Kid-friendly Travel in Wisconsin

By Melanie Nayer

One of the most commonly asked questions from single mom’s looking to travel with their kids is: How do I choose a destination that’s fun and also educational, and won’t break the bank? The answer: Think outside the box! When the kids are out of school and the summer days are dragging on, consider a kid-friendly vacation that combines the great outdoors with a bit of rest and relaxation.

Destination: Wisconsin

The variety of attractions and events make family fun in Wisconsin one of the best U.S. destinations for kids and adults, alike. According to Quirk’s Marketing Research Review’s January report, “a family trip with the kids” ranks second in the type of trip travelers expect to take in the next six months. In addition, consumers are seeking value for their dollar and looking for ways to stretch their budget. Here are a few of our top picks for kid-friendly and affordable fun in Wisconsin:

Explore Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors

Pitch a tent, build a fire, hike, swim, roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories around the campfire. Camping in Wisconsin is a great way to introduce the family to the great outdoors, and start a favorite family tradition. You’ll find a diverse variety of campgrounds from the rustic natural beauty of state parks to private campgrounds filled with modern, family-oriented amenities.

Indian Trails Campground in Pardeeville features an indoor pool, 18-hole mini golf course, canoe and kayak trips on the Fox River, a swimming pond with inflatable water toys, fishing on a private 15-acre lake and plenty of events. For some serious family fun, visit July 30–Aug. 1 for the Family Challenge Weekend. To help save on costs, kids 18 and under camp free with a paid adult all season with no restrictions.

Indian Trails Campground

Happy Acres Kampground in Bristol is a playground for the whole family. Besides tent camping, cabin rentals and trailer spots, Happy Acres offers hiking, biking, swimming in a heated pool, mini golf, fishing, volleyball, basketball, a mini animal zoo and themed weekends throughout the season. July 16–18, kids can meet Captain Jack Sparrow of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and then participate in a pirate ship race, treasure hunt and sand castle building. During “Star Wars” weekend (July 30–Aug. 1), kids dress up as their favorite Star Wars character, participate in Star Wars-themed games and enjoy a Star Wars movie marathon. If you have a large family, look no further; all campground rates include two adults and up to four children. And speaking of deals, families that have camped 14 days or more during the season camp for free Sept. 10–12. (262-857-7373;

Join the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in a free fishing weekend. Held the first weekend of June, fishing on all state waters is permitted without a license. This year, the event will be June 5–6 and is open to residents and non-residents. Fishing clinics and special activities are planned at Viking County Park on the Yahara River in Stoughton, Winnequah Park Lagoon in Monona and ADA Fishing Pier at City Park in Oconomowoc. (608-266-2272;

For those who want more than a weekend on the lake, High Pines Campground in Eagle River will hold a free “Kids Fishing Tips” program every Tuesday evening from 6:30–8:30 p.m. from June 8 through Aug. 17. Kids will get the chance to fish and practice casting and tying knots. They will also learn about bait depth, rod positioning, proper fish handling, fish identification and boat safety. Each kid will receive a “goodie bag,” a rod/reel combo and a tackle box. The program is designed for kids 6 to 13 years old.

Sporting Events for the Entire Family

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in Appleton is the Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Take in a ballgame without paying big-time prices. New this year is the “Timber Rattlers Kids Crew,” a new fan club for those 12 and under. An individual membership in the fan club costs $20 and includes: an official kids crew backpack, 15 percent discount in the Snake Pit team store, 10 reserved seat vouchers good for free admission to all Wednesday home games and much more.  Starting June 11, a fireworks show will also be included in the post-game activities. (920-733-4152;

Wisconsin Timberrattlers

Junior golfers have the opportunity to see for free the world’s top golfers, including Wisconsin’s very own Steve Stricker, during the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Aug. 9–15. Juniors 17 and under will be allowed free access to the event with an accompanying ticketed adult. Each ticketed adult will be allowed four junior admissions at no additional charge. Tickets are currently on sale for this major championship featuring the world’s greatest golfers and fans are encouraged to purchase their tickets early as demand for the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits was unprecedented. (800-618-5535;

Discover Wisconsin by Boat, Plane and Train

Green Bay is one of only six ports in North America, and the only port in Wisconsin, to be honored as a host for the 2010 Tall Ship Festival. Twelve vintage rigged vessels will sail into the Port of Green Bay and dock on the shores of the Fox River Aug. 13–15. Visitors can experience the history and romance of maritime life during ship tours and sails on these sailing vessels, including Wisconsin’s own flagship schooner the S/V Denis Sullivan. Fans of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” might be interested to know that the ship featured in the movie — the famous H.M.S. Bounty — will be among the vessels. Kids under 4 years of age enter free, children ages 5 to 12 are $8, 13 and up are $10. (920-497-5664;

Tall ships in Green Bay

The EAA Airventure in Oshkosh is an international gathering place for plane enthusiasts. Held annually, visitors can view the latest aircrafts and innovations, watch fantastic air shows, shop or participate in a number of activities, workshops and forums. This year’s show runs July 26–Aug. 1.   (920-426-4800;

Take the whole family on a trip back in time this vacation with a ride on the Lumberjack Special Steam Train & Camp Five Museum Complex. Sit in a rare cupola caboose as the vintage steam engine takes passengers on a journey into the late 1800s and an actual site of a Northwoods logging camp. On July 10, a group of cowboy re-enactors known as the Green Bush-Wackers, will reenact an authentic Wild West Train Robbery of the Lumberjack Special. Cowboys, a preacher, mountain men and card sharks form a posse to bring the bandits to justice. A family of five can ride the Lumberjack Special for $56, which includes all the Camp Five Museum activities. The 2010 season runs June 24–August 28. (800-774-3414;

Wisconsin’s Famous Waterparks

Indoor waterparks are one of the nation’s hottest trends in family vacations, and Wisconsin entrepreneurs have created some of the largest and most elaborate in North America. With so many elaborate and fun waterparks in one city, it’s no wonder why it’s been dubbed the “Waterpark Capital of the World.”

Always a leader in waterpark innovation, Noah’s Ark is unveiling “The Scorpion’s Tail,” America’s first looping tube water slide, the tallest and largest of its kind in the world. Debuting on May 29, “The Scorpion’s Tail” drops riders through a trap door below their feet and then speeds them through a 45-degree loop in an enclosed, gravity-defying slide. Looking for deals? Check the Noah’s Ark website for discounts for grandparents and military families. (608-254-6351;

Is bigger better? If so, visit another well-known waterpark innovator, Kalahari Resort in the Dells. This year the resort is celebrating 10 years of providing family entertainment. The largest indoor waterpark in the world will keep the kids entertained for hours. And it also recently opened a new Indoor Theme Park featuring a six-story Ferris wheel, go-cart track, bowling alley, ropes course and much more. Customized packages let you pick the amenities and activities that are right for your family. (877-525-2427;

Kalahari Sandusky Indoor Waterpark

Great Wolf Lodge in the Wisconsin Dells features another wild attraction known as the Howlin’ Tornado. The six-story red and yellow funnel you can’t miss from the interstate is an extreme 65-foot funnel ride that drops thrill-seekers a heart-pounding 30 feet every second. Families climb aboard a two- or four-person tube for the ride of a lifetime as the tube safely drops six stories, swirling riders back and forth before dropping into the mouth of the funnel and splashing into the pool below. Make your 2010 summer reservations early and save 20 percent off two or more nights now through May 7. (866-833-1622;

Want more savings? Purchase a Passport to Savings ticket that offers discounts on the top attractions in the area. To see which attractions participate and to order your tickets online, visit

Happy trails!

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