“The Hills of Winona To the Beaches of Algoma”
Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 54 is a “coast to coast” route, connecting the colleges and hills around Winona, Minnesota, winding through the hills around the Black River and Black River Falls, through the forests, cranberry bogs, and lakes of central Wisconsin, and punching right through the heart of Green Bay on its way to the beautiful lakefront setting of Algoma.
Wisconsin Highway 54 Road Trip
The Drive (West to East): Highway 54 begins smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi River – on the North Channel Bridge leading away from picturesque Winona, Minnesota (named after our favorite Hollywood shoplifter) toward a massive bluff on the Wisconsin side of the river – the first of many this road comes across as it begins its ride through the Driftless Area on its way to Algoma, 244 miles away. As soon as you’re off the bridge onto terra firma, you reach Wisconsin’s Great River Road, Highway 35.
Highway 54 starts as you cross into Wisconsin from Winona, Minnesota, a lovely river town that’s billed as the Stained Glass Capital of the World. Just as long as there’s none in the road, I guess it’s alright. Once you enter Wisconsin, Highway 54 meets up with Highway 35 for a little trek into Trempealeau – County.
Highway 54 turns east and follows Highway 35, hugging the bluffs with the river and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge to your right. The Trempealeau N.W.R. covers over 10 square miles and consists of the backwaters away from the Mississippi and the Trempealeau Rivers. Called a “prairie wonderland” by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, you’ll find tall grasses that reach heights of eight or nine feet. Watch for controlled fires in the area, primarily during the spring months. Past tiny Marshland and over the Trempealeau River, Highway 54 leaves Buffalo County and enters Trempealeau County (I’ll bet you’ve never seen the word “Trempealeau” so many times in one paragraph) for a beeline ride east, past the intersection where Highway 35 breaks away to head south toward La Crosse and Highway 93 joins from the north for the ride into Galesville (pop. 1,427). Galesville celebrates the apple orchards of Wisconsin the first Saturday in every October with the Apple Affair, featuring everything apple (except, perhaps, for Gwyneth Paltrow’s kid), tons of activities and multiple bicycle tours that let you pedal around and check out the fall colors.
U.S. Highway 53 joins Highways 54 & 93 for a miles east from Galesville. U.S. 53 and Highway 93 then take off southeast toward La Crosse and Highway 54 becomes its own road for the first time since the bridge over the Mississippi. The next twenty miles or so are beautiful; you wind through the Driftless Region. There are many twists and turns on this fairly narrow stretch of road — it’s not the place to open it up and do 100 mph, even on a motorcycle — as you enter Jackson County and approach the Black River near North Bend, a great place to stop and do some canoeing.
Try Riverview Inn & Supper Club (608-488-5191), where you can dine and/or navigate the Black River as a nice break from the drive.Further past, you cross the northern beginning of Highway 71, which leads toward Sparta. Highway 54 then heads into Melrose (pop. 529) before a meandering ride roughly paralleling the Black River to Black River Falls.
This area is Amish country, where signs like this remind you to watch for a slow buggy here and there.
From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” Department: I have no idea what this is, but it was definitely picture-worthy.
Black River Falls (pop. 3,618) is the county seat of Jackson County and, frankly, the first sizeable town along Highway 54 since Winona. The county seat of Jackson County, Black River Falls sits along the Black River. A small waterfall provided the hydroelectric power for a sawmill, which of course was all that was needed back then to establish a town.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
|In 1872, Black River Falls became the first village in Wisconsin to establish a free city library.
Highway 54 runs right through Downtown Black River Falls.
The Black River, which runs through the heart of Black River Falls (logically enough), indeed has a blackish hue due to its high iron content. It’s a popular paddling and canoeing river, as evidenced by the opportunity you had earlier in North Bend. The Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce offers information on a bunch of other places to take advantage of the river’s amenities, as well as the city’s. Just follow U.S. 12/Highway 27 (Water Street) north from the downtown junction for a brief minute and it’s right there. You can also call them at 800-404-4008.
