Road Trip in Wisconsin
The Great American Road Trip is a dream shared by many, whether born and bred in the U.S.A. or visiting from abroad. And, if you've come looking for America, there's no better place than Wisconsin.
The Badger State may frequently fly under the radar, but its residents are exceptional at three things in particular: cheese, beer, and football. And, it doesn't get much more American than that.
Still, the state is far from a patriotic pigeonhole, as it offers variety with a spate of beautiful public parks, some of the country's most innovative architecture, and caches of folk art, among other assets.
To see the best of WI, you'll have to hit the road, so it's important to get a feel not only for Wisconsin's driving laws, but the state's major roadways.
Traffic Laws in WI
As with every state, Wisconsin has its own set of rules regarding how drivers are expected to behave on the road.
Our guide to safety laws in Wisconsin will help you with some of WI's most important motor vehicle legislation, such as:
- Car seat and seatbelt laws.
- Motorcycle helmet requirements.
- Cell phones while driving.
Additionally, check out the Wisconsin Driver's Handbook for even more detailed information for your commute through the Badger State.
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Major Wisconsin Roadways
A number of interstate highways blanket the Badger State, and, with rare exceptions, the biggest freeways should be able to get you at least most of the way to your destination.
But map out your drive carefully: many of the major roadways have less-than-straightforward routes, and most of them converge with one another at some point.
- Interstate 39:
- A child of Interstate 90, the two roads are actually one as they enter the state from the south, near Beloit. After running through Madison, I-39 breaks off from its parent highway near Portage, where it continues to travel due north, servicing a number of smaller communities.
- The connector highway meets its end after converging with Interstate 43, near the town of Rothschild.
- Interstate 41:
- Beginning its WI journey in Pleasant Prairie, while unified with Interstate 94, the north-south highway emerges on its own shortly after running through Milwaukee. From there, I-41 snakes its way around several major lakes and waterways before hitting Green Bay, and quickly thereafter terminating in the town of Howard.
- Interstate 43:
- One of the state's major north-south thoroughfares also starts its Wisconsin journey in the southern town of Beloit, before quickly taking an easterly turn to directly hit Milwaukee. From there, the highway continues north, kissing the eastern edge of the state along Lake Michigan, before slowly curving back west and running through Green Bay. The freeway finally converges with Interstate 41 in the town of Howard, WI, marking its end.
- Interstate 90:
- Crossing over from Illinois through the southern Wisconsin town of Beloit, Interstate 90 travels north through Madison before eventually meeting up with Interstate 94 near the town of Portage. The twin highways travel northwest together for some time, jointly crossing through the Wisconsin Dells, before I-90 once again branches out on its own, taking a more southerly route toward Minnesota, crossing over the border at La Crosse, WI.
- Interstate 94:
- Wisconsin's longest highway cuts an unusual path across the state, beginning in its southeastern corner, near the town of Pleasant Prairie, WI, before shooting straight north to Milwaukee and making a sharp northwestward turn after hitting the city, eventually exiting the state at the Minnesota border, just shy of Minneapolis.
- In between, the highway offers exits to send drivers en route to Madison, and will take you directly through the popular tourist destination of Wisconsin Dells.
- But, be careful while navigating this highway. For long stretches, it converges with two of the state's other major thoroughfares—I-90 and I-39—at one point even uniting all three interstates. I-94 also converges with I-41 in the southeastern part of the state.
Wisconsin Road Trip Pit Stops
The best part of a road trip is having the chance to see all of a state's unique nooks and crannies, and Wisconsin has plenty of them to explore—along with its more obvious attractions and big cities.
The Badger State's largest metropolis, which sits on the Lake Michigan's western shore, certainly isn't lacking for fun things to do. The city is perhaps most famous for its beer output, and there are plenty of breweries for suds lovers to explore, including, of course, the Miller Brewery that helped put Milwaukee—and American beer—on the map.
- Just outside the city is the House that Beer Built: The Pabst Mansion, a beautiful late-1800s-era estate erected by the founder of the famous beer company, which is open to the public for tours.
