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Wisconsin Parent

Visiting Appleton and the Fox Cities

Jan 22, 2014 07:39AM ● By Julie Henning
Known as Wisconsin's Shopping Place, the Fox Cities encompasses the 18 communities nestled along the shores of Lake Winnebago and the Fox River. Known for its paper making industry, the region is also a corridor for innovations in technology and high quality of life. Featuring art, culture, history, sustainability, recreation, sports, and entertainment, a visit to the region is both accessible and affordable.

In the Episode 18 of the Midwest Travel Podcast, we interview Mary Hirvela, Marketing Communications Manager for the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, asking for some ideas on planning a family-friendly trip. Here are some of our favorites:

Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium: Home of the Timber Rattlers

Members of the Midwest League, the Timber Rattlers are the region's minor-league baseball team. The recently re-named Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium has undergone an extensive facelift including a new atrium, indoor batting cages for the players, banquet/event facilities, and Whiffer (the team's newest mascot).

Appleton Baseball

An inexpensive venue to enjoy our nation's past time, seats are $10 in 2014 (the team's 20th season). The team won the Midwest Field Championships in 2012 and in 2013 had the highest attendance ever, with three number one draft picks going to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Fox Cities Stadium, Grand Chut, WI

With different specials and events running throughout the season, families will enjoy Friday night games where kids eat free and fireworks are launched post-game (kids are also allowed to run on the bases once the players are off the field). Wednesdays are "Bang for your Buck" night with $1 soda, $1 hot dogs, and $1 beer.

High Cliff State Park

One of the busiest state parks in the state of Wisconsin, High Cliff State Park is located on the Northwest corner of Lake Winnebago and is 1200 acres in entirety. Offering spectacular views of the water from the top of the Niagara Escarpment*, visitors to the park enjoy cool breezes in the summer months. Accomodating 112 family camp sites and 8 group camp sites, the park has trails for hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. Marina slips are also available for rent.

High Cliff State Park Marina If you visit the park, make sure and climb the wooden tower located near the upper picnic pavilion.

High Cliff State Park Ovservation TowerLake Winnebago is 10 miles wide and 30 miles long; your view from the tower will give you a vantage point of the enormity of the body of water.View of Lake WinnebegoThe park also maintains the General Store and Old Kiln Ruins of the settlement of High Cliff, as well as Native American effigy mounds.High Cliff State Park Nature CenterIf you visit the High Cliff General Store, make sure and visit the Nature Center in the back of the building (this is a great "rainy day" kind of place).

*The Niagra Escarpment is a geological formation predominant in the Midwest and is (as the name implies) what you would see at Niagara Falls. Read more on Wikipedia.

Nature Current

Offering guided tours of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway in a 10 seat 25-foot Voyageur canoe, Nature Current is a local outfitter run by Mark and Debra Gehrke. The Gehrkes will take your group (families, Scouts, girlfriends, or just a group of friends) out on a two hour adventure on the Fox River and Lake Butte des Morts launching from either Fritske Park in Menasha or Lutz Park in Appleton.

1000577_608329789223635_1285912025_nDescribed as a "natural urban experience," the trips offer a unique vantage point for wildlife viewing in the air, water, and riverbank. Longer trips and trips on the nearby Wolf River are also available; for the most accurate information (including prices and special outings like midnight paddles) consult the Nature Current website.

Weis Earth Science Museum and Barlow Planetarium

Located on the University of Wisconsin Fox Valley Campus, the Weis Earth Science Museum and Barlow Planetarium are open to the public year round.

Earthquake JumpFeaturing minerals, fossils, crystals, dinosaurs, and earth science exhibits ranging from earth quakes to volcanoes, mining, and archeology, museum admission is $1 for children and $2 for adults (kids 3 and under are free). The museum is also affiliated with the Weis'n'Miners, Geology club, the largest geology club in the state of Wisconsin (club meetings are held the last Tuesday of the month at 6:30 PM in the Emeritus Room on campus).

Every Rock Tells a StoryIf you make the drive to the Weis Earth Science Museum, plan a concurrent visit to the Barlow Planetarium (shows run on the half hour and range from $5 to $7 per person).

BarlowPlanetarium_MenasahWI2Mention planetarium shows start on the half hour and are an additional cost (purchase tickets at the ticket window located by the entrance to the planetarium). We thoroughly enjoyed the pre-show trivia questions projected onto the dome (each person can "vote" for their answer by pressing buttons located on the armrests) and could have listened to the "educational" component of the Laser Beatles all afternoon (Word to the wise: you may want to clarify "The Beatles" is a band, not an insect.)