*** BREWERY ALERT! ***
Black River Falls is home to Sand Creek Brewing Company (320 Pierce St., 715-284-7553), which makes a variety of quality brews on a site that started brewing beer in 1856, but has had a wild history since then. Brewing here actually took a 75-year hiatus until the Pioneer Brewing Company started up in 1995 and became the new home of Sand Creek Brewing in 2004. For more history, check out this page. Meanwhile, stop in (right off Highway 54) and check out their brews, from the light Golden Ale to the hearty Sand Creek Imperial Porter. State Trunk Tour picks include the Groovy Brew, Woody’s Wheat (banana overtones are a good thing) and the Pioneer Black River Red, which won the World Beer Cup’s Gold Award for a German-style Marzen in 2000.
Ever heard of Sphagnum moss? Me neither, but it’s actually a significant plant that pumps money into the local economy. Growing quickly in the boggy and marshy lands in the area, Sphagnum moss is used to keep nursery plants and flowers alive and watered during shipping, since this moss can hold 20 times its weight in water. It’s used in hydroponic gardening, which I had to look up — it’s basically about growing plants with mineral nutrient solutions instead of the traditional soil. It’s even used for surgical dressings because it is sterile (ironically, it reproduces quickly.) It also helps prevent fungus attack in seeds. Wisconsin is actually the only state that produces Sphagnum moss commercially.
Cool kitsch: Familiar with the British band The Fall? They actually mention the Black River Falls Motel. Why? I’ll do some digging and find it, ’cause I’ll bet the story’s interesting. Also, you should check out the orange moose at the Best Western Arrowhead Lodge & Suites, and the “cow” McDonald’s, a Mickey D’s with cow-like themes on the tables – although they could be dalmation-like, too. They’re both right along Highway 54 by the I-94 interchange. Also, the Majestic Pines Casino is maintained by the Ho-Chunk Nation just east of Black River Falls, so if you’re feelin’ lucky, stop in and test your fate.
The Legend of the Orange Moose
They proudly call it the world’s most unusual town ornament. Legend says a Norwegian farmer named Torvaald Kjorvak (try pronouncing that) found a wounded moose calf along the Black River. With no mother around to be found, Kjorvak nursed the animal back to health himself. He then fed him an experimental grain that helped him grow huge… and orange. Find out more here!
East from Black River Falls, Highway 54 moves from the state’s Driftless Area to forestland, where dense trees and occasional bogs replace the jagged hills as you speed through the sparsely-populated eastern part of Jackson County. After the curvy nature of Highway 54 west of Black River Falls, a little straightaway can be nice. Expect few services, though: this is a pretty remote stretch for a while. You go through the Black River State Forest, past Sugarloaf Mound and toward Wood County in the tiny settlement of City Point. This is one of the most sparsely populated areas in Wisconsin, so if you truly want to get away from it all, this is a pretty good place to be.
It’s a long way to anywhere heading east from Black River Falls on Highway 54. The stretch from BRF to Wisconsin Rapids is one of the longest without sizable towns, or even gas stations, in the state as you head through remote forests and bogs.
Evidence of the forthcoming cranberry domination along Highway 54 shows up just before City Point, a town that crams 189 people into only 90 square miles. Many more of the brilliant red seas of berries (in season) will come in Wood County. Meanwhile, how about some wildlife? Check out the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails inside the 9,100-acre Sandhill State Wildlife Area. It features a 3.5-mile hiking trail known as the Swamp Buck, a captive herd of bison, and camping abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing and interaction. If you prefer the comfort of your vehicle, there Trumpeter Trail Auto Tour gives you 14 miles of road to follow. Three observation towers and a slew of guidance and informational signs tell you more about the animals you’re watching, including white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, Canada geese, ducks, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, owls… you get the idea. Oh, and there’s no hunting allowed. You can access the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails right off Highway 54 by following County Highway X south.
The railroad paralleling Highway 54 over the Yellow River near Dexterville has some interesting low trestles.
