Wisconsin Highway 95 feature photo
95

Highway 95 STH-095 Symbol “Driftless Touring from the Mississippi River’s Fountain City to the Highground”

Highway 95 Wisconsin route mapSample Towns along the way: Fountain City, Arcadia, Hixton, Neillsville

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 95 is a beautiful tour of western and central Wisconsin in the Driftless Area. From the picturesque Great River Road/Highway 35 junction in Fountain City up, down, and across occasionally rugged terrain and majestic viewpoints through towns like Arcadia and up to The Highground in Neillsville, Highway 95 provides a look at the state’s dairy industry, furniture-making centers (Arcadia’s Ashley Furniture) and saluting our military at the Highground.

Wisconsin Highway 95 Road Trip

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Highway 95’s western terminus is right by the Mississippi River at Highway 35. A winery, a brewery, a few museums, bluffs, and great views abound.

Eastbound Highway 95 begins The Drive (West to East): Highway 95 starts in beautiful little Fountain City (pop. 859) at Highway 35 – also the Great River Road – in Buffalo County. This is the heart of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, where glaciers didn’t flatten the land but other forces of nature have shaped and molded rivers, bluffs, hills, and valleys into one of the nation’s most scenic areas. The Mississippi River, which winds through the heart of the Driftless is within eyeshot as Highway 95 begins, just across the railroad tracks and down an embankment from the intersection.

Highway 95 beginning at Fountain City

Highway 95 eastbound corner, right at the Golden Frog.

Highway 95's western terminus

Looking toward the western end of Highway 95 at the Great River Road, Highway 35. The river itself is right there.

Fountain City Historic Marker, along Highway 35 just south of Highway 95.Fountain City started as Holmes’ Landing, having been a popular stop for riverboats as far back as 1839. Fresh water from nearby springs that were popular with the Mississippi River crews helped lead to the name of “Fountain City.” The town is nestled up against Eagle Bluff, one of the tallest along the river; that helps keep Fountain City narrow in places – some areas are only about three blocks wide.

The beauty of this area has long drawn artists. Just north of town near Cochrane you’ll find the Prairie Moon Folk Art property that farmer-turned-folk-artist Herman Rusch turned into a roadside wonder featuring over 40 sculptures; a few remain but much of its original pieces were sold off long ago. But in town, you’ll find little places like the Fountain City Folk Art Center and a little historic museum detailing the colorful history of the town.

The Monarch Tavern & Public House is one of the oldest taverns in Wisconsin and former home to Fountain City Brewing Company, which lasted until 1965 and traces its roots – on this very location – to 1856. They still micro-brew some original brands like Fountain Brew and several other styles. The original Fountain Brew came back in 1997; an original assistant brew master, Wilbert Schmitt, saved historic brewing records and approved the resurrected Fountain Brew recipe. So now, you can try it for yourself.

Monarch House and Fountain City Brewing, back entrance along Highway 35

Eagle Bluff towers behind Fountain City’s Monarch Public House, which dates back to the 1896. Highway 95 begins a few hundred feet north of here.

Monarch House & Fountain City Brewery on Highway 95

The colorful front of the Monarch House, home to Fountain City Brewery. Highways 35 and 95 meet here.

As it turns out, the bluffs hugging Fountain City can also serve as good vineyards. Seven Hawks Vineyards is one of the more extensive in the Midwest; they create a variety of red and white wines completely out of locally-grown grapes. You can sample them for free right where Highway 95 begins, one block north of Highway 35, at the Seven Hawks Wine Bar & Tasting Room.

Highway 95 - Seven Hawks Winery, Fountain City

Outside, a classic old brick structure. Inside, some great wines from grapes grown on nearby hills.

Two other roadside attractions make Fountain City a good stop. One is Rock in the House, which sits along 35 several blocks north of Highway 95. Not to be confused with House on the Rock, this is a small dwelling that just happened to be in the path of a 55-ton boulder that was careening down the bluff in 1995. The rock crashed into a bedroom, where it stayed. Its occupants, Dwight and Maxine Anderson, escaped unharmed but freaked out and they sold the house to John and Frances Burt, who turned the house into a museum that preserves the rock. Hey, it’s not like they can move it.

Highway 95, Rock in the House, Fountain City

When a rock rolls into your house like that, let others buy it and open a museum.

Just up Highway 95 from “downtown” Fountain City working your way up the bluffs, you can detour briefly to Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum. Elmer Duellman started collecting pedal cars in 1971 just because he’d never seen one before; now you and him can gaze upon over 500 pedal cars and 100 pedal tractors. The Museum, which officially started in 1994, also features antique metal toys and some classic cars like a 1929 Olds Woody, a 1929 Ford Phaeton, a 1955 Packard, and even the car in which he met his wife, a 1958 Chevy.

So basically, there’s a lot to see in this little town where Highway 95 begins. As you work your way upward and onward from Fountain City and the Mississippi River, lovely vistas await. You’re heading through  – and over – a variety of terrain in Wisconsin’s increasingly famous Driftless Area. Onward from Fountain City and up the hills!

Highway 95, vista views east of Fountain City

The temptation to take photos along this stretch of Highway 95 lies everywhere.

Most of this stretch runs the crest of the Fountain City Ridge, which averages about 1,200 feet in elevation – often several hundred feet above your surroundings. Especially on a clear day, you get quite a few nice long-range views of the terrain. This is pretty much the rest of your ride along Highway 95 in Buffalo County – have your camera ready!

There are no real towns along the top of this ridge; just farms, homes, and the occasional bar. And plenty of photo ops. This area is just ridiculously gorgeous.

Wisconsin Highway 95 feature photo

Highway 95 zigzagging along Fountain City Ridge in Buffalo County.

Highway 95 zigzagging along Fountain City Ridge in Buffalo County.

Roads intersecting Highway 95 along this stretch have some interesting names, like Pansy Pass and Pretzel Ridge Road. After all this rural beauty, Highway 95 heads County C near Swinns Valley, straightens up a bit and heads into Trempealeau County where it quickly enters this lovely county’s largest city.


Highway 95 winds down towards Arcadia

Highway 95 corkscrews its way down Fountain City Ridge into Trempealeau County as it heads towards Arcadia.

Arcadia

Trempealeau County’s largest city isn’t even all that large; with a population just surpassing 3,000 by recent estimates, Arcadia is also the largest city directly along Highway 95. While a small town, it’s well-known as the world headquarters of Ashley Furniture Industries, IncAshley moved its HQ here from Chicago in 1982 and employs more people than the town has residents, meaning there’s a lot of commuting on the local roads. The headquarters campus lies just east of Highway 95’s Trempealeau River crossing in Arcadia, the first of four crossings of the river for this road.

Arcadia also features Soldiers’ Walk Memorial Park, which at 54 acres is the largest Veterans’ Memorial Park outside of Washington, DC. This park is the site of Ashley for the Arts, an annual art and music event that hosts national, regional, and local acts and performers of all kinds along with artists displaying their wares and activities a’plenty for the over 10,000 attendees every August. You’ll find the park a few blocks south of Highway 95, via St. Joseph Avenue or Pearl Street.

Highway 95 in downtown Arcadia, Wisconsin

Highway 95 rolling through Arcadia.

Arcadia also features a Carnegie library, the Arcadia Free Public Library, opened in 1906. This lovely Classic Revival building still serves as Arcadia’s main library, with the high school and elementary school in close proximity. You’ll find it right along Highway 95/Main Street.

On the eastern side of town, Highway 95 intersects with Highway 93, the main north-south road in the area and a key connector highway between La Crosse and Eau Claire. This section of Highway 93 north of 95 opened as an “eastern bypass” of Arcadia that around 1984, as 93 originally came in via County A, joined 95, and then headed south along its present alignment. One might guess the bypass opened shortly after Ashley Furniture established their headquarters in town, anticipating more truck traffic. And yes, you’ll find plenty in this area, especially trucks with “Ashley Furniture” on the side. An Ashley Furniture Home Store is, in fact, just south of the 93/95 intersection.

Continuing east from Arcadia on Highway 95, you’ll head up into the hills again and along more coulees. You’ll see many picturesque farms and hunting lands; this area is very popular for deer, turkey, and pheasant hunting, with the Lakes Coulee State Wildlife Area offering 808 acres of public hunting grounds on both sides of the highway, along with a Class III trout stream for fishing. As you ascend and descend this part of the Driftless Area hills, lots of long range views show up once again before you meet up with U.S. 53.

Farm east of Arcadia along Highway 95

Roadside grazing along Highway 95 between Blair and Hixton

Highway 95 junction with U.S. 53 in Trempealeau County

Highway 95 meets up with U.S. 53 just outside Blair in Trempealeau County.

U.S. 53 is one of the other main routes between La Crosse and Eau Claire (Highway 93 and I-94 being the others), and Highway 95 joins U.S. 53 along its southern direction for a few miles into Blair (pop. 1,366), a town so Norwegian they have a lefse factory in operation. Countryside Lefse (1101 E. Broadway, 608-989-2363) has been cranking out the potato-based sweet treat in Blair since 1965. A cheese plant also operates in the town, long known for Colby and a variety of cheese and inspiring an annual cheese festival. The city was originally named Porterville and was re-named in 1873 after John Insley Blair, an early railroad investor. The railroad still runs through town, but Highway 95 is the main street, leaving U.S. 53 on Blair’s west side to head easterly through the heart of the city. This ride includes another crossing of the Trempealeau River and a scoot along Lake Henry, which was created from the dammed (not damned) river.

Blair, Wisconsin welcome sign

Some of Blair’s Norwegian heritage is evident on their welcome sign along U.S. 53/Highway 95.

You can take a nice break at the Strand Wayside along Lake Henry, which offers a pleasant area for relaxing, having a picnic, even fishing from the wooden pier, which is also handicapped-accessible. A historical monument notes Lake Henry’s construction in 1873 to accommodate a grist mill and winter ice harvesting.

Strand Wayside in Blair along Highway 95

Strand Wayside. Just don’t leave anybody there – that’s not what “strand” means in this case.

Amish wagon along Highway 95 east of Blair, Wisconsin

This sight is not unusual along Highway 95, especially between Blair and Hixton. Use caution.

Highway 95 heads east and northeast from Blair, past more rolling hill farmland and a significant Amish community – so watch for horse-drawn wagons in the area. Along this ride – which continues to parallel portions of the Trempealeau River – you enter Jackson County. Before long, you ride into Hixton (pop. 433), which lies not only along the river but also just off I-94, making this the most major crossroad for Highway 95. Like many communities, Hixton had some other names before its current one: Williamport and Pole Grove among them. County Roads FF and A, which cut through the center of town, were once part of Highway 27 before and for a few years after the interstate went through. I-94 was finished through this area in 1967, and Highway 95 meets it just east of Hixton. The town is right along the Trempealeau River.

Wisconsin Highway 95 approaching I-94

Highway 95 meets with I-94 just east of Hixton. This is roughly the halfway point of the route.

Silver Mound

Beyond Hixton and the interstate, Highway 95 heads northeast towards Silver Mound, a major archaeological site and National Historic Landmark. This unique geological outcropping consists heavily of Hixton silicified sandstone, considered a high quality, easily worked stone that was much valued by early Native Americans as a raw material for tool manufacture. Nearly 1,000 prehistoric quarry pits dot the wooded slopes of Silver Mound and scores of prehistoric encampments and workshops surround it, all right off Highway 95.

Silver Mound

Just beyond Silver Mound, but well within sight of it, Highway 95 meets up with the eastern end of Highway 121 and banks to the east into Alma Center (pop. 503), the “Strawberry Capital of Wisconsin.” The village celebrates strawberries with its annual festival in mid- to late June every year.

The rest of Highway 95 from Silver Mound to Neillsville will be posted shortly!

Highway 95 CONNECTIONS:

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: Highway 37, about 7 miles north

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 73
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 10, about 3 miles north

 

Back to StateTrunkTour.com



Highway 131 looking towards Steuben
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STH-131 “Wanna Kickapoo through the Ocooch?”

 

WisMap131_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 131 runs up much of the beautiful valley along a river called the Kickapoo -which sounds more like something you’d do in a farm field. On occasion, Highway 131 twists and turns like a swimmer with a fish in his trunks; other times you climb to vista offering views of 20 miles before diving into valleys lush with vegetation and wildlife. You’ll experience Wisconsin’s apple capital, a solar-powered town, the Ocooch Mountains as part of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, and don’t be surprised if you see seas of wagons and bonnets belonging to the many Amish in this region.

Wisconsin Highway 131 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 131 begins at Highway 60 just east of Wauzeka (pop. 768). Just south of where Highway 131 begins, the Kickapoo River empties into the Wisconsin River en route to the Mississippi. The Kickapoo is the river Highway 131 follows pretty closely and crosses over numerous times for the first two-thirds of its length.

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The southern end of Highway 131 ends just a few hundred feet short of the Wisconsin River at Highway 60 just east of Wauzeka.

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Fall leaves on the bluffs near the Wisconsin River make for a gorgeous drive. The road climbs these bluffs and soon the beautiful view is from the top.

Most of the road curves and winds through very rural territory, hugging hillsides and climbing to ridges where beautiful valley views offer sights for miles and miles – especially in the fall.

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South of Steuben, 131 climbs to the top of these hills and offers a twisty path and views that extend 20 miles or more on clear days.

The first town you come across is the village of Steuben (pop. 131) at the junction with Highway 179. Other small settlements that follow include Barnum and Bell Center.

 

Gays Mills Apple Capital welcome signYou’ll see plenty of references to apples around here, and when you arrive in Gays Mills (pop. 625), you’re in the “Apple Capital of Wisconsin” (the question is, does it keep a lot of doctors away?) Gays Mills hosts the Crawford County Fair every year, and all year ’round features Log Cabin Heritage Park, a series of log homes that preserve the folk architecture for the town and Crawford County. They’re all original, though not in their original places – they were delivered from around the county over the past twenty years or so. The Altenburg-Zweifel Corn Crib is one example, a cabin built in 1890 near Wauzeka without the use of nails.

Gays Mills Antique Store, Highway 171 near 131

Antiques and unique items await in these towns along Highway 131, like this one in Gays Mills – just down the street along Highway 171.

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A winter scene in Gays Mills, in Log Cabin Heritage Park.

Past Gays Mills and winding near the Kickapoo River, Highway 131 meets up with U.S. Highway 61 in Soldiers Grove (pop. 653). Billed as “America’s First Solar Village”, Soldiers Grove relocated its downtown from 1979 to 1983 in the wake of devastating floods from the Kickapoo – which helped reduce damage from major flooding again in 2007. This moved the village’s business district out of the floodplain, back on U.S. 61, and gave residents an opportunity to do something unique – make all the new buildings energy efficient and solar heated. Buildings were placed and positioned in a way to maximize solar exposure in order to follow the ordinance that they must receive at least half their heating energy from the sun, a first for the U.S.

Highway 131 follows U.S. 61 for about 4 miles into Vernon County into Readstown (pop. 395), where it meets U.S. 14 and follows it over the Kickapoo River (again) before turning north again through the heart of town. North of Readstown, Highway 131 gets very twisty-turny again with nice views of the Ocooch Mountains.

The next town up is Viola (pop. 699), where a brief junction with Highway 56 sends you through the small downtown. Highway 131 here ducks into Richland County and cuts across its northwest corner before re-entering Vernon County.

Back into Vernon County, Highway 131 enters LaFarge (pop. 775), where it intersects with Highway 82. LaFarge is one of about ten places that bills itself as the “Heart of the Kickapoo Valley” – and in a sense, they’re all correct. Nestled in the beautiful valley the Kickapoo winds through, LaFarge marks the southern edge of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, a tract of land 8,500+ acres large with sandstone outcroppings and unique local plants and animals. The Reserve came from a flood control project authorized in 1962, begun in 1971 and abandoned by 1975. What remains of the area is the Reserve, which former Senator Gaylord Nelson campaigned to be turned into a national park and said it deserved such status. Visit it for yourself and see if you agree…especially if you rent a canoe!

The north end of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve is near Ontario (pop. 476), where you cross Highway 33 and, once again, the Kickapoo River, further giving merit to its claim of the “Crookedest River in the World.” Canoe rental places in Ontario provide opportunities for taking a break from the drive and paddling your way up or down to check out the rock formations and (at times unusual) plant species lining the banks. Wildcat Mountain State Park lies just east of Highway 131, offering hiking trails with spectacular views.

