Want to throw yourself into the diverse cultures and natural beauty of the Midwest? Check out all the top-rated day trips from Madison, Wisconsin. The capital city of America’s Dairyland is the perfect base for getting stuck into adorable towns, natural wonders, and outdoor fun.
On an adventure day from Madison, WI, you can explore the shores of Lake Geneva, hike to the panoramic vistas of Blue Mound State Park, or try all the waterparks in the Wisconsin Dells.
But did you know that a short drive from Madison also gives you a round-the-world ticket? Discover Cornish pastries at Mineral Point, the Swiss cheese of Monroe, the Norwegian trolls of Mount Horeb, and the German beers of Milwaukee.
Looking for all of Wisconsin’s tastiest bits? Find its hidden gems with this complete guide to the coolest Madison side trips!
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A one-hour drive from Madison is the pretty town of Spring Green. It’s got the ultimate small-town vibe, with great hospitality and plenty of chances to get into the great outdoors. As well as having a beautiful location by the Wisconsin River, Spring Green is packed with fun attractions and interesting things to do.
Spring Green is the birthplace of Frank Lloyd Wright, a celebrated architect who created over 1,000 structures. Pay a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. The 800-acre estate is the perfect place to delve into Wright’s game-changing work and legacy.
Get some extra architecture in with a trip to the famous House on the Rock, a huge complex of unusual rooms, streets, gardens, and shops. From an infinity room to the world’s largest indoor carousel, this quirky attraction is guaranteed to bend your mind.
Spring Green is surrounded by endless recreational opportunities. Step straight into nature at nearby spots like Governor Dodge State Park and Tower Hill State Park. Get a rush on the Wisconsin River with the chance to go kayaking, canoeing, and tubing. Or, head underground with a self-guided tour into the million-year-old Cave of the Mounds.
Only an hour from Madison, WI, is the epic Wisconsin Dells. This family-friendly city is packed to the brim with waterparks, amusement parks, wildlife parks, and museums. Whether you’re looking for a thrill or want to cool off, it’d be crazy to be so nearby to the water park capital of the world and not pay it a visit!
The main tourist attractions in Wisconsin Dells are, without a doubt, its waterparks. Make a splash at Noah’s Ark, The Wilderness Resort, and Kalahari Resorts & Conventions, the country’s largest outdoor waterpark, the largest indoor/ outdoor combination waterpark in the United States, and the state’s largest indoor waterpark. That’s a whole lot of slides, obstacles, and artificial surf to get through!
You’ll also find a hair-raising choice of amusement parks. Whiz through the air Ancient Greek style at Mt. Olympus or head to the indoor Tom Foolerys Adventure Park on a bad weather day.
If you prefer your adventures more on the natural side, you’re in luck! The Wisconsin Dells gets its name from the incredible sandstone dells on the Wisconsin Riverbank. Take a scenic boat tour to spot this natural wonder. You can also race across Castle Rock Lake on a jet ski or fly across the canyon on a zipline.
Devil’s Lake State Park
Get lost in the otherworldly landscapes of Devil’s Lake State Park. This 10,000-acre state park is the largest in Wisconsin and just one hour away from Madison. Its position on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail means that an enormous glacier etched out the surroundings you see today.
Devil’s Lake State Park is teeming with incredible feats of nature. Shimmering quartzite bluffs tower 500 feet over the park, offering incredible lookout points for Devil’s Lake. This immense 360-acre lake was once holy to the indigenous Ho-Chunk tribe. One of the must-see tourist attractions near Madison, WI, the area is also packed with wildlife and birdwatching opportunities.
With so many beautiful sights to pack in, you’ll want to cover as much ground as possible. There are over 29 miles of hiking trails to choose from. For the most beautiful views in the park, take the East Bluff Trail. Want an even better vantage point? Devil’s Lake State Park offers some of the finest rock climbing in the Midwest.
With the huge expanse of Devil’s Lake, you can bet there are some top watersports here, too. Try out rowing, canoeing, kayaking, and SUP boarding. Or just take a dip and laze on the large sandy beaches for the day.
Who knew that you could drive 30 minutes from Madison and end up in a mini-Scandinavia? Mount Horeb is a small village in Dane County that loves to highlight its Nordic heritage. From Scandi architecture and quirky museums to adorable craft stores and brewpubs, this is a one-of-a-kind side trip from Wisconsin’s capital city.
As well as cute stores like Wisconsin Craft Market and Cat & Crow Gift Shop, Mount Horeb has lovely artisanal studios. Marjorie King Studio Clay Art Pottery has wonderful lifelike pottery inspired by nature, or you can paint your own pieces at Center Ground Studios.
Take in more of Mount Horeb’s architecture at the Town of Perry Hauge Historic District Park. It’s home to the first Norwegian church built on American soil. The beautiful old church is surrounded by native prairie, making it a wonderful spot to watch the sunset.
If you want to know more about Mount Horeb’s origins, spend some time at The Driftless Historium. It’s full of hundreds of artifacts and even a life-sized diorama.
Mount Horeb is also the troll capital of the world. Spot the friendly fellas around town, welcoming you into the cute stores on Main Street, guarding the city’s top attractions, and at the sustainable Grumpy Troll Brewpub. Maybe not quite the nice vacation selfie you were hoping for.
