Have you heard of the Fox Cities before? Located in east central Wisconsin by the Fox River and Lake Winnebago, the Fox Cities area consists of 19 communities. Just last month, we ventured to the area to explore all the family-friendly offerings. Let me tell you, we found plenty of that and then some! The area has historic mills, downtowns, and bonus – you’re never too far from the water. I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised – this area is such a hidden gem!
Disclosure: A big thanks to Fox Cities CVB and their partners for hosting us.I was not required to express a particular point of view. All opinions are my own.
Places to Play in the Fox Cities
High Cliff State Park
High Cliff State Park offers wide open spaces — all 1187 acres of it! Take a scenic hike overlooking one of the Midwest’s largest freshwater inland lakes, Lake Winnebago. Choose from any of the seven historic trails from its sacred Indian Burial Ground trail to its Limestone Cliff trail.
Start your journey at the Nature Center (also the same building/kiosk to pay the fee) for a chance to ask questions as well as pick up fun activity sheets that can be turned in for a badge. This is also a worthwhile pit stop for clean bathrooms. We hiked the Lime Kiln Trail which offers views of Lake Winnebago on one side and views of the Niagara Escarpment on the other. From the start of the trail we were greeted with the Lime Kiln ruins. Pretty cool! We chose the shorter loop clocking in at only .9 miles. Make sure to bring bug spray. We were eaten alive even though we doused ourselves in bug spray. If you’re looking for more trails, you’ll find 6 other trails including the Indian Burial Ground trail and the Limestone Cliff trail.
Another great reason to visit High Cliff State Park? They have a swimming area! After being eaten alive, we couldn’t wait to dip our feet in the water. Although there wasn’t much of a beachy area, we found warm shallow water with a sandy bottom. It was peaceful and relaxing. We all had fun!
If you’re looking for an easy hike with time for fun afterwards, add Heckrodt to the top of your list! The 76-acre nature reserve has boardwalks and plenty of nature. We even saw a fawn just a few feet away from us. Take the half mile blue trail to the play area to get your hike in. Afterwards, “reward” the kids with time at the awesome nature play area, the Children’s Canopy Walk. We’ve been to a few and this is definitely one of our favorites!
Here you’ll find a treehouse with a log tube slide, mud kitchen, zipline, tunnels, small obstacle course, and more! So much fun! The Nature Center is worth a stop to say hello to the turtles, frogs, snakes and other animals in their aquarium. (Plus, it’s a great stop for clean bathrooms!) Totally free, but donations welcome.
Loop the Lake Trail
The 3+ mile trail connects the communities of Neenah, Menasha, and Fox Crossing. The best part is that it literally loops around the lake so no matter what vantage point you’re sure to see water. The trail is ideal for biking and riding scooters. Also, a great spot for bird watching.
Pro tip: If you park at Fritse Park, kids can be treated to this fun playground afterwards that includes an adventure challenge and those cool old school metal slides. (We love those!)
Fan of baseball? Watch the Timber Rattlers, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. As with any minor league games, they offer plenty of fun. Expect silly antics performed by their two mascots, Fang and Whiffler, as well as fun games in between innings. Get ready to grab a shirt from the Bratzooka gun or any of the goodies thrown by the announcer (toilet paper, anyone?) And who can forget the food? They offer plenty of options like popcorn, Wisconsin-based Cedar Crest ice cream, and of course large bags of cotton candy. Parking is $5 cash.
TIp: Check their schedule for fun themed events like Dino Night or Unicorn Night.
Located at one end of Downtown Appleton, The History Museum at the Castle is quite a sight to see: it literally looks like a castle! The historic building is actually a former Masonic temple and touches of its past can be seen throughout the building. Learn all about the Fox Cities including a couple famous people who called the Fox Cities their home like Harry Houdini and Edna Ferber. The first floor held the temporary exhibit, ABCs of Fox Cities, where visitors can learn more about the area. Have you heard of a Peekie? The character was made famous by an Appleton resident and was popular during the war. Train fan? Take a peek in the basement for a model train exhibit.
The real highlight of the museum was on the third floor where we learned about Harry Houdini, who once called Appleton home. The kids loved how interactive it was being able to try out the different tricks that Houdini performed. The kids even performed their own magic show using the tricks that the Master of Magic himself used.
If you have kids, make sure to stop at the Building for Kids Children’s Museum. I am so glad I listened to Stateline Kids and added this museum to our itinerary. It’s two floors of kid fun! And the best thing is that the kids will be learning while they play. So many things to do, including climbing the treehouse, a water play area, a construction crane that actually picks up blocks, slide through a heart, a fire truck, airplane, and watch balls zip through tubes. Make sure to save time for the art studio. It’s huge and the options are endless. My kids literally spend an hour painting and making a clay masterpiece.
Have you ever made paper? At the Paper Discovery Center you can! It was definitely one of the coolest things that we’ve done. During the two hour hands-on session, we actually made paper from start to finish. Afterwards, we learned a little bit about acids and bases and tried our own experiment. The building itself is pretty cool as it used to be a paper mill. Outside, the rushing waters of the Fox River were fascinating to watch.
