Top Things to Do in Portage

Things to Do in Portage, Wisconsin

There are always lots of exciting things to do when visiting Portage. Whether you are looking for a historic, educational experience or a family friendly event, you’ll find it all here in Portage.

Fairs and festivals are a highlight in Portage. The Chamber calendar highlights include the Taste of Portage celebration in August, featuring a sampling of delicious menu items from local restaurants, an arts & crafts show, live music and car show, drawing thousands of visitors each year. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plays an annual outdoor concert as part of Fourth of July activities at beautiful Pauquette Park, along the Wisconsin River. Portage is home to a week of fun carnival games and rides during the Columbia County Fair in July. During the holiday months, Portage Theatres offers a free kid’s movie day while Santa welcomes visitors at the local airport, then makes various appearances around town, including the lighting of the tree in Commerce Plaza after the holiday parade in downtown. Make plans to have breakfast with him or to have your picture taken with his reindeer. You can find a complete listing of community events at

Portage is a city steeped in history, and those looking to immerse themselves in Portage’s past will find plenty to do at a number of local attractions.

The only remaining building of historic Fort Winnebago, the Surgeons Quarters, was built before 1828 by the U.S. Army and is one of the oldest log houses in Wisconsin still standing on its original foundation. The log house is fully refurbished as a home of the army occupation days, with authentic artifacts from the fort.

The Historic Indian Agency House, built in 1832, is one of Wisconsin’s earliest houses still in existence. It was constructed as a residence for John Kinzie, the Indian Agent to the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), and his wife, Juliette Kinzie. After 100 years of varied use, the house was restored to its 1832 frontier grandeur and officially reopened in 1932.

The William L. and Zona Gale Breese home was donated to the City of Portage in 1946 and housed the Portage Public Library until 1994. In 1996, the Museum at the Portage was established to showcase displays relevant to the history of the city. Within the Museum, visitors will find Zona Gale’s study preserved and a permanent collection of photographs and artifacts depicting historical events that occurred in the city.

The American Legion State Headquarters & Museum houses such historical relics as statues, uniforms, medals, photos and documents from the history of Wisconsin’s American Legion, as well as war era memorabilia.

After the successful publication of her first novel in 1906, Zona Gale built a home for her parents on the bank of the Wisconsin River. Its classical Greek revival exterior is in contrast to its rustic Craftsman interior. Gale’s 1920 bestselling novel, “Miss Lulu Bett,” won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, and her home was given to the Women’s Civic League in 1932.

Containing six early churches and many prestigious homes built between 1855 and 1930, the Church Hill District is only two blocks from the downtown area.

Society Hill, a residential district of 138 buildings, was home to the city’s early prominent citizens. Many of the buildings are made of yellow Portage brick and were constructed between 1870 and 1910. Society Hill contains the homes of two Pulitzer Prize winners: playwright and novelist Zona Gale and historian Jackson Turner.

The Portage Canal, a connector of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, was finished in 1876 and reached its peak for recreational boat traffic in 1908. The first of a four-phase, multi-million-dollar canal refurbishing project was completed in 2007.

As a trade center for central Wisconsin, the downtown retail district was a beehive of activity as early as the 1860s. Many of the buildings have been preserved in their original Victorian architecture, providing a colorful background for the busy retail area today.

While you are in downtown Portage, be sure to stop at the World War II Museum. Everyone is sure to find something that will appeal to them along the guided tour. Visitors will see many authentic, rare artifacts and learn about many facets of the war, including the sacrifices made by the greatest generation.

Located to the northeast and east of Portage is a fairly large Amish community. The Amish are well-known for their beautiful handmade quilts, baskets, furniture and many other items. Amish businesses in this region include bakeries, furniture and cabinet-making shops, quilt shops and general stores.

During the winter months, spend an exciting day outdoors at Cascade Mountain Ski & Snowboard Area. Recognized as the Midwest’s top-rated ski and snowboard destination, Cascade Mountain provides 34 trails and 10 lifts for experts through beginners, and kids 12 and under ski for free! Snowmobiling is another popular winter activity. The Portage area is linked to trails within Columbia County and throughout the state.

Camping is a great way to enjoy the beautiful Wisconsin landscapes, and several high-quality campgrounds are available for those wishing to experience the great outdoors. Campers can spend their days boating, fishing, swimming in lakes or heated pools, walking along nature trails, enjoying the playgrounds and game rooms, and, of course, telling stories around a campfire.

Visit the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce’s online Membership Directory at for a list of accommodations.