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Just inside Ontario, Highway 131 enters Monroe County and makes a beeline to Wilton (pop. 519), which bills itself as the “Heart of the Trail” – in this case, the famous Elroy-Sparta Trail, the nation’s first rail-to-trail recreational route. A store and several bars are available for pit stops whether driving or biking in Wilton, where you hook up and join Highway 71 eastward for a few miles before heading north again.

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One of the rare moments the Elroy-Sparta Trail isn’t on the original limestone-covered railroad bed from 1871, the trail leaps over Highway 131 just east of Wilton during its ride with Highway 71.

Kickapoo-free for its northernmost stretch, Highway 131 has an interchange with I-90 before ending at U.S. 12 and Highway 16 in Tomah (pop. 8,419), which holds the Monroe County seat. Transportation has long been a hallmark of Tomah; it holds an Amtrak station for the Empire Builder and is where roads going through Wisconsin from Illinois to Minnesota tend to split. Pre-Interstate days, it’s where then-main roads U.S. Highways 12 and 16 split; when the interstates were built in the 1960’s, they decided to split Interstates 90 and 94 here as well. Not coincidentally, lots of hotels, truck stops, warehouses and transport companies are located here. In keeping with the transportation theme, Gasoline Alley comic strip creator Frank King grew up in Tomah.

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Highway 131 comes to an end in Tomah, where U.S. 12 and Highway 16 meet up. You’ve essentially moved from the crookedest river in the world to a major source of cranberries.

In addition to transportation, Tomah is known as one of America’s cranberry capitals. The world’s largest cranberry festival is held during late September in nearby Warrens, which also holds the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center. Warrens can be reached by connecting to Highway 21 via U.S. 12, straight north past the spot where Highway 131 ends. Basically, from Tomah you can connect to wherever you want to go pretty easily!

And there you go: a great drive on Highway 131. It’s an easy ride for an afternoon – or make it a recreation-filled multi-day trip. It’s all up to you!

See more State Trunk Tour routes here, and enjoy!

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 60
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 61, about 8 miles east

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 12, Highway 16
Can connect nearby to: Highway 21, about 4 miles north; Interstate 90, about 1 mile south; Interstate 94, about 4 miles east

Historic Mindoro Cut on the original route of Highway 108
108

STH-108 “A big Cut between West Salem and Melrose”

 

WisMap108_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 108 is a short but very scenic ride through Wisconsin’s “Driftless Area.” Recently re-routed, the original Highway 108 is what we follow! A popular motorcycle ride as well as drive or bike ride, Highway 108 is best known for the “Mindoro Cut”, which cuts through a particularly beautiful area where the highway twists, turns and zigzags. Highway 108 has essentially been the same route since 1919…why mess with such a great drive?

The (original) Wisconsin Highway 108 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 108 begins at Highway 16 about six miles northeast of the outskirts of La Crosse in West Salem (pop. 4,837), home of Pulitzer-prize winning author Hamlin Garland, the La Crosse Fairgrounds and Speedway, and two octagon-shaped houses – one of which is Garland’s homestead.

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From Highway 16, Highway 108 heads north, past an “old” section of Highway 16 featuring a bridge from 1926, and zigzags north a bit through La Crosse County along part of Eggins Coulee.

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We love these old bridges. Along Highway 108, the original 16 route is still marked, heading across a creek on a bridge originally constructed in 1926 – and left practically unchanged since. This is just north of New Salem.

Now here’s the deal: in 2017, Highway 108 was “swapped” with County C, so now the great route 108 originally followed is County C. So let’s follow that still! So the rest follows the “Historic” Highway 108.

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The drive north from West Salem is beautiful, navigating rolling hills and coulees through some lovely La Crosse County farmland. It’s fitting that the township is called “Farmington.”

 

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The original Highway 108/County C is anything but a straightaway for most of its length. Might be one reason for the 2017 switch.

The main feature along Historic Highway 108/County C is the Mindoro Cut, a passage hand-cut through rock back in 1908. It began when the townspeople of Mindoro wanted to create a short cut to their nearest big city, La Crosse. While the rock proved harder to chip, ax and slice through than they anticipated, they eventually got their short cut – and then they probably rested for several years because that sounds like pretty exhausting work if it’s done by hand.

Mindoro Cut Marker

The historic marker for the Mindoro Cut pretty much gives all the handy details: hand-cut, 74 feet deep, 25 feet wide, and the second-largest hand-hewn cut in the nation.

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The winding drive on either side is an adventure in itself!

In tiny Mindoro, you can check out the Bell Coulee Shelter, a prehistoric rock shelter that was inhabited by people in the cave-dwelling days. It’s a popular site with anthropologists, archeologists and others who marvel at people who didn’t have cell phones, DVR or iPads.

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Downtown Mindoro along Highway 108. Nothing fancy, but whimsical. Note the hair place named “Mindoro Cut.”

Past Burr Oak, Historic Highway 108 and current Highway 108 (via County C) heads into Jackson County and hooks up Highway 71, which comes in from Sparta.

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After crossing the Black River, the two highways combine for the ride to the northern end, at a junction with Highway 54 approaching tiny Melrose (pop. 503). You can use 54 to head west toward Winona, Minnesota, or northeast toward Black River Falls.

Or head back through the Mindoro Cut; it’s just as fun the second time!

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 16
Can connect nearby to: I-90, about 2 miles south

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 54, Highway 71




82

STH-082“Vernon, Viroqua and Valleys”

 

Western terminus: Crawford County, on the Mississippi River bridge connection to Lansing, Iowa

Eastern terminus: Marquette County, at the junction with Highway 23 at the I-39/U.S. 51 interchange

Mileage: about 116 miles

Counties along the way: Crawford, Vernon, Juneau, Adams, Marquette

Sample towns along the way: DeSoto, Viroqua, Hillsboro, Elroy, Mauston, Oxford

Bypass alternates at: none

WisMap82Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 82 connects the lakes of Marquette County and central Wisconsin with the more rugged terrain and scenic valleys of the southwest. The drive between Highway 80 at Hillsboro and the extended Mississippi River bridge connection with Iowa via the Black Hawk Bridge is especially eye-pleasing.

Wisconsin Highway 82 Road Trip

The Drive (East to West): Highway 82 picks up where Highway 23 leaves off in Marquette County, at an interchange with I-39/U.S. 51. While Highway 23 ducks south on its way to the Dells, Highway 82 heads west into Oxford (pop. 536), into Adams County and past a series of small lakes, including lovely views from Parker Lake. It’s worth noting that there aren’t too many lakes along this route, since much of its length is in the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin, where few natural lakes exist.

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82parkerlake_800Several lakes dot the area between Oxford and the Wisconsin River. Parker Lake, viewed at left, is a pleasant spot for a wayside stop, fishing, or a little swimming.

After crossing Highway 13, Highway 82 heads across the Wisconsin River itself, where in the summertime people lazily tubing down the river from Castle Rock Lake to the Dells are often floating under the bridge in droves. Castle Rock Lake, the fourth largest in the state and essentially a dammed-up widening of the river (it was constructed between 1947 and 1951), offers a host of recreational opportunities – including, of course, tubing. Camping areas, boat launch sites and various recreational rentals are available in areas near the lake, which has sixty miles of shoreline. Castle Rock County Park alone has over 200 camping sites and can be accessed off Highway 82 via County Z just east of the bridge over the river.

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The Wisconsin River between Castle Rock Lake and the Dells is popular for boating and tubing. And fishing. And hunting.

A series of horse farms and riding stables dot the area between the Wisconsin River and the junction with I-90/94, so if you have a desire to hop on a saddle, this is a good area for you. A series of hotels, gas stations, and cheese shops you suddenly see can only mean one thing: the Interstate is coming. I-90/94 crosses Highway 82 here on its journey between the Twin Cities and Madison, and a slew of places to stay or stock up on items for the road can be found here.

Mauston

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This vertically-mounted truck running up the high Kwik Trip sign where Highway 82 meets I-90/94 has been a notable landmark for decades as people whizz past.

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Juneau County’s capital, Mauston, is a prime stop for stock-up items and a gateway to the rail-to-trails and scenery of the Driftless Area. Here, Highway 82 meets up with U.S. 12 & Highway 16 for a brief ride through downtown.

The junction means you’re heading into Mauston (pop. 4,411), which in some materials refers to itself as the “un-Dells”, referencing its close proximity to, but much more relaxed and homey approach than, nearby Wisconsin Dells. County seat of Juneau County and home to the area’s largest medical center, Mauston (rhymes with “Boston”) hosts five companies who are Fortune 500 members and is wedged between Decorah Lake to its north and One Mile Bluff to its south. U.S. 12 and Highway 16 provide non-Interstate access to the corridor between Tomah and the Dells (highly recommended over I-90/94 for the full State Trunk Tour experience) and Highway 58 joins in from the north.

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Mauston’s St. Patrick Catholic Church at the end of Pine Street, one block off Highway 82, but visible around much of the town.

Through Mauston, Highway 82 goes past a slew of growing neighborhoods and several large schools, which serve communities for miles around. The larger, more rugged hills of the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin beckon; before long, you start twisting around through valleys and past increasingly frequent rock cuts and bluffs. This is a main route for bicyclists and ATV’ers looking to take advantage of the rail-to-trail systems in southwestern Wisconsin.

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A miniature horse along the roadside. Isn’t it cute?

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Less cute is a cop pulling you over for speeding. Make sure to heed the 25 mph limit into Elroy. This poor guy coming the other way didn’t.

At the heart of all of this is Elroy (pop. 1,578), where Highway 80 meets up with 82 for the ride into town. Elroy is the hometown of Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and Secretary of Health & Human Services and is named after the son in “The Jetsons”. Okay, I’m kidding on that one. Buffs of the 1980s who played the wildly popular game Trivial Pursuit may be interested to know that 30 million Trivial Pursuit games were produced in Elroy from 1983 to 1985 – which is practically a trivia question in itself. It’s also where three major rail-to-trail routes meet: the Omaha Trail, which goes to Camp Douglas, the “400”, which goes to Reedsburg, and the “granddaddy” of them all, the Elroy-Sparta Trail, first of its kind, which opened in 1967. Along with a downtown strip featuring a great hobby shop, several bars and a number of craft store, Elroy Commons lies along the trail – a former railroad station – to provide provisions.

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Elroy Commons, once a train station and now a hub for bicyclists using the “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails.

Built in 1991, the Commons is where the Omaha, “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails meet and features an information center, gift shop, restrooms, showers and bike rentals. Rentals are $3 per hour or $12 per day. Schultz Park, a city facility, provides camping and RV facilities as well as a pool, tennis courts, volleyball, a children’s playground and more. If you plan on riding the trail(s) and making a day or two of it, Schultz Park is a good place to set up camp. If you prefer a motel, a number of them in Elroy and along the route cater to bicyclists.

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Downtown Elroy along Main Street is right along The Commons.

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Custom, creative bar signs are always a State Trunk Tour favorite. This is in Elroy.

Highways 80 & 82 run together for the three miles south to Union Center, paralleling the “400” Trail along the way. There, Highway 33 joins in for about five more miles, into Vernon County and Hillsboro (pop. 1,417). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is a pleasant town that hosts the Cesky Den Festival every summer.

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The Amish population is significant around Hillsboro along this stretch of Highway 80. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds.

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Above: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 80 (coupled with 33 and 82 here) is a large mouse holding groceries, which is better than a large mouse in your groceries, I suppose. Just a short distance later, another huge fiberglass mouse tells you about more available cheese. There should be no calcium deficiencies in this area.

Highway 82 at 33 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing

Hillsboro Brewing’s Pub is right at the main intersection in downtown Hillsboro, where Highways 82 and 33 wind through town.

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

A nice craft brew stop along Highway 82 in the heart of Hillsboro: the Hillsboro Brewing Company.

Hillsboro is home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, (608-489-7486), which launched in 2012. Home to notable craft brews like Joe’s Beer and the Leaping Lemur Cream Ale, Hillsboro offers cans and taps at their downtown pub location right at the main corner downtown. It’s a great old building that served as a shoe store and a slew of other businesses dating back to the 19th century, the last time Hillsboro had their own (legal) brewery. Due to growing demand, Hillsboro Brewing built a new facility called the 2E Brewery on the outskirts of town in fall 2018. Their newer brewery adds capacity and event space while keeping up with their growth.

In Hillsboro, Highways 80 breaks south; three miles later Highway 33 splits off to the west. Highway 82 heads southwest, generally following valleys nestled in between ridges like Maple Ridge and Newburn Ridge, with the high hillsides all around. Occasionally you leap over a large hill and duck into the next valley. On a sunny day, the light will play with the trees, especially early or late in the day when the angles often result in dark areas with brilliant light reflecting off a group of trees in the distance. The turns can be sharp, so if a sign tells you to slow to a certain speed, it’s not a bad idea to heed the warning in these here parts.

The Round Barns and Integrated History of Vernon County… Diversity before diversity was cool
In the mid-1800s, a sizeable group of African American settlers came to eastern Vernon County and established Wisconsin’s first integrated schools, churches and sports teams. Interestingly, a racially diverse and by all accounts harmonius community was more easily achieved in rural Wisconsin in the 19th century than some areas are able to have today. Although much of the old community is gone, landmarks remain… including many of the area’s famous “round barns”, many of which were designed and built by Algie Shivers, one of the African-American settlers. About half the barns he supervised and participated in the construction of still stand, and some are seen along Highway 82. There is an official driving tour of valleys and areas featuring the round barns that use parts of Highway 82 and nearby 33, a map of which can be download here in .PDF format.

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Highway 82 between Hillsboro and La Farge features lots of twists, turns and meandering stretches within a variety of valleys. Be aware of Amish wagons, as well as people trying out their sports cars or souped-up motorcycles on the curves.

Through the valleys you enter LaFarge (pop. 775), where it intersects with that Kickapoo River-followin’ Trunk Highway 131. LaFarge is one of about ten places that bills itself as the “Heart of the Kickapoo Valley” – and in a sense, they’re all correct; it’s certainly accurate when you’re driving along Highway 82. Nestled in the beautiful valley the Kickapoo winds through, LaFarge marks the southern edge of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, a tract of land 8,500+ acres large with sandstone outcroppings and unique local plants and animals. The Reserve came from a flood control project authorized in 1962, begun in 1971 and abandoned by 1975. What remains of the area is the Reserve, which former Senator Gaylord Nelson campaigned to be turned into a national park and said it deserved such status. Visit it for yourself and see if you agree…especially if you rent a canoe!

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Highway 82 combines with 131 through the laid-back streets of downtown La Farge.

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The Kickapoo River (“the crookedest river in the world”) offers a nice, lazy canoeing ride around La Farge, although that can’t be said all the way up and down the river. Rentals are available in La Farge, and a launch ramp is available right off Highway 82.

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This bluff is just west of LaFarge along Highway 82. As we said, the landscape just keep getting more gorgeous.

After hooking up briefly with Highway 56, Highway 82 heads into the largest city along its length, Viroqua (pop. 4,335). The name can also apply to a genus of jumping spiders, but this Viroqua is a pleasant town where numerous artists have made home. Butch Vig, member of the rock band Garbage and producer to albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, was born in Viroqua, as was President Bush’s (the Dubya one) personal physician. While Highway 56 heads west from the downtown crossroads, 82 turns south through downtown, joining Highway 27 and U.S. 14 & 61.

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The Fortney Building (above) includes a residence hotel and is a prime example of the early architecture along Viroqua’s Main Street, of which Highway 27 is one of four State Trunk Tour routes. The Temple Theatre is a 1922 Classic Revival style vaudeville and movie theatre that underwent a $1.3 million restoration; today it stands as a prime example of why Viroqua’s downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Viroqua was called “the town that beat Wal-Mart” by Smithsonian Magazine in 1992, not because it prevented a Wal-Mart from opening, but because so many local businesses are successfully co-existing with it. Viroqua’s natural beauty has drawn artists for decades, but the arts and culture scene has been growing more significantly as of late. The presence of the renovated Temple Theatre and numerous coffee shops and galleries are just a hint of the growing arts community. Highway 27 goes through the middle of it all; architecture buffs can enjoy the theatre, the Fortney Building (pictured above), and the Sherry-Butt House, an 1870 structure constructed in the Southern style… all of which are on Main Street.

