Steeped in history and anchored in nature, Washington County has a distinctively rural feel. The county’s population totals slightly more than 130,000, although it is growing rapidly. Located just northwest of Milwaukee, Washington County is home to some of the most beautiful lakes, hills and natural formations ever carved out by thousand-ton slabs of ice. It was here that the rims of two glaciers - the Michigan and Green Bay - collided, creating a huge ridge that extends some 120 miles from southeastern Wisconsin to Lake Winnebago. This created some of the most beautiful topography in Wisconsin.
Washington County boasts more than 50 lakes and five rivers. It is home to portions of the Ice Age Trail, several units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest and Pike Lake State Park, which features Powder Hill, a 1,350-foot-high kame that was formed when the glaciers began to melt. It is the home of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill, which attracts thousands of pilgrims a year who come to pray for good health. The twin-spired church offers breathtaking views of fall colors in the surrounding wilderness.
Germantown is a residential community located just northwest of Milwaukee. It is one of the largest villages in the state, covering 34 square miles. It has also been one of the faster-growing communities in the state. Since 1990, its population has doubled. Founded in 1838 by Germans who were attracted to the heavily wooded areas, the village still treasures its European heritage. In May, village residents gather for a German Maifest celebration. Germantown has a diversified economy that benefits from one of the largest industrial parks in the state. The village has two golf courses, several parks and a variety of home sizes.
West Bend and Kewaskum
West Bend, the county seat and largest city in Washington County, is nestled in picturesque farm country with rolling hills and rustic roads. The Milwaukee River winds its way through the downtown, en route from the hills of the Kettle Moraine to Lake Michigan. The city maintains the charm and friendliness of small-town living. It is home to the Museum of Wisconsin Art, which features the works of Wisconsin artists through the ages; the University of Wisconsin - Washington County campus; and the Kettle Moraine Symphony Orchestra. Every September, it hosts the Kettle Moraine Jazz Festival, which attracts thousands of jazz lovers.
Kewaskum is named after a famous Potawatomi Indian chief. Nestled along the Milwaukee River, it is known today as the “Gateway to the Kettle Moraine State Forest.” With more than 27,000 acres of beautiful hills, winding trails and sparkling lakes, the northern unit of the state forest attracts thousands of people who are interested in swimming, camping, hiking, horseback riding, skiing, hunting, fishing and studying nature. Just outside Kewaskum is the newly developed Ice Age Trail, a hiking path that winds through the forest. In the village of Kewaskum, visitors and residents can ski the slopes of the Sunburst Ski Area.
The town of Allenton, which is located on the Rock River west of West Bend, hosts the annual World Concertina Congress Jamboree Festival on Labor Day weekend.
Southern Washington County
Just west of Germantown is the picturesque Basilica of Holy Hill, a Roman Catholic church and monastery. The spires of the hilltop, neo-Romanesque church can be seen for miles, and the observation towers provide a breathtaking view of the Kettle Moraine countryside. The church was dedicated as the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians in 1958 and has since become a pilgrimage site for thousands of people who come each year to pray for their health. In 2006, Holy Hill was dedicated as a minor basilica, one of only two basilicas in the state (the other is the Basilica of St. Josaphat on the south side of Milwaukee).
Hartford is a community seemingly lost in time. Tucked in the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine, it features a late 19th-century main street where shoppers can find an amazing assortment of handcrafted items, antiques and fine Wisconsin cheeses. Hartford is also home to Erin Hills, a public golf course that will host the 2017 U.S. Open; the Schauer Arts & Activities Center, a regional performance hall that stages professional touring performances; and the Wisconsin Automotive Museum, which features more than 100 vintage autos and artifacts.
Slinger hosts the Washington County Fair every July and is known for skiing and racing. Slinger Speedway, located at the intersection of Highways 144 and 41, features late-model stock cars on the world’s fastest quarter-mile oval. Slinger is also home to Little Switzerland, which offers 14 ski runs.
Jackson is a small village noted for its big bargains. Every spring, the village’s 6,400 residents host what is arguably one of the largest rummage sales in the metropolitan area. Located 25 miles northwest of Milwaukee and 7 miles south of West Bend, Jackson is one of the fastest-growing communities in Washington County.
Richfield is a village of 11,000 residents near the intersection of U.S. 45 and U.S. 41. Probably best known for the Cabela’s outfitter store located there, Richfield has numerous natural attractions as well, including more than a dozen lakes and numerous parks.