The most weird and wonderful time of year is here, and there’s no better way to celebrate than one of these Christmas getaways in Wisconsin where the holiday spirits are lurking all around you. You can have breakfast with Santa in Wisconsin’s most haunted hotel. Walk the dark, twisting corridors of a surreal house that takes holiday cheer to a whole new level of madness. Hop on a boat tour for a ride to Santa’s workshop on a lake where tourists used to be terrorized by a fearsome lake monster. Visit one of the most Christmassy towns in Wisconsin with a reputation for winter wonder…and werewolves.
If you’re hoping for an encounter with the ghosts of Christmas past, these historic haunts are some of the best places to hang your stockings for a unique and spooky yuletide escape.
1. Spring Green
Lurking among the rocky ridges and river valleys of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, Spring Green is home to several weird Wisconsin oddities. Book a weekend in the “Northern Lights” room at the nearby Don Q Inn, where you can sleep inside an igloo. Or get the “Mid-Evil” room with suits of armor and bed shackles. We’re not judging. Then, plan to spend an entire day at the bizarre House on the Rock, which is decorated for the holidays and covered in over 6,000 collectible Santa knick knacks for a true Christmas nightmare.
Down the road is Taliesin, the historic (and scandalous) home of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. There are no tours in December, but your trip wouldn’t be complete without at least driving past the site of the mass murder that took the lives of 7 people, including Wright’s mistress and her two children.
When you get hungry, dine in the vault of an old bank at the Last Leaf Public House in Spring Green, or grab some subs at the haunted Subway in Dodgeville.
There are a few good places to stay in Milwaukee for your creepy Christmas getaway. The Brumder Mansion is a historic B&B that’s home to numerous spirits. There is said to be a lot of paranormal activity in the Gold Suite, but guests have heard footsteps, disembodied voices, disturbing EVPs, had strange dreams, and witnessed objects moving on their own in Marion’s Suite and George’s Suite, as well.
Shaker’s Cigar Bar is another great place to spend the night, if you think you can handle sleeping in the bed of a murdered prostitute. We hear most people can’t make it through one whole night.
Another great choice is the notoriously haunted Pfister Hotel, known for the numerous pro baseball players and celebrities who’ve had unsettling experiences there. Spend the night with ghosts, then have breakfast with Santa in the ballroom.
Stop by the American Science & Surplus store for some quirky stocking stuffers, check out Candy Cane Lane, and spend a day at the Milwaukee Public Museum, where the a whale skeleton is lighted and wearing a Santa hat (the annual “Lighting of the Whale”) and the Streets of Old Milwaukee and European Village immerse you in unnerving holiday cheer. You might encounter the ghost of a former museum director who still wanders among the exhibits, or the restless spirit of a Peruvian mummy.
Make sure to catch the Krampus parade and macabre Christmas market at Milwaukee Krampusnacht.
3. Wisconsin Dells
You wouldn’t think Christmas and Wisconsin Dells (you know, the “water park capital of the world”) would go together considering the cold weather and all. Many attractions are closed during this time until next season, but winter is an interesting time to visit and Christmas in Wisconsin Dells is magical. The best resorts in town have indoor waterparks if you still want that tropical vacation feel in the dead of Wisconsin winter, so Kalahari, Chula Vista, Wilderness Lodge and Great Wolf Lodge are perfect places to stay and have their own unique holiday events. Get a room with a fireplace and a jacuzzi because, you know, Wisconsin is cold.
Head downtown for the Scenic River Walk where you’ll find dozens of lighted trees and a massive “Tree of Light,” a 55-foot silver maple covered in thousands of lights. While you’re there, Ripley’s Believe It or Not is still open on the weekends so stop in and see if you can find the preserved head of serial killer Peter Kurten, who was executed in Germany in 1931.
You can zipline over the weird winter wonderland with Bigfoot Zipline Tours or Vertical Illusions, then warm up with a drink from the haunted Showboat Saloon.
A television show first put Elkhorn on the map in 1952 with footage of workers hanging garland and bells in the downtown area around the square for Christmas. This inspired artist Cecile Johnson to paint Elkhorn in a series of snowy, nostalgic scenes that were later used as Christmas cards. The annual Christmas Card Town parade and tree lighting keep the spirit of small town Christmas alive.
Just outside of town, there’s a short stretch of road that brought a different sort of notoriety to Elkhorn. In the early 90s, local writer Linda Godfrey uncovered the story of the Beast of Bray Road, a dogman creature that had been terrorizing residents for decades and is still seen today.
5. Lake Geneva
Many wealthy Chicago residents built their extravagant summer homes in Lake Geneva, and even more came after fire ravaged Chicago in 1871. Two of those old mansions that still remain today are reputedly haunted and open to spend the night. The Baker House is known for the spirit of a man with a handlebar mustache who wanders the halls. A few blocks away is the Maxwell Mansion, built in 1855 by a prominent Chicago doctor who is rumored to have secretly performed surgeries in the basement where the speakeasy is today. The ghost of a young boy called Danny is known to tug on visitor’s pant legs as they walk by, and a shadowy figure lurks in the hall.
At the end of the 19th century, an influx of more visitors to the now popular resort town seemed to have stirred up a lake monster that became affectionately known as Jenny. This serpent was usually seen trailing in the wake behind the steamboats that once cruised the lake, and would sometimes capsize smaller boats. Today, boat tours are still one of the most popular attractions, so for your Christmas getaway you’ll want to hop on the Santa Cruise for lakeside views of the elaborate light displays. You’ll even see Santa himself at his workshop on the shore of the lake.
Lake Geneva was the home of Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax, whose dungeon crawler sensibilities were likely shaped by his childhood adventures wandering the halls of the abandoned sanitarium. Today, you can visit the D&D museum that served as TSR headquarters, and pay your respects at the Gary Gygax memorial at the Riviera Ballroom fountain.