Back onto 54, you cross the Yellow River (check the cool railroad bridge trestle just to the south, pictured above) and meet up with Highway 80. Together Highways 54 & 80 go through Dexterville briefly before Highway 54 breaks east again and plows eastward through miles of cranberry bogs in towns with names like “Cranmoor.”
The Wisconsin River beckons as you hook up with Highway 73, just out of Nekoosa and head into Port Edwards (pop. 1,944). Originally known as “Frenchtown”, Port Edwards grew around a sawmill owned by John Edwards, Sr. and Jr., and the town was eventually renamed after them. The “Port” part comes from the Wisconsin River, upon which Port Edwards sits. While there, check out the Alexander House Center for Art & History, (715-887-3442) which features art displays, colonial furniture, and historical looks at the area’s papermaking and lumber industry. The Alexander House is right along Highway 54. The Edwards and most of its inhabitants weren’t big drinkers; this was a “dry” community from its establishment in the 1830s all the way into the 1990s. So for a century and a half, residents in search of imbibe-ment headed up today’s Highway 54 to their “big city” neighbor.
Wisconsin Rapids (pop. 18,435) isn’t necessarily a big city, but it is big enough to be its own “micropolitan” area, which has over 54,000 people. “Da Rapids”, as some locals call it, used to be two cities on opposite sides of the Wisconsin River, Centralia and Grand Rapids; they merged in 1900. Then, in 1920 when locals were fed up with getting mail misdirected to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they changed the city’s name to Wisconsin Rapids. The “rapids” refers to a 45-foot drop this “hardest working river in the world” made at this point, which provided some good acceleration to boats and canoes that didn’t want to make the portage. Dams have since changed this – there are five now from Stevens Point to Nekoosa – but this stretch of the river still provides hydroelectric power and makes it convenient to pound wood into pulp so we can eventually have something to write on.
Consequently, Wisconsin Rapids became a major hub for papermaking and also serves as the shipping point for a lot of the cranberries you may have seen in the bogs getting here. Wisconsin grows more cranberries than any other state – over 300 million pounds per year – and Wood County (of which Wisconsin Rapids is the county seat) is pretty much the center of it all. It’s home to a major educational software company, Renaissance Learning, Grim Natwick, creator of Betty Boop (and to salute that, the city has an annual Betty Boop Festival) and the hometown of the driver with NASCAR’s coolest name ever, Dick Trickle (technically he’s from Rudolph just to the north, but still…)
Side Trip: Rudolph Grotto & Dairy State Cheese
Fans of the remarkable collections of stone, glass and rock that make up Wisconsin’s fascinating grottos will want to check out Rudolph Grotto & Wonder Cave, located about nine miles north of Wisconsin Rapids via Highways 13/34. Red gossan rocks dominate much of the grotto, ranging from pebble-sized to a 78-ton boulder. The Wonder Cave itself is something to see. So is the cheese selection at Dairy State Cheese – they like to point out that cheese is they “whey” to good health.
Highway 54/73 runs along the Wisconsin River’s west shore into the city. Shortly after the city limit, you can enjoy beautiful Ben Hansen Park, which is home to the Wisconsin Firefighters Memorial. Established in 1996, the Memorial salutes and remembers firefighters across the state who were injured or killed in the line of duty. The 7.5-acre park, trees, riverside location, and memorials make for a great to stop to reflect and relax. The Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial (WSFM) is designed like an early 1900s firehouse and contains articles and artifacts, as well as facilities like restrooms and water fountains.
Just north of the park and memorial, Highway 54 comes to a junction with Highway 13. At this point, Highway 73 breaks west and Highway 54 joins 13 eastbound across the Wisconsin River via the “Riverview Expressway.” The Riverview, built in 1982 to route state highways around downtown, isn’t that expressway-like but it’s still the first real divided highway stretch on Highway 54 since it began on its Mississippi River crossing. At 8th Street, Highway 13 heads south toward Wisconsin Dells; Highway 54 used to shoot north along 8th Street into downtown Wisconsin Rapids. Highway 13 used to follow this route too, so you’ll see “Business” 13 signs along your way. Wisconsin Rapids via Google Maps.