14276182sign_225hiHighway 27 is just one of the routes on Viroqua’s Main Street. Highway 82 and U.S. 14 & 61 also travel through the heart of town. Highway 56 intersects downtown, too. Bypass plans were in place for many years that would carry some or all of the routes around town, but that got cancelled in 2014. And we’re pretty glad to see that – this is a town to explore!

South of Viroqua, the four highways stay combined for a few miles before Highways 27 and 82 break away to the southwest. You run a series of ridges, from which the views get quite expansive. You pass through the small village of Liberty Pole, which is noted for nearby Monument Rock, a huge natural rock formation (we’ll have to get a picture on the next trip through). From Liberty Pole west to Red Mound, you’ll see a series of old stone wayside markers. These markers note historical facts about areas in Vernon County, especially as they applied to settlement and clashes with Native Americans. Many of these markers were carved in stone in the 1930s; most have been moved to their current location. They’re worth stopping and checking out, especially if you’re a history buff. These markers are noted in points all along the route in Vernon County.

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Above: Just southwest of Viroqua, this caboose (presumably in someone’s yard) lies on real railroad tracks. Several other sculptures adorn the property. Below: Liberty Pole, Wisconsin. Not a bustling metropolis, but a serene place to stop, step outside and enjoy the views and quiet sounds of southwestern Wisconsin.

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Liberty Pole is also the name of an annual scenic motorcycle parade covering areas across this part of the state. Check out their home page here for more information.

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As shown above (click for larger images you can read), county historical markers dot the sides of Highway 27 from Liberty Pole west for quite a ways. A map of marker locations is provided at most waysides, with specific details carved into stone tablets. John McCulloch is considered the county’s first European settler, building a cabin here in 1844 before “California Dreamin'” took him out west. Most of the tablets were made around 1930.

This area of Highway 82, basically between Viroqua and DeSoto, is big on scenic views and short on facilities, so make sure your gas gauge isn’t reading close to empty. Keep your camera ready, though!

Highway 27 splits off at Fargo (not relation to the movie or North Dakota) and heads toward Prairie du Chien. Highway 82, meanwhile, heads west for about a dozen miles before hitting Red Mound.

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More stone tablet historical markers (reminding me of the Mel Brooks film “History of the World, Part I” just a bit) adorn the way along Highway 82 as you traverse a series of ridges and valleys. Towns and services, like gas stations, are few and far between around here.

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Cows, however, are not. And they will stare at you to see what you’re up to as you look at the historical markers or drive by slowly. Remember, it is forbidden on the State Trunk Tour to yell “Moooo!” at them; they’ve heard it all before.

At Red Mound, Highway 82 has a split with County Highway UU, providing two ways to access the Mississippi. We’ll be taking Highway 82, of course, but the drive on UU is also breathtaking as you approach the river towards Victory, Wisconsin. Red Mound and the area surrounding it features a macabre history in the Black Hawk War, which looms large in Wisconsin history. Red Mound is about where General Atkinson (the one the city of Fort Atkinson is named after) caught up with Chief Black Hawk’s Band and were subsequently killed, although the Sauk tribe members were trying to surrender at the time. Markers about 1 1/2 miles west on UU describe this in more detail, and I found a web page here that will tell you more if you’d like.

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Highway 82 splits to the southwest toward the Mississippi River and DeSoto at Red Mound. County Highway UU splits northwest and is an alternate route to Highway 35 and the river, with a beautiful view and historical markers along the way.

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From Red Mound, Highway 82 descends down along a series of cliffs and bluffs into DeSoto. Exposed rock formations, the valleys below and ridges overhead make for a gorgeous drive as you corkscrew down… and pay attention to the “25 mph” signs… they’re not kidding this time!

Highway 82 descends into the Mississippi River town of DeSoto (pop. 366), where the road is in a long valley that leads you into the downtown area. DeSoto was originally called Winneshiek Landing, but it was renamed after Hernando DeSoto, the Mississippi River explorer, in 1854. Like downriver Cassville, DeSoto is a great place for bird watching, including eagles. Historically, it’s also where Chief Black Hawk and his Sauk and Fox followers were defeated and subsequently slaughtered even though they were trying to surrender peacefully. The battle site is along Highway 35 between DeSoto and Victory, two miles north and where the aforementioned County UU that forked away from Highway 82 earlier reaches the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has established a park at the battle site.

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The “swashbuckling” story of DeSoto’s namesake adorns the wall along Highway 82 across from a school. Exploration of the Mississippi gives one immortality if you’re one of the first, after all.

82tomissview_500DeSoto is perched above the Mississippi River. After all the descending of hills and curves you navigate to get here, the river suddenly appears… right there. Highway 35 runs along the Ole Miss, with Iowa and their bluffs in the background. It’s not over for 82, though; the road does eventually get to Iowa.

Down the hill approaching Highway 35, you literally cross the northwestern corner of Crawford County… the last few hundred feet, clearly visible with the signs. At the intersection, look back at the line of buildings facing the river; it’s the quintessential view of a small Mississippi River town. Once joined with Highway 35, Highway 82 follows along the river’s edge as part of the Great River Road for about six miles before heading southwest in a last bid to reach Iowa.

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Along the section of Highway 82 that joins with Highway 35, tall bluffs line the eastern edge and exposed rock shows up amidst seas of trees.

Highway 82 joins The Great River Road & Highway 35 for about 2 1/2 miles. At that point, Highway 82 breaks southwest, directly onto a bridge across the Winneshiek Slough. A few miles through the Mississippi River Wildlife & Fish Refuge, characterized by marshlands, sloughs and swampy forest will eventually lead you to the Black Hawk Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi’s main channel into Iowa.

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82off35_300The Mississippi River along this stretch can grow up to 5 miles wide, with a series of islands, sloughs and marshlands in the middle. The state line follows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ maintained shipping line, which was right next to you in DeSoto and but darts southwest by the time Highway 82 prepares to cross the river.

The Black Hawk Bridge (often referred to locally as the “Lansing Bridge”) is where Highway 82 comes to an end, at the Iowa state line halfway across the bridge’s steel deck.

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The Black Hawk Bridge has an interesting history. It opened in 1931 as a toll bridge and operated for 14 years until a March ice jam in 1945 forced it to close. The Wisconsin approach to the bridge was washed out and it stayed that way for ten years. Finally in 1955, the Iowa State Highway Commission rehabbed the bridge and by 1957, both states purchased the bridge and reopened it as a free facility. It could be due for another rehabilitation or even replacement sometime soon; the structure is narrow and has a speed limit of 25 mph that we highly, highly recommend you follow. The western end of the bridge drops right onto the riverbank. where Iowa Highway 9 is an immediate crossroad. The sound of tires grinding over the steel deck surface can be heard for quite a distance along the riverfront.

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The Black Hawk Bridge has an unusual look that makes some travelers uneasy about crossing it. The bridge is a riveted cantilever through truss bridge that totals 1,653 feet in length, clears 68 feet over the Mississippi River, but is only 21 foot-long subs wide. The picture at left is the view from under the bridge; for a really cool look at the whole area from above, click on the aerial shot below. You get a good sense of how long the causeway is to approach the Wisconsin side of the Black Hawk Bridge! This shows the last few miles of Highway 82.

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blackhawkbr05_800Along the Iowa side of the river, the Black Hawk Bridge dominates the view and the sound of cars crossing the steel grid above echo up and down the valley. Lansing, Iowa is a pleasant little river town that was named after Lansing, Michigan. The Black Hawk Bridge is the only Mississippi River crossing between Prairie du Chien and La Crosse, a distance of 63 miles.

At the western end of Highway 82 at the Wisconsin-Iowa line over the Mississippi River, you can view the Black Hawk Bridge via webcam during daylight hours.

And if you turn around to head back to Wisconsin, this is the approach from the Iowa side. Use it!

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CONNECTIONS
East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 23, I-39, U.S. 51
Can connect nearby to: Highway 22, about 6 miles east in Montello (via Highway 23)

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35, Iowa Highway 9
Can connect nearby to: Highway 56, about 11 miles north; Highway 171, about 9 miles south

81

STH-081“From the Rock through the Driftless to the Mississippi”

 

WisMap81Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 81 starts where I-43 ends at Beloit, heads west through the city over the Rock River, and hops around the southern edge of the state all the way to Cassville, where a ferry boat offers rides to Iowa on the Mississippi River. Passing through the county seat of each of the four counties it traverses, Highway 81 connects to a series of highways in one of the most beautiful sections of the state.

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The Wisconsin Highway 81 Road Trip

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Highway 81 begins at the I-39/43/90 interchange on the east side of Beloit.

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The east end/west start of Highway 81 involves a junction with three Interstates.

The Drive (East to West): Highway 81 begins at the interchange with I-43 – which begins at this point and goes northeast to Milwaukee – and I-90/39, which connects south to Rockford and Chicago and north to Madison.

Beloit

Highway 81 is the “Beloit connection” from the interstates, bringing you into the City of Beloit (pop. 36,966). And yes, right at the eastern terminus of Highway 81 at the Hormel plant is the World’s Largest Can of Chili. Can you imagine the “air power” in the beans in that tower?

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Speaking of air, just down the street towards the city along Highway 81 (called “Milwaukee Street” here) is the site of the first commercially built airplane. Assembled and flown in 1909, the plane was piloted by Arthur Warner, who went on to develop the automobile speedometer and a series of automotive and machine tool accessories. Not to be outdone by instrumentation, Beloit has a history of inventing snack food: Korn Kurls were invented here in the 1930s (although they weren’t sold commercially until 1946) and became the precursor for Cheetos and other cheese-flavored corn snack delights. Beloit, considered a “gateway” to Wisconsin for I-90 travelers, hosts Beloit College, the Midwest League’s Beloit Snappers ‘A’ baseball team, and a variety of companies that take advantage of Beloit’s key location for transportation. Flanked by Janesville to the north and Rockford to the south, Beloit had its share of rough days in the late 20th century but has been bouncing back impressively over the last several years, spurred on my development around the interstates on the east and new and expanding companies in a resurgent downtown.

Beloit is an economic and industrial powerhouse. It’s the only city in Wisconsin that is home to three multi-billion dollar international companies: ABC Supply Company, Kerry, and Regal-Beloit. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once described Beloit as “America in microcosm”, and it’s the hometown of people such as NFL head and assistant coach Jim Caldwell, Cheap Trick’s lead singer Robin Zander, and a slew of NFL, MLB and NBA players. It’s where racer Danica Patrick was born, and where “Shoop Shoop (It’s In His Kiss”) original singer Betty Everett died.

The city holds Beloit College, the oldest continuously operating college in Wisconsin; it was founded in 1846, two years before Wisconsin became a state and two years before UW-Madison started up. A liberal arts college, it adds 1,300 college students to the community’s profile. The campus itself, adjacent to downtown, contains more history than just the college itself. Its 65 acres feature around 20 ancient Native American mounds of conical, linear, and animal effigy style. They are thought to have been built between 400 and 1200 AD. One of the mounds is turtle-shaped and inspired Beloit’s symbol and unofficial mascot; there’s even a “Town of Turtle” east of Beloit itself. While you can explore the campus and see some of the mounds, they may not be disturbed, as they may not be disturbed as they are “catalogued” burial sites. Some pottery and tool fragments excavated from mounds back in the day are now held in the Logan Museum of Anthropology on campus.

The college is on the northeastern edge of downtown Beloit, where redevelopment showcasing the city’s industrial heritage is on full display. Old factories and foundries line the banks near the dam on the Rock River, and new crossings like a pedestrian- and bike-only bridge provide fresh connections. The long legacy (1858-2000) of The Beloit Corporation – which was also known as Beloit Iron Works for decades – is evident in former factory buildings that have been redeveloped on both banks of the river. Office space includes larger company offices and headquarters for start-up companies. Cashback website company Ebates, for example, has a major office in Beloit that serves as a satellite for its San Francisco headquarters. The Ironworks Hotel opened as an upscale boutique hotel in 2016 in a former Beloit Corporation foundry building. It features the tasty Merrill & Hoston’s Steak Joint and a walkway along the Rock River, one block from shops and restaurants along the vibrant Grand Street and a few blocks from Beloit College. The Ironworks, recently joined “kitty corner” by a sister boutique hotel called The Goodwin, is located right along U.S. 51, about a mile south of where Highway 81 crosses the Rock River.

Downtown Beloit

Beloit’s downtown, which is nestled between Beloit College and the Illinois state line along the Rock River, has been undergoing quite the resurgence. Along with the aforementioned boutique hotels, a slew of new restaurants, shops, bars, and event spaces have popped up to accommodate the increasing activity among those working in the tech, manufacturing, and entrepreneurial spaces growing in the city.

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The legacy of Beloit Iron Works lives on in commercial space, a boutique hotel, and murals like this.

 

Back to the north side of all this along Highway 81, just past U.S. 51 the highway crosses the Rock River and is joined by Highway 213, which angles northwest out of downtown Beloit. The two amble north and west together through the city’s west side neighborhoods for a spell before Highway 213 branches off to the northwest, eventually connecting with U.S. 14 to Madison.

Meanwhile, Highway 81 heads out of Beloit and begins a rolling hill journey through the farmlands of Rock County, close to the Illinois state line for quite a while. A brief detour down County H about six miles west of Beloit brings you to Beckman Mill County Park, which features a working, restored grist mill constructed in 1868 and plenty of recreation and 19th century displays in a nice park setting covering 52 acres.

The rest of the ride on Highway 81 is fairly remote; you won’t find a gas station for probably 20 miles along this stretch, but you will find nice views. Shortly after entering Green County, Highway 81 meets up with Highway 11; the two cross the Sugar River and the countryside begins to hint at the larger hills and valleys that lie ahead. This stretch of Highway 11/81 is a major route across Wisconsin’s southern tier, which is evident as you skim Juda and head towards Monroe.

Monroe

*** BYPASS ALERT ***
At Monroe, Highways 81 & 11 bypass the city on a short freeway stretch; but if you want this to be an actual fun experience, get off at the first exit (Highway 59) and follow it as 6th Street into downtown Monroe. You can then join Highway 69 northbound to re-join Highway 81 as it splits from 11 on the bypass.

Monroe (pop. 10,843) is the hub of Green County and the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.” Monroe High School’s team nickname is the Cheesemakers, after all. The Swiss influence is everywhere, from the flags dotting the surrounding landscape to the architecture downtown to the fact that The Swiss Colony is headquartered here. Monroe also features medical center The Monroe Clinic and truck customization company Monroe Truck Equipment, which did a project for the movie The Transformers a few years back. It serves as the trailhead city for the popular Cheese Country Trail, which runs 47 miles from Monroe to Mineral Point. It’s also a major stop along the Badger State Trail, which runs from Madison through Monroe to Freeport, Illinois – which means it’s not all in the Badger State.

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The Green County Courthouse in Monroe, surrounded by a bustling town square. Highway 81 used to come straight through town with Highway 11; it now angles around on the freeway bypass and heads northwest from the city. But you should definitely check out downtown.

Downtown Monroe offers a charming and rather bustling downtown square. Surrounding the impressive, Romanesque Green County Courthouse, are shops offering everything from boutique clothing to electronics. A stop in Baumgartner’s on the Square (1023 16th Ave., 608-325-6157) lets you sample more cheese and beer products made in the area, including a Limburger with mustard and onion served on rye bread. In the name of humanity, the dish is served with a mint on the side.

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bceiling_800Baumgartner’s is a cheese and sausage shop in the front, tavern and sandwich shop in the back. On the high ceiling above, check out the dollar bills hanging from the ceiling – which almost look like hibernating bats if you’re not looking closely! If you give them a dollar, they’ll use their special technique to “throw” it into the ceiling, where they’ll stick until Cheese Days every other year, when they take the bills down and donate them to a chosen charitable organization in the area. It’s worth the buck to watch it happen!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Monroe is the only place in North America where limburger cheese is currently produced. Wisconsin law makes it tough: it’s actually illegal to produce this cheese without a master cheesemaker’s certification.

Another good stop is the Minhas Craft Brewery, (1208 14th Ave., 608-325-3191), located just south and west of the town center. For a long time known as the Huber Brewery, it’s the second oldest continuously operating brewery in the U.S, brewing beer in one form or another since 1845 – three years before Wisconsin entered statehood. They were purchased by Mountain Crest Brewing Company, a Canadian outfit planning that expanded the Monroe facility (read about it in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story here). As it stands now, the brewery continues to brew Huber’s traditional beers: Premium (which won the Bronze in the 2002 World Beer Championships) Bock and Light, as well as a great old non-Huber-but-totally-Wisconsin throwback: Rhinelander Beer. Although Rhinelander’s original brewery shut down in 1967, Minhas has continued its recipe and now brews the beer in Monroe. The popular Canadian beer Mountain Creek is now brewed here – a result of the Mountain Crest investment – as are a few malt liquors. Tours are available at 11am, 1pm and 3pm Thursday through Saturday.

