Oconto’s fresh forest air and breathtaking views of Lake Michigan capture the essence of Wisconsin’s northern communities. The small town takes its name from the Oconto River, a tributary of Lake Michigan that weaves through the downtown district and much of Oconto county.
The city of Oconto was incorporated in 1869 during Wisconsin’s 19th century logging boom. The area’s history stretches even further back than that, as Oconto and its neighboring communities have been inhabited by the Menominee tribe and their ancestors since 5000-6000 BCE. Centuries after the first traces of civilization began in Oconto, the city witnessed an event that seemed decidedly biblical: in 1952, 175 million leopard frogs emerged from local marshes and swarmed the town after Lake Michigan flooded and elevated the water levels in nearby wetlands. Fortunately for the town and visitors alike, the frogs no longer inhabit the town, making a trip to Oconto fantastic and frog-free. Today, Oconto’s lasting connection with nature and its proximity to Lake Michigan allow visitors to spend their time enjoying beautiful parks and outdoor events. The area also features hundreds of miles of ATV and snowmobile trails for those who’d like to experience Oconto’s natural surroundings at a faster pace.
Whether you’re the consummate outdoorsman or just have a soft spot for historic city districts, Oconto is the perfect place to be on a sunny day.
Take a stroll through downtown Oconto.
As one of the logging communities that popped up in Wisconsin during the 19th century, Oconto has deep ties to Victorian architecture of the 1850s. The Victorian style is not identical from house to house, however, and Oconto’s self-guided walking tour allows the curious visitor to enjoy the unique stylings of 33 houses and other structures in the downtown area. Brochures for the walking tour can be obtained at the Oconto Visitor Center.
Relax on the lake.
If you’d rather spend the day on the water, head over to Breakwater Park along Lake Michigan. With over 50 boat slips available for rent, Breakwater Park is the ideal destination for anyone hoping to spend the day under the sun, listening to the rhythmic rush of waves against the hull.
Hike through the forest.
It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to live near the abundant wilderness of northern Wisconsin, spanning miles upon miles and bringing new life to the air from seemingly endless forests. (A day or two in Nebraska will quickly remind you how fortunate we really are.) One of the largest expanses of forest in Wisconsin is the Nicolet National Forest, extending down to the areas northwest of Oconto. The national forest is home to the Cathedral of Pines, a swath of trees that miraculously survived Wisconsin’s logging boom and date back to the 1600s.
Watch wildlife at the marsh.
The area immediately surrounding Oconto is abundant with natural areas. One such area is the Oconto Marsh, a 928-acre wetland area with hundreds of different native species. The marsh is ideal for amateur ornithologists, housing species ranging from bald eagles and loons to snowy owls and great blue herons. The marsh has been preserved for decades, allowing it to retain its uninhibited majesty.
Up Next: Oconto’s Gifts to the Culinary World