Marquette County in central Wisconsin is the best relaxing getaway destination you’ve never heard of. With over 70 lakes in the county alone, endless scenic routes perfect for wildlife and bird spotting, and the charming historic town of Montello (just big enough to provide everything you might need!), Marquette County now sits at the top of our list for a quiet weekend getaway immersed in nature. Read on to learn what makes this part of Wisconsin so special and how to plan your own visit!
Why Visit Marquette County, Wisconsin
There are so many reasons to visit Marquette County! Here are a few of the reasons we think it’s a great Midwest destination:
- Easy driving proximity to several larger cities like Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago makes Marquette County easily accessible for a weekend getaway!
- Wildlife lovers will fawn (pun intended) over the countless deer you can see in the area. In our weekend visit to Marquette County alone, we saw deer, bald eagles, a fox, cranes, wild turkeys, and a beaver.
- Marquette County embodies quintessential Wisconsin experiences, like Friday night fish fry specials accompanied by strong Old Fashioneds, both of which you can enjoy lakeside at one of the many lake resorts in the area!
- Hikers will enjoy visiting John Muir’s boyhood home and strolling around the lake at John Muir County park – the first place for which Muir ever tried to secure legal protections.
- Lake lovers will be spoiled for choice, and most resorts offer kayak, canoe, and motorboat/pontoon rentals.
Where is Marquette County, Wisconsin?
Marquette County is located in Central Wisconsin. Having your own vehicle is essential since this is a very rural region. You can rent a car at any of the airports servicing the region. Below are driving times from nearby cities and airports!
|Nearby Cities||Airport||Driving Distance to Marquette County|
|Madison, Wisconsin||MSN||1 hour|
|Wausau, Wisconsin||CWA||1 hour 15 minutes|
|Milwaukee, Wisconsin||MKE||2 hours|
Marquette County Map
Marquette County Weekend Getaway Itinerary
Check into your accommodation in Marquette County in the early afternoon. There are many options for accommodations in the area, including hotels, lake resorts, and bed and breakfasts. Check out the Marquette County Tourism and Visitors Bureau for a list of recommended accommodations!
We stayed in a cabin at the Lake Arrowhead Campground, a short drive from downtown Montello. A perk of staying at campgrounds and resorts is that they have many amenities right onsite, like kayak rentals, restaurants, lake access, grills, fire pits, and play areas for the kids.
In the late afternoon, drive to Observatory Hill for a short hike. The trail is about a mile round trip and takes you uphill through the forest and over ancient volcanic rocks (we’re talking 1.76 BILLION years old) to a viewpoint over the valley below. I already knew Wisconsin’s geology was formed by glaciers 12,000 years ago (you can see grooves in the rock on Observatory Hill!), but I was shocked to learn about the volcanic history of the region. In addition to geology, the area is also rich in Native American history. Look closely at the rocks and you can find petroglyphs! It’s easy to see why this one of young Muir’s favorite spots.
Dinner/Friday Night Fish Fry
If it’s a Friday night, be sure to head to one of the area’s many local restaurants for a typical Wisconsin Friday night fish fry. It’s a Wisconsin tradition that on Friday nights, local restaurants have a fish special. You can typically choose between baked or fried, and the meal often includes many sides (soup, salad, potato, etc.). I recommend enjoying with a brandy Old Fashioned (another Wisconsin staple!) or a Wisconsin beer.
We ate at White Lake Beach Resort’s onsite restaurant and had a delicious meal. Their beer cheese appetizer (paired with slices of Wisconsin brat!) was incredible!
Tip: Time your dinner to coincide with sunset. It’s hard to beat lakeside sunsets in Marquette County!
Breakfast at Sparks Grill
Start your day at Sparks Grill, a classic American diner in Montello. The staff here were so friendly and fun, we’d come back for the local flavor alone! The coffee is fresh and strong and their extensive breakfast menu has all the old favorites, like biscuits and gravy, country-fried steak, and fried eggs.
John Muir Memorial County Park
After breakfast, drive to John Muir Memorial County Park. This is the historic location of John Muir’s boyhood home and is the very first place he ever tried to protect! For those unfamiliar with Muir, he is largely credited with having the idea for the United States National Park Service. It’s fitting, then, that this park is part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a 1200 mile long trail managed by the NPS.
For a morning visit, we recommend walking the 1.7 mile trail around the lake. During our hike we saw some cranes in the grasses and a beaver in the lake. Keep your eyes out for animals, because they are everywhere in Marquette County!
Visit Amish Shops and Bakery
Near John Muir County Park is a small Amish community in Dalton with many shops selling handcrafted goods. Mishler’s Country Store and Pleasant View Bakery are two poplar shops. Drive slowly in this area, to be respectful of horse and buggy traffic. Additionally, while visitors are welcome to take photos of buildings, horses, stores, and the general environment, please avoid taking photos of the Amish people without explicit permission.
Lunch and Shopping in Downtown Montello
Head north to Montello for lunch and stroll through the charming downtown area. There are numerous local shops, restaurants, and bars. We enjoyed the soups and sandwiches at Oyster Crackers. This small restaurant serves unique takes on deli classics, like their Hot Honey Garlic Chicken Wrap. It’s the daily soups, though, that keep people talking about this popular spot.
After lunch, walk around the downtown area. Pop into boutique and antique shops, have a pint at a bar, and check out the alley just past Oyster Crackers for its fun and playful 3D murals. Lastly, don’t miss unique Daggett Park! This park features a beautiful man-made waterfall in an old quarry, and is right across the street from the historic Montello Theater.
To learn more about the rich history of the town, you can follow this self-guided walking tour.
Montello Upper Fox River – Grand River Lock and Dam
Head south from downtown to Grand River Lock and Dam. Today this is a popular fishing and bird watching spot, but in the late 1800s this was the site of a lock system and dam. After the locks closed, both the dam and locks were removed, but you can still see remnants of history here. A detailed information board explains the history in depth with fascinating photos. You can read more about the history of the Grand River Lock and Dam here.
If your accommodation is on a lake, get up early to catch sunrise! In general, wildlife are most active at dusk and dawn so this is a great time to see what other animals are up for sunrise. There are abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing in Marquette County, so be sure to check out the many parks and trails known for animal spotting!
If you’re departing Marquette County on the third day, check out of your accommodation and drive to your next destination. But if you have time to stay longer, check out the Marquette County Tourism and Visitors Bureau for even more things to do!
Final Thoughts on Marquette County, Wisconsin
Despite living only an hour from Marquette County for many years, we’d never ventured up to that area until recently. Our visit was long overdue. If you’re into hiking, wildlife spotting, lake life, or just being surrounded be a peaceful, quiet natural environment, Marquette County is a great destination in central Wisconsin. I have a feeling we’ll be back!