Sponsored: The Fall 2020 Excursions Guide

These three beautiful locations, all an easy drive from Milwaukee, are perfect for a day or weekend trip.

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Door County 

Matt and Darlene Ranzau came to Door County, like many couples do, for their honeymoon. The picturesque peninsula, full of quaint shops and hotels, beautiful scenery and unmatched autumn colors, left an indelible impression on them. They returned 25 years later to celebrate their milestone anniversary and stayed at The Thorp House Inn and Cottages (4135 Bluff Ln., Fish Creek). They found the place so enchanting that they asked the owner if it was for sale. With some negotiation, they got a yes, and like that they took over the beautiful and historic inn. 

A block from Main Street, the Thorp House Inn sits atop a hill on a wooded bluff overlooking downtown Fish Creek. The building was built in 1902 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Guests have the option of inn rooms as well as private cottages, which have their own kitchens and fireplaces. 



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The Ranzaus aren’t the only couple to find a new passion in Door County. In 2014, Scott and Julie Barnes put a few crystals on the front desk of their business, Ephraim Motel, not realizing that it would lead to a whole new adventure in their lives. They started sharing their interest in crystals, minerals and fossils with customers that year, and it showed them that many others also had interest. In 2015, they leased a building next to the Ephraim Motel, did some remodeling, then started stocking the shelves. The new store was called Door County Rock and Gem (10421 Highway 42, Ephraim). 

“Many customers have told us they have never been in a store like ours,” says Scott. “We pride ourselves in offering something for everyone. Collectors will find rare specimens from all around the world.” 

A short drive away from Door County Rock and Gem is The Hillside Waterfront Hotel (9980 Water St., Ephraim), which provides luxury accommodations in the heart of the beautiful town. This historic hotel features five upscale suites with balconies, private bathrooms and gorgeous fireplaces. The Hillside also offers two beautiful, family- 
friendly cottages with cozy fireplaces. 

The Hillside is one of the most iconic buildings in Door County and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been luxuriously renovated, preserving the original integrity of this white-painted landmark that has welcomed travelers to Door County since the late 1800s. With stunning water views and lavish amenities, this hotel also boasts the longest porch in Door County. 

When it comes time for food, it’s hard to go wrong. Some particularly delicious choices are White Gull Inn (4225 Main St., Fish Creek), Waterfront Restaurant (10947 N. Highway 42, Sister Bay) and Old Post Office Restaurant (10040 Water St., Ephraim), which, as the name suggests, was once Ephraim’s early-1900s post office. 

And if you’re searching for another luxurious place to stay a little farther north, try Cliffside Lodge (849 Wisconsin Bay Rd., Gills Rock). The lodge is located on a bluff 60 feet above the water, bringing one of the best views in the county right to your bedroom window. The bayside deck allows for a relaxing outdoor dinner, and the three-level lodge includes five bedrooms, three baths and a giant fireplace. The lodge was built in 1965 and remodeled in 1993 to create this one-of-kind lodging option directly on the water. 

With these options and more, it’s hard to say no to a weekend on the peninsula.  

Osthoff Pier at Elkhart Lake

Elkhart Lake 

An hour north of Milwaukee, this destination’s prime attraction is in the name. Elkhart Lake is the perfect scenic spot for a weekend on the water.  

“October is one of the most beautiful times of the year here,” says Kathleen Eickhoff, executive director of Elkhart Lake Tourism.  

With the leaves changing, Elkhart Lake’s hiking and biking trails take on new life. The Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit offers a varied expanse of trails. The Ice Age Trail LaBudde Creek Segment offers an easily walkable forest and prairie path, and the Rocky Knoll Mountain trail networks provides a hilly walk through the deep, colorful woods. And if you want to try a new trail experience, Camp Anokijig offers guided horse rides. 

While the weather remains warm, the lake is open for kayaking and paddle boarding, and when it starts to cool, pontoon boats and other warmer options remain, not to mention the wide variety of lakeside accommodations and restaurants. 

Eickhoff says Elkhart Lake is now especially attractive to people who are working remotely. “They want to get out of the city,” she says. “The kids are going to school remote. They can literally be anywhere. They can enjoy a beautiful lakeside destination.” 

One of the many bright spots of Elkhart Lake is the dining. Elkhart Lake is known for exceptional dining on par with major cities, and they offer many options, such as the Paddock Club (61 S. Lake St.), which serves New American dishes in a historic former gambling club, Concourse Restaurant and Lounge (101 Osthoff Ave.) overlooking the lake, or you can treat yourself to a from-scratch dish at Lake Street Cafe (21 S. Lake St.). 


Grafton sits directly on the Milwaukee River and, only a half hour drive from the city, makes for a perfect day trip or weekend getaway. The scenic downtown and rural surrounds of Ozaukee County offer plenty of ways to fill a day away from the city. 

“Probably the greatest asset in Grafton is the Ozaukee Interurban Trail,” says Pam King, executive director of the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a 25-mile biking, hiking trail that traverses all of the county.” 

The trail is both urban and rural and even goes straight through downtown Grafton.  

Grafton is also a prime destination for golfers. Fire Ridge Golf Club (2241 County Road W) is 18 holes, while the Edgewater Golf Club (1762 W. Cedar Creek Rd.) suits the golfer on a schedule with nine.  And if you’re tired of the usual club-and-ball golf, head to Lime Kiln Park (2020 Green Bay Rd.) for a round of disc golf. 

The city’s 25 parks also provide bounteous recreational opportunities. Veterans Park (1000 13th Ave.) is directly on the river and has an easy-access canoe or kayak launch for a day on the water.  

Interestingly, the blues is integral to Grafton’s history. Grafton was the home of Paramount Records, a legendary recording studio where famed blues players recorded songs in the 1920s and early ’30s. This has earned the city a place on the Mississippi Blues Trail, a historic map that traverses the entire country, marking sites where seminal moments in blues history occurred. Find out more about this part of the city’s past on a historical walking tour, and visit the walk of fame featuring the famous blues artists who’ve recorded there. 

After a long day, you can stop by any of Grafton’s many restaurants for dinner, including Atlas BBQ (1304 12th Ave.) and Lobo’s Place (1305 Wisconsin Ave.), both on the Paramount Plaza, or for some libations stop by Sahale Ale Works (1505 Wisconsin Ave.) or The 024 Taproom (1300 14th Ave.) and toast an enjoyable excursion. 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s October issue.

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