Hey, tours aren’t just for highways, breweries and museums. Tour the Stora Enso North America papermaking plant at 4th Avenue and High Street (715-422-3789) or, if you want to see paper in its original form, check out the Griffith State Nursery (473 Griffith Avenue, 715-424-3700), the largest forest nursery in Wisconsin.
Highway 54 leaves “Da Rapids” on Baker Street (insert Gerry Rafferty song here) and then into Portage County as Plover Road for the ride to – you guessed it – Plover. This stretch is a 65 mph expressway, so open it up and enjoy. The Canadian Pacific Railroad parallels this straightaway for a while… and it’ll probably be going faster than you.
Plover (pop. 10,520) was once the Portage County seat, a distinction lost to nearby Stevens Point in the 1860s — and some resentment may still remain. Plover itself incorporated and was dissolved several times over its history, but that situation stabilized a while back and now – in a way – it’s a southern suburb of Stevens Point. The town is pretty good at producing athletes. They stretch back a ways to Walt Wilmot, an MLB player who began his career with the Washington Nationals in 1888 (the first incarnation of that team, obviously) through the 1898 season with the New York Baseball Giants, with a long stint with the Cubs in between. Current hockey star Joe Pavelski, who skates and body slams for the San Jose Sharks, also grew up in Plover. Former wrestling Olympian Dennis Hall, who snagged the Silver in Atlanta in 1996 and the Gold the year before that at the Pan Am Games, now lives in Plover, although he also spends a lot of time training future Olympians up in Marquette, Michigan.
*** BREWERY ALERT! ***
Just north of Highway 54 along I-39/U.S. 51 at County B (the next exit north) you’ll find the O’so Brewing Company (you can also access it by continuing east on Plover Road past where Highway 54 turns south to follow Business U.S. 51.) Tucked into a shopping center at the southwest quadrant of the interchange, O’so makes some pretty popular microbrews including their “Big O” Wheat Ale and a Memory Lane Pilsner, where they donate portions of sales to help Alzheimer’s research. Their Tasting Room offers about 40 beers on tap, encompassing a variety of Wisconsin and regional selections.
Right by O’so Brewery in Worzella Pines Pink, you’ll find the Wisconsin Korean War Veterans Memorial. Situated on an island in a small lake, the Memorial features an “Isle of Honor” commemorating the 132,000 Wisconsin residents who served in the Armed Forces during Korean War, including 4,286 who were injured and 801 who died. The Main Wall is filled with memorials, statues commemorate soldiers, medical staff, and others who served in the line of fire, and thousands of tiles are posted in memory of individuals.
Highway 54 dives southeast out of Plover, crosses I-39 & U.S. 51 and then across a wide expanse of farmland through Portage County and into Waupaca County, where you cross the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with access to Hartman Creek State Park, a great park for camping and canoeing. The Park is on the edge of the popular “Chain O’Lakes” area. Once known as the “Kilarnies of Wisconsin”, the area features 22 interconnected glacial lakes and ample opportunities for swimming, boating, scuba diving, hanging out next to the water doing absolutely nothing, and more. Highway 54 grazes the northern area of these lakes. For access, follow County Q or QQ south and check out Ding’s Dock (715-258-2612) for pontoons, boat rentals, cottage rentals and more. You can also take a cruise on the lakes by contacting Clear Water Harbor (715-258-2866), which also features the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar and Moo’s Dairy Bar, charged with the task of keeping plenty of malts, floats and ice cream at the ready for boaters. At the eastern edge of the Chain O’Lakes lies King, an unincorporated area that holds the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, a sprawling complex where veterans receive care and can enjoy the beauty of the lakes.
** BYPASS ALERT **
Technically, Highway 54 hooks up with the U.S. 10 freeway to bypass Waupaca… but what fun is that? Follow the business route through town. This is about experiencing these places, after all. Just go straight instead of onto the freeway. Signs guide you through.