Downstairs, the Herb & Helen Haydock World of Beer Memorabilia Museum features historic and modern beer brand memorabilia from all over the country; it’s definitely worth dropping in! There’s also a gift shop and they’ve kept historical pictures to browse, along with other memorabilia highlighting the area’s brewing history.

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Monroe is also the home headquarters of the famous mail-order company (and prime source of cheese, meats, nuts and more) The Swiss Colony, which started here in 1926. The main building is right along Highway 69 on the south side on Monroe.

Out of downtown, heading south briefly on Highway 69 brings you to the Monroe Depot Welcome Center, part of Monroe’s original train depot. Outside, you’ll find the charm of a train station, a fiberglass cow and some large copper kettles. Inside, you’ll find visitor information, the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which has plenty of old tools cheesemakers used dating back to the 19th century, and original train depot materials, including old schedules, an original bench, photos and more.

Cows and kettles dot the landscape in front of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.monroedepot2_500

At lower left, an original typewriter and schedule from the days way back when the trains roared through here as part of the Depot Welcome Center; at lower right, some of the cheesemaking equipment in the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which is part of the Depot. Plenty of vats, weights, wringers, presses and old packaging that held cheeses made back in the 1800s.

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From Monroe, you can go west on 9th Street and then north on Highway 69 back to the Highway 11/81 bypass, where you can continue straight (and west-northwest) onto Highway 81 and it pushes deeper into southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.

The topography the rest of the way is one reason tourism is becoming a booming business in this part of the state. You’re leaving the cheese country of Green County and heading into Lafayette County, which has a long mining history. Shortly into the county and about 15 miles since Monroe, Highway 81 reaches Argyle (pop. 823). A Scotsman named Allen Wright founded the town in 1844, who named it after the Duke of Argyle. Here, Highway 78 intersects briefly with Highway 81 and crosses the river past the Argyle Power Plant into downtown. Turning north again, you’ll spot an F-86 Sabrejet Aircraft. Perched at an altitude of about 8 feet above ground, this aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in 1955 and demilitarized in 1970. Colonel Amos Waage, an Argyle native, obtained the plane and dedicated it to all military personnel from the area.

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The 2002-reconstructed bridge carrying Highways 81 & 78 into downtown Argyle blends nicely with the 1800-era power plant, where flour was milled using power from the East Branch of the Pecatonica River.

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Hovering over a park just north of Highway 81 along Highway 78 on Argyle’s north side, this F-86 Sabrejet serves as a dedication to local military personnel. It almost looks like you can walk up and touch it… and in fact, really really tall people can.

More twisting and turning dominates the drive along Highway 81 west of Argyle, over hills, into valleys and past a quarry or two. Next up is Lafayette County’s county seat, Darlington (pop. 2,418), which calls itself the “Pearl of the Pecatonica River”, harkening back to the time when people harvested clams out of the river, apparently to produce pearl button blanks. The whole area is drained by the Pecatonica River and its many tributaries, which carve out the beautiful hills and valleys characteristic of Lafayette County. Author Sylvan Muldoon, who was big on writing about out-of-body experiences, hailed from Darlington.

darlington_cardinaldarlington_shark Some notable animals in Darlington: a cardinal on the south end of town along Highway 81/23 and a shark emerging from a gas station both catch your attention right in the downtown area. Darlington’s school mascot is the “Redbirds”; not sure why the shark is there.
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Highway 81 through downtown Darlington. It’s a nice boulevard with plenty of parking, good architecture and shops to see on both sides. Highway 23 joins briefly through town.

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The Barber Shop Hotel, apparently in a former barber shop, is an example of Darlington’s small, inviting buildings that are being refurbished with historical touches.

Darlington’s restored downtown is a great place to stop and just walk around. Highway 81 hooks up with 23 briefly and proceeds as a little boulevard going through town, crossing the Cheese Country Trail (watch for plenty of ATVers and bikers) and providing plenty of parking for the boutiques, taverns and other points of interest in town. Pecatonica River Trails Park offers riverside camping. Downtown Darlington’s Main Street – which is Highway 23 & 81 – is lined with historic buildings and it’s worth a stop just to explore.

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Being the county seat of Lafayette County, Darlington sports a beautiful courthouse with a Tiffany glass rotunda on the hill above downtown along Highway 23, just north of Highway 81 and Darlington’s downtown.

Highway 81 hooks up with Highway 23 for the ride south out of Darlington; while 23 then heads south toward Highway 11, 81 breaks west and heads on a long straightaway path into Grant County, where it hooks up with Highway 80. After a crossing with the new expressway section of U.S. 151, you hit the town in Wisconsin with some of the state’s richest mining history.

Platteville
Platteville (pop. 9,989) is the largest city in Grant County and the primary college town in southwestern Wisconsin. Originally home to a teaching college and the Wisconsin Mining School, the two merged in 1959 and became part of the University of Wisconsin system in 1971. Today, UW-Platteville (UW-P for short) teaches over 6,000 students and features an engineering department respected around the world. UW-P launched some good basketball coaching careers too, including that of Rob Jeter (now at UW-Milwaukee) and of course Bo Ryan, who went to UW-Milwaukee and then UW-Madison, where he coached the Badgers to multiple Final Fours and even the National Championship game in 2015 (where they lost to Duke, of all teams… grumble grumble…).

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Highway 81 is just off Second Street, the main street downtown for students to relax, some (um, over 21s only) with various beverages in hand. The music scene is surprisingly robust in Platteville; taverns actually help fund some musical acts and one, known then as Envy, won MTV’s Best Bands on Campus Contest. Vibrant restaurants, galleries, and bars line the streets, with a State Trunk Tour favorite being Steve’s Pizza Palace (175 W. Main, 608-348-3136), which is right along Highway 81 downtown.

platteville_rollojamison01Platteville offers an arboretum and two museums. The Mining Museum traces the history of – you guessed it – mining throughout the Upper Mississippi valley. Models, artifacts, dioramas, pictures, and a guided tour complete with a walk into a real lead mine and a ride on a train (weather permitting) are offered. The Rollo Jamison Museum started with little Rollo Jamison collecting old arrowheads on his family farm in 1899. Over 20,000 items are now part of the museum’s collection, chronicling history of all kinds. Both museums are located just off Highway 81 along Main Street, which parallels Highway 81 one block north as it jogs onto Pine Street, right when it leaves Highway 80.

For a time, Platteville hosted the Chicago Bears’ summer camp on its UW-P campus and enjoyed the economic benefits that went with it, but they decided to move back to Illinois (friggin’ Bears.)

With the exception of a portion of downtown, the straight streets and grid systems often found in American cities and towns aren’t quite reflected in Platteville. A vast network of mines exist underneath the city, and streets were built in locations to avoid being directly on top of them – a good idea no doubt cooked up by engineering students. Highway 81 enters Platteville with Highway 80, then heads west along Pine Street, north on Chestnut, west on Adams and then northwest out of town along Lancaster Street. On the way to (surprise!) Lancaster.

Heading northwest out of Platteville, the ride is incredibly scenic, right down to the view to the east: the World’s Largest M.

The World's Largest M, on Platteville Mound

Had to zoom for distance, but the “World’s Largest M” on Platteville Mound is clearly visible when you’re on Highway 81 heading northwest out of Platteville.

More on this soon, as well as the rest of the trip through Lancaster to Cassville!

Cassville (pop. 947), a pleasant yet remote burg on the Mississippi River. Cassville is considered one of the best sites in the Midwest for viewing eagles, as this is a prime area for their migration. Cassville was originally settled in 1827 and was named after the Territorial Governor of the time, Lewis Cass (this was Michigan Territory at the time, by the way.) The fledgling burg threw its hat in the ring to become the capitol of Wisconsin Territory when it was first organized in 1836. While it failed in that regard, it attracted a new resident, Nelson Dewey. Drawn to Cassville from his native New York State, Dewey became Wisconsin’s first Governor when it became a state in 1848.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:

Cassville is the southernmost Wisconsin community located directly on the Mississippi River.

Cassville is also known for the Cassville Car Ferry (608-725-5180), which makes the run from Cassville to Turkey Creek, Iowa. It’s the only river crossing between Dubuque and Prairie du Chien, and still serves as the oldest operating ferry service in Wisconsin – Cassville has been served by a river ferry in some form or another since 1833. Click here for a schedule and fare information.

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While waiting for the ferry, you can swing along the Mississippi. That thing to the left is labeled “Steamboat Mooring Ring”, which I assume is either historical or people actually are running steamboats up and down the river still.

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Bathed in late afternoon sun, the Cassville Car Ferry makes one its daily trips across the Mississippi, as a ferry service has been doing here since 1833.

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Need the ferry? Flip the switch!

Cassville is a powerful place, too: a major power plant is located here, which provides both electricity and employment to the town (however, not too long ago there were two major power plants.) For recreation, relaxation, hiking or even camping, a great stop is Nelson Dewey State Park, which begins right across from Stonefield. The State Park covers 756 acres of Stonefield’s original 2,000 and offers bird watching, picnicking and six hiking trails. You can also find various Indian mounds. The park is just north of Cassville; follow County Highway VV just off Highway 133 and it will take you right to it.

Once into Cassville, Highway 81 ends at the Mississippi River and Highway 133, which also serves as the Great River Road. Highway 133 provides access to the Cassville Car Ferry via Crawford Street if you want to meander across the river to Iowa via ferry!

You can also head south on Highway 133 to Potosi to check out the Potosi Brewery and the National Brewery Museum, or north on Highway 133 to see Stonefield, a 2,000 acre historic site that was once the country estate of the aforementioned Nelson Dewey. When the house was completed in 1868, one Wisconsin newspaper described it as “the showplace of Wisconsin with its beautiful green lawns, gardens and orchards, stables and other buildings, and miles of stone fences.” The original home burned down in 1873, but it was rebuilt by General Walter Cass in the 1890s for his home, a building which still stands today. The land was acquired by the Wisconsin Conservation Commission in 1936, and the State designated the area a historic site in 1954. Today, it houses a cornucopia of historical treasures, including the State Agricultural Museum. Completed in 1971, the Museum houses Wisconsin’s largest collection of farm tools, models and machinery detailing Wisconsin’s agricultural history. There’s also a railroad display and a recreated farming village. Check it all out in greater detail here.

Highway 81 westbound's end at Highway 133 in Cassville.

Highway 81’s western terminus in Cassville, with the Mississippi River just ahead.

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Interstate 39, Interstate 90, Interstate 43
Can connect nearby to: Highway 67, about 2 miles south; U.S. Highway 51, about 3 miles west; Highway 213, about 3 miles west

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 133, the Great River Road
Can connect nearby to: Highway 35, about 12 miles east

80

STH-080“Hub City to the Point of Beginning”

WisMap80Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 80 starts (or ends, depending on how you look at it) at the “Point of Beginning”. Cosmic at that sounds, it’s really just the “zero point” from which the state of Wisconsin’s and is surveyed – although that’s pretty significant in itself. Its other terminus is just south of Marshfield, where it heads south just past the state’s geographic center in Pittsville – which it also runs through. Highway 80 cuts through numerous small towns, negotiates the Driftless Area, hits Platteville as it cruises by the World’s Largest “M”, and heads down to the aforementioned Point of Beginning along the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. We’ll follow it southward here from Marshfield to Illinois.

Wisconsin Highway 80 Road Trip

The Drive (North to South): Highway 80 begins near Marshfield, which we’ll add more details on shortly.

 

Highway 80 south begins

Highway 80 begins in this roundabout just south of Marshfield where U.S. 10 branches off toward Neillsville.

Highway 80 technically starts at a roundabout junction with U.S. 10, which connects west to Neillsville and the Twin Cities and east to Stevens Point and Appleton; we head south on what was Highway 13 for many years to a junction with Highway 73 and turn east, rolling through the farm fields and moraines of Wood County along the way.

After an easterly run combined with Highway 73, Highway 80 turns south into the heart of Pittsville (pop. 874), which bills itself as the “exact center of Wisconsin.” Proclaimed as such by Governor Kohler in 1952, surveyors have pinpointed the exact location – which sits on an island in the Yellow River that’s pretty tricky to access. A marker sits along County E just a few blocks west of Highway 80 in town that notes the exact center of the state lying 250 feet north of that point.

Pittsville, the center of Wisconsin along Highway 80

Pittsville’s claim to fame: you’re deeper into Wisconsin than any other place.

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You gotta find it just west of Highway 80, but this plaque makes it official that you’re right in the center of Wisconsin.

From Pittsville, continue south past Dexterville and cross Highway 54 to head into Juneau County, where the massive Necedah National Wildlife Refuge takes over to the west. Established in 1939, the Necedah N.W.R. is 43,696 acres located in the largest wetland bog in Wisconsin. Numerous rare or endangered species may be found in the Refuge, which played a key role in the reintroduction of the whooping crane and the gray wolf. Over 110 species of migratory birds and 44 species of butterflies (did you even know there were 44 species of butterflies??) along with a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and several threatened species like the Blanding’s turtle all get to hang out here. Hiking, fishing and berry-picking are just some of the activities one can participate in at Necedah.

Necedah Visitor Center sign

The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge can be accessed off Highway 21, just west of Highway 80.

Necedah NWR guide signs

Necedah is known as the “Land of the Yellow Water” due to the Yellow River flowing through (and no, it’s not a book by I.P. Daily.)

On the southeast end of the National Wildlife Refuge is the village of Necedah (pop. 916). Founded as an early lumber town on the banks of the Yellow River near Petenwell Rock, a popular climbing bluff, Necedah hosts a number of visitors from the National Wildlife Refuge as well as water lovers wishing to recreate on nearby Petenwell Lake. Petenwell Lake is a wide area of the Wisconsin River formed by a dam in 1948; it’s now the second largest lake in Wisconsin. The dam itself is just east of town along Highway 21, which intersects Highway 80 in downtown Necedah. Despite Necedah being home to NASCAR drivers Jim, Jay, Johnny, Tim and Travis Sauter, remember to obey the local speed limits. For something slower and more reflective, the Necedah Shrine (W5703 Shrine Road, 608-565-2617) is a Marian shrine officially called the “Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix Between God and Man Shrine.” They welcome visitors with free admission and an Information Center that is open from 10am-4pm daily.

A fork in the road follows a few miles south, where Highway 58 continues south to Mauston, the Juneau County seat. Follow the right fork to stay on Highway 80, cross I-90/94, and enter New Lisbon (pop. 2,554), which calls itself “The Friendly City.” U.S. 12 and Highway 16 (the I-90/94 equivalent before the freeway was built) intersects right downtown. The Burr Oak Winery just outside of town lets you stop and sample 18 wines (not necessarily all of them, but you have a lot to choose from) if you follow US 12/Highway 16 just south of town. Burr Oak is open 11am-5pm seven days a week.

New Lisbon is the birthplace of actor Kurtwood Smith, who played the nefarious Clarence Boddicker in Robocop and, more recently, the cantankerous Red Forman in “That 70’s Show.”Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and creator of Mosaic, the world’s first popular web browser, grew up here. Today, he serves as chairman of Opsware out in California.

Actor Kurtwood Smith was born in New Lisbon, Wisconsin.

Actor Kurtwood Smith was born in New Lisbon, Wisconsin. Here on “That 70’s Show,” he’s probably about to use the word “dumbass.”

Above: New Lisbon-born Kurtwood Smith, playing the prototypical 1970s Wisconsin father on “That 70’s Show”

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Kurtwood Smith (Red Forman in That 70’s Show, Clarence Boddicker in Robocop, and more) is the only actor on that Wisconsin-based show who is actually from Wisconsin.

