Wisconsin has everything you need for a Midwestern getaway, from indulgent cheese curds to warm and welcoming locals. This charming state has more to offer than just Lambeau Field and the Wisconsin Dells water parks — if you venture off the beaten path, you can find everything from whitewater rafting to stunning freshwater islands. Escape the crowds and explore the wilderness and urban areas situated nearby most Wisconsin vacation rentals. Check out the state’s top non-touristy attractions.

1. Peshtigo River, Athelstane

White water rafting tour.
Source: Flickr/QueenstownRafting

When you think of river rafting, Wisconsin is probably not the first state that comes to mind – but on the Peshtigo River in the northern part of the state, you can ride Class III, IV, and V rapids. Tours are available in the late spring, summer, and fall; book with companies such as Kosir’s Rapid Rafts or Thornton’s, and experience a heart-pounding trip down intense whitewater. Your best bet for vacation rentals is in nearby Wausaukee or along the lakes surrounding Governor Thompson State Park.

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2. Minocqua

Lake surround by lush greenery.
Source: Flickr/Joshua Mayer

Make the most of Wisconsin’s sunny, warm summers in Minocqua. This tiny town is surrounded by lakes, so it’s a breeze to find waterfront vacation properties, sandy beaches, and countless water sports opportunities. While you’re visiting, be sure to catch a Min-Aqua Bats water skiing show; these talented athletes perform on Lake Minocqua three times per week during the summer. If you’re into silent sports, rent a kayak and explore the lakes and rivers. In the winter, try snowmobiling, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and outdoor ice skating.

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3. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield

Apostle Island sea caves.
Source: Flickr/Justin Meissen

Hidden away at the northernmost point of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are well-known to upper Midwestern adventurers, but virtually undiscovered by casual visitors. Rent a kayak and hop on an Apostle Islands Cruises ferry from Bayfield to reach vacation rentals on the islands. If you prefer to stay in Bayfield, the company also provides sightseeing cruises. During the summer, enjoy swimming in Lake Superior and paddling along the forested shores; in the winter, hike around the spectacular ice caves.

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4. Lost Creek Falls, Cornucopia

Waterfall in the forest.

Many visitors to Wisconsin’s northern coast stick to the shoreline, but few make it to Lost Creek Falls, a beautiful waterfall in the woods near Cornucopia. Getting there requires a two-mile hike through the forest. In the summer, the path is lined with fresh berries, and in the winter, the heavy snow is ideal for cross-country skiing. At the waterfall, you can climb behind the cascade or cool your feet in the stream at the bottom. Stay in Cornucopia or nearby Port Wing.

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5. Cave of the Mounds, Blue Mounds

Underground caves
Source: Flickr/minnemom

Climb underground into a massive limestone cave at Cave of the Mounds near Blue Mounds. This huge, natural system is a hidden wonderland – stalactites hang dramatically from the ceiling, and wild, colorful rock formations appear at every turn. Tours are available year round, and are particularly fun during Wisconsin’s intense winters; the inside of the cave is a steady 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Look for vacation rentals in Mt. Horeb, or make the easy drive from nearby Madison.

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6. Wisconsin State Capitol Building, Madison

State building surrounded by flowers.
Source: Flickr/Ron Cogswell

It’s impossible to miss the imposing Capitol Building on a visit to Madison, but this lovely building has a secret: an observation deck that’s only open during the summer. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the door to the deck is accessible from the fourth floor of the building, so most tourists passing through miss it completely. After a short climb, you’re rewarded with the best views in the city, all for free. For the easiest access, look for vacation rentals in lovely downtown Madison.

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7. House on the Rock, Spring Green

People walking through a metal bridge.
Source: Wikimedia Commons/Seth Tisue

One of Wisconsin’s most unusual hidden gems is the House on the Rock, a bizarre structure built on a huge sandstone base. Once a private residence, the house now houses the original owner’s many collections. From March through November, you can tour the property to see them all, including a 200-foot sea animal and the world’s largest carousel. Don’t miss the glass-enclosed Infinity Room that extends out high above the forest. Nearby, look for vacation rentals in Spring Green or Dodgeville.

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8. Man Mound, Baraboo

Lush greenery and trees.
Source: Flickr/Joshua Mayer

Between 750 and 1200 AD, prehistoric people built a large effigy mound near what is now Baraboo, Wisconsin. This strange man-shaped structure is one of only five anthropomorphic mounds in all of North America, making it a true rarity. In fact, it’s listed as a National Historic Landmark. Check out this piece of history year-round in Man Mound Park, which also offers a playground for the kids and a shaded picnic area. Vacation rentals are available in Baraboo, and Wisconsin Dells is a short drive to the north.

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9. Jurustic Park, Marshfield

Metal pig sculpture.
Source: Flickr/ThiloG

If you’re visiting Wisconsin with kids, it’s worth a trip to see the magical Jurustic Park in Marshfield. Here, fantastic metal structures hide among the trees, creating a fairyland feeling. Be sure to check out the massive dragon, see flying metal pigs, and walk under a multi-story spider. This fun-spirited park is open most days, but it’s a good idea to call in advance to check opening hours. Vacation rentals in Marshfield are a short drive from the park.

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10. North Point Lighthouse, Milwaukee

Large white lighthouse next to a house.
Source: Facebook/North Point Lighthouse

Enjoy views of Lake Michigan and downtown Milwaukee from the North Point Lighthouse in Lake Park. This beautiful lighthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers a fascinating maritime museum and the opportunity to climb the 74-foot tower. For the best experience, book a tour; guides are known for their excellent commentary. The lighthouse is open year round, and Milwaukee offers a large selection of vacation rentals.

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