So, following our “city” route, Highway 54 crosses U.S. 10 and hooks up with Highway 49 for the ride into Waupaca (pop. 5,676). A popular tourism town, due in large part to the nearby Chain O’Lakes, Waupaca’s name is also familar because of the former Waupaca Foundry, now known as ThyssenKrupp Waupaca (they have additional foundries in Marinette, Indiana, and Tennessee.) The Waupaca location melts over 9,500 tons of gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron castings. Actress Annie Burgstede, who played Willow Stark in Days of Our Lives and has also had roles in CSI, Smallville, Charmed, and most recently, Without A Trace, grew up in Waupaca.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
|Clay Perry, the caver who first coined the term “spelunker”, was born in Waupaca.
Entering Waupaca, we checked out South Park, which features Shadow Lake and a nice beach across the way, which a large assortment of Waupacians(?) were enjoying on a nice summer day.
The Rosa Theater and part of Main Street in downtown Waupaca, which features a lot of places to shop, eat and yes, drink.
Waupaca hosts a number of events throughout the year.One of them is Strawberry Fest, which loads up downtown with berry, berry happy festivalgoers (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Being the county seat of Waupaca County and the largest town for about 20 miles, Waupaca bustles quite a bit for a city its size.
Highway 54 joins up with Highway 22 for the ride eastward out of Waupaca for a little while. Highway 110 joins briefly too, before both break away and head north to Manawa and beyond. Meanwhile, Highway 54 cuts east through Royalton and Northport before heading into New London.
Straddling the Waupaca-Outgamie county line, New London (pop. 7,085) sits along the Embarrass and Wolf Rivers and is considered among the best places in the state to catch some tasty walleye. It hosts a variety of historic buildings, five of which are in the Heritage Historical Village. There’s also the New London Public Museum, which has been hosting exhibits since 1917. Adding the culture in this relatively small burg, the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe performs at the Wolf River Theatre. There’s even a group of movie stunt performers that hosts a western stunt show called “Whips, Garters, and Guns Wild West Review” that is based here but puts on shows all over the country.
The luck o’ the Irish is all over Wisconsin, but it hits New London with four-leaf clover force on St. Patrick’s Day, when the city becomes “New Dublin” for the week.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user “Leprichauns”)
New London is the birthplace of the American Water Spaniel breed, registered by Dr. F.J. Pfeifer in the 1920’s. The historical marker is in Franklin Park, on Beacon Avenue near downtown.
U.S. 45 used to intersect Highway 54 in the midst of downtown, but it now runs on a bypass on the east side of New London. Once you cross U.S. 45, Highway 54 barrels eastward through Shiocton (pop. 954) and then to Black Creek (pop. 1,192), where it intersects with Highway 47. Black Creek is often locally pronounced as Black “Crick”. One fun thing of note is that two of its first settlers were named Abraham Lincoln Burdick and Thomas Jefferson Burdick. It was originally called Middleburg, probably because it pretty much is smack dab in the middle of Outagamie County. A creek at the village’s edge, which is apparently dark in color, prompted the name change.
After Black Creek, Highway 54 skims the southern edge of Seymour (pop. 3,335), a.k.a. “Home of the Hamburger.” One of several places worldwide that lays claim to being the hamburger’s birthplace, Seymour grabs the title with a full embrace and hosts its annual Burger Fest every August. Burger Fest features hamburgers, a hamburger eating contest, kids’ games, music and a hot air balloon rally, no doubt tons of buns and a (what the…) ketchup slide. Don’t wear clothes you care about. But it sounds fun!
Seymour also hosts the Outagamie County Fair every July, drawing tons of people from the Appleton area and beyond. Want some racing? Grab a burger and plop down in a seat at Seymour Speedway, a 1/3-mile clay oval on the fairgrounds. The speedway hosts Fastrak Late Models, IMCA Modifieds, Stock Cars, and Northern Sport Mods. And they all move pretty fast.
Seymour’s Version of the Hamburger Invention:
“In 1885, Charles N. Nagreen, a young lad of 15, came to the Seymour Fair to sell meatballs. When he realized people wanted to walk around the fair grounds and eat, he flattened a meatball between two slices of bread and called it a ‘hamburger.’ This was the first time the hamburger sandwich was produced and sold.”
