pools, lazy rivers, waterslides, raft rides, geysers, splashpads, indoor and outdoor spas, and other attractions, it’s clear you would need several days to visit them all. Bring sunscreen and extra swimsuits.
Long-time Dells visitors will no doubt want to see what’s new with the Tommy Bartlett water-ski show, which is just one of many live entertainment activities available. And, thankfully, the Dells’ has outgrown its somewhat lowbrow, carnival atmosphere that prevailed decades ago.
If you want something more relaxing that’s water-related, check out some of the Dells boat tours. The towering cliffs and stunning scenery is well worth the trip, even if you choose the famous Wisconsin Ducks novelty ride, which have been surprising and thrilling visitors since 1946.
Don’t be shy
These are just a few of the attractions available—there are numerous caves, fishing streams, lakes, parks, museums, restaurants, and cultural activities to enjoy. For tourists, Wisconsin is one of the friendliest places to visit. Maybe it is the proliferation of wineries and microbreweries, even in the smallest burgs. Or the many cheese houses. (There’s something about fresh Wisconsin cheese curds that practically “squeaks” on your teeth when eating them—try it and you’ll know.)
And as a dairy state, you have to like a place where the beverage at the top of the drinks list in restaurants is milk—and would you care for whole, two percent or one percent?