Come here on a Saturday to find downtown Appleton full of market vendors. Our favorites included lemonade and coffee from Acola Coffee. Stroll down the street, listen to music, see all the pretty flowers, and people watch. Or even get a balloon animal.
One thing that I loved about the Fox Cities area was the abundance of public art everywhere we went: beautiful sculpture, street murals, and even funky knitted pieces of work on street lamps. I loved it all! Downtown Appleton has a neat 2+ mile Fox Trot Trail that highlights Appleton’s rich history and the beautiful Fox River. Along the way you’ll find art, poetry, shops, and more! Here is a sampling of the art we saw. But believe me, art is everywhere!
Since we were attempting the #100parkschallenge, we’ve been seeking out playgrounds everywhere we go. One thing that stood out for me and the kids was the amazing playgrounds in the area! So many great ones in the area!
Located just a few minutes away from High Cliff State Park, Wanick Choute Park is a great playground with lots of fun equipment, a slide located in a hill, and a splash pad!
Tip: Another recommended spot for ice cream is Froggy’s. Cash only.
This cool downtown playground is just a block away from College Avenue.
Appleton Memorial Park
The large park not has a great inclusive playground with tons of fun equipment. Some new-to-us finds include a pirate ship sway glider and an adventure raft swing. Tons of fun to be had here including a huge hill!
Where to Eat the Fox Cities
For a quick grab and go breakfast or lunch option, we really liked Bagelicious. Offering water boiled bagels, the downtown Appleton spot offers the option to choose from a bagel and cream cheese or make your own bagel sandwiches. For a sweet treat, try the kronut. We gobbled our made-to-order sandwiches. They were delish!
When you’re in need of a healthier option, Bona Fide Juicery is the best. They have healthy smoothie options, smoothie bowls, oatmeal and other food.The vibe and decor is so cute too. Definitely one of our favorite spots we found!
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I love that there are multiple cafe and coffeehouse options along College Avenue in downtown Appleton. Brewed Awakenings was one that was open early on a Sunday and so glad we stopped in. I had a Bhakti Chai, a ginger drink with a shot of espresso to wake up our tired systems. Definitely much needed! While my husband and I enjoyed our coffee in the cafe, the kids were busy playing checkers.
For an ecletic dining experience, Good Company is huge and spacious and best enjoyed with good company. The former paper mill just outside downtown offers a variety of food – Mexican, Italian, American – to satisfy picky eaters. The portions are gigantic and everything we tried (and we tried ALOT!) was very good. Unfortunately, we were too full to try their famous deep fried Snickers.
As the name suggests, you will no doubt find coffee but also food. The sandwiches and soup were pretty tasty especially the Bernini, chicken breast, mozzarella, roasted red pepper sandwich, and Houdini, a turkey, bacon, swiss served on tomato basil focaccia. The kids loved the brocolli soup! And yes, of course I couldn’t leave without an ice coffee. And their tea was so refreshing!
Stone Arch topped our must-try list for it’s in-house brewery. And you already know how we feel about our beer and alcoholic beverages, right? I was happy with their beer choices (lots of sweet options), while the kids were happy sipping away on their handcrafted gourmet sodas like blueberry, orange cream, and root beer. There’s plenty of choices for food but whatever you do, don’t miss the cheese curds. Amazing. But you really can’t go wrong with anything here! Another cool factor? Being tucked away in the basement with the exposed brick.
Head to the Chubby Seagull for a post-hike treat or in case the munchies arise. Ice cream is always a good idea, and thankfully their single waffle scoop was HUGE! Since we were getting hungry, we also ordered 3 different pizzas: CBR (chicken, bacon, ranch), Marghertita, and Fun-guy, their take on a mushroom pizza.
We decided to come here after our original plan was closed. Wanting to save time, we ordered carryout. Unfortunately, we ending up waiting an extra 45 minutes for the food. Ugh. The good news? The Bao taco and Korean tacos were a hit, and my son devoured his ramen. The bad? Our poke bowl was served in a shallow styrofoam container, so it was hard to eat, and the salmon was cooked and the sauce was just way too overpowering. The fried rice was too wet (weird right?) Anyways, this seemed to be a popular spot, I’d just dine in instead of carryout.
All good things must come to an end, and what better way to end our trip but with a trip to Crazy Sweet? The downtown shop has plenty of options to satisfy any sweet tooth – bulk candy, more candy, home made chocolates, and Cedar Crest ice cream. Kids were happy choosing a handful of candy while this momma enjoyed trying a Fro-Dough, customized donut ice cream sandwich with topping. In fact, I was told they were the only ones in Wisconsin that makes it. It was perfectly sweet, delicious, and the perfect way to end our Fox Cities vacation.
Tip: The Fox Cities area has plenty of sweet places. I’ve heard great things about Doughlicious and Lamer’s Dairy.
Where to Stay in the Fox Cities
Just off the highway, Comfort Suites offered simple comforts and a free breakfast. The main highlight of staying here was the cool water area with a water slide. Other amenities include a hot tub, arcade, ping pong table, and pool table. If you truly want to stay close to the action, book a poolside room. We loved waking up and walking out to the pool! Want to get your work out in? The hotel offers guest passes to Xperience Fitness just 5 minutes down the street. Sweet, right?