1,140 Miles With Lots of Water and Lots of Corn

I’ve been to many places in Wisconsin in my two years as chancellor, but always with a singular purpose: to meet someone, to speak to a group, to visit a company. Vacation is a time for travel with less of a purpose.

Chancellor Blank and the famous Hodag in front of the Oneida County Courthouse in Rhinelander.

My husband and I are just back from eight days of vacationing in Wisconsin. We drove around the state, making a big loop with stops at classic Wisconsin tourist spots, in our short sleeves, shorts, and sandals.

We started by heading north and east, with our first night in Kohler. We then headed into Door County for three days. That included biking around Peninsula State Park, taking the ferry to Washington Island, swimming in Lake Michigan on the sand beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park, and stopping at the UW Peninsular Agricultural Research Station to learn more about cherry, apple and grape crops in Wisconsin. Oh, and we definitely did the fish boil, as well as a few other whitefish meals, and had a memorable slice of cherry pie.

Then we drove across the northern part of the state to Rhinelander and Minocqua. Rhinelander definitely gets my vote for having the best county courthouse I’ve yet seen in Wisconsin (I love driving through county seat towns and checking out the courthouse…it comes from being the daughter of two extension agents.) North of Minocqua, we stopped at the UW Trout Lake Station, where UW limnologists have been studying interactions between people and lakes for 90 years.

Then it was on to Ashland and Bayfield. We spent two nights at a bed and breakfast in Bayfield started by two UW alumni who decided to leave Madison and do something different. There we sat and watched the Lake Superior shore. Of course, we had to take the boat trip around the Apostle Islands. When we returned to shore, we sat on the B&B’s porch to watch one of the most dramatic thunderstorms I have ever seen.

We finally turned south, through Hayward, staying overnight at a lovely resort on a lake near Rice Lake, which gave us the chance to do a little canoeing and lake swimming. Then back to Madison, with a short stop at (where else?) the Wisconsin Dells outlet mall.

We went through 25 counties on this trip and saw a lot of the state. Here’s what we noticed:

  1. Every night (except in Kohler) we had a water view. Wisconsin abounds with great places to stay and just look out at the water. West, north, or east, there are great lakeshore vacation opportunities.
  2. Wisconsin has plenty of visitors who’ve learned about the beauty of our lakeshores. We saw about an equal number of out-of-state license plates as in-state.
  3. While the water was striking, the agricultural land was pretty amazing as well. We saw corn and soybeans everywhere. It’s clearly a good year for agriculture in Wisconsin. We didn’t expect cornfields outside Bayfield within sight of Lake Superior. And we saw some HUGE dairy operations.
  4. The food is good no matter where you go. We experienced a vibrant food scene throughout the state. Whether locavore or simply local, we had some really good meals.
  5. Finally, we found UW-Madison wherever we went. Of course, there were lots of tourists wearing red Badger T-shirts and hats. We visited only two research stations, but could have turned our vacation into a busman’s holiday if we stopped at each one we passed. Badgers are everywhere.

Wisconsin is green and verdant, with beauty in every corner. It was a joy to see more of it.