35

STH-035“Up Wisconsin’s West Coast”

 

WisMap35Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 35 is Wisconsin’s western backbone in most places, serving as the “Great River Road” along much of the Mississippi and a key connector route between western Wisconsin towns. It’s usually the westernmost route in Wisconsin, and runs the length of the state from Illinois to Duluth, Minnesota. In fact, it’s the longest route on Wisconsin’s state trunk system.

Great River Road in Wisconsin voted “Prettiest Drive in the U.S.”
A big chunk of Highway 35 is part of Wisconsin’s Great River Road. It was just voted “Prettiest drive in the U.S.”! From Grant County all the way up to Prescott, make sure you enjoy the majesty of this drive that hugs Wisconsin’s west coast. Details on points of interest along the way and pictures are below.

The Wisconsin Highway 35 Road Trip

35nb_wiilline_800

Highway 35 starts at the Illinois state line, heading into Wisconsin to begin its 412-mile journey to Superior. Downtown Dubuque, Iowa is maybe two miles away across the Mississippi.

The Drive (South To North): Highway 35 begins at the Illinois state line in East Dubuque, Illinois. It used to be the main route into Wisconsin from the Dubuque, Iowa area; now the U.S. 61/151 freeway takes care of that. Dubuque, by the way, is a beautiful Mississippi River town with bluffs a’plenty framing the Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin sides. If you decide to ride Highway 35 from the state line, hit the U.S. 61/151 bridge or the U.S. 20 bridge from East Dubuque and take in the views.

151nbintowis_800151nb3561exit_800

While you’re down in the Dubuque area (check out the lovely Iowa city), and then come back on U.S. 61/151 into Wisconsin via the (creatively named) Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge. This bridge was built in 1982 and replaced the classic old Eagle Point Toll Bridge that stood just north of this location from 1902 until 1982. Highway 35 follows the U.S. 61/151 freeway for about 7 miles before exiting – with U.S. 61 in tow – for the ride into Dickeyville, Lancaster, and eventually the river towns hugging Wisconsin’s side of the Mississippi.

After hooking up with Highway 11, 35 jogs west onto the U.S. 61/151 Freeway as it comes in from Dubuque. At Exit 9, Highway 35 breaks off with U.S. 61 and heads into Dickeyville (pop. 1,043). Dickeyville is probably best known for the Dickeyville Grotto, one of the most noted and beautiful grottos in the country. The Grotto was built between 1925 and 1931 and religion, patriotism, stones, glass pieces, seashells and costume jewelry still mix in the grotto to this day.

dickeygrotto1_800 dickeygrotto2_800

Built in the 1920s with materials donated by parishoners, the Dickeyville Grotto was built to demonstrate the patriotism of Catholics – apparently in response to what some Protestants were saying at the time. A renovation in the mid-1990s restored many of the materials to their original splendor.

3561m_250

The “M” outside Platteville is visible from Highway 35, over 12 miles away.

Following Highway 35 (still coupled with U.S. 61) out of Dickeyville, you’re in Paris. Well, the town of Paris, but still…anyway, you’re running along high ridges on occasion, with the bluffs lining the Mississippi to the west and a vast view to the east. In fact, to the east on a clear day along this stretch, the world’s largest “M” is visible, 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, about 12 miles away. Ahead, though, is the “twin towns” of Tennyson (pop. 370) and Potosi (pop. 711), known as “Wisconsin’s Catfish Capital.”

133nbbegin_at35-61

At Tennyson, Highway 133 heads into Potosi and takes the reins of the Great River Road for a while.

Side Trip: Potosi
Highway 35 cuts through Tennyson, but a left on Highway 133 brings you into Potosi, along the “World’s Longest Main Street Without an Intersection.” Potosi will be home to the National Brewery Museum, now under construction in the home of the former Potosi Brewing Company, which did its share of brewing from 1852 to 1972. St. John’s Lead Mine is the oldest mine in the state and provides tours – it’s perpetually 50 degrees in there, so dress accordingly – every day but Wednesday for $5.50 (608-763-2121). This mine dates back to the 1700s.Beer is key in the history of Potosi (pop. 671), and will be key to its future. The National Brewery Museum and Library opened along Highway 133 last year. The Potosi Brewing Company busily brewed beer here from 1852 to 1972, and the former brewery’s buildings were renovated for the museum, which also features a microbrewery, a restaurant with an outdoor beer garden and a gift shop (you knew there was a gift shop coming.) We WILL be checking it out soon – and if you have and want to share details, let us know!potosimarker_800

You can’t pass up the historical marker, right? Find out about Potosi’s 1840s boom period and more here (click on picture for a larger view).

 

potosibrewery2000 The Potosi Brewing Company fell into decline, as seen in this picture from the late ’90s.

potosibldg2010_800The Potosi Brewing Company – and National Brewery Museum – today. Much better and a bevy of activity!

Highway 133 serves as a long, long main street for Potosi. Past the downtown area and the future museum, you pass St. John Mine. The mine was a natural cave worked by Native Americans and then European immigrants, both before and after the “Lead Rush” of 1827. The mine is named after Willis St, John, who made a small fortune in the first twenty years of the lead rush. Tours are available daily, and you can see stalactites (those icicle-looking rock things hanging down in caves) and realize that, whatever your working conditions are, you have it great compared to 19th century miners.

The World’s Longest Main Street is another claim to fame for Potosi. It is described as the longest Main Street without an intersection. While others will dispute that, hey, who are we to question it? It IS long. And a nice drive, too. It’s a great vantage point for observing wildlife, since Potosi is perched on the Upper Mississippi River Refuge, part of the 261 mile-long stretch along the river that serves as home to countless waterfowl, fish and a huge variety of birds…including bald eagles. We’ll cover more about that in Cassville.

Evidence of the Potosi Brewing Company is everywhere, including this tower that resembles an old-fashioned beer can. Their main brand was known as “Good Old” Potosi Beer, which was brewed here for 120 years in its first incarnation. In 2008, it was revived.

Highway 35 & U.S. 61 head past Tennyson and wind through beautiful countryside and increasingly high bluffs on the road toward Lancaster and eventually the Mississippi River.

3561nb_thrugrant_800

35alonggranthills_800

Past Tennyson, Highway 35/U.S. 61 winds past British Hollow and makes a beeline to Grant County’s county seat, Lancaster (pop. 4,070). Known as the “City of the Dome” for its handsome Grant County Courthouse, Lancaster’s town square brings together Highway 35, U.S. 61, and Highway 81 around a series of stores, a park, and the big green dome made of glass and copper. The park surrounding the courthouse features one of the oldest Civil War monuments in the nation. Near Lancaster is one of the first African-American communities in Wisconsin, founded in 1849. It’s now called Pleasant Ridge and is outlined along with other area history at the local Cunningham Museum. A good overnight stop is Martha’s Hot Mustard & Bed & Breakfast (7867 University Farm Rd., 608-723-4711), which is exactly as it sounds: a B&B that also makes hot mustards.

lancasterdome2_800

Lancaster is called the “City of the Dome” because of this… dome. Built in 1905, this octagonal glass and copper topper to the Grant County Courthouse stands as the crown jewel in the town square of the Grant County Seat.

Highway 35 splits off U.S. 61 at Lancaster (they cross again in La Crosse, French for “The Crosse”) and joins Highway 81 for 7 miles. Highway 81 then breaks off toward Cassville while 35 turns north again, is joined by Highway 133 again, and hits U.S. 18. Here, you approach the Wisconsin River and Wyalusing State Park. Wyalusing features beautiful, abrupt bluffs and cliffs overlooking the point where the Wisconsin River blends into the Mississippi. This is a prime spot for camping and hiking, just south of the PDC.

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) contains five National Historic Landmarks. 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.

pdc_marquettestatue2

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.

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 Superfan Bill Swerski; noted 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 new carp-droppin’ tradition. Perhaps the newest tradition in Prairie du Chien deals with 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” for the 2010 New Years’ – gets lowered via crane from about 110 feet high. Now called the “Droppin’ of the Carp”, it’s certainly one-of-a-kind.

The ride from Prairie du Chien northward is one of the most scenic drives in the Midwest. Part of the Great River Road (as much of Highway 35 is from Dubuque to Prescott), you get sweeping vistas of the river while steep bluffs often hug the other side of the road. Portions of the Mississippi here are two to three miles wide, often dissected by island that form portions of the vast Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, a 261-mile stretch from Rock Island, Illinois to Wabasha, Minnesota established by an Act of Congress on June 7, 1924 as a “refuge and breeding place for migratory birds, fish, other wildlife, and plants.” Settlements along this stretch are few, far between, and beautiful.

35bluff_800

To one side, The River. To the other, you’ll often find yourself gazing upward at steep cliffs, exposed rock several hundred feet above you, and soaring eagles and other fowl following their favorite pathway.

35riverrrbluff_800

Along each of the Mississippi’s banks are major railroad lines that compliment the river barges as key shipping and transportation lines. The rail lines are almost always closer to the river than Highway 35. In the distance on some curves, especially when the sun is at the right angle, exposed rock formations can shine.

35sb_bluff_800 35sb_nearlynx_800

Two examples of more bluffs that line Highway 35. These are both near Lynxville, about 15 miles north of Prairie du Chien.

Just past Ferryville (pop. 174), Highway 82 comes in, fresh from a bridge over the Mississippi coming over from Lansing, Iowa. Highways 35 & 82 run together for about three miles north to the little town of DeSoto (pop. 366). It was originally called Winneshiek Landing (the area was founded as a settlement in 1820), but it was renamed after Hernando DeSoto, the Mississippi River explorer, in 1854. Interestingly, thought it’s named for an Italian explorer, the town is known for its Norwegian heritage. Like downriver Cassville, DeSoto is a great place for bird watching, including eagles. You also cross from Crawford into Vernon County immediately after Highway 82 breaks away and heads east. As for you, you’ll be continuing north.

desotostory_600

The “swashbuckling” story of DeSoto’s namesake adorns the wall along Highway 82, just up from Highway 35, 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. This is the view (left) coming towards Highway 35 from Highway 82 after it descends the bluffs to the east.

The DeSoto area is where Chief Black Hawk and his Sauk and Fox followers were defeated on August 1st and 2nd, 1832 at the Battle of Bad Axe and subsequently slaughtered even though they were trying to surrender peacefully. The battle site is along Highway 35 about two miles north of DeSoto; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established a park at the battle site, near the intersection with Battle Hollow Road. The marker to the right describes the battle.

Battle_isle_markerJust north of the battle site is the unincorporated community of Victory, followed shortly by the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it began raising bass and panfish but now raises cold, cool and warm water aquatic species of all kinds. They have 67 acres of rearing ponds – that’s a lot of rearing. They also do things like “propagate 250,000 juvenile endangered Higgins’ eye mussels.” You can go on a self-guided tour if you’d like – about 5,000 others do every year. Beyond the hatchery lies the village of Genoa (pop. 263). Established in 1854, Genoa is one of the “lock towns”, placed at Mississippi River Lock & Dam #8. It’s always fun to stop and watch the locks at work, and you can’t miss it from the highway! Highway 56 heads east from Genoa too, if you want a beautiful detour into the Driftless Area away from the river for a bit.

genoa_eagle_225hi

Bald eagle sightings are common along the Mississippi Flyway along Highway 35 and the Great River Road. Their nests can be tricky to find, but we found this one high above right along 35 near the Lock & Dam at Genoa.

Along the stretch north of Genoa, Highway 35 is almost constantly right along the river, including through the tiny hamlet of Stoddard (pop. 815), one of the few towns along this stretch that was not originally founded as a fur trading post. Stoddard was also originally located about a mile inland, but when the aforementioned Lock & Dam No. 8 was built in 1937, the river widened to a lake and suddenly, the town had plenty of waterfront property. Shortly after crossing into La Crosse County, U.S. 14 & U.S. 61 join in for the ride into La Crosse proper.

La Crosse
La Crosse (pop. 51,818). La Crosse is Wisconsin’s largest city on the Mississippi River and the largest along Highway 35. Originally named “Prairie La Crosse” by French explorers, which apparently came not from the crossing of rivers (the Black and La Crosse Rivers meeting up with the Mississippi), but rather their witnessing of Native Americans playing a game with sticks along the riverbank that was similar to the game of lacrosse. The city was originally settled primarily for fur trading and then, owing to its terrific transportation location both on the river and along where railroads were connecting St. Paul with Milwaukee and Chicago, sawmills and breweries (slice some wood, have a drink…life was simpler back then). Today, La Crosse hosts the corporate headquarters of Kwik Trip, the Trane air conditioning company, and FirstLogic. This is where journalist Chris Bury got his start before moving on to Emmy Awards and little shows like Good Morning America, Nightline and World News Tonight. Model and actress Alexa Demara hails from La Crosse; FHM magazine called her “the hottest thing to come out of Wisconsin since Brett Favre’s spiral.” A century earlier, actress Minnie Dupree came out of La Crosse to a prominent career in New York theatre. Young actor Brandon Ratcliff also hails from the city. La Crosse is a college town, home to Viterbo University, Western Wisconsin Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Situated on a rare piece of flat land amidst beautiful coulees and hills, La Crosse holds a number of “quality of life” accolades, often involving low crime or livable small city status; I note USA Today also named La Crosse one of the “Top Ten Places Worldwide to Toast Oktoberfest” (more on that in a second.) Long known as a brewery town, La Crosse was home to G. Heileman Brewing Company for almost 140 years, cranking out a variety of brands, most notably Old Style. Today, the sprawling brewery complex lies about a mile west of Highway 35 and continues to hum as the City Brewery. The World’s Largest Six Pack (pictured below) is indicative of La Crosse’s fun style, and you can access it by following U.S. Highway 14/61 south for just a few blocks after they branch off Highway 35.

6pack_500Once Heileman and the home of Old Style, the “World’s Largest Six Pack,” which holds enough beer to fill 7.3 million cans, lives on as the storage tanks for the City Brewery, founded in 1999. City Brewery brews about a dozen of its own beers as well as Mike’s Hard Lemonade and several flavors of Arizona Tea. This is located about one mile west of Highway 35; Highway 33 westbound or following U.S. 14/61 northwest will bring you there.

Oh, and speaking of the World’s Largest Six Pack, La Crosse also hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States, perhaps the world, and has been doing so every year since 1961. Other things to check out in town include Historic Pearl Street, filled with Civil War-era buildings, specialty shops, a microbrewery, galleries, antique shops, coffee houses and, at night, college students doing what they do best when they’re not studying. The Swarthout Museum (800 Main St.) features changing exhibits from prehistoric to Victorian and the Children’s Museum of La Crosse (207 Fifth Avenue S.) has exhibits for our future leaders on three floors. All of this can be reached by your car, or you can hop the La Crosse Trolley in the warm weather months for a little “no need for the gas pedal” tour.

