It’s that time of year when many people are looking ahead to vacations they want to take next year as companies ask their employees to submit time off requests and resorts open their reservation calendars.
If you want to travel somewhere domestically next summer, making reservations now should get you the place (and price) you want. In fact, according to Google Flights data, the ideal time to buy a domestic plane ticket is 21 to 60 days in advance, with prices bottoming out about 44 days before.
But some domestic destinations play by different rules. Six months isn’t even enough notice for these Wisconsin hots spots, which are among the hardest in the state to get reservations for.
Advance planners who do nab a reservation are rewarded with stays in architecturally unique houses with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, historic summer camp buildings that have been lovingly restored with antique touches, and Frank Lloyd Wright homes that represent the Wisconsin architect’s distinct style.
These are spots to add to your travel bucket list and make a reservation for that special occasion you know is coming in a year or two. Set a reminder to book when reservations open (many are two years in advance) and be prepared to hit that reserve button when they do. Or if you have a flexible schedule, keep checking reservation calendars for openings due to cancellations.
Or use these spots as inspiration to find another unique getaway that hasn’t yet been found by the Instagram crowd. Airbnb now lets you search for everything from tiny homes and tree houses to castles and “OMG!” spots (like a pirate ship near the Dells). Or contact a local tourism bureau in an area you want to visit to see if they have recommendations.
Why publish this list, if it’s nearly impossible to get reservations at these places? For one, it’s not impossible, if you plan. Set a reminder in your calendar to book as soon as reservations open. Regularly check the websites for cancellations. Be flexible in when you go; winter is often “easier” to get a reservation for, and many of these spots are just as beautiful in cold-weather months. Plus, the wait between making the reservation and actually traveling is worth it and makes the getaway even more special.
So get planning and pack your patience, then enjoy the spoils of both at one of these spots.
Anaway Place, Richland Center
Formerly known as Candlewood Cabins, these rentals in Richland Center typically book out the moment reservations open — two years in advance (Jan. 1, 2023 for all of January 2025, for example). The eye-catching cabins are beautiful inside and out, with a pastoral location in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region adding to the appeal.
Each cabin offers their own special attributes for a unique getaway. The Meadow House, perched on a hill overlooking a prairie, has four walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that offer 360-degree views of prairie and surrounding woods. The Glass House, tucked into the woods, also boasts four walls of windows and bills itself as “an elevated camping experience” with a detached bathroom and kitchenette accessible via a small footbridge. The Woodland House includes a two-story tower with a spiral staircase and wrap-around decks on both levels. For a large family or friends getaway, the Barn delivers four bedrooms that can sleep up to 12 people.
All of the rentals include access to the property’s hiking trail and the Anaway Store, which offers groceries, beverages and other goods made locally.
Rates vary by cabin but are $297 per night for the Meadow and Woodland houses, $173 for the Glass House and $900 for the Barn during the high season (May 15-Oct. 15), with a two-night minimum for all. For more information and reservations, see anaway.com or call (608) 647-5720.
More:Glass houses at Candlewood Cabins are a cozy, magical getaway in the Driftless Area
Nordlys Lodging Co., Frederic
If the floor-to-ceiling windows of the stunning MetalLark Tower bear a resemblance to the architectural style of Anaway Place, that’s not a coincidence — the former served as inspiration for this rental in Polk County.
The architectural beauty speaks for itself, but its popularity has been boosted thanks to coverage from both social media influencers like Levi Kelly (who also hosts Tiny BNB on the Design Network) and TV shows like The Cabin Chronicles, a series from the Magnolia Network (part of the Joanna and Chip Gaines empire).
The two-story MetalLark Tower features an inverted layout, with the bathroom and bedroom on the bottom floor offering views of a restored prairie and small lake, and the open concept kitchen and living space on the second floor opening to a small, cantilevered deck. The Scandinavian-inspired design is a perfect blend of elegant and comfortable, with 11-foot ceilings accentuated by beams of pine, Douglas fir cabinets and oak floors underneath. Small touches throughout enhance the experience, from a Keurig in the downstairs bedroom for coffee in bed to a welcome basket with local goodies from pancake mix and syrup to coffee and gourmet marshmallows.
