Milwaukee has plenty to do for visitors looking for affordable, memorable and enjoyable travel experiences. But thanks to the city’s location in southeastern Wisconsin, Milwaukee also makes a great gateway to other must-visit destinations in the state as well as into Illinois.
On a short trip from Milwaukee, you can relax in resort towns and water parks, go on a hike or sip a glass of wine. Here are the best day trips from the city.
1. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Why go? To hike along the lake and then wind down at a resort spa.
The original inhabitants of Lake Geneva were the Potawatomi people, and later wealthy Chicagoans built houses around the lake after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Now Lake Geneva has transformed into a popular resort town with plenty to do inside and outside. Seasonal activities include snowmobiling, skiing, swimming and ziplining. Visitors can also hike through Big Foot Beach State Park or the Lake Geneva Shore Path, which offers a scenic view of the water on one side and Gilded Age mansions on the other.
Turn on relaxation mode by heading to the Grand Geneva Resort Spa, which offers customizable spa packages. Otherwise, if you’re up for an adventure, go horseback riding at Dan Patch Stables and then hang out at Topsy Turvy Brewery's outdoor beer garden. Wine enthusiasts should grab a seat at Studio Winery + Lake Geneva Distilling to listen to live music on the weekends.
How to get to Lake Geneva: It’s a 50-mile drive to Lake Geneva from Milwaukee, which takes just under an hour. There’s no public transportation available.
2. Chicago, Illinois
Why go? Because you can’t leave the Midwest without a trip to the region’s biggest city.
Travelers can get a taste of big-city energy in Chicago. The Windy City is the largest in the Midwest, and it provides visitors with endless options for food, shopping and museums. The Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, DuSable Museum of African American History and Cloud Gate, affectionately known as The Bean, in Millennium Park are just a few of top sights to see on a day trip.
Because of Chicago’s rich diversity, it also has one of the best food scenes in the country. Visitors can indulge in Chicago-style hot dogs from Portillo’s, fried chicken from Harold’s Chicken Shack and deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s. Chicago is a jam-packed day trip whether you’re traveling with family, solo or for a romantic getaway.
How to get to Chicago: From Milwaukee, you can drive or take the Amtrak train to Chicago. Driving takes two hours, while Amtrak takes an hour and a half. Amtrak departs from downtown Milwaukee and drops you off in downtown Chicago’s Union Station.
3. Cedarburg, Wisconsin
Why go? To taste award-winning wines at an affordable price.
North of Milwaukee is the small town of Cedarburg. Originally the land of the Potawatomi and Sauk people, Cedarburg became a mill town with the arrival of German settlers in the 1800s. Visitors today can find the Cedarburg Art Museum, Cedarburg History Museum and plenty of festivals to experience, including Oktoberfest.
A highlight of Cedarburg is the family-owned Cedar Creek Winery, which started as a wool mill in 1864 before being transformed into a winery three decades ago. Wine lovers can take a tour and taste the seasonal wines, which range from sweet, mulled red wine to a fruity strawberry blush. The combination of small-town charm, wine and festivals make Cedarburg a cute mini-escape from Milwaukee.
How to get to Cedarburg: Cedarburg is just a 20-mile, 30-minute drive from downtown Milwaukee. Some Ozaukee County Express bus services from the Milwaukee County Transit System run to Cedarburg, but you’ll need a taxi to get you downtown or to the winery.
4. Baraboo, Wisconsin
Why go? To hike one of only 11 national scenic trails from the Ice Age.
Nicknamed the “Circus City” because of the Ringling Brothers’ presence here in the 1800s and 1900s, Baraboo is the home of the Circus World Museum and Devil’s Lake State Park. Bringing in 3 million visitors every year, Devil’s Lake is Wisconsin’s most visited park and part of the 12,000-year-old Ice Age Trail. Glacial ice cascaded Wisconsin during the Ice Age, and the rocky remnants now span more than 9000 acres of Devil’s Lake with a beach view in the middle.
Devil’s Lake is ideal for travelers who like moderate hikes, so bring water and sturdy shoes with you on this day trip. You can also rock climb on the glacier formations, such as the photoworthy Devil’s Doorway Trail. Other trails include the West Bluff Trail, East Bluff Trail and Balanced Rock Trail.
For something more low key, stop by the town's free year-round Ochsner Park Zoo. Canada Lynx, capuchin monkeys, wolves and bears are just some of the 30 different animal species on display, along with a picture-worthy (and refreshing) stop in front of a playful lion water fountain.
How to get to Devil’s Lake: Devil’s Lake is 120 miles from Milwaukee, and the drive takes two hours. There is no public transportation available.
5. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Why go? Because families will love waterpark hopping.
Home to more than 20 indoor and outdoor waterparks and three ski resorts, the Wisconsin Dells is a kitschy, family-friendly place to visit year-round. Mt. Olympus, Noah’s Ark and Kalahari Resort are three popular options for those wanting to dive into some water activities. If you’d rather stay on dry land, you can visit Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and mini-golf at Pirate’s Cove. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to MACS (Macaroni and Cheese Shop), High Rock Cafe for classic American cuisine or The Del-Bar for cocktails and drinks.
How to get to Wisconsin Dells: The Wisconsin Dells is less than two hours from Milwaukee by car. Amtrak trains from downtown Milwaukee’s Intermodal Station to Wisconsin Dells Station take two hours.
6. Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Why go? Because a trip to Wisconsin isn’t complete without locally made cheese curds and a brat.
Sheboygan lies on the western coast of Lake Michigan, and plenty of activities promise to keep visitors occupied, from Segway and group pedaling tours to sailing on the lake, surfing and cycling. Other activities include a day at Blue Harbor Resort, walking through Kohler-Andrae State Park or visiting the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Families can relax in Bookworm Gardens, a botanical garden inspired by children’s books.
Sheboygan is known for its bratwurst and cheese, so grab a brat from Charcoal Inn South and cheese curds from 8th Street Ale Haus. For more local cheese, including the famous Gibbsville Cheese, check out the shops in Sheboygan. Visitors can try and buy cheese curds of all flavors including classic, cajun, jalapeño and dill, BBQ, cheddar, hot garlic and more.
How to get to Sheboygan: You need a car to get to Sheboygan. It’s a one-hour, 55-mile drive from Milwaukee.
7. Madison, Wisconsin
Why go? To experience the budding food and art scene of Wisconsin’s capital city.
The capital of Wisconsin, Madison is located on Lake Michigan and has buildings designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Visitors can stop by the State Capitol, with an interior of colorful murals and a white, 285ft-high dome. To explore more of Madison, check out the Olbrich Botanical Gardens or their farmer’s market and summer concert series for entertainment. Visitors who love museums should add the Madison Children’s Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art or the Chazen Museum of Art to their itinerary. When you’re hungry, head over to get a juicy burger from Oakcrest Tavern, enjoy farm-to-table dining at Heritage Tavern or make it a date night at the bistro A Pig in a Fur Coat.
How to get to Madison: The drive from Milwaukee takes about an hour and 15 minutes. The Badger Bus runs several services a day between the two cities.