16_gdadbluffOne of La Crosse’s most notable landforms, Granddad Bluff made an appearance in Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, towers over 500 feet above the city and brilliantly reflects the afternoon sun.

Drive-In Watch:
Rudy’s Drive-In is one of the great ones in Wisconsin. Built in 1966, Rudy’s features roller-skating carhops and a sheltered carport where you can pull up and order your probably-unhealthy-but-delicious food from the menu sitting right out your window.

rudys800Car shows and “Cruise Nights” happen regularly throughout the summer. You can find Rudy’s two blocks west of Highway 35 along Highway 16 (La Crosse Street).Highway 35 basically bypasses downtown La Crosse, instead going right through neighborhoods. You have good access to downtown via U.S. 14/61, Highway 33 or Highway 16.

lax_35atcass_800

Highway 35 through La Crosse.

The Downtown La Crosse Option.

Being the largest Wisconsin city on the Mississippi, and the third largest metropolitan area along the river from Minneapolis/St. Paul to St. Louis (the others being Dubuque and the Quad Cities), La Crosse is able to support a pretty healthy downtown. Once you take Highway 35 into La Crosse and U.S. 14/61 meet up, continue on U.S. 14/61 towards downtown. Eventually, you will reach the beginning of U.S. 53, which will bring you north to meet up again with Highway 35. Here are some highlights of the downtown La Crosse area.

lax_twinbridges_800

Along with I-90 to the north, the two main bridges spanning the Mississippi River and connecting La Crosse with La Crescent, Minnesota are collectively called, creatively enough, the “Mississippi River Bridge.” Yeah. Individually, the nearer one in the picture is the Cameron Avenue Bridge, which opened in 2004; the other is the Cass Street Bridge. Opened in 1940, the Cass Street Bridge originally carried both directions of traffic; today, each bridge carries one-way.

dntnlacrosse_800

Downtown La Crosse, across from an island beach in the Mississippi. That’s the skyline right there – if you don’t count the bluffs in the backdrop.

lax_paddleboat_800

Paddleboats ply the Mississippi in the summer and make stops in La Crosse at Riverside Park.

La Crosse is home to the La Crosse Loggers, one of the Northwoods League baseball teams. They play at Copeland Park (aka “The Lumber Yard”), which isn’t along Highway 35 but can be accessed via the downtown option as you go up U.S. 53 before rejoining 35. The Loggers play a 70-game season from June through August. This is a good baseball town; it’s where MLB players Damian Miller, Scott Servais, George Williams and Jarrod Washburn all hailed from.

On the north end of La Crosse, where Highway 35 meets up with U.S. 53 and I-90, you’ll find Riverside Amusement Park, which features go karts, batting cages, mini golf, an arcade and more. It’s a good stop, especially if you have restless kids with you. The park opened in 1990 and operates from May 1 through Labor Day.

At I-90, U.S. 53 cuts east before heading north as a freeway; meanwhile, Highway 35 continues into Onalaska (pop. 14,839), which is actually on the Mississippi. The city was named after a Thomas Campbell poem, entitled “The Pleasures of Hope.” The city, originally settled in 1851, now has two namesakes: Onalaska, Washington and Onalaska, Texas. The 7,700 acre Lake Onalaska, an offshoot of the river, offers excellent fishing and bird watching. It’s a major migratory stop for birds – and road-trippers, too! Onalaska is at the trailhead of the Great River State Trail, with goes to Trempealeau, and the La Crosse River State Trail, which heads east to Sparta and connects with other state trails, most notably the Elroy-Sparta. You can find out more about all those trails here.

onalaskafishkiss_800

Onalaska is known as the “Sunfish Capital of the World”, as partially evidenced by Sunny the Sunfish. Sunny is 15 feet high and 25 feet long. And if you get dared to kiss it well — you do it.

lakeonalaska_800

From Highway 35, you have a great view of Lake Onalaska, which becomes the widest point on the Mississippi: four miles across in some places. If you think the fishing might be really good here, you are completely right.

Heading north from Onalaska, Highway 35 meets up with U.S. 53 for a brief spell. You can follow “Business 35”, the former route, through Holmen (pop. 8,146), another rapidly-growing bedroom community of La Crosse. Unlike many cities and towns whose histories date back to the mid-1800s, Holmen became a village in 1946. Much of the town is new and they celebrate corn with an August festival each year, which they spell Kornfest.

Just north of Holmen, U.S. 53 continues on north and Highway 35 heads due west about 8 miles into little Trempealeau (pop. 1,319). Named for the nearby river that flows into the Mississippi, it’s the gateway to Perrot State Park. The “Perrot” refers to French explorer Nicholas Perrot, who spent the winter of 1686 along this area of the river. There’s a marker further up Highway 35 that talks about a fort he had a role in, too. The park itself is two square miles of diverse ecosystems, migratory birds, hardwood forests and goat prairies. I had no idea what “goat prairies” were, so here’s the Wikipedia entry for it. The park has 102 campsites, 12.5 miles of hiking trails, 9 miles of cross-country skiing trails and a nice 3.4 mile canoe trail. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent.

trempealeautime_800

Locally they call it “Trempealeau time”, where life moves at a more leisurely pace. The clock along the riverwalk helps you tell it.

trempealeauhotel1_lgA great place to check out after a stroll along the river is the Trempealeau Hotel (608-534-6898), a restaurant, saloon and place to stay since 1871 – when most guests arrived by steamboat. The suites with Jacuzzis aren’t part of the original rooms, but they’ve updated well in those suites while also keeping antique-style rooms available. The original charm abounds in the eating and salooning areas. Out back toward the river, there’s an area for relaxing outside and taking in the bluff views, as well as the activity around Lock & Dam No. 6. There are also plenty of concerts and festivals held at the Trempealeau Hotel, too. They also have a “world famous” Walnut Burger, a meatless burger patty that was ahead of its time when they introduced it in 1986 but now is so successful they sell frozen versions of it in stores around the region.

Highway 35 shoots straight north out of Trempealeau and meets up with Highways 93 and 54 at unincorporated Centerville, where it joins Highway 54 for the ride west again. For a few miles, you’re in relatively flat, fertile farmland and then suddenly you’re amongst big bluffs again – it all depends on how close you are to the river. The Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (referred to as a “prairie wonderland”) can be accessed via Marshland Road, right after you cross the Trempealeau River and enter Buffalo County. A few miles down at Bluff Siding (which wins the contest for the place that most closely sounds like the name of a building contractor), Highway 54 breaks west and heads across the river into Winona, Minnesota, a nice college town and the largest city on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi. But we’ll keep going up 35 and stay on the Great River Road on the Wisconsin side.

Next up is Fountain City (pop. 983), which calls itself the “River Bluff Capital of the World.” Part of the reason for that is Eagle Bluff towers over Fountain City, and at 550 feet above town – directly above the town – it’s the highest point along the Mississippi River. It was originally called Holmes’ Landing, after Thomas Holmes landed here in 1839. Nearby springs that were a popular source of fresh, clean water for passing riverboats led to the name change. Fountain City offers art galleries, some unique stores, and two museums: the Fountain City Historical Museum and for car buffs, Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum (608-687-7221), which features hundreds of car models through history (especially the 1920s, 30s and 60s) including, as they say, “one of the largest pedal car displays in the country.”

***BREWPUB ALERT***
A State Trunk Tour favorite is the Monarch Tavern & Public House (608-687-4231), which has been serving travelers since 1894. The floor, the bar and the ceiling are all original and any updates done since then blend in beautifully. While they’re technically not a brewpub, they are the primary source of Fountain Brew, the original beer from the old Fountain City Brewing Company, which operated here for eight decades before shutting down in 1965. They relaunched the beer using the original recipe, which was found three decades after the brewery closed. Some new brews have been added to the portfolio since, all brewed by contract up north in Dallas (Wisconsin) by the Viking Brewing Company. The Monarch’s restaurant offers a variety of tasty fare and if your timing is right, ask proprietor John Harrington to show you the basement. Once a coal storage room for steamboats in the 1860s, it has been reopened as a lower bar level. Marvel at the original rock floor and salvaged pieces from factories, ships, cars and even barber shops that adorn the room. It’s pretty awesome.

monarchback2010_800 monarchfront2010_800

The Monarch Tavern & Public House is easily accessed right from Highway 35, where you can enter through the backyard patio at left, or through the front doors along Main Street one block north – and one level up. The small sign hanging above the entrance reads “Your typical Green Bay Packers, hunting, fishing, antique collecting, great food, damn cold beer, best bloody mary on the river, friendly neighborhood 100 year old beautiful bar. Welcome! (All Irish & Packer fans especially welcome.)” However, if you’re Swedish and a Vikings fan, that’s okay, too.)

***WINERY ALERT***
Fountain City’s a drinkin’ town. If you prefer wine over beer, you’re covered with the Seven Hawks Vineyards, which operates just a block off Highway 35, where Highway 95 begins. Their seven wines use grapes and fruit grown locally, having cross-bred European grape varieties with local ones to create cold-hardy vines and grapes that can handle the climate here. You can see part of their vineyards from Highway 35 as you approach the north side of town.

Heading out of Fountain City, Highway 35 passes the Rock In The House, a house that had a 55-ton boulder amble off a cliff and crash into it in 1995. Fortunately, the owners weren’t killed by this massive boulder, but they moved out the next day. A investor named John Burt bought the house and made it into a little museum, where you can see how nature can humble us all. Read the background story here. Also just north of Fountain City, you’ll find Merrick State Park, a marshy backwater area along the Mississippi popular with anglers and boaters. You’ll find plenty of egrets, herons, muskrats and otters (based on experiences at the zoo, otters are sometimes willing to put on quite a fun little show.) Shortly after that, you pass the southern end of Highway 88, which twists and winds north through valleys toward Cream, Gilmanton and Mondovi.

histmarker_beefslough_800The small towns of Cochrane and Buffalo City lie off the beaten path of Highway 35 and can be accessed via County O or OO if you want to check them out. Buffalo City has just under 1,000 people, making it one of the smallest “cities” in the U.S. Sloughs a’plenty are to your west along the river, with historical markers like this one at right to tell you more about it.

Nestled between the bluffs and the river, the next river town is Alma (pop. 942). Established in 1848, the same year Wisconsin became a state, Alma’s motto is “Step into living history.” Alma offers probably the best views of locks in action with a towering observation deck close to and above Lock & Dam No. 4. The metal bridge that serves as the observation platform spans the railroad tracks that line the Mississippi, which makes it all the wilder experience when a massive train rumbles underneath your feet. It’s also a popular nesting place for bald eagles. The Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center is a great place to find out more about the bird migratory patterns, the natural wonders of the area, and to check out the works of local artists – this whole area, actually, draws artists from all over. You’ll see why as you keep driving this stretch of Highway 35.

almafromdeck_800This view of Alma, the bluffs above the town, the tracks where trains rumble up and down the Mississippi (in this case, under your feet) and the close-up view of Lock & Dam No. 4 (below) can all be had from the observation deck. The train tracks were completed from La Crosse to St. Paul in 1886; Lock & Dam No. 4 opened in 1935.

 

lockdam4_800

Just north of Alma is the start of Highway 37, which heads north-northeast to Mondovi and eventually Eau Claire. Highway 35 continues over the Buffalo River and heads into the little hamlet of Nelson (pop. 395). Nelson’s big claim to fame, in true Wisconsin fashion, is the 100+-year-old Original Nelson Cheese Factory. Drawing visitors from far and wide, the Original Nelson Cheese Factory doesn’t actually make cheese anymore, but they offer one of the best selections of everyone else’s cheeses that you’ll find anywhere. Their Creamery Room is also known for ice cream cones, sandwiches, soups and more, and a new Tasting Room offers great wines and sampling opportunities. They also have a pet-friendly patio and live music on warm-weather Saturdays. Nelson’s location along the gorgeous bluffs lining the Mississippi River makes it a popular spot for hang gliders, so feel free to either partake or simply marvel at those willing to jump and glide over town. Castleberg Park in Nelson is also a popular spot for picnicking.

nelsoncreamery1_800

The Original Nelson Cheese Factory, now the Nelson Creamery, produced cheese for decades upon decades, Today, it’s a source for finding cheeses from all over, as well as relaxing during your tour.

2535nb_nelson_800

Highway 25 comes in from Minnesota and meets up with Highway 35 for the brief ride through Nelson.

Highway 25 heads north to Menomonie, and we continue along 35, which spends the next few miles crossing the swampy, boggy delta where the Chippewa River empties into the Mississippi. It was quite a few years before a road could be built through here; decades ago, drivers had to head north about 10 miles and come back south on what is now a county highway. But now you can leapfrog the watery landscape that makes up the Tiffany Bottoms State Wildlife Area and head straight to our next locale, famous for an author and a lake.

That town is Pepin (pop. 878). This is where Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867, leading to a classic book in the 1890s and a TV series in the 1970s. A replica of the “Little House in the Big Woods” cabin lies right along Highway 35 in Pepin, as well as the Pepin Depot Museum and the Pepin Historical Museum. More than a river town, Pepin is also a lake town: the remarkably gorgeous Lake Pepin, the widest natural point on the Mississippi River, abuts the town. Pepin offers a marina, courtesy dock and a municipal swimming beach.

pepin_lwmuseum_800

pepinmuseum_800

histmarker_pepin

History abounds in Pepin, with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (top) and the Pepin Historical Museum (center), which has a lot of cool trinkets in Pepin Village Park. You can also read the historical marker detailing the author’s birth and childhood here (click on the picture above so you can actually read what it says.)

About Lake Pepin
lakepepinview1_600Lake Pepin is a natural lake on the Mississippi, formed by the backup water caused by sedimentary deposits from the delta of the aforementioned Chippewa River. Lake Pepin is 28 miles long and expands to a width of almost three miles in places. The vistas offered from Highway 35 can be breathtaking. Lake Pepin is also the site of the Sea Wing disaster, where 98 people were killed when a vessel on the lake overturned in a violent storm. It remains one of the worst maritime disasters ever to have occurred on the Mississippi River. Across the lake from Highway 35 at night, you might see the lighthouse at the entrance to the Lake City Marina, which is the only working lighthouse on the river.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Ralph Samuelson first demonstrated the sport of water skiing in 1922, on Lake Pepin. Since we lived on the Minnesota side, Lake City, Minnesota claims to be the birthplace of water skiing. But it happened on the lake named after a Wisconsin town. So there.

lakepepinfrommn_800

lakepepin2_300

lakepepin_marker_800

histmarker_lakepepin_800

With Lake Pepin and towering bluffs hugging both sides of the highway, this is probably the most beautiful stretch of Highway 35 – and perhaps the entire Great River Road from Minnesota to Louisiana. If you need proof that this area was popular for Swedes to settle way back when, the next town is called Stockholm (pop. 97). Yes, there are fewer than 100 residents in this town, but it was named one of the “Best of the Midwest Small Town Getaways” by Midwest Living magazine, and Travel Wisconsin named Stockholm one of the top five shopping destinations in Wisconsin. So there’s definitely something here.

