If you look at the names of places on a map of Wisconsin, you might expect to find French influences throughout the state. But, surprisingly, although the French claimed Wisconsin as part of its territory in 1672 and the first European explorer was a Frenchman, Jean Nicolet, who found Wisconsin while in search of a route to China in 1634, you won’t find strong French culture in this state. In 1848, it became the Union’s 30th state and there are plenty of natural and historic landmarks in Wisconsin to explore.
Wisconsin earned the nickname Badger State because its earliest inhabitants were lead miners who burrowed into the hills for shelter. During the Civil War, Wisconsin was a hub on the Underground Railroad that provided passage for slaves to pass through the state to find freedom in Canada. Wisconsin is also the home state of Frank Lloyd Wright, Harry Houdini and US Army General Douglas MacArthur.
Wisconsin is the top dairy-producing state in the USA and is known for producing cheddar cheese. Cheese-making traditions date back to 19th century Europe when the dairy industry began and settlers. From the first cheese factory in 1841, the industry blossomed to have over 1500 factories producing more than 600 types of cheese. Wisconsin is the only US state that has a master cheese-making program. Here are 20 Wisconsin landmarks to tick off your to-see list.
1- Milwaukee Art Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum opened in 1888 and was the city’s first art gallery.
The city’s art enthusiasts have tried to establish an art gallery over the years, but none have been successful.
A couple of small art galleries then merged all their collections into a single viewing space called the Milwaukee Art Center, which later became the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The museum currently holds over 25,000 pieces of artwork across four floors, with pieces dating back to the 15th century.
The gallery is home to one of the country’s largest collections of paintings from native Wisconsin artists and has a substantial European art collection.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is at 700 N Art Museum Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53202.
2- Harley-Davidson Museum
Harley-Davidson fans will want to make it a point to visit Wisconsin, where the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee is dedicated to celebrating the history of the iconic Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The museum opened in 2008 and consists of a three-building complex with vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles built over the past 100 years and other Harley-Davidson artifacts.
Three Davidson brothers and William Harley founded the company in 1903. Inspired by the French de Dion-Bouton engine, William Harley designed his first combustion engine that was used by many early motorcycle manufacturers.
The estate covers 20 acres (8 ha) and has enough space to park 1000 motorcycles and 500 cars.
The museum hosts exhibits and private tours of the vast collection of motorcycles and has displays that explain their historical significance.
There’s a souvenir shop, bar, and restaurant on the estate.
The Harley-Davidson Museum is at 400 W Canal St, Milwaukee, WI 53201.
3- Boerner Botanical Gardens
The Boerner Botanical Gardens are located inside Whitnall Park in Milwaukee.
It was founded by Charles Whitnall, who advocated for its purchase by Milwaukee County in 1929.
It was originally named Hales Corners Park but changed its name to Whitnall Park in honour of Charles Whitnall who cared for the park.
When he retired, it became the Boerner Botanical Gardens.
Professional horticulturalists now care for the garden, which features glacial fieldstone walls and handcrafted limestone statuary.
The gardens also host events and guided tours from May to September, as they provide a lovely backdrop for special occasions.
The Boerner Botanical Gardens are at 9400 Boerner Dr, Hales Corners, WI 53130.
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4- Basilica Of Saint Josaphat
The Basilica of Saint Josaphat is one of the 82 minor basilicas in the United States, a status conferred on the most beautiful and historically significant churches of the Catholic Church.
St. Josaphat Church became the USA’s third basilica in 1929.
It’s Milwaukee’s largest church, with a seating capacity of more than 1000 on the main floor with hundreds more that can be accommodated in the galleries.
The Basilica of Saint Josaphat was modelled after the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and has one of the world’s largest copper domes.
Milwaukee’s Basilica is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Basilica of Saint Josaphat is at 2333 S 6th St, Milwaukee, WI 53215.
5- Tripoli Shrine Temple
The Tripoli Shrine Temple was built in 1928 and is privately owned by the Shriners International organisation but is open to the public for tours and booking for events.
It was the first temple in Wisconsin and was inspired by India’s Taj Mahal.
This architectural inspiration with a massive dome that spans 30ft (9m), minarets, and intricate mosaics makes it a beauty to admire.
