Sometimes you've just got to get outta Dodge (or Milwaukee). There are so many adventures to be had within just a couple of hours. Here are some of our best ideas, all of them outdoors and socially distanced.
1. Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary
1660 E Shore Dr, Green Bay, WI 54302
Visit this beautiful 700 acre urban wildlife refuge featuring live animal exhibits, educational displays, miles of hiking/skiing trails and various wildlife viewing opportunities. It is the largest park in the Green Bay Park system and home to the second largest wildlife rehabilitation program in Wisconsin, caring for more than 4,500 orphaned and injured animals annually.
2. Bookworm Gardens
1415 Campus Dr., Sheboygan, WI 53081
Bookworm Gardens is a must-visit, whimsical children’s garden based completely on children's literature. The two acre garden offers the young and young at heart the opportunity for unstructured play in a beautiful and secure environment. Entrance to the garden is usually free, but during the pandemic they are charging a small fee per person.
Special elements of the garden include outdoor classrooms, a small amphitheater, greenhouse and outdoor creation station. Nooks and crannies for reading are plentiful, as are benches for resting and chatting.
They've recently added a giant Buddha Board inspired by Jackson Pollock's barn studio!
Pro Tip: Afterwards, eat at Whispering Orchards, a 15 minute drive north of Bookworm Gardens. It's a small family operated apple orchard and cafe where they serve homemade apple cider, and offer a free petting zoo. Cats and peacocks roam the grounds, and you'll find baby goats, sheep and large rabbits in the caged area. In the fall, you'll find tunnels using hay bales for the kids to play on and wander through.
3. Brightonwoods Orchard
1072 288th Ave., Burlington, WI 53105
This family run orchard features over 200 apple varieties, seeded and seedless grapes, quince and pears. There is no admission fee. They are not a pick your own orchard, but visitors are free to roam through the apple barn, orchard and woods trail.
4. Paradise Springs
W374 S8640, County Rd N, Eagle, WI 53119
Paradise Springs is a magical place, and you've never seen a more stunning freshwater spring in Wisconsin. The paths are paved, and the hike is less than a mile. There's also an observation deck and waterfall!
It used to be a resort for Milwaukee's wealthiest folks. There was a horse track and shuffleboard court, and a spring water bottling plant (sold under the name "Lullaby Baby Drinking Water").
The Springhouse was built by Louis Petit, who was dubbed the "Salt King" because he became wealthy in the salt mining business. (His grandson is August Pabst, who became a beer executive and inherited this property.)
Caution! Paradise Springs is about a 50 minute drive away from Milwaukee, and you'll probably only spend about 30 minutes there. You can pair up your visit with a trip to Fox River Park in Waukesha, just 20 minutes away from Paradise Springs. Fox River Park has a nature playground with a 30 foot slide built into the side of a hill!
Pro-Tip: The Culver's on Rochester St. in Mukwonago is between the two destinations, if you need a sweet treat.
5. East Troy Electric Railroad
2002 Church St., East Troy, WI 53120
These historic rail cars travel a 10-mile open air trip through Southeast Wisconsin. Board at the depot in East Troy and ride to the Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago. Meander through the depot museum where kids can be a trolley motorman, discover the joy of model layouts and learn about electricity. The gift shop features a unique selection of railroad souvenirs for all ages. For more fun, try the ice cream at the Lauber's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor next to the depot.
6. Henry Vilas Zoo
702 S. Randall Ave., Madison, WI 53715
This is a 28-acre free public zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. Owned by the city of Madison, the zoo charges no admission or parking fees. It receives over 750,000 visitors annually. The zoo houses an African lion, chimpanzees, a red panda and more!
7. Highway 18 Outdoor Theater
U.S. 18, Jefferson, WI 53549
Enjoy an old-fashioned drive-in movie on a 90-ft. screen at this seasonal drive-in theater. Snacks are available for purchase.
8. Lakeside Park
555 N Park Ave, Fond du Lac, WI 54935
Lakeside Park is set on Lake Winnebago, one of the country's largest inland lakes. Theres a walk-up lighthouse, picnic area, large and accessible playground, splash pad, zip line, petting zoo, baseball diamonds, full-service marina, rides, boat launch ramps, handicapped-accessible fishing platforms, new boat dock on Oven Island, kayak and pedal-boat rentals, a fountain, concessions, and gazebos. Visitors can take nostalgic rides on the miniature train and enjoy the antique carousel. The park glows with thousands of holiday lights and animated displays including holiday music each December.
9. Port Washington
554 N Lake St Port, Port Washington, WI 53074
Play at Possibility Playground, a huge all-access playground set in a beautiful park overlooking Lake Michigan. You can also check out the marina, historic art deco lighthouse, and charming downtown area.
10. Shalom Wildlife Zoo
1901 Shalom Dr, West Bend, WI 53090
Experience nature at its best on foot or rent a golf cart. Explore over three miles of gravel road on foot or in a golf cart and spot bison, deer, elk, wild sheep, along with wolves, cougar, bear, zebra, camel and much more in large natural environments. There are learning centers and educational signage posted along the way.