The quaint town of Mineral Point is a one-hour drive away from Madison. With natural beauty, historic charm, and a thriving arts scene, it’s a great place to while away an extra day in Wisconsin. It’s also 40 minutes from Mount Horeb and is an ideal stop if you want to squeeze in two side trips in one day.
Mineral Point is one of the oldest towns in Wisconsin, with a history dating back to the 19th century. It also has a strong heritage from Cornish miners, who emigrated here in the 1800s when work at home dried up.
See the city’s mining heritage for yourself at Pendarvis. The miners built this collection of homes to mimic the style they were used to in Cornwall, England. Or check out The Mineral Point Collection, an array of mini shops that sell Cornish books, gifts, and British food.
Today, Mineral Point concentrates on growing its exciting arts and culture scene. Explore local galleries like Wantoot and Brewery Pottery or shop for unique treasures at stores like kstyle handmade and Ifinder Antiques.
If you want to get your own creative juices flowing, head to Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts, offering a huge choice of arts and crafts workshops throughout the year.
Live the lavish lakeside lifestyle at Lake Geneva, a historic lakeside town that’s around one hour and 30 minutes from Madison, WI. With glorious natural beauty, glamorous stately homes, and a fabulous shopping and dining scene, it’s easy to see why it’s a Wisconsin tourist hotspot.
Millionaire Chicagoans flocked to Lake Geneva in the 1800s to build grand summer homes. Today, seeing the mansions is a top tourist activity in the town.
Take a boat over to Black Point Estate and Gardens. You can take a tour of the enormous Queen Anne-style home and admire the opulent furnishings and décor. Or explore the city’s rise to success at the Geneva Lake Museum.
It’s easy to see why Lake Geneva became a vacation getaway for the rich when you see the stunning scenery. The crystal-clear waters of Geneva Lake lap on the shores of the sandy Riviera Beach and the lush Big Foot Beach State Park.
There’s a huge choice of cruises that’ll take you to some of the lake’s best spots. You can also rent paddleboards, canoes, kayaks, and motorboats and discover them yourself, or take in everything from above with an epic hot air balloon ride.
Everyone knows Wisconsin is famous for its dairy production, but did you know that Monroe is the cheese capital of the USA? For cheesaholics and anyone interested in food production, this could be the most memorable day out in your life! But this small city, around an hour away from Madison, has much more to it than just mozzarella: Delve into its Swiss heritage, historic downtown, and artisanal produce.
The Swiss came to Monroe in the 1860s and brought their dairy know-how with them. You can still see the Swiss influence in its architecture today. Spend some time strolling the Historic Downtown, where the adorable facades house antique stores, boutiques, and cafes. You can also get a deeper look at the town’s heritage at the Turner Hall of Monroe Swiss Heritage Center.
Learn about the history of cheesemaking at the National Historic Cheesemaking Center Museum and how to create this tasty produce at the Roth Kase Cheese Factory and the Alp & Dell Cheese Store.
Milwaukee is one hour and 15 minutes away—and as Wisconsin’s largest city, it’s one of the must-do day trips from Madison. This super cool city has everything you could want from a modern metropolis. Delve into historic architecture and top museums or explore its German roots in the breweries.
Get a sense of Milwaukee’s past and present in Old World 3rd Street in Westown. Cobblestone streets and historic taverns pull you back in time while trendy bars and international eateries keep the place buzzing.
Continue the German theme over in East Town with a visit to the Milwaukee Museum of Art, where they have an extensive collection from the German Expressionists. Or, explore culture with your taste buds with a feast at the Milwaukee Brat House in the heart of Downtown Milwaukee.
You’ll want a designated driver for this trip because Milwaukee is known by another name: Brew City. A rich beer production heritage makes this the top place for breweries and craft beers in the Midwest.
At the Lakefront Brewery in the Brewer’s Hill neighborhood, you can hang out at their fun beer hall or get a boozy education with a brewery tour. Milwaukee is also home to major players in the beer game, like Miller and Pabst. If you’re into history, you can explore the former home of a beer tycoon at the Pabst Mansion, one of Milwaukee’s coolest places to visit.
Blue Mound State Park
Get the ultimate Wisconsin views at Blue Mound State Park. It’s on the highest hill in south Wisconsin, offering sweeping vistas across the state. It’ll take you less than 40 minutes to drive there and is full of awesome things to do.
Blue Mound State Park is famous for its unusual geographical marvels. Admire the shine of Sioux Quartzite rocks towering 100 feet above the landscape. Out-of-place boulders rode here from the force of a mighty glacier. Over 20 miles of hiking, cross-country skiing, and biking trails help you explore the park. Discover lookout points, forests, and natural springs, and stop to read the signs detailing the history and geology of the sites.
Don’t be put off if the weather is warm: Blue Mound State Park is the only Wisconsin state park with a swimming pool. Cool off among natural beauty in the 1,950-square-foot pool and on the nature-themed splash pad.
Why not turn your day trip into an overnight adventure? Camp amongst the woodlands so you can spend even more time in the beautiful surroundings. You can even catch your own dinner with lots of hunting and fishing opportunities available.