The Guinness Book of World Records noted that Seymour is where the “World’s Largest Hamburger” was cooked – right there on the Charlie Grill. In August of 2001, a 8,266 pound hamburger was cooked up and served to over 13,000 people.
|Feature: Burger Fiesta
Seymour’s annual hamburger festival runs in early August. The State Trunk Tour was there; amidst the bands, the model railroad museum and hungry and thirsty festival goers milling about under the statue of Charles “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen (the hamburger’s inventor), was the main attraction: a 60-pound hamburger. Sure, it’s a fraction of the monstrous 8,266 pound record grilled in 2001, but it was still a monster.
Left: The 60 pound mound of meat, hot off the grill. Right: It took some work, but the meat was successfully wedged within a gi-normous bun – even though part of the patty’s north side fell a bit!
Just east of Seymour, Highway 55 heads south towards Kaukauna while Highway 54 heads through the Oneida Indian Reservation, which was established by treaty in 1838, ten years before Wisconsin became a state. There’s the town of Oneida, and then Hobart (pop. 5,090), which incorporated as a village in 2002. Hobart is a fast-growing suburb of Green Bay, based in part on its proximity to Austin-Straubel International Airport and the surrounding highways. While Highway 54 is one of the main highways, the key freeway route is I-41, which marks the boundary between Hobart and Green Bay itself.
Entering Green Bay (pop. 102,313 and a.k.a. “Titletown U.S.A.”), Highway 54 is a major east-west (well, learning southeast-northwest) thoroughfare called Mason Ave. Green Bay is Wisconsin’s oldest city and – not sure if you heard about this or not – are the smallest city to host a National Football League team. They’re called the “Packers” and…what, you’ve already heard about them? Okay.
Green Bay is also the headquarters of ShopKo Stores and Schneider National (admit it, you know the commercials and you’ve seen the “big orange trucks”). Famous people from Green Bay include Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame, ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson, comedian and Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, Pat MacDonald of the group Timbuk 3 – you know, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”? – that group. Naturally, Green Bay is home to tons of atheletes too, among them NFL stars Curly Lambeau, Jerry Tagge, Ted Fritsch Jr., Arnie Herber and Aaron Stecker, as well as baseball pitcher Bob Wickman.
** Triple Brewery and One Distillery Alert! **
Green Bay calls itself “Titletown”, so when some guys decided to start up a brewery there, it only made sense to call it the Titletown Brewing Company. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – Titletown Brewing started in December of 1996, right before the Packers’ first Super Bowl victory in nearly three decades. Located on Dousman Street/U.S. 141 just west of downtown and the Fox River, Titletown occupies a classic old railroad station built in 1899. Titletown brews Packer-backer beverages such as the Johnny “Blood” Red and Canadeo Gold as well as a great root beer called Sno-Cap, which uses Clyde the Penguin as its mascot. Trains, football, beer, food… definitely a good stop on the State Trunk Tour. Meanwhile, across the street Copper State Brewing Company moved into the former Hinterland Brewing space (more on that in a sec), which is a former meat-packing warehouse (yes, how the “Packers” got their name.)
Meanwhile, in the Titletown District, adjacent to Lambeau Field on the north you’ll find Hinterland Brewing, which did start where Copper State is now but moved into a brand new space in 2017 on the grounds of the former Mobil station so many of us stopped at to get snacks before going into a game. South and east of Lambeau but within the Titletown District, you’ll also find Badger State Brewing Company, a relative newcomer with a great selection of in-house craft brews and others from across Wisconsin. And just over on Mike McCarthy Way (named after the now former coach who – along with Aaron – brought up Super Bowl 45), you’ll find the Green Bay Distillery. It opened in 2011 with a classic vodka and a cherry vodka (handy for Green Bay winters) and expanded to gin and whiskey in subsequent years. Their restaurant has a full menu – including a full menu of macro- and craft-brewed beers if spirits aren’t your thing. Either way, both Badger State Brewing and the Green Bay Distillery are easy walking distance to Lambeau Field, the Resch Center, Ray Nitschke Field, the Brown County Arena, the famous Stadium View bar, Anduzzi’s, the BEST WESTERN Green Bay Inn Conference Center, and more.