35grr01_300

One of our favorites shots – Highway 35 around Maiden Rock.

Beyond Stockholm is Maiden Rock (pop. 130) which was originally called Harrisburg when it was first settled in 1854. The town changed their name to Maiden Rock, after the 400-foot bluff from which a young Dakota Indian woman named Winona (we believe this is where the Minnesota town got its name) leapt to her death rather than marry the young brave her father had chosen for her. Her story is also told with the historical marker under Maiden Rock itself.

The topography here is fantastic, but requires alert driving. There are some rather blind curves and hills at times, and the river towns have low speed limits for a reason. Maiden Rock has also experienced runaway trucks that were coming down from the coulees toward Highway 35. In one instance in 1995, a runaway truck loaded with corn crashed right through what was at the time the only store in the village. It has since been rebuilt.

histmarker_bowarrow_800Highway 35 continues to Bay City, which essentially marks the northern end of Lake Pepin, and then Hager City, which could be described as an unincorporated suburb of Red Wing, Minnesota, just across the river at this point. U.S. 63 comes in from Red Wing and crosses 35 here, on its way up to Spooner, Hayward and Ashland. Hager City is the site of a landmark “Bow and Arrow” on a bluff, as detailed with the marker at right.

For a stretch here, Highway 35 leaves the Mississippi shoreline and heads inland, climbing up and heading down a series of hills that characterize the area. A nice is to be had from Diamond Bluff, which also features a memorial park to the aforementioned Sea Wing disaster and an archeological site, also known as the Mero Mound Group. Dig it! (Couldn’t resist…) The town was founded by a guy named Monte Diamond, which explains the bluff’s name.

35nb_toprescott1_600 35nb_toprescott2_600

Highway 35 heading north into Prescott. You get a long view of the Mississippi, including where it splits toward Minnesota with the St. Croix River becoming the new state line. The view changes significantly between afternoon and evening.

Approaching the river again, Highway 35 heads into Prescott, which lies right at the spot where the Mississippi River turns away from the Wisconsin-Minnesota border and heads straight for Minneapolis and St. Paul. Prescott itself (pop. 4,000) is Wisconsin’s westernmost incorporated city and is an old river town dating back to 1839, named after its founder, whose first name was Philander (I believe they just called him “Phil” for short.) Prescott’s location along the rivers just 25 miles from the Twin Cities means its future includes becoming a suburb.

A highly recommended stop on the south side of Prescott is the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center, which offers tons of information about the river and the natural world around it as well as fantastic views looking south towards Lake Pepin and north toward the split where the St. Croix River meets the Mississippi, which is only which is only about one mile away.

grrcenter01_500grrcenter02_800

grrcenter03_800

The Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center, on Monroe Street just off Highway 35 in Prescott’s Freedom Park, offers plenty of resources for travelers and great views of the river and surrounding area from high atop one of the bluffs.

muddywaterspatio2_500Diving into the downtown area up and down Broad Street (which is Highway 35) are marinas, antique shops, a goldsmith shop and a walking tour of historic homes, and more. A great place to start (and a State Trunk Tour favorite) is at Muddy Waters Bar & Grill (715-262-5999). The decks out back that overlook the St. Croix, with the Mississipppi River junction in easy eyeshot just under a rail bridge; railroads have been spanning the St. Croix at that location since 1886. You can also view barges being flanked by boaters and jet-skiers – whom I assume aren’t present in the winter. In this picture view, Wisconsin is on the near side; the Mississippi continues to the top left into Minnesota. The St. Croix River flows into the Mississippi at this point and begins forming the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

There’s also the Welcome & Heritage Center, which chronicles local history and features displays, which sits next to Muddy Waters at the U.S. 10 bridge crossing into Minnesota.

prescott35at10_lg

Highway 35 meets up with U.S. 10, right in from Minnesota, in downtown Prescott. This area is a very popular stop for bikers, antique hunters and people trying to get out of Minnesota.

From Prescott, heading north as Broad Street (and U.S. 10), Highway 35 will bring you to the technical start of Highway 29, about one mile north of downtown. Once 35 joins with 29, you head off into open – and picturesque – countryside. For the 11 miles to River Falls, the road winds around, up and down hills and valleys that characterize the area close to the St. Croix River.

Can you believe there are two Kinnickinnics??

I guess it stands to reason: Wisconsin has more than one Fox River, more than one Wolf River… but more than one Kinnickinnic River? Indeed. One is in Milwaukee, draining the city’s south side into Lake Michigan. The other flows through western Wisconsin into the St. Croix. Kinnickinnic State Park, located along the latter, offers swimming, boat mooring, fishing, cross-country skiing, panoramic views and good bird-watching. Note to fishermen: this version of the Kinnickinnic River is a nationally recognized Class One Trout Stream. Incidentally, the word “Kinnickinnic” comes from the Ojibwa, meaning “what is mixed.” Seems that Kinnickinnic deals with mixing various plant material, including tobacco. Highway 29 offers access to the river and park between Prescott and River Falls.

You can “float the Kinni” with rentals from the Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters (877-504-9705), which also offers cabins and features a B&B. They’re located along Highway 35 just north of where Highway 29 turns east in River Falls.

River Falls

Next up on Highway 35 is beautiful River Falls (pop. 14,015), “The City on the Kinni”, as it calls itself. River Falls is definitely a college town: about 14,000 regular residents and 6,000 college students. The city is home to UW-River Falls, and served as the summer practice facility for the Kansas City Chiefs until 2009. River Falls is also increasingly a Twin Cities suburb. Highway 29 branches east to head towards Chippewa Falls; we turn north on Highway 35, which is in the process of becoming a four-lane expressway for the ride north toward I-94 and our next destination: Hudson.

i9435tomn_800As Highway 35 north heads to Hudson, it joins up with I-94 and U.S. 12 for a few miles westward. In this view at the left, you can see the huge Interstate Bridge to Minnesota over the St. Croix River ahead. As you can also see by the overhead sign, Highway 35 veers off before the bridge and heads north into the heart of Hudson.

Hudson (pop. 11,865) is a fast-growing city and the gateway city between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Hudson was originally called Willow River and then Buena Vista before being renamed Hudson in 1852, for the bluffs that reminded the city’s first mayor of the beauty of the Hudson River Valley north of New York City (you have to admit, there’s a nice resemblance.) Sawmills and steamboats were the order of the day until the railroad came through in 1871, when it became sawmills and trains. One of the lumber industries decided to take advantage of all that sand and water and started to make windows; the Andersen Corporation lives on today as one of the largest makers of windows in the U.S., although now their primary facility is across the river and upsteam just a few miles. Today, Hudson thrives on transportation, lumber and tourism, as well as serving as one of the fastest-growing areas for Twin Cities workers to live and commute. For a long time, Hudson’s bars and restaurants took advantage of the 2am closing time in Wisconsin, which pulled a lot of business from Minnesota establishments that dealt with 1am closings. Though the law on the side of the State That Elects Wrestlers and Comedians to Political Office changed a few years back, Hudson remains a favorite place for nightlife along its bustling downtown, which also features a variety of shops, galleries and restaurants. Highway 35 goes through the heart of downtown as 2nd Street, where 1st follows the river closely and 3rd goes through neighborhoods one block above (and with bluffs, each progressive street inland is above the other.) Along the river front is parkland, boat rides and rentals, and plenty of parking. Restaurants like Pier 500 and fun little places like Dick’s Sports Bar are within close proximity. It gets classy too, with the Phipps Center for the Arts serving as a venue for a variety of performances, exhibitions, theater and music, drawing people from all over the region; it’s actually a significant player in the thriving Minneapolis-St. Paul arts community.

hudson_downtown1_800

hudson_downtown3_800

Hudson’s long history means a lot of historical buildings. Like our travels in Watertown, we encountered an Octagon House, built in 1855 by a judge who liked eight-sided structures. The Octagon House (on 3rd Street, two blocks north of Vine, the old Yellowstone Trail) is open for tours and features a ton of both original and reproduced features from how the home was in the 1800s, right down to the chamber pots, dinner sets, washing “machine” and icebox. It’s definitely worth a tour, and it’s also work walking around that whole neighborhood – the whole area is very pleasant and filled with great old houses.

hudson_octhouse_800 hudson_courthouse_800

In 1915, the newly platted Yellowstone Trail, which stretched from Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts to Puget Sound in Washington state, was designated through Hudson. Coming into town from the east on Vine Street, the trail zigzagged a bit through town to approach the classic toll bridge which connected Hudson with Minnesota for four decades, right when the automobile era began.

hudson_yellowstone1_500Hudson celebrates its Yellowstone Trail heritage with an annual festival and clear markings through town, including this shot (left) at 3rd & Vine, where this 1866 church hosts an organ from that era that still plays today, with many of the original parts. The Trail itself, like the former route of U.S. 12, headed down to the entrance arch  for Hudson that either greeted visitors coming from Minnesota, or reminded travelers through Wisconsin heading west of where they just were. There’s a picture of that arch further below!

The Old Hudson Toll Bridge

At the State Trunk Tour, we’re fascinated by the old roads, bridges, buildings, and more that our parents, grandparents, etc. enjoyed – or tolerated – as they traveled around. The Hudson Toll Bridge is one of those things we like to explore. Opened in 1913, it consisted of a long causeway on the Wisconsin side that extended out into the St. Croix River and then angled upwards to a high steel truss bridge that ships could pass underneath – and then it reached the Minnesota side on a bluff. In the 1920s and 1930s, some motorists had so much difficulty with their cars navigating the steep ramps that they ran in reverse gear because their transmission could handle it better. The bridge had a toll booth on the Wisconsin side that gave Hudson residents very low property taxes for years. The bridge used by millions of travelers for decades, including gangsters like John Dillinger, who used the bridge as means of state-to-state escape. The question is, did they pay the toll??

hudson_oldtollbr1_800 hudson_oldtollbr2_400

hudson_oldtollbr4_800 hudson_oldtollbr3_800

The new and the old: Hudson’s old toll house (nothing like the cookie) stood at the end of the causeway (above) and the steep steel bridge was a challenge for some cars, especially in winter; below, this is what that area looks like now. You’re looking at some of the original bridge pillars that held up the steep steel ramps. Below, the causeway still exists, with much of the original concrete in place. On the Wisconsin side, the classic arch has welcomed people to Hudson since it was erected in the 1930s.

hudson_oldtollbr5_800

hudson_oldtollbr6_800

hudsonarch_800

 

North of Hudson is, creatively enough, North Hudson (pop. 3,463), which grew out of Hudson in 1912, right around the time the big toll bridge opened. The city straddles the 45th parallel and celebrates its Italian heritage every year with Pepperfest, which is no doubt a spicy festival. Highway 35 is the main street through town. Northeast of Hudson and North Hudson is the beautiful Willow River State Park, accessible via County Highway A. The Willow River gorge and waterfalls are a great setting for camping, picnicking. The park in total covers about 3,000 acres, almost five square miles.

hudson_willowriverSP06

Willow River State Park offers plenty of activities, but it’s the waterfalls that really set it apart.

For a while north of North Hudson, you head through farmland and, approaching unincorporated Houlton, meet up with Highway 64. Heading west on 64 takes you across the St. Croix River on a classic 1931 bridge to Stillwater, Minnesota, which although across the state line, is nonetheless a very cool place to check out. Highway 35 joins Highway 64 eastward for a while. A recent expansion has put Highways 35 & 64 on a new freeway bypass around Somerset (pop. 2,300), a former logging town that also had the ideal terrain for growing cranberries and – during Prohibition – collecting water and making moonshine. Logging and bootlegging have since taken a back seat to being a bedroom community suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and a popular destination for concerts and floating down the Apple River. To follow the real Highway 35 through Somerset, exit the new freeway at County VV; this route is also marked “Business Highway 64”, and go through town. You can hit 35 north again from the downtown area.

In the show Mystery Science Theater 3000, character Mike Nelson hails from Somerset; in an episode of Pinky and the Brain, the characters fly over a map of the U.S. with Somerset being the only city highlighted. On hot summer days, it is the only city that matters, as thousands flock to Somerset to go tubing down the Apple River, which once floated logs cut from the forests to sawmills in Somerset for cutting and shipping; today, the river gently floats inner tubes filled with people (and inflatable coolers). For camping, concerts and tubing fun, check out Float Rite Park (715-247-3453), located right along the traditional Highways 35/64 through town. It holds the Somerset Amphitheater, which expanded in 2011 and hosts a number of outdoor concerts throughout the summer, including some major concert tours.

somersetsign_800

Entering Somerset, which you can follow along County VV, the original 35 route into town – a freeway bypass just isn’t any fun.

somersetapple_800

Passing Float Rite Park, a popular destination for tubing along the Apple River – as well as the Somerset Amphitheater, which hosts quite a few concerts.

North of Somerset, Highway 35 heads into more open farmland and enters Polk County. Through the small settlement of East Farmington, watch for Ken’s Keyboard (301 State Road 35, 715-294-2876), a bar with a great sign out front – and yes, it hosts musical performances, including those using a keyboard. You’re a few miles inland from St. Croix River during most of this stretch until the river bends to get close to Highway 35 again, which becomes your next chance to cross over into Minnesota.

kenskeyboard_800

Ken’s Keyboard in East Farmington, right along Highway 35.

eastfarmchurch_800

Balancing out your actions at (or after) a visit to Ken’s Keyboard, this tidy church building sits right nearby on Highway 35.

Next up is lovely little Osceola (pop. 2,728), a signature town along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a 255-mile federally protected corridor. Osceola is home to the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway, a heritage railroad that offers 90-minute excursions from April through October through the beautiful scenery along the St. Croix and surrounding areas. You can also check out the St. Croix ArtBarn (715-294-2787), a restored century-plus old dairy barn that now includes an art gallery and 180-seat performance theater. Each year, Osceola hosts events like Rhubarb Days and Wheels & Wings.

The bridge to Minnesota & Highway 243
An interesting – and very brief – side trip for the State Trunk Tourer is to follow Wisconsin Highway 243, which lasts for about 3/10 of a mile before crossing the St. Croix River and entering Minnesota, where it becomes Minnesota Highway 243, a connector to their Highway 95. It’s just an attractive side road with great views of the river, and it’s always fun to hop across a state line.

osceolasign_300

The welcome sign for Osceola points you to various sights; a quick right on Highway 35 will bring you to the Osceola Railway, right on the other side of the bluff and the railroad track.

osceolarailway_300

 

osceola_enteringdntn_800

Downtown Osceola along Highway 35 just north of 243. Cascade Falls is just behind this shot.

osceola_indntn_800

Osceola offers plenty of shops, cafes and historic buildings along with Cascade Falls, the railway, and the beauty of the St. Croix. As you might guess, this is a popular tourist destination, especially for Twin Cities residents.