Nordlys’ other cabin, LongHouse, shares some of MetalLark’s design features but in an accessible, one-story house tucked into a wooded bluff above the lake. A semi-attached screened porch, accessed via a short walkway over a dry creek bed, offers a spot for taking in views of the lake. LongHouse beats MetalLark’s gas fireplace offerings by one, with three throughout the house.
All Nordlys guests have access to the hiking trails that wind throughout the 140-acre site, along with bikes, kayaks and a paddleboat for exploring. Field guides and binoculars in the rental help with wildlife watching — everything from Trumpeter swans and Baltimore orioles to deer and woodchucks.
The owners have plans to build two more cabins on site in the future, with one already in the works. That might help make it easier to get a reservation, but for now you’ll have to plan far in advance or get lucky with a cancellation. Both are available for rent on Airbnb, with prices ranging from $295 to $495 per night. For more information, see visitnordlys.com.
More:The glass-walled MetalLark Tower is one of Wisconsin’s best Airbnb rentals
Seth Peterson Cottage, Sauk County
Frank Lloyd Wright fans who can’t permanently live in one of the Wisconsin architect’s homes can at least spend a night or two in this one, a small cottage that represents his distinct Prairie style.
The 880-square foot home, perched on a bluff overlooking Mirror Lake in the state park of the same name outside Wisconsin Dells, was Wright’s final Wisconsin commission, with construction not completed before the architect’s death in 1959. The structure has many of Wright’s trademark design elements, with strong horizontal lines, a soaring roof over a wall of windows overlooking the lake, and local materials, including sandstone in the walls and massive fireplace.
Wright designed the home for 24-year-old Wright fan Seth Peterson, who also died before construction was completed. The state purchased the cottage in 1966 as part of the newly created Mirror Lake State Park, and after not finding a use for it, boarded it up.
The cottage remained that way until 1989, when the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy began a three-year process of restoring it. After more than 20 years of neglect, the sandstone was about the only thing that didn’t need repairing. The project also included adding radiant floor heating, which was part of Wright’s original design but had been excluded initially for cost reasons.
Other upgrades have been made over the past 30 years, including air conditioning to make it more comfortable for overnight guests. The one-bedroom cottage sleeps two people comfortably, with a fold-out bed in the couch offering space for two more. Reservations, offered through Sand County Vacation Rentals, start at $350 per night, with a two-night minimum. Reservations are taken two years in advance and often book out that far. For reservations and more information, call (800) 822-7768 or see sandcounty.com.
If you can’t get a reservation, you can at least peek inside the cottage during public tours that are offered from 1 to 3:30 p.m. the second Sunday of the every month. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children age 12 and under. For more about tours and the history of the cottage, see sethpeterson.org.
Still Bend, Two Rivers
Also known as the Schwartz House, Wisconsin’s other Frank Lloyd Wright rental is different from the Seth Peterson cottage in many ways — Wright designed it at the height of his career, it’s been lived in for most of its life, and it’s much bigger than the cottage — but it’s almost as hard to get a reservation for. The home has been featured in a variety of national media, including Netflix’s “The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals” series in 2021.
Wright designed the Two Rivers home he called Still Bend in 1938 for Life magazine, which had commissioned architects to create affordable “dream houses.” The house represents Wright’s Usonian design, a lower-cost version of his Prairie style, with many of the characteristics of Wright homes: a narrow entrance way that opens into an expansive, atrium-like living space; a large, central fireplace; and a melding of the structure into the surrounding landscape, namely the bend in the East Twin River that gave it its name.
Wright designed the house for Bernard and Fern Schwartz, who raised their son Steven there. Another family bought the home in 1971 and lived there for 33 years. Then Gary and Michael Ditmer bought the home and today the brothers maintain the National Register of Historic Places site and open it up for tours and overnight stays.
