Here It Is, Your Wisconsin Vacation Bucket List For 2018

Posted on: 1/29/2018

MADISON, Wis. – The list of new attractions, major anniversaries, and travel trends in Wisconsin for 2018 lives up to the state’s penchant for fun in the most original, quirky, classy and carefree ways. Study the list below, then let us know how we can help you with your travel stories for 2018.

Get Ready for Some Big Bashes

Harley-Davidson celebrates its 115th anniversary with a big bash in its hometown of Milwaukee, Labor Day Weekend, Aug. 29-Sept. 2. Join in the parties at the Harley-Davidson Museum and local dealerships. And yes, there will be an epic parade through the city, just as we’ve come to expect from this venerable brand. Bonus: It’s also the 35th anniversary of H.O.G., short for Harley Owners Group. Can’t make it to Milwaukee? You can always head to Prague where they’ll be holding an anniversary event July 5-8. This company never does anything small.

The Great River Road has officially achieved octogenarian status, at least as the designated scenic route along the Mississippi River from where it springs in Lake Itasca in Minnesota to New Orleans. (We all know this waterway has been around for millennia.) Established in 1938 by stringing together existing roads, auto tours and state trunks, it is Wisconsin’s only National Scenic Byway. Make this the year to visit all 33 historic river towns, some dating back to the 1600s, along the 250-mile Wisconsin stretch of the byway.

The American Club in Kohler marks its centennial this year. The Kohler Co. – yes, the plumbing empire – built the hotel in 1918 as the dormitory for immigrant factory workers. It’s located directly across the street from the Kohler plant. Back then, this Tudor-style building had a bowling alley, barbershop and pub, plus rooms and meals for single employees. Today this elegant Five-Star Five-Diamond hotel is favored by golfers, spa-goers and foodies. Watch for resort celebrations and special packages to mark the momentous milestone.

Make Time for Family Fun

The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center in Manitowoc opens this June. This 29,000 square-foot ag center, the largest of its kind in Wisconsin, is dedicated to the discovery of where food comes from, how it’s produced, who’s producing it, and why all that is important. Sure to be popular – a birthing barn where visitors can watch calves being born. While dairy will be the main draw, look for displays showcasing the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture, from cranberries to potatoes. Visitors will leave with a sense of the state’s agricultural past, present and future.

Noah’s Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells is adding a new king cobra-themed waterslide for 2018, and not just any cobra-themed waterslide mind you, but the tallest and longest of its kind in the world. “Raja™ - The World’s Largest King Cobra” will have riders racing side-by-side on two-person tubes from six stories up, snaking through more than 335 feet of twists and turns at speeds up to 30 mph. The ride finale is a 37-foot plunge into the mouth of the massive king cobra. Noah’s Ark is America’s largest waterpark, featuring more than 50 rides and attractions spread out over 70 acres.

The Green Bay Botanical Garden is hosting the LEGO® exhibit known as Nature Connects® this summer. Sixteen larger-than-life sculptures inspired by nature – think monarch butterfly, hummingbird on a trumpet flower, and pansy in bloom – made from a half-million LEGO blocks will be on display May 25-Aug. 19. The largest of the sculptures is a herd of deer, quite fitting for Wisconsin and coming in at a whopping 84,442 pieces. This is the only stop in Wisconsin for this nationally touring exhibit.

The Milwaukee Public Museum has two special exhibits on the calendar for 2018. Opening this winter is “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed,” an exhibit that combines authentic artifacts and hands-on activities to shed light on this civilization known for hieroglyphic script, calendar-making and mathematics. Then in the fall, it’s “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors,” offering a look at frog species, from lush rainforests to parched deserts, and their sometimes surprising and bizarre survival strategies.

Take an Art Break

The Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened recently, features works by internationally established artists and offers creative workshops too, with the goal of unleashing the region’s collective creative energy while starting the conversation about how art connects us all. The museum is located in the building that once housed the historic Wausau Club, a social club and banquet hall built at the turn of the 20th century. Admission to the museum is free.

The Vox will be the new, permanent home for concert series coming to Marshfield, putting the town on the music map with artists whose concert schedule may include Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. Located in an existing vacant building, it’s one more piece of the puzzle to create a downtown arts district that already includes shops and a movie theater.

The Sylvee concert hall in Madison is scheduled to open this fall, with the first concerts announced in the spring. Look for this 2,500-seat venue to host emerging artists, established icons, and community events too.

Artisan Forge Studios in Eau Claire is adding on, evidence of the city’s growing indie arts scene. This garage-like space, which started at 20,000 square feet, has nearly doubled in size. It provides studio space for nearly 40 artisans ranging from metalsmiths to potters and even a “bike remixer” who creates art out of old bikes. There’s also a pop-up coffee shop to fuel all that creativity. Artisan Forge hosts art jams, artisan markets, outdoor muralists and album release parties too.

The Confluence Arts Center in Eau Claire opens in late 2018. Built on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus and with great collaboration from the community, this arts center will include several theaters, visual arts studios and galleries, and labs for lighting and set design. It is located right downtown at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers.

The Geneva Theater has undergone a multi-million-dollar historic restoration, bringing back some of the original elements from this 1928 building while adding modern amenities like surround sound, rocking leather chairs, and a dinner and wine menu. Along with films, 2018 will see the return of live chamber music to the stage here, as it was decades ago.