While in Osceola check out Cascade Falls, a beautiful 25-foot waterfall where Osceola Creek drops on its way into the St. Croix River. This is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Several signs and markers offer up the area’s history

osceola_cascadefallssign_800osceola_cascadefallsmarker_800

osceola_woodsign_800

osceola_street_800

Part of Osceola’s downtown strip along Highway 35 with the city’s water tower towering – if you will – in the distance.

Further north, through St. Croix Falls, Siren and Superior, we’ll take care of as we head into summer!

Just before the St. Croix becomes part of the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, Highway 35 crosses over just north of Danbury. Recent straight-line winds have clearly affected the area in these photos from August, 2012. This crosses the narrow strip of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

Highway 35 runs through the forests of Douglas County and reach Pattison State Park, home to Wisconsin’s highest waterfall, Big Manitou Falls.

Highway 35 looking towards Superior and Duluth, which are still 15 miles away.

Highway 35 looking towards Superior and Duluth from the edge of Pattison State Park; the Twin Ports are still 15 miles away. The hills are Duluth, Minnesota.

After a junction with Highway 105, Highway 35 heads into Superior, the northwestern-most city in the state. Superior is tucked into where the St. Louis River and Lake Superior meet, inviting some unique geographical features.

33

STH-033“Coast to Coast covering Circuses, Canoes, Cow Pies, Coulees and more”

WisMap33Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 33 is a “coast-to-coast” state highway, connecting La Crosse on the Mississippi with Port Washington’s scenic harbor on Lake Michigan. From the big blue waters of the Great Lake to the beautiful coulees framing La Crosse, you encounter hairpin turns in what seems like a mountain range, Baraboo’s famous Circus Museum, ski slopes of Cascade Mountain, the natural wetlands of Horicon Marsh, and some of the best canoeing in the nation along the Kickapoo. It’s a terrific cross-section of southern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Highway 33 Road Trip

The Drive (East To West): Highway 33 begins along the main street leading into Port Washington (called Grand Avenue) at the intersection with Highway 32. From the eastern terminus, you can see the hill dropping into downtown and the beautiful harbor on Lake Michigan, which is postcard-worthy on a nice day. Port Washington Tourism notes a “New England fishing village charm”, and they’re not lying.

The Start: Port Washington

Port Washington (pop. 10,683) is a beautiful harbor town with the largest collection of pre-Civil War buildings in the state on the National Register of Historic Places; they can be easily navigated in walking tours downtown. While there, check out the lighthouse that marks the harbor entrance… and count the number of tourists taking its picture. Just north on Highway 32 is the headquarters of Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation and the “Shoe Bank”, where you can get discounts on the upscale men’s wear.

Port Washington’s bustling Lake Michigan harbor is well-known as a great place to keep your boat and get some good fishing in. The downtown area is adjacent to the harbor, with bars, restaurants, shops, hotels and condos. Highway 33’s eastern start is just west of here.

ptwashharbor01_800

Port Washington’s beautiful, bustling harbor.

33eastendeb_800

Looking to the east from Highway 33’s end at Highway 32, Lake Michigan provides a beautiful backdrop. The western end of Highway 33 comes within blocks of the Mississippi River, but can’t be seen from the road.

portwashington_smithsignportwashington_fireworks01

Above: Smith Bros. Fish Shanty was famous for freshly-caught fish dinners for decades in Port Washington. The original restaurant has since closed; the name is retained in the coffee shop occupying part of the building. The rest is a Duluth Trading Company retail store and offices. The landmark sign has been refurbished and towers over the view towards the lake from where Highway 33 begins heading westward and ends heading eastward. Highway 32 continues the ride east to the waterfront and Rotary Park. Below: Port Washington’s largest annual celebration is Fish Day, which takes place in July. Fireworks over the beautiful marina are just part of the event.

For biking enthusiasts, the Interurban Trail winds through town, and all of Ozaukee County, on a former rail line. For music enthusiasts, it’s good to know that Port Washington – along with neighboring Grafton – was an early hub for Blues, Gospel, even some Country music a century ago. Grafton, about five miles southwest of Port Washington, had a building that hosted the legendary Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. There, 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. Many of the musicians were African-American and came up from Milwaukee or Chicago (often originating in St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans) and would record in Grafton and then stay overnights in Port Washington, where the record company had its offices independent from the studios. Both towns embrace this grand era of music and celebrate it annually on Labor Day weekend with the Paramount Music Festival, a three-day outdoor live music salute to the music styles of early musicians and those who followed them.

From Port Washington’s charming downtown, Highway 33 heads west through residential neighborhoods before a roundabout with County LL, which was once the highway bypass of Port Washington as U.S. 141 before the freeway was completed about a mile away in the late 1960s. An old interchange built in 1957 lasted until the early 2010s.

Highway 33 is actually one of the oldest roads in Wisconsin, tracing its roots to the 17th century as a trail connecting Horicon Marsh with the harbor on Lake Michigan in today’s Port Washington.

Heading west from Port Washington and crossing I-43/Highway 57, you enter Saukville (pop. 4,068), which sits along the Milwaukee River and is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. A number of upscale golf courses lie nearby, including The Bog, whose entrance abuts the highway. Entering Washington County at Newburg (pop. 1,119), you encounter a mixture of farmland, forests, and some marshland.

West Bend

Before long, you hit West Bend (pop. 31,078), the second largest city on Highway 33 and the seat of Washington County. As Washington Street, Highway 33 dives right into town and shaves across the north end of West Bend’s beautiful downtown district, which can be accessed directly via Main Street. Featuring a wide variety of shops, the West Bend Theater and a slew of 19th century brick architecture – several holding notable jewelry stores – it’s a great place to spend a chunk of time shopping and just enjoying the day.

Art lovers will take note of the Museum of Wisconsin Art (300 S. 6th Ave., 262-334-9638), which holds a sizeable collection from Carl von Marr and a unbelieveable doll house – seriously. Walter Zinn, who had a malting company way back when, started building a doll house for his daughter Lenore in 1911 for her fifth birthday and just couldn’t stop. By 1957, he had developed a 27-room mansion of a doll house that contains over 1,200 miniature items, including artifacts brought back from overseas trips. On the next block, the Washington County Historical Society (320 S. 5th Ave., 262-335-4678) offers museum fun in their 19th century courthouse and a jailhouse. The Society also operates the St. Agnes Historical Site nearby, which features homestead sites built between 1856 and 1878 that are well-preserved.

Appliance lovers will love the Regal Ware Museum (18 E. Washington Street), located right on Highway 33. Since 1911, West Bend and “suburb” Kewaskum have been meccas for the manufacture of small cooking appliances and utensils. The name “West Bend” has peered out to users of blenders, mixers, and utensil users everywhere for decades. In 2002, Regal Ware (which started in Kewaskum in 1919) took West Bend over and, despite being worldwide conglomerate, continues to manufacture items in the area. So what can be exhibited at such a place? How about the world’s first whistling tea kettle? Or inventions that never quite made it to market, like the electric pizza cutter? Kitchenware products throughout the decades – reflecting everything from elegant styles to fashion eras some may wish to forget – are on display at this new and rather unique museum. Built inside a former credit union, the Regal Ware Museum is the only museum in the nation with an operable drive-thru window. Check out a YouTube video of the museum here, made by somebody we stumbled upon.

The west side of West Bend brings Highway 144 along for the ride and a freeway junction with U.S. Highway 45, which bypass the city. West Bend’s growth continues along Highway 33 to the west, approaching Highway 144’s turnoff southward toward Cedar Lake and Slinger, being part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive.

33divideOn the ridge right next to 144’s turnoff, you cross the Subcontinental Divide, designated with a marker along the south side of the highway. East of this marker, all water flows into Lake Michigan and out to the Atlantic Ocean; west of it, water flows to the Mississippi River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not quite the Continental Divide through the Rockies, but it’s still pretty major. At this point, you’ve climbed 600 feet in the 20 miles since the Port Washington harbor at Lake Michigan.

Further west, the junction with I-41 marks the entrance to Allenton; you swoop down into the (unincorporated) town, cross the Rock River and railroad line and head back up. On the climb, you have a nice view back east. Allenton is where former NASCAR driver and current General Manager of Roush Fenway Racing Robbie Reiser was born. His father John Reiser also raced throughout Wisconsin and the nation, founded Triton Trailers and managed the Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series race shops. He obviously lived there for a while too, so racing is tied in with Allenton’s history – and yet, the speed limit on Highway 33 is pretty strictly enforced.

The Yellowstone Trail Junction.
You may notice a small street sign saying “Yellowstone Tr.” on it. While today’s Highway 33 swoops left slightly, what you see marked as “Yellowstone Trail” is a small segment of the old Highway 33 that once crossed under Highway 175, which prior to 1954 was U.S. 41 and part of the nationwide Yellowstone Trail, the famous route “from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound.” A rather cool Art Deco-style bridge (below) was built back in 1933 to carry U.S. 41 over Highway 33 in what was an early attempt at bypassing a town – in this case, Allenton – and creating a safer intersection by using grade separation.

former33-175crossing

The Highway 33 underpass under the Yellowstone Trail, 1933-2005.

33_175_housemarker_800

The story of an old bridge and the Yellowstone Trail along Highway 33 on the west side of Allenton.

The bridge was torn down in 2005 and now the two roads meet at a regular 4-way stop (that’s no fun, what the heck??) But you can still trace parts of the old route, and right next to where the bridge stood stands the Simon Weiss House. The house was built in 1896 and was the neighbor of the bridge for 72 years; the historic marker to the right tells the story.

33at67Approaching Highway 67, Highway 33 ducks under a major railroad line, one of many that connect the northern woods with the big cities that processed the trees and minerals that came down. Today, you’ll also notice between Allenton and Horicon that there are windmills everywhere – this area, like the ridge on the north end of Horicon Marsh, has a lot of wind and was designated as a good place for wind farms.

 

Horicon and the Horicon Marsh

Shortly after entering Dodge County and crossing Highway 67, you come upon Horicon (pop. 3,775), known as the “City On The Marsh”. The marsh, of course, being the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a pretty unmistakable feature; a vast expanse of flat land that looks like a lake had been drained there. And that’s pretty close to how things got to be this way. When the glaciers that once covered this part of the state retreated, a moraine was formed that worked like a dam and created a large lake. The Rock River, which uses the Marsh as its source, gradually drained the natural lake and turned it, well, marshy. People tried manipulating it again twice: from 1846 to 1896, a dam re-created the glacial lake; after it became a marsh again, there was an attempt to drain it from 1910 to 1914 and use the area for farmland. That didn’t quite work either, and today the Marsh is preserved and protected to serve as one of the world’s largest “rest stops” for migrating birds.

marshfrom28_800

The view stretches far and wide along Horicon Marsh, which sprawls to the north from Horicon and Highway 28, just north of where it begins at Highway 33. This is a prime spot for bird watching, and several areas along the road have turn-outs and side roads where you can set up with some binoculars and plant yourself.

The Horicon Marsh covers about 50 square miles – equivalent to about half of the City of Milwaukee. The southern third of the marsh, around Horicon, is managed mostly by the state; the northern two-thirds (up by Highway 49) is under Federal control by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Over 290 species of our winged friends have been documented in the Marsh, making it a top birding area. It’s a favorite layover for over 200,000 migrating Canada geese as they make their way back and forth in spring and fall – think of it as a rest area on the bird migration highway. (Find out more about birding here.) Horicon Marsh draws nature lovers, bird watchers, hunters, scout groups and naturalists. It can draw mosquitoes too, so bring some repellent.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S., and the area around Horicon Marsh has the highest concentration of drumlins in the world.

As you go into Horicon’s downtown area, Highway 28 begins and heads back northeast, along the southern boundary of the Marsh. Meanwhile, Highway 33 heads right into downtown. John Deere has a large plant in the city that cranks out lawn and garden tractors, golf and turf reel mowers and utility vehicles. It’s been there a long time, and will hopefully continue for a long time. Horicon also has access to the Wild Goose State Trail and naturally draws on the scenic beauty of the marsh and also maintains a nice park system, particularly along the Rock River, whose headwaters come out of the marsh. Oh, and the high school team nickname? The Marshmen.

28gunner_225hihoriconpk

An old war relic sits in a park in Horicon, overlooking the Rock River and the John Deere plant behind it. Horicon cranks out a LOT of tractors, snow blowers and other sundry, handy machinery. Meanwhile, Highway 28 starts on the east side of Horicon, right off Highway 33. After a cruise through some neighborhoods, Horicon Marsh is just around the corner.

Highway 33 cuts right through Horicon after the junction with Highway 28 and then ducks southwest out of town, pushing west past the Wild Goose Trail, a great rail-to-trail path connecting Clyman Junction and Fond du Lac while skirting the west edge of Horicon Marsh. The intersection with Highway 26 is known as Minnesota Junction. Note, however, that it looks nothing like Minnesota. There was a noticeable lack of Vikings fans and lutefisk at the junction on this particular day.

Crystal Creek Cheese House along Highway 33

Crystal Creek Cheese House, where you can battle potential osteoporosis in a tasty way.

Shortly thereafter to the south you’ll see the Dodge County Fairgrounds (I happened to catch the Fair on my trip) right near the Crystal Creek Dairy House (920-887-2806), which not only has a nice selection of cheese but serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a specialty in burgers and homemade ice cream. But the “CHEESE” sign is what catches the eye as you drive by.

Just past the fairgrounds and the Beaver Dam Raceway, a 1/3-mile banked clay oval track, Highway 33 meets the U.S. 151 freeway, which is a bypass of Beaver Dam to the east.

 

 

Beaver Dam

bvrdam

Highway 33 runs through the heart of Beaver Dam, which features an extensive downtown strip and, apparently, access to dams and beavers.

Founded in 1841, Beaver Dam (pop. 15,169) is Dodge County’s largest city. Bobby Hatfield, one of the Righteous Brothers, was born here and actor Fred MacMurray of the classic TV show My Three Sons – and many movies – grew up here. Beaver Dam is home to Wayland Academy, a college preparatory high school that was established in 1855 as a Baptist university. Graduates of Wayland include pro wrestler Ric Flair; Jensen Buchanan, formerly of Another World and General Hospital fame, Olympic speed skater Maddie Horn, and a series of congressional representatives, reporters and columnists and even a NASA rocket scientist (Andrew Mulder), although apparently you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to go there. Highway 33 cuts right through the center of Wayland’s 55-acre campus.

Midwest Cream Cheese Competition, Beaver DamHey, this is Wisconsin, the cheese capital of the nation – and perhaps the world. Do you like cream cheese? If so, know that Beaver Dam is home to one of the largest processing plants for Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese. In fact, Beaver Dam hosts the annual Midwest Cream Cheese Competition in salute of this distinction, so bring your best cream cheese-related recipe.