The interior is decorated with ceramic tiles with intricate floral designs and plaster latticework.
The building is one of the best examples of Moorish Revival architecture in the United States.
The temple is open for tours for groups of more than ten and includes lunch on the property.
The Tripoli Shrine Temple is at 3000 W Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53208.
6- North Point Water Tower
In 1873, North Point Water Tower was built as a tribute to 145 years of service of the Milwaukee Water Works.
It was one of the main works in the original water supply system that provided Milwaukee’s water supply and Wisconsin’s first public waterworks.
The building’s Victorian Gothic style architecture is a legacy of the era.
The North Point Water Tower stands at 175ft (53 m) tall and is made out of Cream City Brick and trimmed with dressed limestone.
The pipe inside the tower stands at 120ft (37 m) tall but is no longer in service.
The tower became an official landmark of Milwaukee in 1968 and was later registered on the National Register of Historic Places.
The North Point Water Tower is at 2288 N Lake Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53202.
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Natural Landmarks in Wisconsin
7- Cave Of The Mounds
The Cave of the Mounds is in an area known as the ‘Driftless Area’, a part of Wisconsin that was never covered by glaciers during the last Ice Age.
This cave formed naturally within the 400-million-year-old Ordovician Period sedimentary rock and has impressive features like soda straws, flowstones, curtains, lily pads, helictites and oolites.
You can tour the cave year-round, as the temperature inside the cave is constant at around 50F.
The Cave of the Mounds is at 2975 Cave of the Mounds Rd, Blue Mounds, WI 53517.
8- Devil’s Lake
Devil’s Lake is within Devil’s Lake State Park and is in a deep chasm.
The First Nations called it the Spirit Lake because they heard the voices of spirits from the lake during celebrations.
It used to be a part of the Wisconsin River, but it broke off and turned into Devil’s Lake due to global warming.
The lake is a popular camping ground that is popular with families and there are restaurants along the river.
Devil’s Lake is at S5975 Park Rd, Baraboo, WI 53913.
9- Kettle Moraine State Forest
Kettle Moraine is a large moraine that stretches from Walworth County in the south to Kewaunee County in the north.
Also known as the Kettle Range and the Kettle Interlobate Moraine, most of the are is an interlobate moraine, formed when ice sheets make direct contact and glacial debris is deposited, leading to hilly landscapes.
The Kettle Moraine State Forest has outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding and snowmobiling.
Kettle Moraine is at N1765 Co Rd G, Campbellsport, WI 53010.
10- Apostle Islands
Then 22 Apostle Islands on Lake Superior are mostly within Ashland County, although a few islands (Sand, York, Eagle and Raspberry Islands) are in Bayfield County.
Over 800 plant species can be found within the islands, including some species endangered in Wisconsin.
Some islands, such as Sand Island, have beautiful sea caves.
Other attractions in winter are frozen waterfalls and icicle-filled chambers, while boating or kayaking to the islands is a popular activity in the warmer months.
Apostle Islands are at 415 Washington Ave, Bayfield, WI 54814.
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11- Pewits Nest State Natural Area
Pewits Nest State Natural Area is a reserve in Sauk County, named because locals found a Pewit bird’s nest above the body of water.
The dominant feature at Pewits Nest is a 30ft to 40ft (9 to 12 m) deep gorge chiselled by nature during the retreat of the last glacier.
A narrow fringe of forest of red cedar, white pine, hemlock and yellow birch grows within and above the gorge.
Pewit’s Nest is managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and became a State Natural Area in 1985.
Pewits Nest State Natural Area is at County Rd W, Baraboo, WI 53913.
12- Willow Falls
Willow Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall located within Willow River State Park.
It is 100ft (30.5 m) wide and is one of the few waterfalls that was restored to its natural state after being inundated by a reservoir from a dam.
This is a popular spot for hiking and swimming beneath the falls and has a picturesque backdrop.
Willow Falls is at 1034 Co Hwy A, Hudson, WI 54016.
13- Big Manitou Falls
A natural landmark of Wisconsin in Pattison State Park, Big Manitou Falls is the highest waterfall in the state, reaching 165ft (50m).
The water has a brownish tint from the minerals deposited in the soil around the falls.
Big Manitou Falls is also commonly referred to as ‘Gitchee Manitou’ by the First Nations, who believe the Great Spirit talks to them from the falls.