From New Lisbon, Highway 80 heads south-southwest and ventures into Wisconsin’s unglaciated territory, a.k.a. the “Driftless Area”. Larger hills, bluffs, exposed rock and scenic vistas begin to dominate as you twist and turn to the town of Elroy (pop. 1,578). Elroy is the hometown of former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and is named after the son in “The Jetsons” (okay, I’m kidding on that second one.) It is, however, also where three major rail-to-trail routes meet: the Omaha Trail, which goes to Camp Douglas, the “400”, which goes to Reedsburg, and the “granddaddy” of them all, the Elroy-Sparta Trail, first of its kind, opened in 1967. Buffs of the 1980s who played the wildly popular game Trivial Pursuit may be interested to know that 30 million Trivial Pursuit games were produced in Elroy from 1983 to 1985 – which is practically a trivia question in itself. Along with a downtown strip featuring a great hobby shop, several bars and a number of craft store, there is also the Elroy Commons.

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Highways 80 & 82 go through downtown Elroy, while Highway 71 begins just north of it.

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Elroy Commons, once a train station and now a hub for bicyclists using the “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails.

Built in 1991, the Commons is where the Omaha, “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails meet and features an information center, gift shop, restrooms, showers and bike rentals. Rentals are $3 per hour or $12 per day. Schultz Park, a city facility, provides camping and RV facilities as well as a pool, tennis courts, volleyball, a children’s playground and more. If you plan on riding the trail(s) and making a day or two of it, Schultz Park is a good place to set up camp. If you prefer a motel, a number of them in Elroy and along the route cater to bicyclists.

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Downtown Elroy along Main Street is right along The Commons.

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Custom, creative bar signs are always a State Trunk Tour favorite. This is in Elroy.

Highway 82 joins 80 for the three miles south, paralleling the “400” Trail, to Union Center. There, Highway 33 joins in for about five more miles, into Vernon County and Hillsboro (pop. 1,417). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is a pleasant town that hosts the Cesky Den Festival every summer.

Hillsboro Brewing sign

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

A nice craft brew stop along Highway 82 in the heart of Hillsboro: the Hillsboro Brewing Company.

Hillsboro is home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, (608-489-7486), which launched in 2012. Home to notable craft brews like Joe’s Beer and the Leaping Lemur Cream Ale, Hillsboro offers cans and taps at their downtown pub location right at the main corner downtown. It’s a great old building that served as a shoe store and a slew of other businesses dating back to the 19th century, the last time Hillsboro had their own (legal) brewery. Due to growing demand, Hillsboro Brewing built a new facility called the 2E Brewery on the outskirts of town in fall 2018. Their newer brewery adds capacity and event space while keeping up with their growth.

HIllsboro Brewing at the corner of Highways 33, 80, and 82

The heart of downtown Hillsboro features the Hillsboro Brewing Company on its main corner, right along Highway 33.

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The Amish population is significant around Hillsboro along this stretch of Highway 80. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds.

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Above: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 80 (coupled with 33 and 82 here) is a large mouse holding groceries, which is better than a large mouse in your groceries, I suppose. Just a short distance later, another huge fiberglass mouse tells you about more available cheese. There should be no calcium deficiencies in this area.

In Hillsboro, Highways 82 and 33 split off to the west, while Highway 80 turns south again into Richland County.

The next twenty-five miles take you through some of Wisconsin’s most beautiful territory, along ridges and valleys, Beaver Creek and the Pine River. At Rockbridge, the Pier Natural Bridge Park features the Pine River running under a rock wall (hence, the “natural bridge” park part) and makes for a pleasant stop.

Next up is Richland Center (pop 5,114), which spans the Pine River. The pedestrian footbridge over the Pine, started in 1912 and rebuilt in 1951, is worth a walk to stretch your legs.  As Wisconsin’s designed Purple Heart City, Richland Center features a nice variety of historic buildings and Flag Park, which is just like it sounds. Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center in 1867; one of his designs resides in the town, the A.D. German Warehouse at 300 S. Church Street, two blocks east of Highway 80. Constructed in 1921, the first two floors are open for visitors to explore on Sundays from 10am-2pm, May through October.

Oh, and ever heard of GTE? You know, the massive telecommunications company? It traces its beginning to Richland Center. It started as the Richland Center Telephone Company back in 1918, became Commonwealth Telephone in 1920 and – after an ambitious acquisition program – General Telephone Company in 1935, as it grew from just a few thousand subscribers over half a million. By 1969, it had become General Telephone & Electronics Corporation (GTE), acquired Sylvania Electric, and was the largest independent telephone company in the U.S., though it had long moved its headquarters. In 2000, it became part of Verizon where its remains remain to this day. There’s a marker about this; you’ll find it along U.S. 14 on the west side of Richland Center near W. 6th Street.

More of Richland Center can be discovered at the Richland County Visitor Center, located in a former 1909 train depot along U.S. 14, just a few blocks west of Highway 80. It includes information on the suffrage history of Richland Center – a legacy that includes a visit from Susan B. Anthony in 1886 and activity from local suffragist Ada James, who also has an historic marker in her name along U.S. 14 on the west side, not far from the Visitor Center. Meanwhile, Highway 80 crosses U.S. Highway 14 in Richland Center and from there it twists and turns toward Highway 60 before crossing the Wisconsin River.

Over the river (and kinda through the woods – no sign of grandmother’s house), you enter Muscoda (pop. 1,408), the “Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin.” In fact, Muscoda hosts the Annual Morel Mushroom Festival in May, complete with a mushroom contest (biggest, smallest, most unique, most in cluster, things like that.) The town’s name is pronounced “MUS-co-day” and its meaning is derived from an Ojibwa term for “prairie” or “prairie flowers” – but it’s the morels that give Muscoda the most distinction.

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They look like sponges from the sea, but these morels are tasty mushrooms that many top chefs consider a prime delicacy.

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Hard to pass up a place that instructs you to “EAT.” Vicki’s sits right along Highway 80 in downtown Muscoda under the towering water tower.

The Wisconsin River Canoe Race also takes place in July, where canoers race from as far away as Spring Green, about 21 miles upstream. Once known as English Prairie, Muscoda is bisected by Highway 80 before the road joins Highway 133 and heads east into Iowa County.

After paralleling the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway for several miles, Highway 133 continues east while Highway 80 turns south once again and follows ridges and valleys south to Cobb (pop. 442), where you turn west once again along U.S. Highway 18 to Montfort (pop. 663). In between, you’ll see about 30 massive wind turbines, part of the state’s effort to move toward renewable energy. About 52,000 megawatt-hours are generated annually just from the – as Dylan might put it – “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

From Montfort on south, Highway 80 straddles the Iowa-Grant County line for a while before swinging fully into Grant County. Looking to the east, eventually you may spot a massive “M” on a hillside known as Platte Mound. Visible for miles and miles, the World’s Largest “M” is essentially a historic monument completed by UW-Platteville engineering students in 1937. It is constructed of rocks arranged 241 feet high and 214 feet wide and looks at the land from a 45-degree angle on Platte Mound. It’s an easy sign that you’re approaching the largest city along Highway 80.

Platteville (pop. 9,989) is the largest city in Grant County and the primary college town in Southwestern Wisconsin. Originally home to a teaching college and the Wisconsin Mining School, the two merged in 1959 and became part of the University of Wisconsin system in 1971. Today, UW-Platteville (UW-P for short) teaches over 6,000 students and features an engineering department respected around the world. UW-P launched some good basketball coaching careers too, including that of Rob Jeter (now at UW-Milwaukee) and of course Bo Ryan, who went to UW-Milwaukee and then UW-Madison, where he coached the Badgers to multiple Final Fours and even the National Championship game in 2015 (Duke… grumble grumble…).

Highway 80 is just off Second Street, the main street downtown for students to relax, some (um, over 21s only) with various beverages in hand. The music scene is surprisingly robust in Platteville; taverns actually help fund some musical acts and one, known then as Envy, won MTV’s Best Bands on Campus Contest.

Platteville offers an arboretum and two museums, the Mining Museum and the Rollo Jamison Museum. The Mining Museum traces the history of – you guessed it – mining throughout the Upper Mississippi valley. Models, artifacts, dioramas, pictures, and a guided tour complete with a walk into a real lead mine and a ride on a train (weather permitting) are offered. The Rollo Jamison Museum started with little Rollo Jamison collecting old arrowheads on his family farm in 1899. Over 20,000 items are now part of the museum’s collection, chronicling history of all kinds. Both museums are located just east of Highway 80 along Main Street.

For a time, Platteville hosted the Chicago Bears’ summer camp on its UW-Platteville campus and enjoyed the economic benefits that went with it, but they decided to move back to Illinois (friggin’ Bears, you were helping the economy over here! Why would you want to spend more time in Illinois??)

The straight streets and grid systems often found in American cities and towns aren’t quite reflected in Platteville. A vast network of mines exist underneath the city, and streets were built in locations to avoid being directly on top of them – a good idea no doubt cooked up by engineering students. In the city, Highway 80 meets up with Highway 81 for the ride south out of town. U.S. Highway 151 is now a 4-lane expressway around Platteville’s south side, providing faster access than ever to Dubuque and Madison.

Highway 81 leaves and heads east after a few miles while Highway 80 continues south into the “City of Presidents”, Cuba City (pop. 2,074). Why is it called as such? Well, Cuba City erected a series of presidential shields for the 1976 Bicentennial and things just kind of took off from there. Watch for banners honoring each American President as you go through town.

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Old-style pumps adorn this Texaco station just outside Hazel Green along Highway 80.

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We’ll have to go back and see if some more industry has developed in this industrial park.

South of Hazel Green, Highway 11 comes in from the east and joins 80 into Hazel Green (pop. 1,183), which calls itself the “Point of Beginning.” Hazel Green hosts a number of bed & breakfasts and antique stores and served, in the 1800s, as lodging for land surveyors.

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This survey marker indicates the exact location of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line, effectively allowing Packers and Bears fans to know which side of the line to stay on.

The Point of Beginning in question is located along the Fourth Principal Meridian (also the Grant-Lafayette County boundary) at the Wisconsin-Illinois state line, one-half mile east of the southern terminus of Highway 80 as it barrels into Illinois. What’s so significant about it? Well, all property in Wisconsin – from Superior to Kenosha and East Dubuque to Marinette – is surveyed from this point. Surveyors began public land surveys here in 1832 and today every public boundary in the state, from counties to cities to farms and lots and the positions of roads, lakes and streams are all mapped from this point.

Fittingly, it’s also the point of ending for this State Trunk Tour tour of Highway 80. Now, it’s normally not State Trunk Tour policy to endorse out-of-state locations, but Galena, Illinois is pretty darn nice and it’s only a few miles down the road on Illinois Highway 84. Enjoy, and then get back to Wisconsin!

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CONNECTIONS
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 10
Can connect nearby to: Highway 13, about 3 miles north or 4 miles north and east; Highway 97, about 3 miles north; Highway 73, about 10 miles south

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Illinois Highway 84
Can connect nearby to: Highway 11, about 2 miles north

Highway 78 in Sauk County
78

STH-078“Pecatonica to Portage, with Trolls and Ferrys in Between”

 

Southern terminus: Lafayette County, at the Illinois state line 7 miles south of Gratiot

Eastern terminus: Columbia County, at the I-90/94/39 junction south of Portage

Mileage: about 93 miles

Counties along the way: Lafayette, Iowa, Green, Dane, Sauk, Columbia

Sample towns along the way: Gratiot, Argyle, Blanchardville, Mt. Horeb, Black Earth, Prairie du Sac, Sauk City, Merrimac

Bypass alternates at: Prairie du Sac

WisMap78Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 78 runs through some of Wisconsin’s hilliest terrain. From the history-rich areas in Lafayette County, to expanse views at the Blue Mounds, having trolls salute you through Mount Horeb and navigating valleys through Black Earth to the Sauk Prairie area along the Wisconsin River, to the breathtaking views and terrain around Devils Lake State Park and access to some good skiing and rock-climbing, Highway 78 makes for a nice drive in any season.

The Wisconsin Highway 78 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 78 comes into Wisconsin from the Illinois state line, where it’s also Highway 78 going south to Warren and Jacksonville, Illinois.

It’s interesting to note Warren, IL, just Pecatonica Beer Companysouth of Wisconsin, hosts the Tap Room of a Wisconsin brewery: the . Pecatonica, named for the river that runs through it, has its offices on the Wisconsin side of Highway 78; the beers they make can be enjoyed along the same highway, just south of the border in Illinois. So try a tap on the Illinois side, and then (responsibly) hit Highway 78 for the ride into our favorite state!

In Wisconsin, Highway 78 enters the state just past a railroad bridge and through fairly open terrain for a little while before hitting its first town, Gratiot (pop. 252). For bikers, hikers, ATV riders and snowmobilers, this is where the Cheese Country Trail stops paralleling Highway 11 from Monroe and starts heading northwest to Mineral Point. Several bars and establishments, including a nice park, serve those recreational riders and State Trunk Tourers.

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Ducking under a railroad trestle in Illinois, Highway 78 comes into Wisconsin in a wide-open area between Warren and Gratiot. For the 93 mile stretch this “trunk tour” lasts, this is about as flat as the land gets.

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Gratiot is the first village along Highway 78 in Wisconsin, where 252 residents and several watering holes host Cheese Country Trail recreationalists and State Trunk Tourers using Highway 78 and/or 11.

Whether you stop in Gratiot or not, Highway 78 turns east and joins Highway 11 for a very brief stint before breaking north again and beginning one of its nicest stretches. Lots of long vistas and pleasant stretches await on this section, which brings you north through Wiota and along stretches of the picturesque Pecatonica (try saying that fast five times) River, with the valleys that go with it. The road winds up, over and around many hills and valleys, sometimes giving you a view of the road a few miles ahead.

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Narrow and curvy stretches define this stretch as you wind around the Pecatonica River, greeting many farms along the way. Hordes of cows often cluster close to the road; they rarely respond to people who yell “Mooooo!” out the window, but sometimes one gets lucky.

78vista_600Narrow and curvy stretches define this stretch as you wind around the Pecatonica River, greeting many farms along the way. Hordes of cows often cluster close to the road; they rarely respond to people who yell “Mooooo!” out the window, but sometimes one gets lucky.

A crossing over the East Branch of the Pecatonica happens at Argyle (pop. 823), the largest town between Mount Horeb and Illinois along Highway 78. A Scotsman named Allen Wright founded the town in 1844, who named it after the Duke of Argyle. Here, Highway 78 intersects briefly with Highway 81 and crosses the river past the Argyle Power Plant into downtown. Turning north again, you’ll spot an F-86 Sabrejet Aircraft. Perched at an altitude of about 8 feet above ground, this aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in 1955 and demilitarized in 1970. Colonel Amos Waage, an Argyle native, obtained the plane and dedicated it to all military personnel from the area.

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The 2002-reconstructed bridge carrying Highways 81 & 78 into downtown Argyle blends nicely with the 1800-era power plant, where flour was milled using power from the East Branch of the Pecatonica River.

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Hovering over a park just north of Highway 81 along Highway 78 on Argyle’s north side, this F-86 Sabrejet serves as a dedication to local military personnel. It almost looks like you can walk up and touch it… and in fact, really really tall people can.

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Highway 78 climbs and descends a lot of hills as its makes its way across Lafayette County, affording nice views like this one just outside Blanchardville.

The next town is Blanchardville (pop. 806), whose downtown strip features a series of 1840s and 1850s-era structures nestled in a pleasant valley. Originally founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), it was named Zarahemla at first. Mormon settlers mined lead – a popular economic engine at the time – and built the first mill in 1840. A newbie named Alvin Blanchard moved to the area in 1856 and eventually platted a village that now bears his name.

Blanchardville hugs the northeast corner of Lafayette County, and as Highway 78 departs the village and heads through McPeace Valley, you also nick corners of Iowa and Green Counties before entering Dane County and heading into Daleyville.

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A large church near Daleyville, at one of many tight turns Highway 78 takes along this stretch.

Through and past Daleyville, the Blue Mounds come into view to the north by northwest (with apologies to Alfred Hitchcock). At 1,719 feet above sea level, the western mound is the highest point in Wisconsin’s southern half. Just after crossing the “new” U.S. 18/151, a 4-lane expressway connecting Madison with points west and southwest, Highway 78 reaches the “old” U.S. 18/151, now known as County ID. Right goes into Mount Horeb via Highway 78; left brings a good side trip involving mounds, hills, caves, skiing and Norwegians.