The downtown stretch of Highway 33 follows Business US 151 for a while before angling north to run parallel to Beaver Dam Lake, upon which the city sits. There were no actual beaver sightings during the Tour, however…maybe it was an off day.

Highway 33’s northern jaunt leads to nearby Fox Lake (pop. 1,454). The Depot Museum on Cordelia Street (920-296-0254) sits in a building constructed in 1861 just off Highway 33, which is known as Spring Street through town. Along with information, it features about one block of no-longer-used railroad track and an adjacent walking trail that winds through and describes the native vegetation. Adjacent is an historical marker noting Fox Lake as the birthplace of noted jazz musician “Bunny” Berigan, who played with Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, and Bing Crosby. Louie Armstrong was a big fan, too, as the marker indicates.

foxlakedepot

Built in 1861, the Fox Lake Depot remains to give people information about the railroads and let people play on real railroad tracks without fear of getting run over.

foxlake_buickdealer

Adorned with older Buick and Pontiac neon signs, this classic dealership facility is today home to Streich Motors, along Highway 33 in Fox Lake as you begin to head west again.

Fox Lake is about 62 miles from the starting point in Port Washington… or 100 kilometes for all you metric freaks. This is a longer trek across farmland and the approaching hills. You cross Highway 73 and see lots of rural things, like mailboxes with fish mouths for doors. Parts of “Old” Highway 33 are visible just west of the intersection with Highway 73, giving you an idea of what some of the roads were like way back when. Hints of landforms to come also become visible heading westbound, as some of the hills in the distance begin to show themselves and beckon.

33old-near73

33old2-near73

Old sections of Highway 33 are still in use – or at least visible – in areas. This was grandpa’s route on 33, taking decades to deteriorate; to the right, you can see the new, current highway adjacent to the old one.

33wb_towardsportage_800

33wbtoportage_800

Highway 33 beelines across Columbia County past rolling farmland, with impending hills in the distance as you approach Portage.

Portage

Highway 33 entering Portage

After parading across some territory and crossing Highways 22 and 44, the next town in question is Portage (pop. 9,728), named for its location at the only traditional land break along the Fox-Wisconsin waterway, a 1.5 mile “portage” between the two rivers which connect the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Used as a land portage for centuries by Native Americans and then European settlers to cross between the two major basins of the country, it was eventually connected via the Portage Canal. The Canal was constructed between 1849 and 1876, the dream of investors to make the Fox-Wisconsin corridor one of the great water highways in the nation. However, the railroads took over in importance and the Canal couldn’t compete. It still exists, treated by pumps and an aeration flow system. Efforts are underway to restore the canal, the use of which by boats ended in 1951 when the dam and locks making its use possible were closed to protect the separate water basins. The Canal’s south bank is now part of the National Ice Age Trail, created in 2006, which also included cleaning up the canal.

Portage Canal

Above and Below: Portions of the original Portage Canal, connecting the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Portage Canal

It’s home to Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters Historic Site, part of former Fort Winnebago. It was built in 1828 between the rivers on the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway to help protect the portage. Decommissioned in 1845 and ravaged by fire in 1856, little remains today, but the old “Surgeon’s Quarters” stayed intact and is open for tours. Built in 1824, this log cabin started as a trading post at this strategic junction and later served as the Surgeon’s Quarters for Fort Winnebago (hence the name.) The Old Indian Agency House is another point of interest on the grounds.

Portage sign

Fort Winnebago site along Highway 33

Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters Historic Site, right along Highway 33.

Portage is the county seat of Columbia County and considered by many where “up North” begins – including its Chamber. Its strategic location, once defined by a connecting waterway and Fort Winnebago, is now defined by the I-39 and I-90/94 split and junction of Highway 16, and U.S. Highway 51, while Highway 33 goes through the heart of town as Cook Street. Still, Portage boasts a sizeable downtown that overlooks the waterway area, filled with shops and businesses catering to both tourists and residents from miles around. Writer Zona Gale hailed from Portage and used the area as a setting for her Pulitzer prize-winning play Miss Lulu Bett in 1921. It’s a nice walking downtown, and this Walking Tour Guide can help you enjoy stretching your legs and discovering shops, restaurants, and other points of interest.

Highway 33 in Portage as Cook Street.

HIghway 33 at U.S. 51 & 16 in downtown Portage

Downtown Portage, a significant crossroads for a long time.

Downtown Portage is a bustling crossroads, where U.S. 51 and Highway 16 also meet.

portage_pawquettepark

Portage includes some nice parks, like the lovely Pierre Pawquette Park, named after an early French settler.

Just past downtown Portage, Highway 33 crosses the Wisconsin River and heads toward two major interstate junctions. The first is I-39 (and formerly Highway 78 until 1992), which heads north toward Wausau and south to Madison and Illinois. The I-90/94 interchange arrives about two miles later, which is the main route between Madison and the Twin Cities. Cascade Mountain, the well-known skiing area, lies just to the south of this interchange and hints at the topography to come; the Baraboo Range, which kicks off the western half of the Highway 33 Tour, undoubtedly the prettiest from a topography standpoint.

33baraboor baraboo_slopeup

33eastrock

Exposed rock formations along Highway 33 hint at what’s available for climbing and gazing upon in nearby Devil’s Lake State Park.

Between Portage and Baraboo, the Baraboo Range – and the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin – takes over the local topography. The glaciers that worked like massive irons, flattening out the land and leaving small lakes everywhere in the Midwest didn’t quite catch this part of Wisconsin. Lucky you: Highway 33 snakes around increasingly impressive landforms featuring bluffs, rock formations and deep valleys as a result. Check out the Lower Narrows historical marker, which outlines information on the Baraboo Range and ancient rock formations you’re driving through.

Man Mound

Just off Highway 33, get a little history by checking out the Man Mound National Historic Landmark. By following Man Mound Road, you can access what’s left of a Native American burial mound, originally built to look like a man from above. It remains significant as the only surviving anthropomorphic effigy mound in North America. Measuring 214 feet long by 48 feet wide (before construction of the road cut through the legs and shortened him by about 50 feet), this was one large man. Likely built sometime between 750AD and 1200AD, it was “re-discovered” in 1859, dedicated as a county park in 1908, and became a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Man Mound Park & Historic Marker

It’s not obvious from this shot, but the Man Mound does clearly show the outline of a man, made hundreds of years ago. The legs got chopped off by what is now called Man Mound Road; the feet end in a farmyard across the street.

Baraboo

Named after the Range, Baraboo (pop. 11,550) hosts a number of organizations and was named one of the 20 best small towns to visit in the U.S. in 2013 by Smithsonian.com. It, similar to Delavan, is a circus town: Baraboo is home to the Circus World Museum, once the headquarters and winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus. Today, the living museum hosts the largest library of circus information in the U.S. Crane lovers probably know that Baraboo is home to the International Crane Foundation, the world’s foremost organization dedicated to preserving and restoring crane species. Famed ecologist Aldo Leopold is a native son, and the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center at the Foundation is LEED-certified as perhaps the “greenest” building in the U.S. It’s carbon-neutral and uses locally-harvested wood products. But Baraboo is probably most known for the circus — the big one, for all practical purposes.

Early Ringling Bros. poster

An early Ringling Bros. poster. Apparently barrels were very popular at the time.

Baraboo and the Circus…and the College. In 1884, seven brothers named Ringling (Al, August, Otto, Alfred, Charles, John and Henry) founded the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo. Actually, it was called “Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers” but Yankee went away at some point. They traveled the country, wowing people with a show that for a while had a monstrous official title: “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals”. They eventually bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus and by 1919, they were merged into the name most people knew them by: Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The “Barnum” in question, by the way, is P.T. Barnum, who is credited with the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Barnum was all wet, by the way – there are hundreds of suckers born every minute.) There was a Ringling Clown College for a while. It started in Venice, Florida in 1968, moved to Baraboo in the early 90s and then relocated back to Florida before closing in 1997. Graduates and instructors from Ringling’s Clown College include Bill Irwin, Penn Jillette, Steven “Steve-O” Glover, and Philippe Petit (the guy who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974.) Honorary graduates of the school include Dick Van Dyke and weatherman/octogenarian greeter Willard Scott who, interestingly, was the first person to portray Ronald McDonald in a TV commercial. But we’re getting off track here.

Embedded in the concrete surrounding the Sauk County Courthouse are elephants, camels, everything short of cotton candy to help illustrate Baraboo’s circus connection. Not enough to convince you? Check the historical marker on the big rock across from the Al Ringling Theatre.

baraboosq_cementbarabooringlingmarker_800

Just south of Highway 33 along Highway 113 is part of the west side of Baraboo’s beautiful town square, which frames the Sauk County Courthouse. Encircling the square are shops a’plenty, along with bars, restaurants and the impressive Al Ringling Theatre. Built in 1915, it’s often known as “America’s Prettiest Playhouse.”

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on a State Trunk Tour” Dept:
baraboochess_600

On the Sauk County Courthouse grounds, an impromptu oversize chess match.

speedlimit2_200w

Imagine getting a ticket for going 3 mph.

Okay, back to circus stuff: following Highway 113 south from 33 past downtown, the road turns to parallel the Baraboo River and approach the Circus World Museum, a place where boys, girls and children of all ages can see how circuses have worked and entertained people for generations. As they say, “experience the thrill that never gets old,” featuring a Circus Museum, an area called Ringlingville, a wide variety of circus animals and the World’s Largest Circus Wagon Collection. Many buildings in the Circus World Museum date back to the 19th century and plenty of plaques will tell you more.

circusworldfront_300

The entrance to Circus World, right along Highway 113 on Baraboo’s south side.

camelhouse_800

The Circus World Museum offers plenty of history, animals and smells.

Devil’s Lake State Park, located south of Highway 33 as you enter Baraboo from the east, is Wisconsin’s most visited and, at over 10,000 acres, there’s plenty of room for nature lovers and adventurers of all kinds. Follow Highway 113 or U.S. 12 south to access the park.

Baraboo’s geography isn’t just a pleasant treat for State Trunk Tourers; it’s a hotbed for structural geology. University of Wisconsin researchers, including Charles Van Hise, used the area to advance the science and today the Baraboo Hills are designated one of the “Last Great Places” by Nature Conservancy due to the relatively unique plants, rocks and animals in the area.

Highway 33 skims the north side of Baraboo as 8th Street, where it intersects the northern end of Highway 113 (the route southward to the museum) and enters the village of West Baraboo (pop. 1,414) and passes the Ochsner Park & Zoo (903 Park Street, 608-355-2760), right by a bend in the Baraboo River. The Zoo dates back to 1926 and includes lynx, monkeys, llamas, tortoises, and more.

In West Baraboo, Highway 33 joins meets up with Highway 136, which was previously U.S. 12. Highway 136 continues west and heads towards North Freedom, Rock Springs, and Baraboo; as of 2017 now, it also heads south via the former U.S. 12 to Devil’s Lake State Park. To the north, Pine Street is also the former U.S. 12 and continues now as County BD. Plenty of hotels greet you here. Highway 33 technically follows the new U.S. 12 expressway bypass just west of the Pine Street intersection, but you can take Pine Street/County BD if you prefer the original road. One key stop a few miles north is just where Highway 33 leaves U.S. 12 and begins to head west again.

Cow Pie Alert!

Cow Pie store along Highway 33Ever enjoyed a Cow Pie? No, not the stuff in the grass, the delicious chocolate, caramel, and pecan concoction from Baraboo Candy Company. They invented and popularized the treat, shipping it all over the world. The original featured chocolate, and variations now include dark chocolate, peanut butter, and others. Baraboo Candy also makes chocolate bars, Mint Meltys, a variety of candy and other sources of deliciousness, many made right in-house. You can enjoy a Cow Pie right from source just off Highway 33; the store is located on old U.S. 12, which now County BD, about a mile north of where Highway 33 turns west from U.S. 12. So if you want to get your Cow Pie fix, just continue north one mile from where Highway 33 turns west. Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells and the Baraboo-Dells Flight Center are on the east side of the road, and you’ll see the Baraboo Candy Company store on the west side. It’s an easy stop (they have had fewer “walk-ins” since the bypass opened) and it’s a quick ride back to Highway 33 to continue west towards Reedburg.

The Baraboo Candy Company store is open 9am -5pm Mondays – Saturdays and 10am – 3pm Sundays. You can call ahead at (608) 356-7425.

Reedsburg

After that short stint with U.S. 12 and the old vs. new road, Highway 33 breaks west again, soon picking up Highway 23 for the ride into Reedsburg (pop. 9.537). Prior to entering the city, the Pioneer Log Village and Museum provides a first-hand look at log buildings, antique furnishings and a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th century frontier days. Tours are available from 1-4pm on weekends during the summer. The Museum of Norman Rockwell Art (227 S. Park St.) features almost 4,000 of the famous artist’s works. Speaking of artists, famous comic artist and cartoonist Clare Briggs hailed from Reedsburg. It’s also the starting point for the “400” State Trail, which runs to Elroy as part of the state’s increasingly-extensive rail-trail system for bicycles, hikers, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.

reedsburg_90thmeridianmarker

This marker almost marks the exact spot of the 90th meridian, the halfway point between the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. The actual spot is within a few hundred yards – but why don’t they just put it right at that spot??

Reedsburg sits on the 90th Meridian, which marks the halfway point between the Prime Meridian (which runs through Greenwich and London, England) and the International Date Line, marking the exact center of the Western Hemisphere. A marker in the median of Highway 33 notes the meridian’s location – actually, for some reason, it sits 325 feet west of it. The city once hosted a World War II POW camp and pioneered both the first Ford dealership and the first sanctioned Little League in Wisconsin.

reedsburg_23-33downtown01

Downtown Reedsburg, which Highway 33 goes right through as the main street along with Highway 23, extends for a while with storefronts on either side. It’s a wide street compared to most smaller towns’ main streets, and the views – especially of the Baraboo Bluffs – show the beautiful topography that beckons.

reedsburg_trainstation

Built in 1906, the Reedsburg Train Depot served passenger traffic until 1963. Today, it’s a popular stop along the “400” Bicycle Trail, which runs on the railbed of the former train between St. Paul and Chicago.

reedsburg_signs02

We spotted this on a trailer sitting by itself in Reedsburg. What’s it about? We don’t know, but being sign geeks we liked it!

reedsburg_sunflowersalong23-33

Colorful sunflowers added to the beauty of the drive along Highways 23 & 33 just east of Reedsburg,

After Highway 23 breaks away to head south, Highway 33 starts moving west and northwest, winding through and around the hills and valleys into places like La Valle (pop. 326 and, creatively enough, “La Valle” is French for “The Valley”) and – once you cross into Juneau County – Wonewoc.

