Wisconsin truly has everything, from epic natural wonders to dynamic cities to a thriving farm-to-table scene. But what sets this Midwestern destination apart is its bevy of delightful small towns sprinkled across the state. We’ve rounded up the best small towns in Wisconsin — all with a population under 15,000 — that offer something for every type of traveler.
Pretty Stockholm is set on the Great River Road, a newly designated National Scenic Byway. This enclave, long ago settled by Scandinavians, offers a plethora of cute shops and eateries that epitomize small town charm. Stop for a fresh, locally grown meal at Hop Dish & Vine, which serves an ever-rotating menu based on the bounty of nearby farms. For a sweet something, longtime favorite Stockholm Pie is sure to delight. On the souvenir front, consider Scandhihoo for sustainable Nordic-inspired wares, The Palate for foodie finds, and Iris & Oak for work from regional artists, including area favorite Stockholm Pottery.
One of the best-known Midwest destinations is Wisconsin’s Door County, a jagged thumb of a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan on the state’s eastern side. Though every village here has its own treasure trove of attractions, Sister Bay is an excellent small town pick. Stay at The Dörr, a new Scandinavian-inspired hotel with a prime central location. From there, walk to the waterfront for weekly concerts or movies in the park, which guests can enjoy seasonally. Finally, don’t miss the farm tours from Door County Creamery or the famous rooftop goats at Al Johnson’s. Tip: Summertime visitors should be sure to sample the lingonberry-forward Swedish Swirl ice cream at Al’s.
As the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield is a can’t-miss small town in the Badger State. Visitors can expect sea caves (or ice caves, depending on the time of year), orchards (organized into the aptly named Fruit Loop), and stellar paddling (for all skill levels). Additionally, this area, known for its native culture, is home to the country’s first tribal national park, Frog Bay, and the nation’s first Indigenous-owned distillery, Copper Crow. Stay at a classic Bayfield bed-and-breakfast, the Old Rittenhouse Inn, which has multiple private residences under one roof.
Prairie du Chien
The bluffy beauty of western Wisconsin is best epitomized in the small town of Prairie du Chien, set along the majestic Mississippi River Valley. Visitors here can enjoy a traditional fish fry at The Barn, hike for lovely views at Wyalusing State Park, and pick up smoked fish and fresh cheese curds from Valley Fish & Cheese Market. After a day spent exploring this Driftless port of call, lay your head at the family-owned Waterfront Hotel right downtown.
Racing enthusiasts will recognize the village of Elkhart Lake, located on Wisconsin’s eastern flank. This small town is home to Road America, a historic (and fast) permanent racing track set on a 600-acre complex. Elkhart Lake itself, for which the town is named, is often ranked the cleanest in the state. It’s also noteworthy for its signature aqua color, resembling a slice of Caribbean paradise in the Midwest. For a perfect getaway, stay at the famed Osthoff Resort, dine at the Paddock Club or Lake Street Cafe, and enjoy a sunset beverage at the Tiki Bar at The Shore Club.
One can’t think of Wisconsin without acknowledging its agricultural bounty, and while the nickname of America’s Dairyland is accurate (hello, cheese trail), lots more is produced here. Set in the rolling hills of the Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin, Viroqua is home to one of the highest concentrations of organic farms in the U.S. Sample some farm-to-table goodness at the James Beard-nominated Driftless Cafe, grab breakfast and a solar-powered cup from Wonderstate Coffee, and pop into the Viroqua Food Co-Op for edible souvenirs. For accommodations, enjoy the Victorian stylings of Viroqua Heritage Inn or the rustic Scandinavian charm of the cabins at Driftless Creek.
A well-known southeastern Wisconsin locale, Lake Geneva is home to a storied collection of Gilded Age waterfront mansions. Unlike other upscale second home spots, these properties are accessible for ogling via the 26-mile-long Geneva Lake Shore Path. After a hike, grab a bite at Lake City Social, then wash it down at Geneva Lake Distilling. Spend the night at the chic Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, a reimagined former Playboy Club.
Architecture buffs will recognize Spring Green as Frank Lloyd Wright central. The architect’s 800-acre Taliesin estate is conveniently located south of town. The site, now recognized by UNESCO for its cultural importance, includes highlights like the Taliesin home and Hillside Studio. Another quirky attraction, The House on the Rock is also architecturally relevant. For a more natural offering, visit nearby Tower Hill State Park, known for hiking, birding, and paddling.
Sometimes called the Island City due to its location on the pristine Lake Minocqua, Minocqua is a small town in northern Wisconsin. Water recreation activities abound in Minocqua, home to the Min-Aqua Bats, one of the country’s oldest water ski show teams. Grab a lakeside beverage at the more-than-a-century-old Thirsty Whale and enjoy a meal at the Boathouse, before retiring to one of the area’s many rustic, lodge-style accommodations. Beer is a way of life in Wisconsin, so consider stopping at Rocky Reef Brewing Company just north of town. It’s known for its large selection of craft beers with fun names like Staycation, a classic light offering, and Musky Bite, a popular IPA.
For the kitschiest small town in Wisconsin, look no further than Mount Horeb. Roughly 25 miles west of state capital Madison, this spot is known for its trolls. To spot the whimsical wooden creatures — an ode to the area’s Norwegian heritage — check out the downtown Trollway guide, which includes multiple maps of notable trolls. Other area highlights include the Driftless Historium museum, Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts (in equally adorable Mineral Point), and Cave of the Mounds, a National Natural Landmark. Before leaving, don’t forget to stop by the tasting room at Brix Cider for a locally crafted beverage.