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Wisconsin is the land of lakes. Literally, the Badger State has more than 15,000 lakes of all shapes and sizes. So, if you like lakefront fun (and, let’s be honest, who among us doesn’t?) there’s no better place to plan a trip. The charming towns nestled along the shore of the Great Lakes and many smaller inland lakes others offer waterfront recreation, scenic beauty and entertainment for all ages. Before packing your swimsuit (or ice-fishing gear for a winter getaway), scroll on to pick the perfect lakefront vacation destination in Wisconsin.

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The Geneva Inn

1. LAKE GENEVA

  • Distance from Chicago: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: cl, architecture, golf, shopping and spas
  • Where to stay: The Geneva Inn
Lake Geneva is without a doubt one of the best little lake towns in America. The clean, clear waters of its main attraction are popular for swimming, fishing and boating. Gilded Age mansions line the 23-mile shore path, earning the town the nickname “Newport of the West.” If you’re a fan of golf, shopping and spas, Lake Geneva also ticks all those boxes.

Explore Lake Geneva

Elkhart Lake/Facebook

2. ELKHART LAKE

Pristine Elkhart Lake is popular for tubing, paddle boarding, fishing, floating, and swimming. One of the more unique aquatic pursuits? Ecology kayak tours to see fantastic natural scenery (and, perhaps, even some environmental facts). It’s not just the work of Mother Nature that attracts tourists. The village of Elkhart Lake has cute local shops and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

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Joseph Gage/Flickr

3. PORT WASHINGTON

  • Distance from Chicago: 2 Hours 7 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Fishing, kayaking, shopping, farmers market
  • Where to stay: Cape-Cod Style Family Home
Shipwrecks probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Lake Michigan. To be clear, Port Washington’s seafaring struggles exist in the past. Travelers can get a close-up look at the naval ruins on a scuba adventure or go for a boat ride. If you’d rather pedal than paddle, biking around town is a great way to explore the lively downtown area.

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Green Lake, Wisconsin/Facebook

4. GREEN LAKE

Green Lake, both the actual lake and the town, are paradise for anglers with good odds of catching largemouth bass, Northern pike, walleye, and trout. Besides fishing, it has a handful of public beaches, boat launches, and great local restaurants (just in case you don’t hook anything).

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Old Rittenhouse Inn

5. BAYFIELD

  • Distance from Chicago: 7 Hours 20 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Northern Wisconsin, Art galleries, small-town charm
  • Where to stay: Old Rittenhouse Inn
Bayfield is a charming Lake Superior hamlet with beautiful water views, interesting art galleries, great coffee and tons of history. To learn about local legends, hit up the Bayfield Maritime Museum, thumb through the locally-penned tombs at Apostle Islands Booksellers or go on a ghost tour (people swear the haunted stuff really happened).

Explore Bayfield

jferrer/Getty Images

6. BROCKWAY

  • Distance from Chicago: 4 Hours 8 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Clear water, scuba diving, beaches
  • Where to stay: Tiny House on the River
The small town of Brockway touches Wazee Lake, a man-made lake in northern Wisconsin that’s known for, get this, scuba diving. For real, Wayzee Lake reaches a depth of 355 feet and is really clear, so you can definitely get your underwater exploration fix. If that’s not your speed, err depth, there’s also boating, kayaking and really nice beaches.

Explore Brockway

Elvis Kennedy/Flickr

7. FISH CREEK

  • Distance from Chicago: 4 Hours 10 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Small-town charm, galleries, inns, historic sites
  • Where to stay: White Gull Inn
Located along Highway 42 in Door County, the unincorporated bayside village of Fish Creek is a lovely destination for a pitstop or a week-long stay. It has all the small-town charm, gift shops, galleries, quaint inns, acclaimed local restaurants, fish boils and historic sites you’d expect, plus plenty of opportunities for scenic boat tours and chill beach hangs.