In Wonewoc (pop. 834), Highway 33 is the main street and parallels the Baraboo River through downtown. Canoeing, a theme which will be visited again on this stretch of 33, is popular with both residents and tourists. The “400” Trail, which began back in Reedsburg, ends in Wonewoc where it finds new trails to hook up with. The downtown area is quiet and small, but features a number of bars for some food, a beer, or spirits. And speaking of, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center covets spirits of a different kind. Founded as the Joint Stock Spiritualist Association in 1874 as known for a long time as the Western Wisconsin Spiritualist Camp, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center hosts a sizeable number of members every summer, who enjoy the serenity of hills surrounding the town and the area.

wonewocch1

Only a church steeple reveals itself above the trees in Wonewoc, tucked in a valley along the Baraboo River and the “400” Trail. And, of course, Highway 33.

wonewocbldg

Locals said this was the tallest building not just in Wonewoc, but in all of Juneau County. I’d probably have to confirm that… silos are taller than this thing!

Past Wonewoc by a few miles is Union Center, where you intersect with Highways 80 and 82 and head west to Hillsboro (pop. 1,302). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is the last town on Highway 33 with over 1,000 people until you get to La Crosse. It’s home to annual Czech festivals and counts among its native sons B.J. Schumacher, who rides regularly with Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (also known as “PBR”, but that gets confused with a different type of PBR in this state.) It’s also home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, which started up in 2012 and offers its brews in a former shoe store in the heart of downtown, where Highways 33, 80, and 82 converge.

Highway 33 and Highway 82 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing's Tap Room

Highway 33 and Highway 82 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing’s Pub.

*** 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 which is slated to open late 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.

amishpkg_800

The Amish population is significant between Wonewoc and Cashton on Highway 33, especially near this market parking area in Hillsboro. 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.

hillsboromouse_150hihillsboromouse2_150hi

Above: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 33 (coupled with 80 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 80 breaks south; three miles later Highway 82 splits off to the southwest.

Hillsboro and the Cheyenne Valley… Diversity before diversity was cool

In the mid-1800s, a sizable 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 harmonious 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 settlers. About half the barns he supervised and participated in the construction of still stand, and some are seen along Highway 33. There is an official driving tour of the Cheyenne Valley exploring this, which can be download in .PDF format here. Highway 33 from Hillsboro to Wildcat Mountain State Park is part of the tour.

cowsterrfarm

Terracing crops may be necessary for farmers out here, leading to interesting swaths of corn, soybeans and other growables that the cows can gaze upon and appreciate.

33hillsun

Part of the drive between Hillsboro and Ontario on Highway 33. As you can see, there’s a reason the lanes are marked for “no passing.”

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Driftless Area of Wisconsin, which you’re smack dab in the midst of at this point on Highway 33, is the only part of Wisconsin with no natural lakes.

Speaking of, the segment of Highway 33 resembles a twisty Colorado mountain road at times through the gorgeous Cheyenne Valley and approaching Wildcat Mountain State Park. Over 3,600 acres of scenery, trails and wildlife await in the park, which offers great views of the Kickapoo River Valley. Meanwhile, hairpin turns await you on Highway 33… seriously! You have to drop to about 20 mph to make it around some of these curves. Check out one of them in the pictures below, just east of Ontario…you might forget you’re in Wisconsin. (Click on any picture below for a larger version.)

33hairpin1_800

33hairpin

33hairpin3_800

This is all part of one big hairpin turn in Wildcat Mountain State Park along Highway 33. These are some tight curves!

Entering Ontario (pop. 476), you cross Highway 131 and the Kickapoo River, often called the “Crookedest River in the World.” This is major canoeing territory. Canoe rental places provide opportunities for taking a break from the drive and paddling your way up or down the Kickapoo and checking out the rock formations and (at times unusual) plant species lining the banks.

ontario_canoeskick

Canoes line the banks of the Kickapoo; you can rent them in Ontario and work your way through the twists and turns.

ontario_kickapoocanoes1_800

Past Ontario, Highway 33 enters Monroe County and works westerly across ridges and coulees, providing a twisty-turny drive (if you have a directional compass in your vehicle, it might be spinning like a top) and great views all around. You’ll go through Cashton (pop. 1,005), where you cross Highway 27. The cartoon strip Gasoline Alley, which has been around since 1918, was created by Frank King; he was born in Cashton and grew up in nearby Tomah.

Juusto Cheese at Pasture Pride along Highway 27 in Cashton, just south of Highway 33Cashton is also home to Pasture Pride Cheese (608-654-7444), just south 33 along Highway 27 – you can see it from the roundabout. They offer a variety of cheeses using milk from the nearby Amish farmers, going all grass-fed for their cows and goats. Pasture Pride is also home of that “Juusto” Cheese, the baked Finnish style of cheese that looks baked and is extra buttery in flavor – that’s what the judges who shower them with awards generally say.

Just past Portland you cross into La Crosse County, the second-most populated county on Highway 33 after Washington. Some of the best views have yet to come; at Middle Ridge, feel free to play the Who’s song “I Can See For Miles”… because you can.

Coulees, coulees everywhere
Not to be confused with “cooties”, which I was accused of having back in second grade, “coulees” are ravines with deep, steep sides. They’re formed by erosion and often harbor little mini-worlds of plants that could otherwise not grow in the surrounding land. “Coulee” is derived from the French verb couler, meaning “to flow.” The things you learn on the State Trunk Tour…

33coulee01

Sample view near Middle Ridge, in La Crosse County. Coulees are the prime geographical feature in these here parts.

33grotto

The Holy Family Grotto in the Town of St. Joseph was built in the late 1920s for the Franciscan Sisters at St. Joseph’s Ridge. It combines rocks, shells, glass, and mortar to form a beautiful monument to faith and patriotism.

La Crosse

33intolac_800

The drop into La Crosse gives you good perspective on the terrain lining the eastern side of the city; Highway 33 descends from St. Joseph’s Ridge into town as State Road, then Jackson Street.

Highway 33 continues along St. Joseph’s Ridge for the ride into the final destination, La Crosse (pop. 51,818). Situated on a rare piece of flat land amidst beautiful coulees and hills, La Crosse emerged as a Native American trading post due to its position at the confluence of the Black and Mississippi Rivers. La Crosse holds a number of “quality of life” accolades, often involving low crime or livable small city status; I note USA Today also named La Crosse one of the “Top Ten Places Worldwide to Toast Oktoberfest” (more on that in a second.) Long known as a brewery town, La Crosse was home to G. Heileman Brewing Company for almost 140 years, cranking out a variety of brands, most notably Old Style. Today, the sprawling brewery complex lies right along the north of Highway 33, just south of downtown La Crosse, where it continues to run as the City Brewery.

6pack_500Once Heileman and the home of Old Style, the “World’s Largest Six Pack,” which holds enough beer to fill 7.3 million cans, lives on as the storage tanks for the City Brewery, founded in 1999. City Brewery brews about a dozen of its own beers as well as Mike’s Hard Lemonade and several flavors of Arizona Tea. This is one block north of Highway 33’s western end.

The World’s Largest Six Pack (obviously pictured above) is indicative of La Crosse’s fun style, and you can access it by following U.S. Highway 14/61’s northbound lanes for just a few blocks, then turning left one block and heading back south. Highway 33’s western end is one block south of the gigantic, John Blutarsky-pleasing sight.

La Crosse is Wisconsin’s largest city on the Mississippi River and holds the corporate headquarters of Kwik Trip, the Trane air conditioning company, and FirstLogic. This is where journalist Chris Bury got his start before moving on to Emmy Awards and little shows like Good Morning America, Nightline and World News Tonight. Model and actress Alexa Demara hails from La Crosse; FHM magazine called her “the hottest thing to come out of Wisconsin since Brett Favre’s spiral.” A century earlier, actress Minnie Dupree came out of La Crosse to a prominent career in New York theatre. Young actor Brandon Ratcliff also hails from the city.

It’s also a college town, home to Viterbo University, Western Wisconsin Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. In keeping with the spirit of the World’s Largest Six Pack, La Crosse also hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States and has been doing so every year since 1961.

lacrosse_grandadbluff02

One of La Crosse’s most notable landforms, Granddad Bluff made an appearance in Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, towers over 500 feet above the city and brilliantly reflects the afternoon sun. It makes the whole city prettier; this shot was taken from a K-mart parking lot.

Highway 33 descends into La Crosse as State Road, then as Jackson Street, to the point where you might find your ears popping. Just north of Highway 33 as you enter town is Grandad’s Bluff, the most notable landform in the area – next to the Mississippi River, of course. You basically enter the city on the south side of town, crossing Highway 35 and then ending at U.S. 14 & 61, right at the City Brewery, formerly the Heileman Brewing Company. It’s still a large complex!

33westend

Highway 33 comes to an end just a few blocks shy of the Mississippi River at U.S. Highways 14 and 61, less than a mile from where those two roads cross into Minnesota. Downtown La Crosse and City Brewery are visible to the north at the intersection ahead.

From the end of Highway 33, head north on U.S. 14/61 into downtown La Crosse, where you can enjoy Historic Pearl Street. It’s filled with Civil War-era buildings, specialty shops, a microbrewery, galleries, antique shops, coffee houses and, at night, college students doing what they do best when they’re not studying. The Pearl Street Brewery, once located on Pearl Street, now sits nearby on the north side of town in a former Rubber Mills Boot factory. On the east side of downtown along 9th Street, the Swarthout Museum features changing exhibits from prehistoric to Victorian; over on 5th Street, the Children’s Museum of La Crosse has exhibits for our future leaders on three floors, along with a climbing wall for all ages. All of this can be reached by your car, or you can hop the La Crosse Trolley in the warm weather months for a little “no need for the gas pedal” tour.

La Crosse is home to the La Crosse Loggers, one of the Northwoods League baseball teams. They play at Copeland Park (aka “The Lumber Yard”), which sits north of downtown just off U.S. 53. The Loggers play a 70-game season from June through August. This is a good baseball town; it’s where MLB players Damian Miller, Scott Servais, George Williams and Jarrod Washburn all hail from.

16_gdadbluffOne of La Crosse’s most notable landforms, Granddad Bluff made an appearance in Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, towers over 500 feet above the city and brilliantly reflects the afternoon sun.

Drive-In Watch:
Rudy’s Drive-In is one of the great ones in Wisconsin. Built in 1966, Rudy’s features roller-skating carhops and a sheltered carport where you can pull up and order your probably-unhealthy-but-delicious food from the menu sitting right out your window.

rudys800Car shows and “Cruise Nights” happen regularly throughout the summer. You can find Rudy’s two blocks west of Highway 35 along Highway 16 (La Crosse Street).Highway 35 basically bypasses downtown La Crosse, instead going right through neighborhoods. You have good access to downtown via U.S. 14/61 or Highway 16.

lax_twinbridges_800

Along with I-90 to the north, the two main bridges spanning the Mississippi River and connecting La Crosse with La Crescent, Minnesota are collectively called, creatively enough, the “Mississippi River Bridge.” Yeah. Individually, the nearer one in the picture is the Cameron Avenue Bridge, which opened in 2004; the other is the Cass Street Bridge. Opened in 1940, the Cass Street Bridge originally carried both directions of traffic; today, each bridge carries one-way.

dntnlacrosse_800

Downtown La Crosse, across from an island beach in the Mississippi. That’s the skyline right there – if you don’t count the bluffs in the backdrop.

lax_paddleboat_800

Paddleboats ply the Mississippi in the summer and make stops in La Crosse at Riverside Park.

So there you have it! Highway 33, 200 miles from the Great Lake to the Great River, with some great towns and great scenery along the way. Enjoy!

CONNECTIONS
East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: Highway 57, about 2 miles west; Interstate 43, about 2 miles west; Highway 60, about 4 miles southwest

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 14, U.S. 61
Can connect nearby to: Highway 16, about 1/2 mile north; U.S. 53, about 1/2 mile north; Highway 35, about 3/4 mile east; Interstate 90, about 5 miles north

Highway 27 between Rising Sun and Fairview
27

STH-027“Whipping and Winding Down Western Wisconsin”

 

WisMap27Quickie Summary: For the Wisconsin Highway 27 Road Trip, State “Trunk” Highway 27 runs for almost 300 miles from the wilderness of Brule River State Forest near the Lake Superior shore, through a slew of rural towns, up, down and around western Wisconsin’s rugged landscape, all the way to the banks of the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien. Scenery, serenity and small-town charm abound on this route from top to bottom.

Wisconsin Highway 27 Road Trip

The Drive (North To South): Highway 27 begins at U.S. 2 in Brule (pop. 607) at the edge of the Brule River State Forest. Now, you may also know that there’s a Brule River on the Wisconsin-Michigan U.P. border on the northeastern edge of the state. This is not the same river; this one is officially the Bois Brule River (but locals refer to it simply as the “Brule”), which runs from Upper St. Croix Lake into Lake Superior. Speaking of, Highway 27 is only about 15 miles from Lake Superior at its northern start; at times along U.S. 2 nearby, you can still see the lake and the sizable Iron Range hills in Minnesota. So you’re almost as far north in Wisconsin as you can get. Not surprisingly, logging and fishing are the two main activities around here.

The River of Presidents. The Brule River is also known as the “River of Presidents”. Presidents Coolidge, Cleveland, Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower came here regularly to fish and hang out, far away from the craziness around D.C. This is also a huge area for fly fishing, and the river is one of the preeminent trout streams in North America. And yes, fish fry Fridays are quite popular here. You can sample a Brule fish fry at Kro Bar & Grill (13920 E. Hwy 2, 715-372-4876), River House Restaurant (13844 E. Hwy 2, 715-372-5696) or at the Twin Gables Cafe (Corner of Hwy 2 & 27, 715-372-4831). Wild rice is another popular local item, and all through Douglas County you’ll find wild rice available for sale.

From Brule, Highway 27 cuts through the Brule River State Forest, into Bayfield County (the largest county in Wisconsin, although it doesn’t have a single traffic light.) Recreational opportunities continue to abound, thanks to numerous lakes that make up the Eau Claire Chain of Lakes: 11 connected, spring-fed lakes surrounded by an abundant forest of large pine and hardwood trees. These lakes make up the headwaters of the Eau Claire River, which flows into the St. Croix River at Gordon and prove you’re over the subcontinental divide and waters now flow to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.

Beyond this particular recreation paradise, Highway 27 heads into Sawyer County before hooking up with Highway 77 and getting into Sawyer County’s county seat.

Hayward

Hayward (pop. 2,129) is one of northwestern Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destinations, being located amidst a vast array of lakes with some of the country’s best fishing, forest in every direction, and a knack for hosting a series of participatory events (Birkie, anyone??)

hayward_birkiesign1_800

hayward_dntn1_800

Hayward is home of the American Birkebiener – and several fast food restaurants. Don’t laugh; there aren’t many anywhere else nearby! The downtown area has many structures with second level balconies, used during the Birkie for spectators watching cross-country skiers plying the main streets.