Brief side trip: Just west of Highway 78 and Mount Horeb, follow County ID (the original U.S. 18/151 highway) for some terrific attractions in close proximity. Skiing opportunities abound at Tyrol Basin (3487 Bahn Rd., 608-437-4135), where expert skiiers can enjoy the black diamond runs while beginners at skiing or snowboarding can try the Gentle Ben Progression Park, with “gentle” ways to immerse yourself and practice before taking on the bigger runs.

cavemoundsvc1_800If you prefer interior spaces, check out Cave of the Mounds (608-437-3038), which sat under the site of Dane County’s first white settler but wasn’t discovered until workers accidentally blasted into it in 1939 while quarrying limestone. Perpetually at 50 degrees, the cave features guided tours past crystal formations and stalagtites; you can also mine for gemstones or rise back to the surface to walk the nature trails or check out the rock gardens.

If you want to go a few more miles off track, visit the highest point in southern Wisconsin: Blue Mound, in Blue Mound State Park. At 1,716 feet above sea level, it offers quite a view.

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The view from Blue Mound is remarkable. And the top of the hill is great for a picnic.

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Heading into Mount Horeb on Highway 78, alpacas and llamas were spotted, some available for sale. They’re fun to look at, and seemed to enjoy the view on a nice, relaxing Saturday.

Trollin’ The Trollway. Mount Horeb (pop. 7,009 and “Troll Capital of the World”) itself is a charming town with a strong Norwegian heritage. And trolls – lots of trolls. Trolls line the main street (which is called “The Trollway” and is part of Highway 78) and have names like the Chicken Thief, the Accordion Player, the Peddler and one called “Little Pisser” for reasons we won’t get into. The Trollway is also home to a wide variety of shops and B&Bs.

Mount Horeb is home to the flagship store of the Duluth Trading Company (100 West Main Street, 608-437-8655), which includes the Wally Keller Tool Museum, which shows you how everything was done a few years – or a century-plus – back using tools of the time. It’s right on Main Street.

grumpytroll_500Brewpub Alert. Just off the Trollway – and Highway 78 – is the Grumpy Troll. Their brews include the Amnesia Baltic Porter, which just won a Gold Medal at the World Beer Cup. That’s just part of a long line of awards they’ve won, since previous awards have been bestowed upon their English Brown Ale, Trailside Wheat (probably named after the nearby Military Ridge Trail, I’ll get confirmation on another visit), Norwegian Wit, Curly Scotch Ale, Spetsnaz Stout and Maggie Imperial IPA. It was rated one of the 50 Best Brewpubs worldwide for 2008, a distinction held by only one other in Wisconsin. Growlers are a popular way to take the beers to go. They also have a $5 martini menu featuring items like the Cosmi-troll-itan and the I’m Just Happy To See You, which involves banana (inquire further when you go.) Tours are available by appointment by calling 608-437-2739.

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Highway 78 is the main drag (or the “Trollway”, if you will) through Mount Horeb.

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A State Trunk Tour favorite, Dee’s Cheese & More in Mount Horeb.

Another nice little stop is Dee’s Cheese ‘N More (504 E. Main, 608-437-DEES), a cute little store featuring over 90 cheese varieties, ice cream from UW-Madison’s Babcock Hall, sausages a’plenty and other sundry treats. Does your back hurt? First tip: don’t drive with your wallet in your back pocket… it can throw off your back’s alignment. Second tip: a chiropractor might help, and Mount Horeb actually has the largest chiropractic clinic in the United States, the Gonstead Clinic of Chiropractic. It’s on the east side of town along Business U.S. 18 & 151, just past the roundabout on the east end of town where you also intersect Highway 92, which heads south towards Brooklyn – the Wisconsin one. Meanwhile, Highway 78 heads north again into some fun topography.

As you wind through the Vermont Valley and a series of hills, past quarries and expansive vistas, it’s hard to believe you’re in Dane County, with Madison’s western sprawling growth only about ten miles to the east. There’s not much that’s man-made on this stretch, and although that will undoubtedly change in the coming years, it’s a great drive right now.

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From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Find Along the State Trunk Tour” Dept: the Tin Man. He’s got some mail for ya.

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Between Mount Horeb and Black Earth, Highway 78 is nestled cozily in valleys and does a lot of twisting and turning, perfect for the bike or car.

Eventually, you reach Black Earth (pop. 1,320). Renamed in the 1850s as “Farmersville” for a brief spell, in 1857 it was changed back to Black Earth and it became the second incorporated village in Dane County, after that one place called Madison. Highway 78 is basically the main street running up downtown Black Earth, with County KP serving as a main crossroad; it was the former path of U.S. Highway 14, which was rerouted further north several decades back. You reach U.S. 14 and The Shoe Box, the largest shoe store in the Midwest and one of the largest shoe stores in the country – over 300,000 pairs are regularly in stock. Step inside and there’s room after room with shoes everywhere. There’s also more references to baseball than you can shake a boot at. Steve Schmitt, the owner, is not only a passionate St. Louis Cardinals fan, but the owner of the Madison Mallards, a Northwoods League team that plays at Warner Park on the north side of Madison along Highway 113. So if you’re into both shoes and baseball, this place is like Disneyland.

blackearthcoop_300aThe oldest cooperative in the nation started in Black Earth, resulting in a store for farmers that opened in 1894 and lasted exactly 100 years. A marker saluting it is right along Highway 78 (pictured, right).

Highway 78 follows U.S. 14 west out of Black Earth for just a few miles and turns northeast. This happens just before Mazomanie, right at a popular baseball and bikers’ bar called Rookies. If you thought a baseball theme was noticeable back at the Show Box, you won’t believe its presence at Rookies. Sports memorabilia is here in incredible abundance (same owner, so no surprise there). Check this out:

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Top: Rookie’s features a mini-baseball field, used for whiffleball, with a great ballpark look and a rather nice view behind it. Center and Lower: The bar is in the front, the restaurant is in the back and the men’s bathroom (above, center) could keep you in there for hours, for the right reasons. I was going to check out the women’s restroom but thought better of it eventually.

19ebstart_800From this point, Highway 19 begins and runs along with Highway 78 for about a mile before breaking east across Dane County towards Sun Prairie and, eventually, Watertown. Meanwhile, Highway 78 heads north again, where the influence of the Wisconsin River begins to show. Some lowlands line the area to the west and there’s good access to hunting grounds. Eventually, you hit U.S. Highway 12, now a full 4-lane highway coming in from Madison. Highway 78 joins U.S. 12 to cross the river.

 

***BYPASS ALERT***
Where Highway 78 meets U.S. 12, you have an option to bypass Sauk City and Prairie du Sac by angling south very briefly and catching Highway 188, which parallels Highway 78’s run from Sauk City to Merrimac, but on the east side of the Wisconsin River. You skip the two towns and can access the Wollersheim Winery, about 4 miles north of U.S. 12. You can rejoin Highway 78 via Highway 60 into Prairie du Sac or Highway 113 via the Merrimac Ferry.

With U.S. 12, Highway 78 crosses the Wisconsin River into Sauk City (pop. 3,019), Wisconsin’s oldest incorporated village (1854) and site of the first Culver’s restaurant ever (1984). Culver’s headquarters, meanwhile, is in Prairie du Sac. Don’t ever question putting butter on a burger around here. Sauk City and its neighbor, Prairie du Sac (pop. 3,231), are essentially twin cities and collectively the area is called Sauk Prairie. Highway 78 splits from U.S. 12 and goes through the heart of both towns combined with Highway 60 along the Wisconsin River’s western bank. This is Eagle Country, where bald eagles – and maybe even some with hair – can be regularly spotted.

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The Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac features great fishing, scenic terrain and good eagle-watching.

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Sauk City’s downtown features several sports bars, including the Press Box – illustrated quite vividly on its facade.

After Highway 60 breaks away and heads east toward Lodi, Highway 78 continues northeast, following a mile or two off the Wisconsin River in the Sauk County countryside. Just to the northwest in much of this area is the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, the largest of its kind in the world when it was constructed in 1941-1942. It provided thousands upon thousands of jobs in wartime, from World War II through Korea and Vietnam. Everything from rocket propellant, smokeless powder and gun powder protection to testing for weapons and chemicals took place at Badger. The U.S. Army declared Badger to be excess to its needs in 1997, and is being split among six parties ranging from the Ho-Chunk Nation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the State Department of Transportation.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
When it opened in 1942, the Badger Army Ammunition Plant – then called Badger Ordnance Works – was the largest in the world. It displaced hundreds of farmers for construction and employed 6,600 workers during its peak time during World War II.

Great access to Devil’s Lake State Park (608-356-8301) can be found just up Highway 113, which comes in from Baraboo. Devil’s Lake has over 1.2 million visitors every year, and why not? It features spectacular landforms and phenomenal hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, camping and more across its almost 10,000-acre landscape.

devilsdoorway_599x398Right: Devil’s Lake State Park, just off Highway 78 via Highway 113 north, offers spectacular scenery and a ton of things to do, much of which involves rocks.

Highway 78 heads straight east to Merrimac (pop. 416) and the Merrimac Ferry, the last remaining ferry on the State Trunk Highway system. The Merrimac Ferry began as a toll ferry in 1924, becoming free in 1933. It has been ever since. The Colsac III, launched in 2003, is the third boat (hence the “III”) to serve this run and can accommodate 15 cars at a time. Expect a pretty hefty line during summer weekend days, especially in August. They’ll take care of you, though: vendors offer ice cream and other ways to enjoy the day, even when you have to sit and wait. The Merrimac Ferry generally runs from about April 15 through the end of November. You can always call them at (608) 246-3871 to check availability and wait times.

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Approaching the Merrimac Ferry; we’re about to be “on a boat.”

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Awaiting the ferry on the Merrimac side. You can drive your car onto the ferry to head across, or simply tag along as a pedestrian. A round trip takes about 14 minutes.

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The Colsac III on its run toward the Columbia County side of the river; this is part of Highway 113.

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Checking out the side of the road along Highway 113… it’s a little wet from the ferry. The railroad bridge frames your view to the east. It’s pretty cool to watch when a train is crossing, too.

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Staying on Highway 78 past Merrimac, you can access Devil’s Head Ski Resort, which offers great skiing and golfing. Unlike the Merrimac Ferry, though, it’s not free. Highway 78 winds around a lot at this point, and farms are plentiful. You enter Columbia County along this stretch, with the Baraboo Range to your north and northwest. It’s a nice view as you head toward the three interstates that await you.

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Highway 78 requires frequent use of the steering wheel as you wind along the edge of the Baraboo Range.

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One of my favorite animals along any State Trunk Tour. We named him Wolfgang. Here he his posing for a picture, saying, “Dude, are ya done with the pictures? I’m tryin’ to graze here…”

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As seen along many state highways, old buildings that once served as farms, houses or outbuildings, deserted years ago, are being overtaken by nature once again.

Highway 78 used to continue north into Portage to meet U.S. 51. When I-39 was designated in the 1990s, though, they pulled the north end back to the interchange with I-90/94. There’s a massive Petro at this interchange, where there’s trucks a’plenty 24 hours a day. You can reach faraway places quickly, what with quick access to three interstates. You also have quick access to skiing at Cascade Mountain, just to the west, and everything in Portage, just by continuing north. Via the freeways, Madison is only 40 minutes away, Milwaukee’s an hour and 45 minutes, Wausau is less than 2 hours and the Wisconsin Dells are only about 15 minutes. Enjoy!

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CONNECTIONS:
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-39, I-90, I-94
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 51, about 8 miles north; Highway 16, about 5 miles north; Highway 33, about 2 miles north

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Illinois Highway 78
Can connect nearby to: Highway 11, about 7 miles north

 

71

STH-071“The Road Along the World’s First Rail To Trail”

 

WisMap71Western terminus: Jackson County, at Highway 54 in Melrose (running concurrently with Highway 108)

Eastern terminus: Juneau County, at the junction with Highways 80 & 82 in Elroy

Mileage: about 54 miles

Counties along the way: Juneau, Monroe, La Crosse (brushing the corner), Jackson

Sample towns along the way: Elroy, Kendall, Wilton, Norwalk, Sparta, Melrose

Bypass alternates at: Sparta

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 71 is probably best known by bikers for its location paralleling the famous Elroy-Sparta Trail, the first “rail-to-trail” project in the nation. Winding over and around impressive landscapes in Wisconsin’s “unglaciated” territory (referred to locally as “Hill Country”), Highway 71 is short enough – and yet interesting enough – to make for a good afternoon drive.

Wisconsin Highway 71 Road Trip

The Drive (Southeast to Northwest): Highway 71 begins in Elroy (pop. 1,578) at the junction with Highways 80 and 82. Elroy is the hometown of Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and Secretary of Health & Human Services; the town is named after the son in “The Jetsons” (okay, I’m kidding on the Jetsons one.) Buffs of the 1980s who played the wildly popular game Trivial Pursuit may be interested to know that 30 million Trivial Pursuit games were produced in Elroy from 1983 to 1985 – which is practically a trivia question in itself. It’s also where three major rail-to-trail routes meet: the Omaha Trail, which goes to Camp Douglas, the “400”, which goes to Reedsburg, and the “granddaddy” of them all, the Elroy-Sparta Trail. The Elroy-Sparta was the first rail-to-trail project opened in the United States and has welcome bicyclists since 1967. Along with a downtown strip featuring a great hobby shop, several bars and a number of craft store, there is also the Elroy Commons.

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Highway 71’s Elroy end is right where you get welcomed, at Highways 80 and 82.

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Highways 80 & 82 go through downtown Elroy, while Highway 71 begins just north of it.

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Elroy Commons, once a train station and now a hub for bicyclists using the “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails.

Built in 1991, the Commons is where the Omaha, “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails meet and features an information center, gift shop, restrooms, showers and bike rentals. Rentals are $3 per hour or $12 per day. Schultz Park, a city facility, provides camping and RV facilities as well as a pool, tennis courts, volleyball, a children’s playground and more. If you plan on riding the trail(s) and making a day or two of it, Schultz Park is a good place to set up camp. If you prefer a motel, a number of them in Elroy and along the route cater to bicyclists. Highway 71 basically follows the trail for its entire length and serves as a shuttle route as well as a road alternate for bikers, so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of people on two wheels on this route.

Elroy Commons

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Since it’s a historic trail, the Elroy-Sparta gets its own historic marker.

From Elroy, Highway 71 meanders up, over and around hills in a generally northwestern direction. The bike trail generally parallels the road, sometimes close and sometimes a mile or more away. And just like the trail, Highway 71 takes you through the heart of several small towns that once lived by the railroad.

The first town (and stop along the trail) is Kendall (pop. 469). Kendall offers the Elroy-Sparta Trail’s Headquarters, a facility open May 1 – October 31 each year.

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Leaving Kendall, the Elroy-Sparta Trail crosses Highway 71 while the road prepares to tackle some big hills. The trail will be tackling some tunnels.

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The stretch between Kendall and Wilton is only about six miles, but it gives you the best sense of this territory; steep hills, bluffs, beautiful valleys and attractive farm settings abound.

Just in from Tomah, Highway 131 hooks up with 71 for several miles into Wilton (pop. 509), which bills itself as the “Heart of the Trail.” A store and several bars are available for pit stops whether driving or biking. At Wilton, 131 heads off toward the Kickapoo Valley while Highway 71 heads toward more climbs over large hills. In fact, at the crest of the hill where 71 intersects with Keats Road, you’re actually over Tunnel #2 of the Elroy-Sparta Trail.

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The Amish population is strong in this area; definitely watch for one- or two-horsepower wagons ambling down Highway 71 and nearby roads. In downtown Wilton, you’ll find some colorful murals that add a splash to this little hamlet.

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Beneath this hilltop, bikers brandish flashlights while heading through tunnel #2 of the Elroy-Sparta Trail.

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A bluff provides background to this church tower rising over Wilton in this view from Highway 71 approaching the town.

Norwalk (pop. 653) features a park along the Elroy-Sparta Trail junction along with a grocery store and Diamond Lil’s Saloon, popular with the motorcyclists who use Highway 71 as a major touring route.

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Diamond Lil’s Trail Saloon in Norwalk, a popular stop for bicyclists on the trail and motorcycles on Highway 71.

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Norwalk’s junction with the Elroy-Sparta Trail features a park, a hot dog stand and nearby a nearby grocery store.

From Norwalk to Sparta is 13 miles of winding between hills rather than over them, with the exception of one long drop (or climb, if you’re heading in the other direction).