- If you're looking for a drier time, the city is rife with museums, shops, and restaurants, lake views and river walks, a popular public market, and even a Bronze Fonz statue, honoring the Happy Days character who called the town home.
Home of the University of Wisconsin's main campus, the state's capital city is filled with a vibrant, youthful energy and all of the unique shops and eateries fostered by a college town.
- The more traditional capitol building can also be found in Madison, along with a slew of museums and public gardens interspersed with thought-provoking structures designed by architecture legend—and native Wisconsinite—Frank Lloyd Wright.
- If it all seems too much, you can take a break in Madison's “lost city forest," a serene tract of land near the university's arboretum that barely dodged the bulldozer after being planned as a major site of expansion for Madison in the 1920s. The development deal fell through after the Great Depression, and city-goers in need of some green space have been thankful ever since.
Wisconsin visitors would be remiss to skip out on one of the country's most famous sporting venues, which houses a huge number of Lombardi (the NFL's Super Bowl championship) trophies and has hosted an even greater number of legendary football games.
- Located in Green Bay, Lambeau is also the nation's oldest continually-operating football stadium, a fact that becomes obvious after seeing how seriously the average Wisconsinite takes his or her football history.
- Bonus if you can score tickets to a game. Double-bonus if that match-up pits the Packers against their longtime rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, “the Dells" is actually comprised of the city Wisconsin Dells, the nearby town of Lake Delton, and the dells of the Wisconsin River, a picturesque gorge forged by glaciers that also hosts a number of sandstone formations.
- Aside from its natural splendor and the outdoor recreational activities designed to both utilize and celebrate it, the area features a number of more tourist-friendly institutions like water and theme parks, casinos, and resorts.
Cave of the Mounds/Blue Mound State Park
Referred to by geologists as the “jewel box" of major American caves, the limestone cavern Cave of the Mounds is located in the south of the state, near the town of Blue Mounds.
- Its unique formations—including a rare type of rock called “cave pearls"—developed over millions of years, thanks to mineral deposits left from a former shallow sea that covered the area and an eventual crack in the top of the cave, which let in the rainwater that acted as the catalyst for the structures' growth.
- Today, most of the cavern can be toured by the public, who can also enjoy the trees, trails, and topography of the surrounding Blue Mound State Park while in the area.
Other Unique WI Spots
- House on the Rock—Frank Lloyd Wright wasn't the only architect building unique structures in the Badger State. Located between the towns of Dodgeville and Spring Green and—more impressively—on the edge of a steep rocky overhang, the house is a venerable master class in odd architecture and includes a room for self-playing instruments, a working carousel, and an “infinity room," which juts hundreds of feet off the cliff, without the obvious help of any structural support.
- Apostle Island Sea Caves—Located amongst the Lake Superior island chain, off the state's northwestern shore, these occasionally ice-covered structures offer a dazzling array of Mother Nature's greatest hits, including complex catacombs, grand caverns, and majestic archways. Depending on the season, visitors can reach the islands—and the caves—via boat, car, or even by walking across the frozen lake.
- Mars Cheese Castle—Referred to as a “cheese landmark" by locals, this I-94 establishment is Wisconsin's oldest cheese shop and has become a must-stop destination for travelers on the highway—as well as a number of celebrities, from President John F. Kennedy to Johnny Cash. Aside from its obvious best-sellers, the Castle sells sausage and a number of Wisconsin souvenirs—including, of course, the giant foam cheese head hats.
- Lake Michigan Triangle—Viewable in Wisconsin from the town of Manitowoc, this section of Lake Michigan—which stretches eastward toward the lake's namesake state—supposedly rivals the famed Bermuda Triangle for the number of strange events that have happened there, including a number of disappearing watercraft. Visit at your own risk!
- Rhinestone Cowboy House—Taking the word “bedazzled" to an entirely new level, this Sheboygan establishment—located in the Kohler Arts Center—challenges you to find an inch of undecorated space. The brainchild of artist Loy Allen Bowlin, the house was originally built in Mississippi before being moved up north to be better preserved.