By Danielle Hoffpauir | Photo courtesy Fox Cities CVB
For a destination that blends the friendliness of a small town with the amenities you’d find in a big city, the Fox Cities is the kind of place that brings people back again and again. About three hours north of downtown Chicago, this part of Wisconsin encompasses a collection of 19 welcoming communities along the Fox River. Meet passionate locals who love their hometowns and are excited to share them with you. Escaping the city for incredible natural beauty is easy, between the lake, river and surrounding unique geological formations. We’ve rounded up some suggestions to get your adventure started, including the best ways to get out on the water, scenic hiking spots, kid-friendly spaces and unexpected museums.
PLAY OUTSIDE 100 MILES OF TRAILS
With more than 100 miles of trails, you really can’t go wrong when adventuring out on foot. Soak in the beautiful views of Lake Winnebago at High Cliff State Park and stroll the trails that meander along the unique geological limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. Don’t miss panoramic views of the Fox Cities from the top of the 40-foot observation tower. The 1000 Islands Conservancy zone’s 2,000-foot boardwalk through the woods is a hidden gem for an Instagram-worthy photo. Totaling seven miles of trails, including a mile along the Fox River, 1000 Islands is the perfect place to enjoy the peacefulness you can only find in nature. For a bigger excursion, bike or hike the nearly 50- mile Fox Cities Paper Trail that connects 11 communities and 20 parks throughout the region.
GET OUT ON THE WATER
Bordering Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, Lake Winnebago, as well as the winding Fox River, getting out on the water is a Fox Cities bucket list must-do.
Grab a paddle and take the scenic route along the Fox River or Lake Winnebago via kayak. Local outfitter, Fox River Kayaking Company, makes getting on the water a breeze with guided tours and daily rentals. Take your time traversing through four historic lock and dam systems on the Fox River or enjoy a waterfront seat to a beautiful sunset on the sunset tour. For those looking to have their own adventure, coordinate with Fox River Kayaking Company to experience local waterway treasures like High Cliff State Park and Little Lake Butte des Morts on your own timeline.
Spend the day catching walleye and perch on Lake Winnebago with a local expert. Fishing charters have all the equipment you need so you can focus on the best part of fishing — reeling in a big catch. Two local favorites are Captain Ryan Flom with WinneBayGo Walleye Fishing Guide, who grew up fishing Lake Winnebago, and Captain Scott Schwarz with Schwarzy’s ReelTime Fishing Guide Service, who specializes in trolling techniques. Don’t forget a cooler to bring home your catches!
For an all-day activity that will make bedtime a breeze, look no further than exploring at Building for Kids Children’s Museum. A local hotspot for families, little ones can play pilot, doctor, truck driver, bank teller, firefighter and construction worker, just to name a few curated experiences throughout the museum. Kid favorites include the slide through the middle of a gigantic human heart, traversing the tree forts in the Discovery Tree, and creating in the STEM innovation lab. And, with a special area for young adventurers ages 0 to 3, the fun is endless for kids of all ages.
Where can you find more than 200 fluttering butterflies? At Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin, of course! Delight in strolling through Wisconsin’s largest butterfly house where you just might invite a butterfly to land on you. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, you can also find turtles, frogs, and Wisconsin native plants along the trails and maze on the grounds.
Celebrating 150 years, the History Museum at the Castle’s award-winning exhibits bring local history to life. The Castle is best known for the opportunity to try Harry Houdini’s famous magic tricks and learn about the world-renowned magician who called Appleton home.
If you’ve caught an episode of “Blown Away” on Netflix, you’ll definitely appreciate the art and creativity behind every piece at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. Ornately stunning and meticulously designed, the museum is perhaps best known for having the world’s largest collection of glass paperweights from 19th-century French creators as well as modern artists. Marvel at contemporary glass sculpture from today’s visionaries and admire Germanic glassware from as far back as 1573.
GRAB A BITE
Start your day with a handcrafted cup of coffee and a delicious bite for breakfast at Tempest Coffee Collective. You can’t beat the view from the riverfront patio while indulging in delicious and seasonal drinks and food.
With something for every appetite, Good Company is the perfect spot for families to enjoy lunch or dinner. Known for classic American dishes, like mouthwatering burgers and sizzling steaks, as well as the iconic Friday night fish fry, the menu is full of fresh flavor.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention where to find the freshest, squeakiest cheese curds in the area. Simon’s Specialty Cheese is a must-stop for fresh cheese curds along with award-winning, world-class cheddar, feta, mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Browse more than 100 varieties from around the state and perhaps grab an extra bag of curds for the drive home.
LUXE LOVE STORY
For a luxurious, romantic experience, CopperLeaf Boutique Hotel & Spa is a must. Inspired by family-owned European hotels, CopperLeaf is known for delighting guests with personalized experiences and thoughtful touches that elevate your experience to unforgettable. Located in the heart of downtown Appleton, it’s easy to explore on foot and unwind with an onsite blissful treatment at Spa BenMarNicos. Enjoy one-on-one time over dinner in a private dome, complete with mood lighting and riverfront views, at Fratellos Riverfront Restaurant. Featuring a flavorful menu of seafood, steak, pasta, pizza and more, as well as their house-made beer from Fox River Brewing Co., the only thing better than the food is the company you’re with.