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After crossing over I-90, you reach Sparta (pop. 8,648), the Bicycling Capital of America. Sparta is the main town for about twenty miles around; that coupled with hosting Fort McCoy and the bike tourists means a commercial strip through town where you can get just about anything. Joining Highway 16, Highway 71 goes through this commercial strip as it also crosses Highway 21, which goes into Sparta’s main downtown area, and Highway 27, which it joins on the way out of town.

Sparta lies at the other end of the Elroy-Sparta Trail (obviously) and at that location, in Sparta’s old train depot, you can also pick up the La Crosse River Trail, which continues west toward the Mississippi.

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At the Sparta Depot, a group of bikers begin the 32-mile trek toward Elroy.

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The town’s enthusiastic support of bicycling extends to street name signs that bear bike symbols. Numerous motels and B&B’s cater to the cycling crowd while downtown establishments offer supplies for your bike and sustenance for your tummy.

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The Deke Slayton Museum, chock full of bikes and space exhibits.

On top of bikes, Sparta has a number of attractions. Some kids who grow up in Sparta leave for big cities; Deke Slayton left for Earth’s upper atmosphere. The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum honors the astronaut, native son, and head of NASA Operations from 1963 to 1972. And that fiberglass hippo, whose mouth you putt golf balls into while playing mini-golf? Chances are, it was made in Sparta at the FAST Corp. (FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks.)

spartaphantFAST does business all over the world, and few companies like it exist. A drive into their lot yields a sprawling field filled with fiberglass fun: large cows, alligators, elephants that double as childrens’ slides… the list goes on. You may traverse the field and marvel at their creations, as long as you behave and don’t climb on anything. Their lot can be found by following Highway 21 to the northeast edge of town, at the junction with County Highway Q. Look for giant fiberglass things.

FAST’s work is particularly evident in its hometown. The statue of a man on a bicycle that announces your entrance into Sparta along Highway 71 and the Clydesdale outside of the local Budweiser distributor are just two of the many pieces you can find in the area.

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Made locally, “Ben Biken” greets you to the Bicycling Capital of America along Highway 71 & 16.

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From Sparta, Highway 71 continues, multiplexed with Highway 27, northward toward Melrose. After about 10 miles, 27 branches off toward Black River Falls; Highway 71 heads back on a northwesterly course. Just after that split, you approach Wegner Grotto County Park, a nice art display of concrete sculptures decorated with glittering pieces of glass, seashells, Indian arrowheads, and other augmentations.

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Above: A mere sample of the concrete and glass artwork on display at Wegner Grotto.

The drive toward Melrose consists not of major hill climbs or even rolling hills; one might better describe it as a series of little lumps. At the junction with Highway 162 at Four Corners, look south; you’re about 400 feet away from La Crosse County’s northeast corner and the sign is visible from the intersection. Meanwhile, you cross into Jackson County on Highway 71, with the hills and bluffs along the Mississippi River visible in the distance.

Joining Highway 108, 71 heads north across the Black River approaching Melrose (pop. 529). Highway 71 comes to an end at the junction with Highway 54. You can use 54 to head west toward Winona, Minnesota, or northeast toward Black River Falls.

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After crossing the Black River, the two highways combine for the ride to the northern end, at a junction with Highway 54 approaching tiny Melrose (pop. 503). You can use 54 to head west toward Winona, Minnesota, or northeast toward Black River Falls.

One suggestion: double back and follow Highway 108 through the gorgeous Mindoro Cut! West Salem and La Crosse are on the other side.

CONNECTIONS:
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 80, Highway 82
Can connect nearby to: Highway 33, about 4 miles south

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 54, Highway 108
Can connect nearby to: Highway 27, about 7 miles east

Wisconsin Highway 60 along the Lower Wisconsin River Road
60

STH-060“Coast-to-Coast from a former port on Lake Michigan to a very old fort along the Mississippi”

WisMap60Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 60 is one of Wisconsin’s “coast to coast” routes. It runs from just west of the Lake Michigan shore in the well-to-do northern suburbs of Milwaukee to the Iowa state line over the Mighty Mississippi at Prairie du Chien (French for “prairie of the dog”, which is not the same as “hair of the dog”). It’s a major connector highway from Grafton to Hartford and also serves as a very scenic route along the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Sac to Prairie du Chien as the Lower Wisconsin River Road. Interestingly enough, between these two towns it’s more hills and valleys than open prairie…

Wisconsin Highway 60 Road Trip

The Drive (East to West):

Highway 60 begins in Ozaukee County at some railroad tracks in Ulao. Never heard of it? Well, Ulao barely exists anymore and is the inland twin to an abandoned port town from the 1800s.

It’s easy to find, right off the I-43/Highway 32/57 interchange with Highway 60 at the edge of rapidly-growing Grafton. Old and new sit right next to each other: there’s a huge Colder’s Furniture showroom gallery, a shopping complex anchored by a Target with chain restaurants, and a freeway interchange right next to the old railroad and the junction it spawned. Highway 60 is the beginning of what was to be a turnpike from Port Ulao on Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin River, which eventually runs into Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. So this would have been major connection.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Port Ulao once hosted a 1,000-foot pier to supply Lake Michigan boats with wood; it’s also where the first Macadam road in the country was built.

You can buzz east real quick from Highway 60’s eastern end and follow County Road Q to the lakefront, where on foot you can discover the original piles that made the piers of Port Ulao, although watch for lots of private property owners in the area. Ulao itself was established along the railroad tracks when they were built through in 1873, where Highway 60 begins today. Ulao lives on with an original building from the time, which is now Juice’s Ghost Town Tavern (the “ghost town” being Ulao, of course) and this cool little Wisconsin tavern and restaurant is a State Trunk Tour favorite – try their prime rib bites! They’re also highly-rated for steaks and clever quips from both customers and servers during football games.

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Past Highway 60’s eastern end, the road continues as County Q two miles east to Lake Michigan, which lurks beyond these trees. The old Port Ulao pier lies below the cliff overlooking the lake. We’d head in and look over the cliff, but it’s kind of private property.

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Highway 60 begins at the railroad and freeway junctions. The railroad, built in 1873, gave rise to Ulao. Juice’s Ghost Town tavern is its main historical marker. This view is looking east.

*** Brewery Alert ***
Grafton features a Water Street Brewery, which also has locations in Milwaukee and Delafield. Six beers are brewed on the premises that features an outdoor deck, full restaurant and plenty of beer memorabilia. It’s just south of Highway 60 – within sight of the Ghost Town Tavern, actually – along I-43/Highway 32/Highway 57. Not bad place to start or finish for the Highway 60 journey.

Heading west from Highway 60’s beginning in Ulao is the booming burg of Grafton (pop.11,459). Originally called “Hamburg” prior to its 1846 charter, Grafton flipped its name to “Manchester” from 1857 to 1862 before changing back. So far, it’s stayed “Grafton” ever since. Originally a lumber town, Grafton has hosted a series of industries ever since, including the famous Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. It was right here where 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation, allowing artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock ‘N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton at a make-shift studio that was formerly a chair factory; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called “race records” of the era.

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Grafton Veterans Memorial Park overlooks the Milwaukee River, a very picturesque scene as it flows through town and under Highway 60.

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Near old sawmills and chair factories, new condos are sprouting up along the Milwaukee River as Grafton’s downtown redevelops.

Through Grafton, Highway 60 runs as Washington Street and then heads for an area known as “Five Corners”. From this intersection, Highway 181 will take you into Milwaukee; County Highway NN will bring you closer to West Bend; and Covered Bridge Road will take you to – you guessed it – a covered bridge. Built in 1876, this is the last remaining covered bridge in Wisconsin. The road jogs around it now, but pedestrians and bicyclists can still use it to cross Cedar Creek. In 2010, it was measured with scanning lasers to help document its history and structure, to help with any future repairs or reconstruction.

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It was until the early 1960s that the road actually USED the covered bridge. It goes around it now, to help preserve the thing. It’s done its share of work already. You can still walk through it.

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The question is: does Ryan STILL love Tracy?

** Drive-In Alert ** Wayne’s Drive-In can be found just behind a bar at the intersection of Highways 60 and 181. Located in a former motorcycle repair shop, Wayne’s opened in 1998 and serves tasty burgers, fries, malts, ice cream, and more with real roller skating car hops. I know; I actually tried it one night while filming for Discover Wisconsin. It’s also one of our favorite drive-ins across the state.

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Behind the corner bar at Five Corners along Highway 60 lies Wayne’s, a 50s-era looking drive-in with authentic skating carhops.

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On a nice sunny day at Wayne’s, Lindsey Lembke of Cedarburg shares Play Dough ice cream with her dog Koda, which totally made Koda’s day.

Heading west on Highway 60 brings you from Ozaukee into Washington County, where as Main Street you run through Jackson (pop. 5,680), one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. U.S. 45 and I-41 cross Highway 60 within a few miles of each other; once past I-41, Highway 60 becomes a multilane highway going right past the southern end of Slinger (pop. 4,109), which was originally called “Schleisingerville”, fer cryin’ out loud. Once an outpost village perched at the edge of Kettle Moraine, Slinger today is booming like Jackson and Hartford, the next stop. To access Slinger’s downtown area, just head north at the intersection with Highway 175, which is the original U.S. 41.

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Postcard of Slinger showing today’s Highway 175, formerly U.S. 41 (don’t worry, it’s paved now.) Downtown Slinger is about one mile north of Highway 60.

Pike Lake State Park, dedicated in 1971, offers abundant recreation from fishing to wildlife viewing. Powder Hill offers a nice view of the Pike Lake and the kames, kettles and eskers around it (these are all terms for different landforms of one sort or another.)

HARTFORD
Just past Pike Lake, you enter Hartford (pop. 13,700), of which Highway 60 is the east-west road, named Sumner Street. Hartford is a fast-growing city with a long history that includes being an automotive manufacturing center, the place where Libby’s (Libby’s Libby’s on the label label label…remember that ad?) processed most of its beets for the national market, and where Broan-NuTone LLC got its start in the home ventilation business. Today, it’s a global company with headquarters in Hartford. Health care has become a major business in the area too, serving has the headquarters for API Healthcare. Quad/Graphics also maintains a major facility in the area. For fun, Hartford hosts the Annual Hartford Balloon Rally, which includes evening events with glowing balloons and a fireworks show. It’s one of Wisconsin’s largest balloon events.

The Kissel and Hartford’s Auto History
Hartford holds the Wisconsin Automotive Museum, (147 N. Rural Street, 262-673-7999) the largest such museum in the state. Classic and vintage autos dating as far back as 1906 adorn the museum, which also sports a 250-ton locomotive, automobile artifacts, and a massive Lionel train set layout. It also showcases the Kissel, an automobile manufactured in Hartford from 1906 until 1931 (more on the Kissel in a moment.) The museum lies one block off Highway 83, just northwest of where you meets up with Highway 60 at the main downtown intersection.

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The Kissel marker is along Highway 60 about one half-mile east of Highway 83 in a park along the Rubicon River.

The Kissel Kar Company was founded in Hartford in 1906 when George and William Kissel turned their hobby into a business. They built passenger cars, ambulances, fire trucks, taxicabs and more for 25 years. Among their most popular models were the Gold Bug Speedster (1925) and the White Eagle Speedster (1929), which became internationally famous and coveted by movie stars like Fatty Arbuckle at a time when the “talkies” were just debuting. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart also sported a Kissel, as did actress and stuntwoman Anita King, who became the first women to drive solo across the country in 1915 when she road tripped from California to New York in a Kissel, receiving a hero’s welcome upon her arrival. Kissel “kranked” out 4,000 units annually at their peak in 1922, but the Great Depression eventually led to their demise. Kissel shuttered its factory doors along the Rubicon River in 1931, leaving a legacy for Hartford and thousands of highly-prized collectors’ items to this day.

hartford_wisautomuseumThe Wisconsin Automotive Museum features an exhibition dedicated to the Kenosha-built Nash, and vintage treats like Studebakers, Reos, Pierce-Arrows and the Tucker. It also has automotive artifacts, a 250-ton locomotive and a display area for the Hudson Essex Terraplane.

The junction of Highways 83 & 60 is the epicenter of Hartford’s downtown, and at this epicenter is the largest restaurant in Wisconsin, The Mineshaft. Covering what seems like acres across 5 bars, room for 550 guests at once, a dance floor, a 5,000 square-foot game room area and a stage with performances by bands, The Mineshaft seems like it could have its own zip code. But it shares 53027 with most of the rest of the city.

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To go with the largest auto museum in the state, how about the largest restaurant in the state? The Mineshaft serves over 10,000 guests weekly and features the 5,000 square feet Million Dollar Game Room (that’s $200 per square foot.)

Still within in Hartford, you enter Dodge County. West of town, it opens up as you graze Neosho, cross Highway 67, and brush past the town of Hustisford (pop. 1,141). Its downtown area lies just off the highway; you can detour into town and see the Rock River as it flows out of the 2,800-acre Lake Sinisssippi (rhymes with ?). A small dam in town at Riverside Park is one location where fish fight like the dickens to get back upstream – perhaps for spawning?

Continuing the journey across Dodge, you cross the Wild Goose State Trail, a 34-mile biking/hiking/snowmobiling/cross country skiing path linking Juneau (Dodge County’s county seat) and Fond du Lac. Shortly after that Highway 60 joins up with Highway 26, where you head south briefly before starting up west again, this time in conjunction with Highway 16 for the ride into Columbus.

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Highway 60 snakes along the Rock River between Astico and Columbus. Highway 16 is along for the ride here, too.

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A couple enjoys the serene wayside along the Rock River just outside Columbus. The Rock eventually flows to the Quad Cities before meeting the Mississippi.

Columbus

Next up is Columbus (pop. 4,991); Wisconsin is one of 17 U.S. states that has a city with that name. Located on the Crawfish River and straddling Columbia and Dodge Counties, Columbus refers to itself as the “Red Bud City” and boasts largest antique mall in Wisconsin with the Columbus Antique Mall – 78,000 square feet filled with stuff across 444 booths under one roof. The Christopher Columbus Museum in the antique mall features souvenir memorabilia from the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago and as well as lithographs, china, tapestries, statues, and more. Columbus also has the closest Amtrak station to Madison, which is a fairly quick ride down U.S. 151 from here.

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Stretches of downtown Columbus feature an array of preserved architecture, shops and yes, a few watering holes.

Columbus has done a great job preserving architecturally significant buildings, with the entire downtown district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Architectural and photography students come to check out Jaeger’s Mill on the Crawfish River, or the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank Building (known as the “Jewel Box”), which was one of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan. Students of history may revel in the Sunday morning toll of the steeple bell from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, partially made up of pieces of French canon captured during the Franco-Prussian War and presented as a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (no comments were solicited from any area French residents.)

Downtown Columbus features a wide variety of shops and draws a good number of visitors on a nice day. Highway 60 intersects with Highway 73/Business U.S. 151 right downtown. A short jaunt along 73 (aka Park Avenue) brings you past a nice part of town, to the original 1902 Kurth Brewery building (described and pictured below), and a connection with Highway 89.

One of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan, the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank (below) was built in 1919 in Columbus. It draws attention with its ornate facade and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. City Hall is kitty corner and the Cercis Brewery is just down the street.

 

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Louis Sullivan’s last “jewel box” design project, in downtown Columbus.

columbus_kurth02*** Brewery Alert, Past & Present ***

Columbus, like many Wisconsin cities, has a brewing history. Started on Park Avenue (today Highway 73 at the intersection with Highway 89) in 1859, the Kurth Brewery quenched thirsty Columbusinians (or however you’d say it – Columbans, maybe?) for most of the ninety years that followed. Prohibition originally shut it down in 1920, but the Kurth Brewery managed to bounce back for 16 years after it was repealed, churning out items like Banner Beer and Blue Mound Beer throughout the 30s and 40s until it finally closed for good in 1949. The last tap room building still stands (pictured at right) just southwest of downtown along Park Avenue.

The resurgence of local and craft beers finally reached Columbus in 2018, when Cercis Brewing Company opened its doors right down from City Hall. Cercis wanted to name itself after the “Redbud City” miniker Columbus uses, but a certain large brewery took umbrage with part of that name, so they went with the name from the genus term for the redbud tree, cercis (they’ve had to explain that many a time.) Cercis offers a variety of local and guest brews and is popular for lunch and dinner too, with an extensive kitchen and increasing recognition for their pizzas. You’ll find Cercis Brewing one block off Highway 60 via Dickason Avenue, in a circa-1920 red brick building.