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Glidden Lodge Beach Resort/Facebook

8. STURGEON BAY

  • Distance from Chicago: 3 Hours 45 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Sand beaches, nature walks, angling
  • Where to stay: Glidden Lodge Beach Resort
Sturgeon Bay is, not surprisingly, a major fishing destination. Even if you aren’t super into angling, it’s fun to put on the gear and try it out for the afternoon. Rather skip trolling altogether? Walk along the golden-sand beach, swim in the shallow water, check out the Door County Maritime Museum and commune with nature in Potawatomi State Park.

Explore Sturgeon Bay

SamWagnerTimelapse/Getty Images

9. ASHLAND

  • Distance from Chicago: 7 Hours
  • Why We Recommend It: Small-town charm, boating, summer concerts
  • Where to stay: Farmstead Retreat
When people talk about an idealized version of a small town that’s steeped in charm and nostalgia, Ashland on Lake Superior immediately springs to mind. The Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin seems to be made up almost exclusively of picture-perfect moments—the sun setting over boats moored in the marina, seeing history come alive through a painting on an old brick wall, a local band playing on an outdoor concert stage.

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Kohler Hospitality

10. KOHLER

  • Distance from Chicago: 2 Hours 30 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Weekend spa getaway, dunes, golf
  • Where to stay: Destination Kohler
An easy day trip from Chicago (it’s a quick two-and-a-half-hour drive), Kohler serves up small-town charm and lakefront fun with a side of luxury. With Kohler Park Dunes State Natural Area at your fingertips, you can easily bring the kids or leave ‘em with the babysitter and steal away for an overnight that includes golf and a room service at a ritzy resort.

Explore Kohler

John W. Iwanski/Flickr

11. FRIENDSHIP

  • Distance from Chicago: 3 Hours 30 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Horseback riding, climbing, boating, family-friendly
  • Where to stay: Cottage on Friendship Lake
A village with a name like Friendship cues visuals of simpler times and wholesome fun, which is pretty accurate since boating, fishing and swimming on Friendship Lake await. If you’re looking for something to do on dry land, there’s horseback riding and climbing to the top of Friendship Mound, the highest point in Adams County. Plus, you’re only a 30-minute drive from the Dells, where water parks and kid activities are at your fingertips.

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DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

12. MADISON

While we fully acknowledge that Madison is a city rather than a town, life revolves around 3,359-acre Lake Monona to such a degree that it feels wrong to omit. After all, opportunists to go kayaking or windsurfing past the capitol building don’t come up that often—well, at least, not outside of Madison.

Explore Madison

AlenaMozhjer/Getty Images

13. WISCONSIN DELLS

  • Distance from Chicago: 3 Hours 20 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Family-friendly, water parks, nature walks, boat rides, camping
  • Where to stay: The Field House
Wisconsin Dells is the capital of family fun. OK, not officially, but ask just about any local where to go that will thrill kids, teens, parents and grandparents and you’ll hear about this southern Wisconsin destination over and over. For rides and games, hit up Noah's Ark Water Park or head to Mirror Lake State Park for more natural amusements.

Explore Wisconsin Dells

VRBO

14. PEPIN

  • Distance from Chicago: 5 Hours 15 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Sailing charters, serene views, day trip or extended stay
  • Where to stay: Villa Del Lago
People often treat the tiny town of Pepin as a day trip, but it really deserves more time than that. First off, it’s right on Lake Pepin, the largest lake on the Mississippi River, so sailing charters come with the territory. It’s also the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder and there’s a lovely museum honoring the famous children's author. Oh, and don’t leave without grabbing a slice of pie from Homemade Cafe.

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Erin Hills

15. HARTFORD

  • Distance from Chicago: 2 Hours 20 Minutes
  • Why We Recommend It: Golf, fishing, hiking, camping
  • Where to stay: Big Cedar Lake House
Set on the shores of 446-acre Pike Lake, is one of the best places to fish for northern pike (the name probably already clued you in on that one), bass and walleye. A vacation in this Wisconsin town also gives you access to the many hiking trails and camping sites in Kettle Moraine State Forest. Hartford also happens to be home to Erin Hills, the exquisite golf course and lodge that hosted the 2017 U.S. Open.

Explore Hartford

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