Is your group excited to experience Wisconsin’s natural beauty but less thrilled at the prospect of rigorous hikes or hundreds of stairs? The state features numerous attractions that qualify as “soft adventures”—ways to explore lush gardens and travel along rivers without the physical stress of extensive walking or climbing.
Wisconsin’s state park system is intersected by hundreds of hiking trails, but there’s an equally deep network of less-rugged nature experiences: botanical gardens. These attractions feature acres of natural beauty and wildlife without the need for a backpack. Consider Janesville’s Rotary Botanical Gardens, a 20-acre property that showcases plants from Japan, Italy and France in lushly landscaped themed areas. Groups of 15 or more can arrange a guided tour that includes a walk through 24 distinctive gardens and exploration of horticulture around the globe. All of northeast Wisconsin’s seasons are captured on the 47 acres of the Green Bay Botanical Gardens. Groups with a tight itinerary can see the property’s highlights (which include the Vanderperren English Cottage Garden, Kress Oval Garden and Larsen Orchard) within an hour, while a more leisurely “Gardener’s Delight Tour” takes two hours and covers approximately two miles.
Farther south, the Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh includes 20 themed areas across four acres that surround an English country mansion. Paved walkways pass by elegant fountains, sculptures and impeccably manicured beds that recall the elegant British estates of the 19th century. Meanwhile, 40 acres of beauty await at Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee. With more than 500 varieties of roses, wetlands, herb gardens and one of the state’s largest crabapple collections, it’s hard to pick a favorite bloom.
Remain in the city and consider an excursion to the Milwaukee County Zoo, where your group will be transported from an African savannah to the Australian Outback within hundreds of feet. Notable areas spotlight South American penguins, tropical fish and mammals of the American West, while the Herb and Nada Mahler Family Aviary houses over 60 bird species.
Wisconsin’s extensive state park system offers short hiking excursions and stunning scenery of the area’s lakes and Driftless Area landmarks. Devil’s Lake State Park just south of Baraboo is the most-visited park in the system. Over 29 miles of hiking trails offer magnificent views of prehistoric quartzite bluffs that overlook the 360-acre lake, and ample beachfront available for a relaxing sunbathing session. Easy trails include the Johnson Moraine Loop, which winds through the grassy moraine environment caused by the last ice age, and the Grottos Trail, which offers natural air conditioning during hot summer days.
Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers and close to historic Prairie du Chien, Wyalusing State Park (which translates to “home of the warrior”) features numerous hiking trails and nature activities. The park’s picnic facilities and trails are especially attractive in autumn, when the region’s trees begin to turn brilliant shades of red and orange. The park is also a one of the state’s birdwatching hubs; groups can embark on a short guided adventure to spot yellow-throated warblers, bald eagles and wild turkeys.
Northern Wisconsin is home to some of the Midwest’s most accessible waterfalls. Groups in the Superior area seeking an excellent photo opportunity should venture to Amnicon Falls State Park. Your group can view the series of waterfalls from foot trails or a historic bridge that crosses the Amnicon River. A friendly tour guide can explain the falls were created from ancient earthquakes and lava flows that resulted in deep ridges and dramatic fractures on the Earth’s surface.