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A Cercis sampler from the local craft brewer in Columbus, one block off where Highway 60 meets City Hall.

Highway 60, still combined with Highway 16, runs northwest from downtown Columbus through some neighborhoods and out to the U.S. 151 freeway, which has bypassed the downtown area since 1976. There are quite a few larger stores, gas stations, and restaurants here in case you want to fuel up before continuing.

Heading out of Columbus just past U.S. 151, Highway 60 branches off Highway 16 and makes a beeline westward. Past North Leeds, essentially just an intersection with Highway 22 and the junction with U.S. Highway 51 (which joins 60 for about two miles) and into Arlington (pop. 522), the hills of the Baraboo Range become visible. On the horizon is Highway 60’s western half, where the landscape changes.

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The beeline from Columbus to Lodi includes a two-mile stint with U.S. 51 and and the junction with I-39/90/94 as the hills approach.

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Past I-39/90/94, farmers start working at angles on hillier land. This shot is just east of Lodi.

Past I-39/90/94, Highway 60 begins curving around more and more hills as you approach Lodi (pop. 2,929). Lodi’s name means “Peaceful Valley” in one of the Native American languages and is one of only three cities in Wisconsin to host its own agricultural fair. A nice walkway right off the main street (Highway 113, a block or so off of 60) runs through downtown, and nice walkway right off the main street (Highway 113) lets you descend closer to the water and behind some of the downtown buildings to view the area. Lodi’s downtown runs mainly along Highway 113 (Main Street), which heads south to Madison and north to the Merrimac Ferry and Baraboo.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Lodi is one of three Wisconsin cities to have its own fair, the Lodi Agricultural Fair. It’s been running since 1865.
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Susie the Duck race. (Photo courtesy of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce.)

susieduck_lgLodi is the home of “Susie the Duck”, a famous waterfowl who returned to Lodi time and time again to raise clutches of eggs. At the Susie the Duck spot, you can buy handfuls of dried corn from vending machines to feed the ducks – one of whom just might be this year’s Susie. The annual “Susie the Duck Day” celebration features the plastic duck race, where you can buy a small duck that will, along with thousands of others, get dumped into Spring Creek for a “race” to the finish line. We’ll check into what the winner receives.

lodicreek2_lgThe Ice Age Trail runs through Lodi, and Ice Age Park provides a nice look at native vegetation – with pedestrian-oriented walkways with descriptions telling you about them – making it a nice stop. Highway 60 runs right along the Ice Age Park – and Trail – in Lodi and abuts Spring Creek, which flows into Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River, just a few miles to the north.

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Just southwest of Lodi is the Lodi Marsh State Wildlife Area, where the Ice Age Trail runs and both hunters and mosquitoes run amok. Highway 60 provides access to the area as it heads west toward the Wisconsin River. And from this point on, Highway 60 earns the official designation of the Lower Wisconsin River Road.

The views become ever nicer, with Crystal Lake to the south (the lake straddles the Columbia-Dane County line and hosts a campground on a peninsula jutting into it) and more layers of hills to the north.

*** Winery & Distillery Alert ***

A short junction with Highway 188 provides access to the Wollersheim Winery & Distillery, about one mile to the south. Yes, you’re in wine country.

Just past Highway 188, you cross the Wisconsin River and head into Prairie du Sac (pop. 3,231), where you also you meet up with Highway 78 and begin to follow the river’s western bank. This is Eagle Country, where bald eagles – and maybe even some with hair – can be regularly spotted. From this point forward, Highway 60 more or less follows the Wisconsin River all the way to the Mississippi.

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Prairie du Sac and Sauk City (pop. 3,019) are essentially twin cities and collectively the area is called Sauk Prairie. Sauk City itself is Wisconsin’s oldest incorporated village (1854) and is the site of the first Culver’s restaurant ever (1984). Culver’s headquarters, meanwhile, is in Prairie du Sac. Don’t ever question putting butter on a burger around here.

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The Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac features great fishing, scenic terrain and good eagle-watching.

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Sauk City’s downtown features several sports bars, including the Press Box – illustrated quite vividly on its facade.

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Technically from Lodi but in earnest once it crosses the Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac, Highway 60 also becomes the Lower Wisconsin River Road. As they describe the upcoming stretch that awaits:

“From the Empire Prairie to the Mighty Mississippi, Wisconsin’s 100-mile Scenic Byway 60 follows the graceful curves of the Lower Wisconsin River. This patch of our planet sparkles, by sunny day or starry night, with the wild beauty of Nature left to its own devices for thousands and thousands of years. And nowhere is Heraclitus’s adage that you can’t step into the same river twice more apt. In constant flux, the “River of a Thousand Isles” continuously sculpts its sandbars, shifts its channels, varies its flows, and repaints its colors according to the whims of the weather gods.”

Okay, so they use prettier words than we often do. But that’s fine. Either way, it makes for a beautiful State Trunk Tour drive. Once Highway 60 leaves Highway 78 and joins U.S. Highway 12 briefly out of town, it branches off  to the west to follow the Wisconsin River…although it stays a mile or two away for much of the ride through the rest of Sauk County. The scenery is great; areas of the road become narrow and twist around with tight curves amidst landforms like Ferry Bluff, portions of which come right up to the road. The majestic Baraboo Range is often visible to the north while the Lower Wisconsin Scenic Riverway lies to the south.

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Between Spring Green and Sauk City, views like this are commonplace on both sides.

The first straightaway you encounter after a while happens when you approach U.S. Highway 14, Highway 23, and Spring Green (pop. 1,444). Home of American Players Theatre, offering Shakespeare in a natural amphitheater, Taliesin, summer home and school of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the ever-famous House On The Rock, Spring Green offers no shortage of things to see. Access to the sights are south on Highway 23, mostly south of the river.

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Lots of Wisconsin cities have registered low temperatures, but the -53 on January 30, 1951 gave Lone Rock claim as the coldest place in the United States, at least for a while (you knew a place in Minnesota would eventually get colder). But they play off the “cold hands, warm heart” saying with this sign along Highway 60 as you skirt the north edge of town.

U.S. Highway 14 and Highway 60 both careen westward in a straightaway fashion into Richland County and grazing the north edge of Lone Rock (pop. 949), accessible via Highways 130 and 133. West of Lone Rock, the Pine River Trail follows the highway to Gotham (pronounced “GO-tham”. not “Gaaath-um”, as I found out.) The Pine River is another one of Wisconsin’s great rail-to-trails and runs from Richland Center back towards Spring Green.

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New York City it ain’t. But that’s alright with the citizens of Wisconsin’s own Gotham, who probably prefer peace and quiet to the shriek of the “A” Train and Yankees fans.

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The bicycles plying the Pine River Trail are quieter as they approach the Bat Cave “exit” in Gotham. The snowmobiles and ATVs are less so, I’m thinking… Highway 60 crosses the trail ahead, just after leaving U.S. 14.

From Gotham west, Highway 60 is even more serene. You’re once again in the twisty, turny territory that rounds the hills and, on occasion, hugs the river’s northern coastline. Bogus Bluff, which actually seems pretty valid, is to your north. The road goes through the Lower Wisconsin Scenic Riverway along this stretch and on and off for much of the duration.

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West of Gotham, Highway 60 twists past hills (left) and often runs right along the Wisconsin River (right). There’s a long way between services on these stretches, go make sure gas, food and internal relief needs are taken care of when chances arise.

At the intersection with Highway 80, you can hop over the river and check out Muscoda (pop. 1,408), the “Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin.” In fact, Muscoda (once known as “English Prairie” in this historically French part of the state) hosts the Annual Morel Mushroom Festival in May, complete with a mushroom contest (biggest, smallest, most unique, most in cluster, things like that.) The Wisconsin River Canoe Race also takes place in July, where canoers race from as far away as Spring Green, about 21 miles upstream.

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Although Highway 60 skips past Muscoda just across the river, signs like this remind you to take a trip across via Highway 80 and check out the Morel Mushroom Capital.

Past 80 and the junction with tiny Highway 193, which loops you back to 80, Highway 60 jogs away from the river for a few miles. This is where you’ll see a sign for Eagle Cave, the largest onyx cave in Wisconsin. It was discovered back in 1849; 89 years later it was finally open to the public. They’ve hosted a cave exploratory program since 1954 and are popular not only for tours, but overnight camping. Four main and four subterranean walking levels take you through over 3,000 feet of passages.

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Shortly after Eagle Cave, there’s another bridge across the river at Port Andrew – called Tippisaukee at one time – where County T leapfrogs Coumbe Island to land on the other side in Blue River (pop. 429) with a connection to Highway 133.

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Through the trees in autumn, you get a good look at the beauty of the Wisconsin River at this point, near Boscobel.

The drive continues into Crawford County, where Highway 60 follows the Wisconsin as it bends southwest towards the Mississippi. Shortly after crossing the county line, you hook up with U.S. Highway 61, which joins for just under two miles. At Easter Rock, U.S. 61 breaks south over the river into Grant County and Boscobel (pop. 3,047). Boscobel is “Wisconsin’s Wild Turkey Hunting Capital”, so if you feel like hunting wild turkeys, you’re in luck. Boscobel is also the birthplace of the Gideon Bible and the Gideon Society… so the people who got the idea for placing Bibles in hotels and motels all over the country came from here.

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Boscobel Station, across the river from Highway 60 via U.S. 61.

Boscobel offers up a beautiful downtown lined with a number of well-preserved – or adapted – 19th century buildings; fans of architecture should check it out, several blocks east of U.S. 61. The Rock School (207 Buchanan Street) is another stunner, once shockingly designated for demolition. Boscobel Station, built in 1857, has historically served as a “nerve center” of town and includes a new museum.

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Easter Rock, as 60 (this time eastbound) approaches U.S. 61 across the river from Boscobel.

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The Wisconsin River here – while wide – is not very deep most of the year. In fall especially, the water levels are low enough where sandbars frequently show up. During winter runoff in spring, the level can be almost up to the road.

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The river on one side and bluffs on the other mark this whole stretch of Highway 60 in western Wisconsin; sometimes you get some nice vistas of long road stretches, too.

From U.S. 61 and access to Boscobel, Highway 60 continues southwest, wedged between bluffs and the river. About eight miles past Boscobel near the mouth of the Kickapoo River, Highway 131 begins at 60 and will take you north along the “crookedest river in the world” and some of the best canoeing in the Midwest. The Kickapoo River State Wildlife Area lies to the northwest as you enter Wauzeka (pop. 768). The next stop – and a brief one, at that – is at Bridgeport (pop. 946). Here, Highway 60 hooks up with U.S. Highway 18, Highway 35, and the Great River Road for the ride into the PDC.

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West of Wauzeka on Highway 60, there’s plenty of zigging and zagging.

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The markers get crowded at Bridgeport, where Highway 60 meets up with U.S. 18, Highway 35, and the Great River Road for the ride into Prairie du Chien.

And “the PDC” on the State Trunk Tour is Prairie du Chien (pop. 6,018), Wisconsin’s second oldest city (Green Bay is the oldest, in case you were wondering.) The Fox and Sauk tribes were here for hundreds of years prior to French explorers arriving and saying “voila!” Early establishment began in 1673, with the first trading posts developed in 1685 by French explorer Nicholas Perrot. Fur trade, along with Prairie du Chien’s natural location near the Wisconsin River and Mississippi River confluence, guaranteed the small settlement would prosper for years to come. Prairie du Chien’s history spans five centuries, including the only significant Wisconsin battle in the War of 1812. PDC’s first fort, Fort Shelby, was built by Americans built captured by the British in the War. By 1816, it had been replaced with Fort Crawford. The Black Hawk War, which took place in 1832, featured a commanding officer in the form of Colonel Zachary Taylor, who later became 12th President of the United States. A lieutenant during the same time named Jefferson Davis not only married Zachary Taylor’s daughter (named Sarah “Knoxie” Taylor, proving cutesy nicknames existed in the 19th century), he later became President of the Confederate States of America. Neither worked out well; the future President Taylor didn’t approve and poor Sarah passed away from pneumonia only months after their 1835 marriage; his new country in the 1860s didn’t last very long, either.

pdc_marquettestatue1A statue of French explorer Father Marquette towers above the Wisconsin Welcome Center in Prairie du Chien, facing his university about 160 miles due exactly to the east. The view from the base looking up brings a whole different perspective.

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The fur trade may have kept many warm, but it made a few millionaires on top of it. Local resident Hercules Dousman was the first millionaire in Wisconsin, and in 1871 his son H. Louis Dousman built Villa Louis, a National Historic Landmark on St. Feriole Island. The plot of land upon which Villa Louis stands once held Hercules Dousman’s original house, as well as Fort Crawford and Fort Shelby. Today it’s a museum operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society, the first historic site for the organization.

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The Villa Louis mansion, just part of what lies in store on the grounds of this National Historic Landmark on PDC’s St. Feriole Island.

Did school ever feel like prison? Well, Prairie du Chien has a prison that was once a highly-regarded Jesuit boarding school. Campion Jesuit High School operated from 1880 to 1975 and counts among its alumni the likes of Vicente Fox, Mexican president from 2000 to 2006; George Wendt, Norm of Cheers fame, a number of movies and noted Bearssss Superfan Bill Swerski; sportscaster George Blaha; former Wisconsin governor Patrick Lucey; and politician and prankster Dick Tuck (yes, his real name.) As long as we’re name dropping, Pat Bowlen, longtime owner of the Denver Broncos, was born in Prairie du Chien – one of the few Wisconsin natives who liked Super Bowl XXXII.

A carp-droppin’ tradition. A relatively new tradition in Prairie du Chien happens on New Years’ Eve. In 2001, they started lowering a carp via crane to coincide with the ringing in of the new year. Similar to the apple in New York City or the peach in Georgia, residents count down the last minute or two of the year while the carp – a 30-pound female named “Lucky” – gets lowered via crane from about 110 feet high. Now called the “Droppin’ of the Carp”, it’s certainly one-of-a-kind.

Prairie du Chien contains five National Historic Landmarks and nine sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Wyalusing State Park lies just to the south of the Wisconsin River via the Great River Road.

Highway 60 technically ends at the Iowa state line, in conjunction with U.S. 18. Of course, being a federal highway, U.S. 18 continues west, eventually ending in Wyoming. While still on land, the western end of Highway 60 features an official Wisconsin Welcome Center and Prairie du Chien’s own Visitor Centr. Stock up on information packets and admire the statue of Father Marquette towering above with a beautiful view of the town.

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Highway 60 ends – or begins, depending on your direction – where U.S. 18 meets the Mississippi on this bridge in this view from the Marquette, Iowa side.

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Coming back into Wisconsin at Highway 60’s western start provides a nice view of the hills and bluffs framing Prairie du Chien.

Overall, Highway 60 is a terrific State Trunk Tour route. Lots of connections, a broad cross-section of the state, a good mixture of towns and scenery makes for a pleasant “Great to Great Drive”, as in a Great Lake to the Great River. Watch for related video in the coming months!

CONNECTIONS
East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-43, Highway 32, Highway 57
Can connect nearby to: Highway 33, about 4 miles north

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 27, Highway 35, U.S. Highway 18

54

STH-054“The Hills of Winona To the Beaches of Algoma”

 

WisMap54Quickie 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.

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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.

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Highway 54 junction sign in Brown CountyHighway 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.

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This area is Amish country, where signs like this remind you to watch for a slow buggy here and there.

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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.

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Highway 54 runs right through Downtown Black River Falls.

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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.

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*** 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.

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sphagnummoss_500Ever 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
54moose2_lgThey 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.

Highway 54 mileage sign to City Point

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.

Rail bridge over the Yellow River from Highway 54 near Dexterville

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

Highway 54 entering Wisconsin Rapids

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.
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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.

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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.

newlondon-newdublin-leprechaunsThe 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”)

 

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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.

seymourburgersign_500After 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_burgerstatue 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.”

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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.

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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.

Green Bay

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! **

titletown_front_lgGreen 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!

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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.

5457thrugb_east_600On 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.

57eb54split_800From 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_vonstiehl1_800Algoma 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.

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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.

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Right where Highway 54 ends, you’ll find this beach along Lake Michigan. We found it on a slightly foggy morning.

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A quick turn north on Highway 42 brings you to downtown Algoma – and they let you know.

 

CONNECTIONS
West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Minnesota Highway 43, Wisconsin Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 53, about 7 miles east

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 42