I know I already told you all about our lovely farm retreat last month– the conversations shared and decisions made. I alluded to many of our favorite spots in that post but in case you are planning your own quiet winter adventure to some of Wisconsin’s most stunning places, I figured I’d do a deeper travel guide for you all too.
If you are living in Wisconsin or Minnesota, Bayfield and Door County are perfect winter getaways. You can drive a few hours to somewhere calm, sleepy, and quiet while still enjoying stunning views and plenty of great food. There’s something truly magical to me about a tourist town all shut down for the off-season only being enjoyed by locals and the few of us wise enough to know that nothing is ever less beautiful in the deep heart of winter; it’s often even more spectacular.
So without further ado, here’s everything you need to know for a lovely long-weekend Wisconsin getaway.
The real magic of the Bayfield peninsula in winter is that there really isn’t all that much to do except for the things that are totally and completely worth doing which makes deciding how to spend your time so very effortless.
Cornucopia AirBnb // This spot is a real gem. Tucked into the quiet neighborhood right alongside Roman Point (just west of Cornucopia), this lovely home is literally perched atop Lake Superior on some seriously stunning bluffs. The living and dining spaces are all windows looking over the lake (as they should be) with a fireplace to keep you warm. The host is lovely. The space is incredibly private. And the area roads are quiet and lovely for exploring (especially the 1.5 mile walk down to the beach!). Plus the home allows dogs. Paradise found.
Lost Creek Trail // I’m sure this location is lovely in all seasons but in winter it’s magic. The frozen waterfall reminded me of our trip to Iceland a bit. After a 1.5 mile walk down a picture perfect trail (with mainly boardwalks to keep the snow load more manageable), the formerly lost creek opens up in a ravine and you can wander straight down to the frozen falls.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore // I adore national lakeshores– probably because I live in the middle of the country where ocean views on the regular aren’t a realistic possibility– but also because I adore the Great Lakes. There is real power in these wonders that border our state and I respect them greatly. We love to visit them as much as we can. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was where we spent our first two anniversaries and I’m so glad we’e know discovered a new lake shore. There is something magnificence about a piece of land that made the national list of pristine beautiful places but didn’t get a national park designation (thus keeping it even more pristine and less frequently visited). The people who tend to come to National Lakeshores are wilder and more adventurous than your average National Park goer, generally understated and appreciative of all landscapes. We always love everyone we meet while visiting National Lakeshores. The sea caves here (a 5-mile round-trip hike from Meyers beach) are spectacular in pretty much all seasons.
Kickapoo Coffee– Bayfield Cafe // The fact that my favorite coffee roaster opened a spot in Bayfield as their third location (before even coming into Madison) was my first hint that something seriously cool is happening up north. The space is gorgeous, ideal for working or playing, and my two current favorite beverages– cortado and golden milk– are on the menu. There’s really nothing else to say here. This is a must do.
Little Nikki’s // In my opinion, this small town restaurant (which happens to be 5 minutes from our dream AirBnb) is quintessential Wisconsin north-woods leaving you feeling like you stepped right into another culture. One you don’t quite understand but feel accepted anyways. The waitstaff is unbelievably warm and kind. The Blood Marys are MASSIVE. The coffee is self-serve. The meals are beyond hearty. In winter, most of the other diners will arrive via snow mobile. And there is a god-damn bear mounted on the wall. If that doesn’t scream everything I love about my home state, I don’t know what does.
Fat Radish // The restaurant so delicious we had to eat here twice (even though our goal was to make 90% of our food on this vacation)! We stopped here first for breakfast solely because of the Benedict Flight on the menu. We were blown away by everything we tasted so the next day by we swung by after a long hike for a late lunch before our long drive to Door County. Lunch, somehow, was even better than breakfast. If you are in Bayfield, be sure you eat here if it’s the only thing you do.
Houghton Falls Nature Preserve // This natural area is pretty new to the area due to a very generous landowner who opened up a key piece of property for public access. The short mile-long trail follows a sandstone gorge and a handful of waterfalls before opening up to a point on the shore where you can’t help but stare in wonder at Lake Superior’s magnificence. There is something about this spot that makes you feel small in all the right ways. I imagine its spectacular in all seasons but I loved the icicles that filled the gorge in winter; be careful though, the trail can get slick so I recommend ice cleats if you have them. Also note that this place is special and still largely undiscovered so please tread lightly and respectfully.
The Ice Road to Madeline Island // Though this winter took a dip towards the cold last week, until then it was unseasonable warm so pretty much none of the Apostle Islands side of the lake was frozen which means the ice road to Madeline Island was not open. If it was, we certainly would have driven over and explored. There is a ferry for when the ice road isn’t intact but the $40 price tag (including car) led us to stay on the mainland.
Bayfield Foods // A lovely online platform featuring farmers from all over the area with free home delivery to your door! There aren’t a lot of grocery stores open in the winter in these small towns (Bayfield and Cornucopia) so perhaps consider placing an order to arrive at your AirBnb during your stay so you can dine on treats of the region!
Holiday Music Motel // We chose this place because of the pure and simple fact it was a) extremely affordable and b) allowed dogs for only $8 a night. We thought it would be pretty bare bones and simple a place to lay our heads. Boy were we pleasantly surprised. This place is a real gem. It was purchased in 2008, totally remodeled using totally environmental practices, and is now (proudly) the only fully operational motel featuring live music. There is a recording studio in the motel and all the music you hear there was recorded on site. There are guitars all over the lobby. AND a delicious free breakfast in a space that looks exactly like your favorite 1950’s diner. Stay here if you get the chance. You’ll be charmed.
Door County Brewing Tap Room// I was thrilled that this place was open year-round (full warning: a lot of the coolest spots in Door County are not) as I’d been wanting to visit ever since they first opened their doors earlier this year. The space is incredible: reminiscent of a barn with tremendously high ceiling, grand tables and chairs made of barn wood, and a great stage for live music. And that’s not to mention their beer list which is full of only spectacular choices. Their La Hacienda line is all hoppy and bright making you feel like you aren’t sitting there in the middle of winter. I love this spot and can’t wait to come back.
Whistling Swan // This place is lovely. It reminds me of a Southern plantation home turned elegant Bed & Breakfast. It was the fanciest of our meals during our little Wisconsin road trip and quite possibly our favorite (even though Fat Radish was an incredibly close second). All the kudos goes to my friend Aleah who lives in Door County and let me in on the secret that this elegant space has a limited, casual menu available on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. We ordered the pate and fried Brussels sprouts (per Aleah’s recommendation) alongside a stellar prime rib sandwich and some seriously good (and strong) beers. We sat next to the fireplace in our flannel and giggled at how under-dressed we were. It was our last beautiful moment before a nights’ rest and heading home. It was, obviously, perfect.
Cave Point County Park/ Whitefish Dunes State Park // These two lakeside parks are on adjoining land. I recommend parking at the Southern most Whitefish Dunes State Park and following the shoreline up to Cave Point and then coming back. You can drive to both places but the best views are right in between and its only a couple miles. In winter, the rock formations give way to stunning icicles, waterfalls and other features that are different around every bend. Pro tip: there’s a lovely little park shelter that is open year-round at Whitefish Dunes that is free to use and its stocked with firewood. It’s quite possibly the best place to enjoy a winter picnic in the state. Keep our secret, okay?
Husby’s Food & Spirits // When only in town for 48 hours it feels essential to go to the favorite local joint. Beers, fries, a surprisingly delicious Ceaser’s salad, and a burger topped with an onion ring. Small town Wisconsin dining success.