Like many Wisconsin towns, there are a lot of good eats and drinks all over the place. Those familiar with Famous Dave’s locations around the country might be interested to know that it all started in Hayward. Famous Dave of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Tribe opened the first Famous Dave’s here in 1994, serving up barbeque on garbage can lids (yes, the portions can get huge) and their award-winning bread pudding with praline sauce. Sadly, the original location here burned in 2014.

*** Brewery Alert***
Along U.S. 63 less than a mile southwest of Highway 77 lies an old brick building that simply says “Brewpub” on the side… at least that’s the only part you can see from the street. Inside is the Angry Minnow Restaurant & Brewery (10440 Florida Ave./U.S. 63, 715-934-3055). The building itself was constructed in 1889 and once housed a sawmill operations office; today, it’s probably the nicest restaurant in Hayward, with rich, dark wood and brick everywhere. The oval-shaped bar and iron chandeliers help create a cozy, warm atmosphere. The food is terrific (try the Black Pepper Seared Tuna appetizer) and the craft beers are quite good.

Lumberjack Championships, Birkie Skiing and the World’s Biggest Musky. Hayward does it up in every season. The annual Lumberjack World Championships hold events in Hayward, so expect lots of axes, saws and flannel. Scheer’s Lumberjack Shows are highly recommended. Watch lumberjacks “speed climb” up trees, throw axes (not at you, don’t worry), and perform things like logrolling and canoe jousting. Can you get more up North than this?? In February, Hayward hosts the American Birkebeiner, an annual cross-country skiing race from Cable (30 miles away via the trails) to the “main street” block in Hayward, just off U.S. 63 several blocks southwest of where it intersects with Highway 77. About 9,000 skiers participate every year. About 2,500 bikers head through the wilderness every year in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival; it’s one of the most popular off-road bicycling events in the nation. And trust me, when you wander into town doing the State Trunk Tour on that weekend, the hotels are full and/or pricier than normal. So watch the Events calendar here carefully! The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (715-634-4440) is probably the most consistently visible (100,000 visitors per year) attraction, thanks to the World’s Largest Muskie. Standing 143 feet long and 41 feet tall, the muskie holds names of world record-holders in fishing across the world. You can check out the names and climb the steps to show yourself from the muskie’s mouth, 4 stories off the ground. It’s a popular place to get your picture taken… how can one resist??

hayward_fish1_800

The World’s Largest Muskie – and that’s just the start of what you can check out the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame!

Check out our full gallery of photos at the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame here!

Leaving Hayward, Highway 27 meanders south past a variety of lodges and recreational areas. Access to snowmobiling, hunting and fishing is nearly omnipresent in these parts. Southward on Highway 27, long stretches through forest and between lakes dominate for many miles in a row before 27 meets up for short stretches with several other highways. Highway 70 meets up with 27 as you approach and turn along lovely Sand Lake, which despite the name consists primarily of water.

2770alongcoudriver_800

The kind of scenery along Highway 27 between Hayward and Radisson.

Following Highway 27 & 70 means winding along a series of lakes and rivers, affording sometimes brief but always lovely views. The scenery here appeals to everyone, even old Chicago gangsters like Al Capone, who kept a hideout on Pike Lake (via County Highway CC) a few miles north of Couderay (pop. 96 on the sign, it has since dropped to 88), a blink-of-an-eye village along the highway. There are no retail businesses in Couderay, although there is a part-time tavern. Nevertheless, it has its own post office serving the surrounding area (the zip is 54828, in case you were curious) and it’s one of the tiniest, charming post offices you will ever see. Constructed of native stones, it’s located next to what at the time of this writing is a wreck of a building constructed with similar materials, but is missing a roof and most of its walls. Research tells me this used to be a place called the Keystone Bar, but if anyone is positive, let us know.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The coldest temperature ever in modern-day Wisconsin, an innards-chilling -55°F, was reported in Couderay on February 2nd and 4th, 1996.

couderaysign_185hicouderaypo_600

couderaypo2_600

Check out Couderay’s (population 96) post office, right along Highway 27/70. Some of the adjacent buildings have since been abandoned, making for some interesting perspective shots.

Further east, the northern terminus of Highway 40 crosses your path at Radisson (pop. 222 and ironically, there is no Radisson Hotel to be found) before the Chippewa River shoulders up to parallel your way. At Ojibwa, Highway 70 continues east toward Winter and Minocqua while Highway 27 turns south again for its next lone stretch, a long and straight haul that runs for 23 miles into Rusk County.

At the crossing with U.S. Highway 8, Highway 27 grazes the lovely city of Ladysmith (pop. 3,932). Ladysmith was founded in 1885 as “Flambeau Falls” reflecting its picturesque location along the Flambeau River where the new Soo Line railroad made its crossing. Subsequent names included “Corbett” and “Warner” before “Ladysmith” was settled upon in 1900, after the bride of a man named Smith who ran an influential local company (apparently, she was quite a lady). The Flambeau Mine Trails offer a great glimpse at a reclaimed mine. For eight years in the 1990s, this site was a wide-open copper and gold mine. The valuable minerals may be gone, but today the 181 acres provide scenic open grassland – a rarity in these relatively dense-forested parts – and excellent bird watching.

ladysmithsign_600
Ladysmith features a lot of lovely old stone buildings and a fair amount of artwork coloring some of them, including art that welcomes you along U.S. 8, just east of Highway 27. Large wooden bears adorn a city park along the Flambeau River in Ladysmith. Real bears prove to be more intimidating.
ladysmithbears_600

Ladysmith is the county seat of Rusk County, which features over 300 miles of snowmobile trails and serene, productive fishing in the Flambeau and Chippewa Rivers, which coverge in the southern part of the county. Equestrians can take advantage of the Copper Park Equestrian Trails, which cover about 10 miles of trails for hikers, horseback riders and others not in need of motor for a while. The trails are part of the Reclaimed Flambeau Mine Site (check out this website… it’s an aerial view that shows when it was a mine versus how it is today), an area featuring a number of things to do. The whole kit ‘n kaboodle is along Highway 27 about a mile and a half south of Ladysmith, between Jensen Road and County P.

Heading south, it’s a pretty straight shot into Chippewa County, where you get nice water views crossing the Holcombe Flowage (which flow into the Flambeau) and, before long, there’s actually a curve: you meet Highway 64 and join it westerly into a town originally named Brunet Falls after an adjacent island in the Chippewa River. Today, it’s called Cornell (pop. 1,466), and it’s home to the only known pulpwood stacker in the world. Standing 175 feet high, it looks like a crane about to build something, or a radio tower leaning at about 45 degrees.

cornell_pulpwoodstackercornell_pulpwoodsign

Cornell features the only known pulpwood stacker in the world. In use from 1913 until 1972, it apparently stacked a lot of pulpwood.

Cornell also supports a local municipal airport, ample recreation with Burnet Island State Park on the northwest side of town, and is the northern trailhead for the Old Abe State Trail, one of Wisconsin’s awesome rail-to-trail projects. This one follows along the Chippewa River about 20 miles to Lake Wissota State Park near Chippewa Falls and is paved much of the way.

After the run through Cornell, Highway 64 breaks away west across the Chippewa on its way to Minnesota. Meanwhile, Highway 27 heads south again, crossing the 45th parallel into Cadott (pop. 1,345), named after a French fur trader. Cadott hosts a number of music festivals that draw from all over the Midwest and the nation, including Country Fest in June and Rock Fest in July, each of which draw tens of thousands.

At the interchange with Highway 29 on Cornell’s south side, you’ll find the Wisconsin Veterans Tribute. Part of the River Country Plaza Truck Stop at the exit, you’ll find many significant memorials, an AH-1S helicopter, cannons, markers and more all under an eye-catching cadre of flags from all over the world.

cadott_vettrib05

The flags of the Wisconsin Veterans Tribute, at Highways 27 & 29 in Cadott.

cadott_vettrib04cadott_vettrib01

cadotthalf_800

Cadott lies along the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole (although the weather is more like the North Pole than the Equator much of the year). This is one claim to fame Cadott wants you to know about as you enter town.

***Merrillan to Black River Falls is coming soon… meanwhile Black River Falls to Sparta continues below!***

Black River Falls (pop. 3,618) is the county seat of Jackson County and, frankly, the first sizeable town along Highway 27 since Ladysmith. 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.

brfbanner_800

brfdowntown1_800

Highway 27 runs right through Downtown Black River Falls.

brfmural1_800

brfmural2_800

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
In 1872, Black River Falls became the first village in Wisconsin to establish a free city library.

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.

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. 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. You’ll find it approaching downtown, shortly before the junction with Highway 54. You can also call them at 800-404-4008.

brf_vc1_800

brf_vc2_800

*** 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 – it’s had a wild history since. 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.

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, a quick ride east on Highway 54 will reveal 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. The Majestic Pines Casino is also nearby, just east of Black River Falls. If you’re feelin’ it, stop in and test Lady Luck.

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!

In Black River Falls, U.S. Highway 12 breaks away and parallels I-94 on its way to Tomah. Highway 27 continues south through the Black River State Forest, where a stop to hike up Castle Mound is a terrific way to get both exercise and a phenomenal view. You can camp, ski, ride ATVs, or just relax and check out the abundant wildlife. If you want to check out some cranberry bogs (this is the edge of Wisconsin’s “Cranberry Country”), take a brief jaunt down Cranberry Drive for about a mile and a half.

After Cataract, Highway 71 joins in from Melrose. Just a few hundred yards west on Highway 71 brings you to Wegner Grotto County Park, a nice art display of concrete sculptures decorated with glittering pieces of glass, seashells, Indian arrowheads, and other augmentations.

sparta_wegnergrotto01 sparta_wegnergrotto02

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

Sparta

For about ten miles, Highways 27 and 71 stick together before reaching 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. Highway 27 meets with Highway 16 on this strip, where Highway 71 breaks east to go follow the Elroy-Sparta Trail route. Highway 21 also starts just to the east in the heart of Sparta’s downtown; Highway 27 stays on the west side and meets I-90 on the south side of town.

Sparta lies at the connecting point of the Elroy-Sparta Trail – which originates 32 miles away in Elroy (of course) – and the La Crosse River Trail, which heads toward La Crosse and the Mississippi River. The trail meets at Sparta’s old train depot, which offers both energized and tired bicyclists whatever they need.

spartatrhead

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

sparta_rrdepotsparta_biketrailssign

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.

Of course, you can’t top having the World’s Largest Bicyclist to exemplify your status as America’s Bicycling Capita, right? Roll east slightly along Wisconsin Street (Highway 16) and you’ll find Ben Bikin, a 32-foot high fiberglass statue. Ben sits atop an 1890s-era bicycle, cementing the city’s status and getting everybody driving, riding, or walking by to look up and take notice.

spartabike

Made locally, “Ben Biken” greets you to the Bicycling Capital of America along Highway 16/71, just east of Highway 27. He’s the World’s Largest Bicyclist!

sparta_dekeslayton01

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.

Sparta High School along Highway 27

Sparta High School’s mascot? The Spartans, of course! Michigan State alums, take note.

After crossing the intersection with Highways 16 and 71 and then getting through the hordes of gas stations and hotels from there to the interchage with I-90, Highway 27 continuing south begin to dive into the heart of Wisconsin’s gorgeous Driftless Area.

Highway 27 winding south of Sparta.

Highway 27 south of Sparta, ready for more Driftless Area scenery.

Farm and silo close to Highway 27 in Monroe County

Vistas of hill-framed barns (some quite close to the road) adorn this stretch of Highway 27.

Highway 27 continues to navigate the beautiful hills and valleys of southern Monroe County, through little Leon and making an easterly bend through the Leon Valley along the Little Lacrosse River to Melvina (pop. 104) before bending back west a bit on the way to Cashton (pop. 1,102).

Juusto Cheese at Pasture Pride along Highway 27 in Cashton, just south of Highway 33Just west of downtown Cashton, Highway 27 meets Highway 33, where you can stop and stock up on more cheese. Pasture Pride Cheese (608-654-7444) is right along Highway 27 just south of 33, and they offer a variety of cheeses using milk from Amish farmers – of which there are many in the area – going all grass-fed for their cows and goats. Pasture Pride is the home of that “Juusto” Cheese, the baked Finnish style of cheese that looks baked and is extra buttery in flavor – that’s what the judges who shower them with awards generally say.

Cashton is also the birthplace of Frank King, cartoonist and creator of Gasoline Alley (he gre up in nearby Tomah), as well as the birthplace of Leif Erickson. No, not that Leif Erickson, the one who became a justice on the Montana Supreme Court. But we’re guessing having that name helped with an air of authority.

Westby & the Ski Jump

Just past Cashton, Highway 27 enters Vernon County. Just past the little settlement of Newry, you just might see something poking above the hills on the horizon to the west-southwest. Is that… a … ski jump?? Yes it is! The Snowflake Ski Jump opened in 1961 and – right there in Timber Coulee a few miles off Highway 27 – hosts national and international competitions for ski jumping in January and February. Numerous Olympians have trained or competed at Snowflake, which is the 7th highest such jump in North America. Additional, smaller jumps are right there too, for junior competitions and training. Snowflake also opened a golf course to complement their ski jump and also their Rod & Gun Club, so Snowflake operates all year long. It can boast of having “the only nine-hole golf course in the shadow of an Olympic-sized ski jump.” If you want to check it out, follow County P west from Highway 27 about three miles south of Newry.

Past the jump, you hop into Westby (pop. 2,271), where Highway 27 meets up with U.S. 14 & 61 before heading into the heart of town. A city build on Norwegian heritage, Westby hosts one of the state’s largest Syttende Mai festivals each May and offers boutiques like the Uff-Da Shoppe along the main drag.

After hooking up with Highway 82, Highway 27 heads into 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. Four main routes run through the heart of Viroqua, and all combine through downtown: U.S. 14, U.S. 61, Highway 27, and Highway 82.

viroqua_fortney

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.

viroqua_templetheater_800

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.

viroqua_27-82_cabooselawn

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.

libertypolesign_800

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.

vernoncomarker_lgvernoncomark_mcculloch_lg

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 27, 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 82 splits off at Fargo (not relation to the movie or North Dakota) and heads west toward DeSoto. Highway 27, meanwhile, turns south into Crawford County to run more ridges in this hilly territory.

And the beauty just continues on this stetch of Highway 27. The first settlement is the unincorporated Rising Sun, Wisconsin, supposedly named by a settler in 1856 who was super excited after seeing the sun after a rainy, cloudy two-week stretch (not an uncommon occurrence in this state.) Past more ridges are towns like Fairview and the village of Mount Sterling (pop. 211), named for platter and State Assemblyman William Sterling (who platted the town), not Roger Sterling from the Mad Men series – we surmised that possibility for a while. Highway 171 intersects here, ambling east and west across the territory.