The four-bed, four-bath house sleeps up to eight people. Reservations start at $595 per night with a two-night minimum. The owners maintain a waiting list for people to be alerted to openings due to cancellations. They also offer tours (by reservation only) about once a month that cost $25 for adults and $5 for children under 18. For reservations and more information, see stillbend.com.
Camp Wandawega, Elkhorn
This spot in Elkhorn, also known as Wandawega Lake Resort, warns visitors that they are “not a proper resort by a long shot.” A brochure, the “Manifesto of Low Expectations,” prepares guests for what they might encounter, from toads and spiders in the camp showers to windows that stick and doors that don’t lock.
But those are all part of the experience at this historic property that has been everything from a speakeasy and brothel to a lake resort and a Catholic summer camp.
Wife-and-husband team Tereasa Surratt and David Hernandez bought the property in 2003 and began to lovingly restore it to the camp Hernandez had attended as a kid. Both have creative backgrounds in advertising agencies and brought their design sense and passion for preservation (Hernandez also sits on the board of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust) to the property, peppering it with flea market finds that add to the charm.
Today the camp features cabins, tents, A-frames and even a treehouse filled with vintage furnishings from metal bed frames to old tennis rackets. Outside, guests can enjoy camp activities from archery, hatchet throwing and shuffleboard to bicycling, boating (in a vintage rowboat, of course) and bonfires.
While the idea of the camp is to get away from everything — there are no TVs or WiFi — the property is an Instagrammer’s paradise and has garnered coverage from Conde Nast Traveler, the Today Show even a short video series from Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media empire.
The property is primarily rented out for all-camp events (weddings, retreats, etc.), but there are occasionally openings for people to rent individual units or clusters on Airbnb. The owners admit the prices are steep for the rustic accommodations — some of which have shared showers — but the money goes toward the ongoing renovation of the property that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
For more on Camp Wandawega and links to the listings on Airbnb, see wandawega.com.
Main Street Loft, Lake Geneva
It’s not easy to find a place to host a big group, especially a place as perfectly located and photogenic as Main Street Loft in Lake Geneva.
The loft sleeps up to 12 in five “bedrooms” — actually canvas tents arranged around the airy living space that carries on the glamping theme with greenery throughout and fun touches like swings serving as chairs at a breakfast bar.
The rental is situated along Main Street in downtown Lake Geneva, within walking distance of restaurants, bars and shops, plus Geneva Lake’s public beach.
This might be the “easiest” reservation to get on this list, with a few weekend openings still available for 2023. But the big space comes at a big cost, with rates starting at $400 per night and climbing to more than $1,000 per night (with a two-night minimum) for summer weekends, plus additional fees and taxes. The unit is managed by Geneva Lakes Vacations and is available to rent on their website, genevalakesvacations.com and other home rental websites like Airbnb (airbnb.com/rooms/49247019) and Vrbo (vrbo.com/2280054).
Electric campsites at state parks
If you thought getting Taylor Swift tickets was hard, try making a reservation for a campsite with electricity in Peninsula State Park for a summer weekend next year.
Campsites at parks like Peninsula — the state’s second most popular park — are hotter than ever after the pandemic produced a new group of campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Electric campsites are especially in-demand and get snatched up the moment reservations open, 11 months in advance.
Cancellations do happen, especially last-minute cancellations if the weather isn’t looking good. And the reservation website allows you to set up alerts for when sites open up, making it easier to nab one. (The alerts are limited, though, without any option to filter out non-electric or non-ADA sites.)
If you don’t want to count on a cancellation, try another less popular park, other public campgrounds like those in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest or a county park, or look around for a private campground. Or camp off the grid — non-electric sites aren’t as hard to come by on shorter notice. Just remember generator use is generally not permitted in state parks without a permit, which is typically only granted when power is needed for medical devices.
For more on camping in state parks, see dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/camping.
More:These cozy cabins are perfect for a winter getaway in Wisconsin