Located along the coast of Lake Michigan just north of Milwaukee, Ozaukee County is one of the smallest counties in Wisconsin. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in character and beauty.
From unspoiled shoreline, beaches and rural farmland to a mix of quaint communities and small but thriving walkable tourist towns, Ozaukee County offers a great place to play, stay and get away!
Built along the old railroad beds of the now-defunct railway that once connected Milwaukee to its northern neighbors, the Ozaukee Interurban Trail is a 30-mile paved family-friendly bike trail that runs the length of the county and connects many of the small towns. Visitors can easily spend a day or a weekend biking from one community to the next, with conveniently located stops along the route.
Nestled between Milwaukee’s Brown Deer Trail to the south and the Sheboygan Interurban Trail on the north, the OIT is 90% off-road, relatively flat, spacious and easy to navigate even for families with small kids. The trail takes bikers (plus walkers, hikers, skaters and even snow shoers and cross country skiers) through protected wetlands and forests, over restored railroad trestles, across rivers, past renovated mills and railway depots, and into the heart of walkable vibrant downtowns. The interurbantrail.com website can help riders navigate the trail through these old mill towns, and offers an interactive map of many of the trail’s highlights.
Centrally located Port Washington is reminiscent of an east coast seaside village, a harbor town that offers a beautiful breakwater out to one of the city’s two lighthouses. It boasts a number of popular restaurants, shops, galleries and a walkable downtown. In addition to the beautiful marina, the coastline around Port Washington and neighboring Grafton and Mequon offers beaches and clay bluffs ranging from 80 feet to 130 feet in height. Hiking trails overlook Lake Michigan, and winding paths, wooden boardwalks and bridges lure visitors down to the lake.
Cities like Cedarburg, Grafton and Port Washington are on the historic registry. Most of Ozaukee’s small towns boast a museum or two, as well as art galleries and cultural centers, and the small boutique shops are bountiful, locally owned and hard to match. Breweries, distilleries, wineries and great restaurants abound throughout the county, and many of them are accessible from the Interurban Trail.
The Ozaukee Interurban Trail is also designated as a “Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail.” This is abundantly clear at the northern end of the trail, where guests traveling through wetland habitats often spot sandhill cranes and green heron. In rural areas, meadowlark, kestrels, wrens and more dance across the sky. Marshy areas tend to attract soras, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, and blue-winged teal, while woodlands attract songbirds, indigo bunting and eastern towhees. All year long a lively variety of woodpeckers, cardinals, chickadees, jays and finches can be spotted darting from tree to tree.
Ozaukee is also a great county to visit in the off-season. Many parks offer groomed trails for snow-shoeing and cross country skiing, and while the southern portion of the Interurban Trail is plowed for biking and walking, the trail north of Port Washington is left unplowed for winter sports. Snowshoeing into a cozy downtown lit up like a Hallmark movie will renew anyone’s holiday spirit. Shopping districts come alive with holiday lights, tastefully decorated windows, and shoppers celebrating the season. Once the weather allows, areas of some of Ozaukee County’s creeks and waterways are plowed for ice-skating, and a few of the towns put up portable ice-skating rinks for families to enjoy.
If your travel companion is four-legged, much of Ozaukee County is dog friendly, including a number of our hotels, inns and B&Bs. In addition to the OIT, there are great dog trails and dog parks throughout the county, and many bars, coffee shops and even restaurants welcome furry visitors on their patios. Pups who love water should check out South Beach in Port Washington, Lion’s Den Gorge in Grafton or Harrington Beach State Park in Belgium, which also offers a dog friendly campground and trails. Except in designated dog parks, dogs are required to be on leashes throughout the County.
From Mequon at the south end to rural Belgium to the north, Ozaukee County offers something for everyone.
Feature photo at top: A biker crosses over Cedar Creek via the Interurban Bridge in Cedarburg.
Plan a visit or book a stay in one of our many hotels, B&Bs or historic inns!
Visit ozaukeetourism.com and discover the magic of Oz for yourself!