The Trout Museum of Art in Appleton hosts a new exhibit that offers a comprehensive photographic record of Native Americans and their landscapes. “Edward Curtis – 150 Years” chronicles the work of this Whitewater, Wisconsin-native, born in 1868, during a lifetime career that began when he built his first camera at age 12. His monumental images of Native American life across North America are captured in gold tone prints. The exhibit runs September through December.

“Bucky on Parade” takes to the streets of Madison and Dane County May 7-Sept. 12, with some 100 Bucky Badger statues, each standing six feet tall and each decorated by a different local artist, displayed throughout the area. These artsy renditions of the beloved mascot of the University of Wisconsin-Madison should be an instant selfie hit. After the public art display, the Bucky statues will be auctioned off to raise funds for charitable organizations. This is an encore to the city’s highly successful “Cows on Parade.”

Check In to Hip and Historic Hotels

Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin Dells is adding 40,000 square feet to its eco-chic footprint. This $13 million expansion includes a second outdoor pool, fitness studio, retreat space, restaurant, demonstration kitchen, rooftop greenhouse, salt treatment room, glass-walled meditation room, eight new villa-like suites in the woods, and miles of hiking trails. A grand opening is planned for summer and is certain to be a highlight of Sundara’s 15th anniversary year.

Hotel Goodwin opens late spring in downtown Beloit and will feature 34 guest rooms, a café with a menu that speaks to locavores, and rooftop meeting room with outdoor terrace. The name is a nod to the 19th century Goodwin House that served as the community’s luxury hotel until 1904.

Tru hotel brand by Hilton comes to the west side of Madison in early 2018. Known for its large lobbies with space to work or just lounge, fast Wi-Fi, and colorful interior design, the Tru Madison should attract young travelers heading to the state’s capital city for work or play.

Hotel Retlaw in downtown Fond du Lac is being restored to its original 1920s grandeur, with plans to reopen in 2018. Look for the interior design to evoke the Roaring Twenties with Art Deco touches. Included in the restoration are some modern amenities as well, including a spa, indoor relaxation pool, upscale boardrooms, and bistros.

Downtown Milwaukee hotels will be even easier to get to, thanks to the city’s new streetcar. The initial 2.5-mile route will be up and running by fall. The last time Milwaukeeans had the chance to hop on a streetcar was 60 years ago.

Head to the Arena for Some Basketball

The Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center in downtown Milwaukee is scheduled to open in October, just in time for the start of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA season. The surrounding block will be jumping with a music venue, restaurants and bars too.

Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh is the home of the Milwaukee Bucks’ new minor league G-League team, the Wisconsin Herd. Along with a full calendar of Herd games, the arena also hosts comedy performances and concerts.

Crack Open a Cold One

Milwaukee Brewing Company is getting new and massive digs in the former Pabst Brewing Company distribution facility known as Building 42. This new location for the brewery is expected to open this summer and will include a large tasting room, event space, and rooftop patio with views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan. Milwaukee Brewing Company also has a brewery location in the city’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.

Giant Jones Brewing Company is bringing certified organic craft beer to Madison and Wisconsin. It will be the first certified organic brewery in the state. Sample seasonal brews in this boutique brewery’s tasting room.

O’So Brewing Company in Stevens Point is moving up in the brewing world, breaking ground this spring on a new 35,000 square foot facility sitting on 20 acres. A taproom, VIP area for parties and meetings, and a barrel-aging cellar are all included in the plans. Outside will be a beer-lovers haven with outdoor beer garden and bar. With room to spread out, future plans call for a kickball diamond, disc golf course, and walking paths through a fruit orchard and hops field.

A new Oktoberfest comes to Milwaukee, Sept. 27-Oct. 7 in MacArthur Square. The event organizers are billing it as the largest Oktoberfest in Wisconsin’s history.

Trio of Trends to Get on Your Radar

Adventure Travel: Try frozen waterfall climbing in the Wisconsin Dells area, scuba diving among shipwrecks off the Lake Michigan coast in Manitowoc, surfing on Lake Michigan in Sheboygan, winter fat biking on frozen lakes and snow-covered trails in the Northwoods, whitewater rafting on the Peshtigo and Menominee rivers, rock climbing at Devil’s Lake State Park, ice kiting on Lake Winnebago, ice sailing on Lake Geneva, and kayaking to the sea caves of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.

Achievement Travel: Complete the Iron Man in Madison on Sept. 9; log a personal best in North America’s largest cross-country ski marathon known as the Birkebeiner, staged every year in Hayward, with this year’s date Feb. 24; gear up for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds bike event in Blue Mounds on June 16; compete in all 10 Wisconsin Off Road Series bike races, starting in May and running through August; participate in the CrossFit games, returning to Madison for a second year, Aug. 1-5.

Photo-taking Tours: If you have a phone, you’re a photographer. Milwaukee Food & City Tours offers a “Photo Walk” through downtown that includes historic commentary and tips for taking creative photos, with historic Wisconsin Avenue, the lakefront and the Milwaukee Art Museum all great subject matter. On the other end of the spectrum is an elk viewing tour led by guide Rob Sparhawk of Clam Lake Snowmobile Tours who takes photographers to areas known for elk herds and other wildlife. In La Crosse, the guides at Wrench & Roll Collective provide bike riding tips on the way to scenic photo opp spots as part of their themed “Recreational Ride.”

Travelers looking for year-round Wisconsin getaway ideas, travel planning, events and free guides can discover their own fun at,, and Instagram at TravelWisconsin.