Side Trip to Lambeau.
For Lambeau Field seekers on this route, the “frozen tundra” lies about 2 miles south of Highway 54/Mason Street; you can cut south to it via I-41, Oneida Street, or Military Avenue. Trust me, you WILL be able to find Lambeau, the home of the Green Bay Packers… the cross street is Lombardi Avenue, after all.
Highway 54 enters the heart of Green Bay just south of downtown and becomes a brief expressway and it leapfrogs the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America. From here on north through downtown, bridges are lit up at night, flanked by condos, bars, offices, and shops that are springing up at an increasing rate. At the intersection with Broadway, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. Also in the downtown area along the Fox River at U.S. 141/Dousman Street, you’ll find the Neville Public Museum, which focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is also a Children’s Museum, currently undergoing redevelopment.
East of the Fox River, blocks feature an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner’s Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar – yes, think about it.) Green Bay’s party crowd hangs out in this area, and it’s not uncommon for Packers players to be seen…and perhaps you can see their Super Bowl ring!
The handsome Brown County Courthouse, completed in 1908. You’ll find at the corner of Highway 29/Walnut Street & Jefferson Avenue on the east side of downtown and the Fox River.
For a few miles, Highway 54 becomes a little mini-freeway, lifting up over neighborhoods and leapfrogging over the Fox River. On the west bank of the Fox is Ashland Avenue (Highway 32), which is available via an exit. For train enthusiasts, Green Bay is the site of the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway, accessible along Highway 32 about two miles south of Highway 54), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars, including the world’s largest steam locomotive, known as “Big Boy.” Also, just across the river off Highway 172 (Green Bay’s southern freeway bypass), you’ll find the lovely Heritage Hill State Historical Park. Technically located in Allouez, this 48-acre outdoor museum lives up to its name. Over 30 historic structures and endangered buildings are perched on a hill overlooking the Fox River in an area that once served as a prison farm. Log cabins from the fur trade era, original stores and public buildings, even buildings from the original Fort Howard are all located here and available for exploration. Populating the grounds in summer are live historic interpreters – many in period attire – to help illustrate what these buildings are all about. More and more fun events take place throughout the year here, too.
On the east bank of the Fox River, Highway 57 comes in as Monroe Avenue. At this point, Highway 54 leaves Mason Street and joins Highway 57 for the ride into downtown Green Bay. We’ve already mentioned much of the downtown attractions that tend to be just west of the Fox River, but one is coming up on the east side of the river if you detour under I-43 a bit. That’s Bay Beach Amusement Park, which offers everything from roller coasters to carousels and water rides from May through September. The biggest coaster is Zippin’ Pippin, a 2,800-foot long wooden coaster with nearly hundred-year-old origins in Memphis, Tennessee. It was moved to Green Bay and re-opened in 2011 and has remained quite popular. A new Ferris wheel is going up for 2019!
Just next door to the action and noise, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is next door, providing 700 acres of refuge for animals. The Sanctuary features live animal exhibits, educational displays, miles of hiking/skiing trails and various wildlife viewing opportunities; they care for more than 4,500 orphaned and injured animals each year. It traces its roots to 1936, when it established as a site for waterfowl rehabilitation with an assist from Aldo Leopold. The Sanctuary is free and open year ’round. The whole area of Bay Beach lies along the waters of Green Bay, adjacent to where the Fox River empties into this arm of Lake Michigan.
From the east side of Green Bay – now as University Avenue – Highway 54 & 57 are coupled together past the interchange with I-43 and begins a push northeast. After five miles, Highway 54 branches off to head east towards Lake Michigan.
