States – Wisconsin


Yes, Wisconsin is cold. The average temperature in Milwaukee is 9 degrees Fahrenheit in February. Add that to high income and property taxes, and you get the state appearing on Daily Finance’s 2012 list of The 10 Worst States to Retire In.

But there are plus sides to retiring in the Badger State. Madison, the capital, was ranked number one on Forbes’s 2011 list of 25 Best Cities For An Active Retirement. Many retirees today are healthier and more physically active than in decades past.  Wisconsin’s more than 500 golf courses, 15,000 lakes, five million acres of hunting land and over 33,000 miles of rivers and streams appeal to fishermen, hunters, boaters, and hikers and bikers.

The cost of living is below the U.S. average and so is the median home cost. The University of Wisconsin’s campuses provide opportunities for cultural enrichment and continuing education. Many retirees are looking to continue working and contributing part-time. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate of 4.6% is lower than the national average, and many towns have abundant volunteer opportunities. The university also supports a first-rate health care system.

For those considering retirement in Wisconsin, here are three locations worth considering.


This city of 240,000 embodies what many retirees are looking for when moving to Wisconsin. Health care is readily available through 11 accredited hospitals. It has many avenues for physical activity; the city layout encourages walking. The University of Wisconsin campus sponsors many classes for seniors, plays, art exhibits, and musical performances.

The town also has a high job growth rate and low rates of crime and poverty. The majority of residents are employed with the university or the state government, but there is an expanding high-tech industry, particularly in information technology, health and biotech. The high levels of education among residents also attracts businesses. Nearly 50 percent of residents have bachelor’s degrees. Forbes magazine in 2006 ranked Madison number 31 among 200 urban areas as one of the “Best Places for Business and Careers”. In 2009, Madison was ranked number one on a list of “Ten Cities For Job Growth”.

The downtown streets that join the university campus with the capitol are lines with restaurants and shops. State Street, the main thoroughfare, is only accessible to pedestrians, bicycles, buses, and emergency vehicles. The city has one of the most extensive bike trail systems in the country.

In the summer, the Saturday morning farmers market around the capitol attracts many vendors who sell meat and produce. On Wednesday evenings, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra gives free concerts on the capitol lawn. On the second Saturday in August the Great Taste of the Midwest craft beer festival, the second-longest running event of its type in North America, is held.

Outdoor recreation in the summer includes biking, hiking, and boating on the nearby lakes. In winter, residents engage in ice skating, ice fishing, and cross-country skiing. Men’s Health magazine rated Madison the healthiest city in America in 2004.

The city also has a symphony orchestra, ballet company, opera, six museums and many independent art galleries. It hosts annual art exhibitions downtown. There is also an active independent rock music culture with several independent record labels.


A small town (population 7,000) located in the west central part of the state, Altoona is one of the most pleasant places to live in Wisconsin. With a cost of living index well below the national average, it is one of the most affordable towns. It also has a top air quality index and abundant natural scenery. Nearby Altoona Lake provides 720 acres of swimming, boating and fishing for musky, panfish and bass from public boat landings.

Seven city parks provide miles of paved walking and bike trails. The 18-hole Eau Claire Golf Course covers 250 acres of hills and woods and has a reputation as one of the best courses in the upper Midwest. The area is home to several wineries and apple orchards and hosts farmers markets and nature outings. A dozen area museums enable visitors to learn about the history of the community. The community has many sports leagues and sponsors many athletic events.

The town is adjacent to the city of Eau Claire, and residents have easy access to the amenities there. These include classes at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, musical and live performance events, a regional arts center, and two hospitals.

Stevens Point

The town of Stevens Point is centrally located in the state and is part of the greater Stevens Point metro area, which has a population of around 70,000. Stevens Point is known for its high quality of life and year-round recreational activities.

These result in the city’s regular appearance on national lists of the best places to relocate and to retire. In 2009 CNN Money ranked Stevens Point the 18th best place to retire, noting there was “plenty for retirees to do in the summertime” as well as the winter, including hiking, biking and skiing the Green Circle Trail. This 24-mile nature trail winds through and around the city, passing by river shores and forests, with many chances to view wildlife.

There are also the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which traverses the city, 20 city parks, an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and a nature preserve located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin. Canoers can ride the Wisconsin River, which has been the site of the Backwaters Paddle Quest each year since 2002.

The town square was renovated in 2011 and is the site of several annual events including a sculpture park summer celebration, Fourth of July parade, and Riverfront Rendezvous, a three-day event with fireworks, a variety of music, and live entertainment.

The community also supports a theater group and the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra, which presents four concerts each year. The Riverfront Arts Center and the Scarabocchio Art Museum host exhibits and workshops in various artistic media. Stevens Point is ranked by CreditDonkey as the third best city in Wisconsin in which to live, based on criteria including crime rate, income, and restaurants per capita.

For more information about retirement in Wisconsin:

State overview in facts and figures

State taxes

State services for senior residents

Profiles of major cities

Retirement communities

Best regions for retirement