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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Traveling Locally and Green for Spring Break

Jan 27, 2015 10:33PM ● By Mira Temkin

Photo courtesy of Arbor House

There may still be snow on the ground, but it’s not too early to think about making plans for spring break. Visit a real working farm and milk a cow. Tour an organic cheese factory and see how those delicious cheese curds are made. Splash around an indoor water park, making memories the family will long remember.

Families seeking a fun, healthy and environmentally friendly vacation won’t have to look any further than our neighbors to the north. In 2006, Wisconsin forged the way with the first state-sponsored sustainable travel green certification program in the country which serves as a role model for other states, as well as globally. Just a few hours away are a variety of Travel Green certified restaurants, hotels and venues that are committed to serving vacationers while sustaining green practices and supporting the local economy.

Stay in Eco-Friendly Accommodations

Located on a five-acre organic farm on the border between Wisconsin and Illinois, the Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast (, in Browntown, is a wonderful place to relax and recharge. What makes this hotel unique is that it’s powered by renewable energy sources of wind and sun. Breakfast is made with fruits and vegetables grown in the inn’s organic gardens. On the grounds are a life-size chess set and a thriving colony of honeybees. The inn also serves as an educational site for fossil-fuel-free and climate-neutral living, with a wind turbine providing teaching moments for the whole family.

Photo courtesy of Mira Temkin
Photo courtesy of Mira Temkin
Situated in Madison, right across the street from the Arboretum, is Arbor House, An Environmental Inn ( another green bed & breakfast. Their natural, eco-friendly practices include organic linens, energy-efficient appliances, locally produced toiletries and green-certified cleaning products. Babysitting is available, too, so guests can explore Madison at night. Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort, in the Dells (, offers a variety of condo, hotel and cabin accommodations, but the biggest draw is the five indoor water parks, featuring the world’s largest indoor wave pool. Choose from parks that have slides, a lazy river, floating rafts, a hot spa and lots more. The resort has just added an indoor go-kart trail that guarantees thrilling, nonstop family fun. In the Wild Canyon Café, kids eat free with each adult meal purchased. Check out its website for other spring break offers. Green initiatives include water recycling, Earth-friendly cleaning supplies, laundry ozone wash system and energy-efficient lighting.   

Get Some Cheese (It is Wisconsin)

Wisconsin has more artisan cheese makers than any other state. Lucky visitors have a chance to see just how “squeaky” cheese curds and wheels are made. Green County, about 45 minutes southwest of Madison, is the big cheese. Start at the National Cheesemaking Center ( to learn about the history and process of cheese-making. Emmi Roth Kase USA, in Monroe (, is a Swiss company that produces a variety of award-winning cheeses using old-world techniques and traditions. Guests will think they’ve wandered into the Alps at their charming chalet factory. Take a self-guided tour and observe the entire process. The best time to catch the cheese masters in action is between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Mira Temkin
Photo courtesy of Mira Temkin
Cedar Grove Cheese, in Plain (, is one of Wisconsin’s most environmentally conscious producers of organic and local cheese. In December 1993, they became the first in the country to require that its milk-producing cows be free of the synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). In addition, none of the ingredients are derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO). Additive-free cheese varieties include white cheddar, farmer’s cheese, pepper jack and colby. Check its website for tour dates and times. Hungry for lunch? Stop at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern (, Wisconsin’s oldest cheese store, opened in 1931. Try their limburger with mustard and cheese on rye and wash it down with a locally crafted brew.

Discover Wildlife in its Natural Habitat

Nature centers across the state provide easy access to open prairies, well-maintained preserves and woodlands, perfect for exploring plants, animals and birdlife. The Aldo Leopold Nature Center (, in Black Earth, features award-winning interactive trails and seasonal events. Birds rule at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (, with more than 100 species of migratory and resident birds. Wildlife is a close second with wolf packs, whooping cranes and white-tailed deer.

Now designated a Wetland of International Importance and a Globally Important Bird Area, Horicon Marsh ( is both a state wildlife area and national wildlife refuge. Just an hour’s drive from either Madison or Milwaukee, this birdwatching paradise is known for its migrant flocks of Canadian geese and more than 300 bird species. Start at one of the visitor’s centers and see the heron nest cameras that show the birds being hatched. Go canoeing or hiking to spot wildlife.

Photo courtesy of Moosejaw Inn
Photo courtesy of Moosejaw Inn
The Urban Ecology Center ( in Milwaukee features a green building showcasing recycled and renewable materials. Kids will be fascinated with the recycled slate blackboards and the interior furniture made from sustainable trees. Take a hike at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center ( on six miles of trails that wind through acres of forests, wetlands, prairies, ravines and the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Enjoy Farm Fresh Meals

At Braise (, Milwaukee’s first community supported agriculture (CSA) restaurant, diners will find a truly unique farm-to-table experience that supports the local economy. Braise grows its own vegetables, bakes its own bread and butchers its own meats. The menu changes daily, so there’s always something new to try, depending on the season. It’s not just great pizza. It’s pizza that subscribes to eco-friendly practices in the Dells. Yes, at Moosejaw Pizza and Dells Brewing Company, (, delivery vehicles run on vegetable oil recycled from the kitchen fryer. They also handcraft 10 varieties of their own beer with the used brewing grains recycled as horse feed.

Photo courtesy of Moosejaw Inn
Photo courtesy of Moosejaw Inn
Put on those overalls! Hinchley Dairy Farm Tours ( in Cambridge is an authentic working farm where visitors can milk a cow, pet and feed farm animals, go on a hayride and learn about farm life. The season opens early April.

All aboard the East Troy Electric Railroad ( for a delightful ride through the Southeast Wisconsin countryside. Enjoy a sweet stop at the Elegant Farmer (, famous for their award-winning Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag. It’s a great, wholesome outing for the whole family.

Get ready for a spring break that’s fun, educational and eco-friendly, and be sure to bring back some of Wisconsin’s famous cheese.

For more green travel ideas, visit To find a state-by-state guide to green travel, visit the American Hotel and Lodging Association at

Mira Temkin is a freelance copywriter and travel journalist based in Chicagoland, and can be reached at [email protected].