Big Manitou Falls is at 6294 WI-35, Superior, WI 54880.
14- Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center
Horicon Marsh is the USA’s largest freshwater Cattail Marsh, which is a type of marshland
Located in southeast Wisconsin, Horicon Marsh is a Wetland of International Importance, as recognised by the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.
It covers 32,000 acres (13,000 ha), of which 11,000 acres (4451 ha) is in Wisconsin.
This marsh is now home to the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center, which has a Wildlife Education Program focusing on the abundant wildlife resources of the wetland, their ecology and applied management.
Horicon Marsh is at N7725 Highway 28, Horicon, WI 53032.
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Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin
15- Wind Point Light House
Wind Point Light House was built in 1880 and is one of the oldest and tallest active lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
It’s 108ft (33 m) tall and designed by Orlando Metcalfe Poe, who served in the Civil War as a Brigadier General.
You can explore the grounds and tour the tower, while the hall and southern lawn are available for events.
Wind Point Light House is at 4725 Lighthouse Dr, Racine, WI 53402.
16- Wisconsin State Capitol
The Wisconsin State Capitol is in Madison and houses the chambers of three important state offices: the governor’s office, the Wisconsin legislature and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Completed in 1917, this is the fifth building to become the Wisconsin State Capitol and was built from 43 types of stones sourced from six countries and eight states.
An interesting fact about the building is there’s a city ordinance preventing new buildings from surpassing the height of the dome.
The Wisconsin State Capitol is open to the public year-round, with rooftop access in summer.
You can join a guided tour to explore the history and architecture of the building.
Wisconsin State Capitol is at 2 E Main St, Madison, WI 53703.
17- University Of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin, also known as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a public land-grant university in Madison.
It was built in 1848 and is one of the oldest and largest universities in the state.
It’s split into two campuses: the main campus is 933 acres (377 ha), while the other campus, which is four miles away, is 1200 acres (486 ha).
The University of Wisconsin became a land-grant institution in 1866 and was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 2021.
It’s organised into 20 schools and colleges with 136 undergraduate majors, 148 master’s degree programs and 120 doctoral programs.
The university is also the largest employer in the state, with over 21,600 faculty and staff.
The University of Wisconsin is at 500 Lincoln Dr, Madison, WI 53706.
18- Lambeau Field
Lambeau Field is a historic stadium that’s home to the Green Bay Packers, an American NFL football team.
Back in 1957, it opened as City Stadium and was renamed Lambeau Field in 1965 in memory of Packer’s founder, Curly Lambeau.
NFL fans will be in heaven as the venue offers tours conducted by members of the Packer’s alumni that can take 15 minutes to two hours.
Lambeau Field is at 1265 Lombardi Ave, Green Bay, WI 54304.
19- Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouse
The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouse is near Sturgeon Bay in Door County and was established in 1899.
Initially, the lighthouse was operated manually and fully automated in 1972.
The lighthouse is open to explore once a year during the Lighthouse Walk, which happens during the first week of June.
The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouse was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1984.
The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouse is at 2501 Canal Rd, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.
20- Dr Evermor’s Forevertron
Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron is a massive scrap metal structure in Sauk County.
It was built in the 1980s, standing 50ft (15m) high, 120ft (36m) wide, and weighing 300 tons.
Tom Every spent several years collecting machinery to build this structure because he wanted to launch himself into the heavens.
That didn’t happen, and after he passed away, the intriguing park became one of the most unusual landmarks in Wisconsin.
Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron is at S7703 US-12, North Freedom, WI 53951.
21- 45°N X 90°W Geographical Marker
The 45°N – 90°W Geographic Marker is in Marathon County and is the exact centre of the Northwest Hemisphere, where the 45th parallel of latitude intersects the 90th meridian of longitude.
This is the only conveniently accessible marker in the world.
There is a perceived significance that this geographical location is responsible for the prevalence and high quality of the ginseng grown in Marathon County.
Anyone who visits the marker is encouraged to stop at the Central Wisconsin Convention to sign the official 45°N – 90°W Club registration book and receive a commemorative coin.
The 45°N – 90°W geographical marker is at 5651 Meridian Rd, Athens, WI 54411.