On the way, Highway 54 goes through New Franken and into Kewaunee County. The first town in this last county on the route is Luxemburg (pop. 1,935), one of many towns in this area named after European places – others in close proximity include Denmark, Brussels and Poland. The town was named after – not surprisingly – the home country of its first settlers. They came primarily from the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, an area that has since graced the town with a statue to commemorate U.S. soldiers who helped free Luxemburg in World War II. Luxemburg also hosts the Kewaunee County Fair on the (not surprisingly named) Kewaunee County Fairgrounds. Also nearby is the Luxemburg Speedway, which hosts IMCA modifides and other races. The Speedway is on the south side of town, best accessible via 3rd Street.
*** Brewery & Cheese Alert ***
Yes, Luxemburg now has its own brewery once again: Thumb Knuckle Brewing Company opened in 2017. Their Tap Room right along Highway 54 is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers a peek into their brewery area. And while you’re in Luxemburg, be sure to check out Ron’s Wisconsin Cheese (124 Main Street/former Highway 163, just south of Highway 54, 920-845-5330.) This cheese shop, which offers a variety of cheeses but highlights locally-made cheeses from Pagel’s Ponderosa, the state’s largest privately-owned dairy farm not too far away. At Ron’s, you’ll find their own Ponderosa brand cheeses, super fresh curds and string cheese and a huge selection of other fresh, aged, and flavored cheeses and spreads along with other state favorites like summer sausage and beef sticks. Definitely a fun State Trunk Tour stop!
Continuing east, Highway 54 heads through Casco (pop. 572), Rio Creek and Rankin, all very small settlements about 2-3 miles apart.
And with that, we come to the eastern end of Highway 54 at Algoma (pop. 3,357), perched atop the Lake Michigan shore and home to a large charter and commercial fishing fleet (once the largest on Lake Michigan) as well as a nice downtown. Algoma also has a nice beach. Fish shantys used to dot the shoreline, and some remain, which leads to the biggest annual event in town, “Shanty Days”, which takes place every August. They have fish, music, and – if you ask nice – beer and wine. Algoma is known as a salmon and trout capital of the Midwest. They make stuff here, too: hammocks, doors, mops and labels among them. Algoma also has a heavy Belgian population (as in “numerous.”)
*** Winery & Brewery Alert! ***
Algoma is home to the Von Stiehl Winery, the oldest licensed winery in Wisconsin. The winery offers tours in its building constructed in the 1860s, back when Algoma was called Ahnapee (they renamed it Algoma in 1879.) In 1967, when the building was about 100 years old, Dr. Charles Stiehl founded the winery, using Door County’s famous cherries to create Door County Montmorency Cherry Wine. Over 30 varieties are available now, including several produced just for special events. Tours are available for $3.50 from May through October; wine tasting is complimentary all year.
Next door you’ll find the Ahnapee Brewery, named for the river that runs through town – in fact, “Ahanpee” was Algoma’s original name. Ahnapee was a brewery in town from 1868 to 1886, and it was resurrected in 2013 with a brewery just outside of town that supplies in their in-town tap room with fresh craft beer. They’re open Wednesday-Sunday, always opening at noon while closing at 9pm Wednesday and Thursday, 10pm on Friday and Saturday, and 5pm on Sunday. You’ll find Von Stiehl Winery and Ahnapee Brewery’s Tap Room along County S in downtown Algoma, just east of Highway 42 and north of the eastern terminus of Highway 54, within a few hundred yards of Lake Michigan.
Highway 54 comes to an end at Highway 42, in full view of Lake Michigan – by the time you get to the intersection.
On the south side of Algoma, Highway 54 ends at Highway 42, 244 miles from its origin over the Mississippi River going into Winona, Minnesota. Travelers to Door County at this point can use Highway 42, or County S, which runs through Algoma’s northeast side and serves as a “short cut” to Sturgeon Bay. If you follow Highway 42, you’ll go through downtown Algoma and then head along the Ahnapee River (they changed the name of the town, but not the name of the river) for several miles to Forestville.
Right where Highway 54 ends, you’ll find this beach along Lake Michigan. We found it on a slightly foggy morning.
A quick turn north on Highway 42 brings you to downtown Algoma – and they let you know.
Can connect immediately to: Minnesota Highway 43, Wisconsin Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 53, about 7 miles east
Can connect immediately to: Highway 42