History Museum at the Castle

Appleton's history museum, the History Museum at the Castle tells the story of the Fox Valley dating back to the 1840s. The three-level museum is located in a former Masonic temple located on 330 E. College Avenue and boarders the Lawrence University campus.

History Museum at the CastleMuseum exhibits feature Joseph McCarthy, Edna Farber, Harry Houdini (all from Appleton), as well as regional food and the tools that shaped the region's industry (paper making and farming, for example).

HIstory Museum Dumbell By far the most popular exhibit for kids is the upper-level Harry Houdini exhibit that tells the life story of Houdini as well as the secrets behind some of his more famous illusions. We loved the lock-picking station as well as the opportunity to make a daring "escape" on stage.

History Museum Excape ArtistsIf you visit the museum with kids in tow, look for the scavenger hunt sheet (when completed, kids earn a prize for their efforts). Admission ranges from $7.50 to $3.50, and kids five and under are free (annual memberships are available and are a better deal if you plan on visiting the museum more than once).

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

The second largest Performing Arts Center in the state of Wisconsin, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is a state-of-the art facility located in downtown Appleton. A gathering place for the community (from High School prom to corporate holiday parties), the facility consistently draws "Big City" shows like Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, and Sister Act, to name a few on the 2014 event calendar).  PAC exterior With  plentiful street and ramp ($2) parking, dining, and nightlife, a "Night on the Town" is a comparative bargain in Appleton.

Paper Discovery Center

A tribute to the region's paper-making industry, the The Paper Discovery Center features exhibits, interactive activities, hands-on interpretive displays, and a opportunity to make your own piece of paper in the Purdy-Weissenborn Paper Lab. The Paper Discovery Center was the unexpected delight of our recent visit to Appleton. Read about our visit here.

Paper Discovery Center Squeezing PaperThe Building for Kids Children's Museum

Having frequented Children's Museums across the state of Wisconsin,  The Building for Kids Children's Museum is one of our new favorites! Exhibits are distributed over two stories and range from a tree fort to a water play area, convenience store, airplane, and art and science studio.

Buliding for Kids Water TableWe loved the domino table as much as the "Move It" and "Imagination Station" rooms.

Building for Kids Move It Balls

Building for Kids Lego Display

Toddlers can embrace their inner Anne Geddes in the baby garden or tough it out in The Big Dig room.

Building for Kids Toddler Area

Building for Kids Diggers and DumpersMuseum admission is $7.25 for adults and children ages 1-15 ($6.00 for seniors over age 65) and annual memberships with varying levels of cost and complexity are also available (consult the museum website for details).

Heckrodt Nature Center

A “76-acre urban nature reserve with habitats including forested wetland, cattail marsh, open water, created prairie, open field, and upland forest,” visitors to Heckrodt Wetland Reserve can enjoy the three miles of trail and the 4,000 square foot nature center all year round. A popular destination for bird watchers, photographers, and school groups, if the nature center is closed, the trails are still open. Read a full Wisconsin Parent review of the Heckrodt Nature Center here.Heckrodt Nature TrailOther local nature preserves/nature centers include the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, the Mosquito Hill Nature Center, 1000 Islands Environmental Center and High Cliff State Park (mentioned above).

Where to Stay: Comfort Suites Appleton Airport

Families looking for a family-friendly hotel located near dining and popular shopping venues (not to mention easy-on/easy-off access to Highway 41) will enjoy the Comfort Suites Appleton Airport hotel. Offering complimentary shuttles to the airport and a continental breakfast in the morning (and cocktails every night but Sunday), the hotel is under extensive remodeling to give the rooms an ultra-modern facelift. Kids will enjoy the large swimming pool and water-slide while parents soak in the jumbo hot tub. The atrium offers enough room for large groups and includes a video arcade for the older kids. waterslideOther Places to Visit

If you've worked your way through our list, other ideas for kid-friendly fun in the Appleton and Fox Cites region include Mulberry Lanes Petting Farm, The Fire Art Pottery Studio, Badger Sports Park, Funset Boulevard, Monkey Joe's Party and Play Center, Player's Choice of the Fox Cities, and regional ice skating arenas, bowling alleys, and roller skating rinks.

Enjoy some more photos from our recent trip!

Weis Museum Gift ShopGift Shop at the Weis Earth Science Museum

Paper Discovery Center Fox RiverView of the Paper Discovery Center Across the Fox River

History Museum LockpickingPicking Locks at the History Museum at the Castle

High Cliff State Park General StoreHigh Cliff General Store

Barlow Planetarium ExteriorBarlow Planetarium

Parking Artist and MusiciansDowntown Appleton "Park"ing Music and FestivitiesBuilding for Kids Play FoodImaginary Play at the Building for Kids