Highway 27 between Rising Sun and Fairview

Part of the rolling hill farmland scenery as Highway 27 heads between Rising Sun and Fairview in northern Crawford County.

Meanwhile, Highway 27 starts heading southwesterly again, winding through Seneca (with 893 people, it’s the largest settlement between Viroqua and Prairie du Chien) and Eastman, where Highway 179 meets up.

It’s more ridge-riding after Eastman, where Highway 27 affords views that at times can include a glimpse of the Mississippi River from Limery Ridge, about six miles east of the river itself – giving you an idea of how high these ridges are.

Mississippi River in the distance through valleys from Highway 27 northeast of Prairie du Chien

That would be the Mississippi River about 5-6 miles away, visible from Highway 27’s vantage point near Limery Ridge. Iowa is in the distance, Prairie du Chien lies ahead on the route.

From this high vantage point, we begin a gradual and curvy descent into our final stop on the Highway 27 State Trunk Tour.

Prairie du Chien

Prairie du Chien (pop. 6,018) is the Crawford County seat and 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 as Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet paddled their way to the Mississippi via the Wisconsin River and opening the area up for further European exploration. The first trading posts were 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 Wisconsin battle in the War of 1812, the Siege of Prairie du Chien. 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.

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.

Villa Louis mansion

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 27 ends at U.S. 18 in Prairie du Chien

Highway 27 comes to an end right before the bridge to Iowa, at U.S. 18/Highway 60 on the south edge of Prairie du Chien’s downtown.

 

CONNECTIONS
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 2
Can connect nearby to: Highway 13, about 6 miles north

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 18 & Highway 60, about 0.5 miles south

Highway 23 looking at the Wyoming Valley
23

STH-023“Lead Mines. Water Parks. Houses on Rocks. Dells. Muk Luks. Waterfalls. Brats. Championship Golf. Let’s Go!”

WisMap23Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 23 connects a veritable plethora of sights in Wisconsin. From the beautiful hills and history of the Lead Mining Region and the Driftless Area to Frank Lloyd Wright (and Frank Looyd Wright revenge-inspired) architectural sites; from the Dells and lakes of central Wisconsin to the booming golf and resort areas of Sheboygan, Highway 23 provides plenty of things to see and do along its route.

Wisconsin Highway 23 Road Trip

The Drive (North To East): You start in a relatively remote area: at the intersection with Highway 11 near Shullsburg in southwestern Wisconsin. This is an area of rich minig history and incredible beauty. A good start is actually just west of Highway 23: check out Shullsburg (pop. 1,226) itself, an old lead mining town that has preserved its older buildings well. The Badger Mine and Museum (279 W. Estey Street, 608-965-4860) features exhibits on lead mining, cheesemaking and lets you tour a more recent mine. The Brewster Hotel sign is an interesting artifact: check out the bullet holes from a 1927 robbery by Chicago mobsters. Plenty of food, stores, scenery, history and quaintness await in Shullsburg.

shullsburg800

Looking down Water Street in Shullsburg, now a National Historic Landmark. Filled with antique shops, boutiques, historic guest rooms and places to imbibe in food and beverage, this is a good place to start before heading east on Highway 11 for about six miles and hitting Highway 23.

23nbstart_800

The beginning of Highway 23, looking north from Highway 11. A lot awaits you on this tour…

Once on Highway 23, you can begin with a stop at Roelli Cheese Haus, a longtime staple of the area (100 years +) that has moved deftly into the artisan cheese world over the past decade and has been walking away with plenty of national and international awards as a result. They have a retail store attached to their cheese plant, and you can pick up some serious specialties on the road with you.

Northward on Highway 23, you make your way north through Lafayette County toward its county seat. After hooking up for a spell with Highway 81, Highway 23 enters Darlington (pop. 2,418), which calls itself the “Pearl of the Pecatonica River.” The “pearl” part harkens 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.

Cardinal in Darlington along Highway 23Shark in Darlington along Highway 23

Some notable animals in Darlington: a cardinal on the south end of town along Highway 23/81 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.

 

Highway 23 & 81 in Darlington

Highways 23 & 81 through downtown Darlington; the main street is a pleasant little boulevard with plenty of parking, good architecture and shops to see on both sides. Highway 81 joins briefly through town..

darlington_shave

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.

darlington_courthouse

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.

amityhouse_400

This house was spotted just past old Fort Defiance north of Darlington… it just kind of screamed “Amityville Horror”…

Highway 81 hooks up with Highway 23 for the ride south out of Darlington; it’s hilly and beautiful and filled with old haunts. Between Darlington and Mineral Point is the former site of Fort Defiance, built in 1832 in the wake of the Black Hawk War. It was one of the last garrisoned stockade forts built in Wisconsin, measuring 80 feet wide, 120 feet long, and 18 feet high with two blockhouses – and yet no trace of it remains, other than a marker.

ftdefiancemarker_150hiftdefiancesite_800

 

Weaving through the terrain further north brings you to Mineral Point (pop. 2,617), another town chock full of history. In fact, it’s the first town in Wisconsin to be named to the National Register of Historic Places. As gold was to California and gambling is to Nevada, lead made the Mineral Point area of Wisconsin a sought-after destination in the ’30s and ’40s… and we’re talking 1830s and 40s.

Lead and zinc mining was grueling work, and those who endured the brutal winters became known as “badgers” because they burrowed into the ground like the furry creatures. Their influence lives on as the state’s nickname and, of course, the UW-Madison mascot. Mining was so important to the state that in 1848 when the state seal was established, one of the four images on the seal was that of a miner’s ax.

Mineral Point claims the title “where Wisconsin began,” and the handsome buildings along High Street attest to the new wealth and impressive designs of the day. The city lost by one vote to Madison when the state’s capital was selected. While he waited for the capitol building to be established in Madison, Wisconsin’s first governor, Henry Dodge (who also has a county named after him), maintained an office in Mineral Point’s courthouse.

Mineral Point has many small shops offering antiques, galleries and artisan crafts. Highway 23 goes right past the downtown area, which is best accessed via High Street. The handsome Mineral Point Opera House (139 High Street, 608-987-2516) was built in 1914. It started as a vaudeville and performing arts house and continues to feature live performances from theater groups and world cinema brought by the Mineral Point Film Society.

A big attraction in Mineral Point is Pendarvis (114 Shake Rag St). Owned and operated by the State Historical Society, it’s a complex that shows visitors what life was like during the 1830s, including the day-to-day tasks of miners and their families as well as superstitions and traditions that influenced them. The Mineral Point Depot (13 Commerce St.) is the oldest surviving railroad depot in the state. Originally built in 1856 and restored in 2004 by the Mineral Point Restoration Society, it now hosts a museum.

pendarvis_ent_800

pendarvishouse_800

shakeragalleyarts_800

mineralpt_cornerbldg_800

mineralpt_mainst_800

mineralpt_winter01_800

The Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts & Crafts (18 Shake Rag Street, 608-987-3292) features displays, workshops and classes on a 2.5 acre campus featuring gardens, trees and brick pathways. Shake Rag Alley was the original business district of Mineral Point and contains log cabins and other buildings dating back to 1828. Local lore says “Shake Rag” got its name because women would “shake rags” to let the men know it was time to eat. They were quieter than dinner bells, I guess.

Heading out of Mineral Point, Highway 23 heads north along what was also the “old” U.S. 151 highway for about two miles until it meets up with the “new” U.S. 151, an expressway that now runs complete from Dubuque, Iowa to Madison. This is the first of several segments where Highway 23 is four lanes and/or part of a freeway. This stretch multiplexed with U.S. 151 is quick, though: it only lasts about four miles. There are some cool rock cuts along the way, along with a mass of windmills to the west, part of a massive wind power generating farm.

U.S. 151 breaks off toward Madison and Highway 23 continues north into Dodgeville (pop. 4,220), the county seat of Iowa County and home to Lands’ End. In local lore, Dodgeville and Mineral Point went to “war” over which town should be the county seat, and supposedly some Mineral Point residents actually fired a canon toward Dodgeville. Either way, Dodgeville won the county seat and today has the oldest active county courthouse in Wisconsin; its cornerstone was laid in 1859. The Military Ridge State Trail, a popular recreational trail following an old military road dating back to 1855, starts in Dodgeville and runs 40 miles east to Fitchburg.

iowacocourthouse_800

Along Highway 23 in downtown Dodgeville is the Iowa County Courthouse, the oldest in the state of Wisconsin. Started in 1859, dedicated in 1861 and expanded or renovated four times since, the Galena limestone used in its construction was quarried just north of town.

Highway 23 runs through the heart of Dodgeville before crossing U.S. Highway 18 and approaching Governor Dodge State Park, one of the largest in the state at 5,270 acres (just to give you a sense of the size, one square mile is 640 acres). The whole area has many scenic bluffs, but Governor Dodge State Park is a great place to see quite a few of them. The Park also features two lakes, a waterfall, abundant wildlife, original spring houses built by early settlers, 267 campsites, 77 electric sites, winter camping, boat and canoe rental, programs, marked beaches, 2 miles of nature trails, 26.6 miles of hiking trails, 24.7 miles of horseback trails, 10.3 miles of off-road bicycle trails, 15 miles of snowmobile trails and 18.1 miles of cross-country ski trails. But that’s all.

springgreen_histmarker_riverxing23_ustypemarker

Above: This marker notes a former military crossing of the river during the Black Hawk War; the crew dismantled parts of a town to get the wood for raft-making. At right, a side road approaching Highway 23 tells you it’s U.S. 23 – which is wrong, because that road runs from Michigan to Florida.

springgreen_houseontherock01Just north of Governor Dodge State Park is the ever-famous House On The Rock. What is it? It’s a 200-acre complex with architectural wonders, electic art collections, gardens and yes, a Japanese-style house perched on what’s called Deer Shelter Rock, overlooking the Wyoming Valley. Its inspiration came from a feud between creater Alex Jordan Jr.’s father and the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright that dated back to the 1920s. Apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright has some less-than-flattering comments about Jordan Sr.’s architectural talents. IN 1945, Jordan Jr. began construction of the house on his favorite rock and by 1959, a stone marker placed along Highway 23 announced to travelers that The House On The Rock was open for viewing.

springgreen_houseontherock03-infinity

The Infinity Room is quite a trip!

Financed by tour fees, a series of additions since then include 1968’s “Mill House”, which holds one of the world’s largest fireplaces; a “Streets of Yesterday” exhibit, introduced in 1971 and inspired by a similar exhibit in the Milwaukee Public Museum. The “World’s Largest Carousel” opened in 1981 and the “Infinity Room”, perhaps the most dramatic, came along in 1985. The Infinity Room literally projects 218 feet out over the valley; the walls are made of glass with reinforcements (3,264 windows in all), so visitors can walk out above the forest floor, which beckons 156 feet below. Quite visible from the surrounding area, it’s probably one of the more unique rooms in the world.

springgreen_houseontherock02

House on the Rock includes several other buildings, centered around gardens, ponds, bridges, and walkways.

springgreen_houseontherock06

Incredible art? Haunting vision? Psychedelic dream? The House of the Rock lets you view and interpret as you wish.

springgreen_houseontherock04-carousel

The World’s Largest Carousel sits inside House on the Rock. It’s almost mesmerizing to watch.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The House of the Rock’s “World’s Largest Carousel” features over 20,000 lights, 269 animals, and – interestingly – 182 chandeliers. It’s 80 feet in diameter and weighs 36 tons.

The presence of House On The Rock adds to a very cool Scenic Overlook area along Highway 23 just north of the attraction’s entrance. Each direction of the highway has its own side access to an overlook, which connects via a pedestrian bridge over the road. The view of the House’s Infinity Room, the Wyoming Valley and all the surrounding terrain makes for a great stop.

23wyoming_800

A view of Wyoming Valley, behind the ridge where Highway 23 runs. House on the Rock is just to the left in this picture; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin is a few miles ahead.

This area is a haven for artists and architects; it certainly was for Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born in Spring Green in 1867. He started building his summer house, called Taliesin after a Welsh bard, in 1911. It took decades to develop, including recovery from a devastating attack in 1914 where a chamber boy set fire to the house and murdered seven people with an ax while the fire burned. Wright himself was in Chicago on a project at the time, but his lover (a former wife of one of his clients), her two children, a foreman, a draftsman, a landscape gardener and the son of a carpenter were all victims. The living quarters were rebuilt, yet destroyed again by fire in 1925. The third incarnation of Taliesin was survived intact since. Taliesin is where many of Wright’s most famous structures, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum, were designed. In a nod to snowbirds everywhere, Wright also established a Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. But since that’s nowhere near State Trunk Highway 23, it’s not part of the Tour.

springgreen_taliesinvisitorcenterThe Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center is located just off Highway 23 on County C, across the Wisconsin River’s southern bank. Taliesin itself is on the other side of 23, about half a mile south. You take a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center to access Taliesin’s property. Tours are available May 1 through October 31 seven days a week, and Friday through Sunday in April and November.

springgreen_taliesin03

The beauty of Taliesin and the surrounding landscape is definitely worth the price of admission.

springgreen_taliesin01 springgreen_taliesin04

Crossing the river on Highway 23 brings you into Sauk County and Spring Green (pop. 1,444) itself. Along with the architectural wonders and natural scenic beauty, you can get Shakespearean in Spring Green at American Players Theatre, one of the most popular outdoor classical theaters in the U.S. Set in a natural amphitheater in the woods near the Wisconsin River, APT entertains audiences with rotating plays while working to educate students on theater in general. If you’re getting a way early start on a weekend jaunt, try hitting APT for “Skippeth-Out-Of-Work-Early” Thursday nights.

springgreen_oldgasstation

A one-time gas station in Spring Green is indicative of the native stone and beautiful architecture of the area. This is right along Highway 23, just south of U.S. 14 and Highway 60.

springgreen_bank01

Wright’s influence in Spring Green is unmistakable. This is a bank in town.

Highway 23 comes to a junction with U.S. 14 and Highway 60 and hooks up with them briefly before, alas, the quickie is over and Highway 23 heads north by its lonesome again.

23nbplain_600

North of Spring Green, it’s more of the Driftless Area’s beautiful bluffs and rolling hills. This is through Plain, on the way to Reedsburg.

The views are great as you zoom up and down hills and wind through valleys, past hamlets like Plain (pop. 792) and Loganville (pop. 276). Plain, interestingly, has been considering a name change since 1915, when a reader to the local newspaper wrote a letter to the editor. No rush, though.

reedsburg_welcomesign

Further north, Highway 23 heads into Reedsburg (pop. 8,704), where it hooks up with Highway 33 for the ride through downtown. The Museum of Norman Rockwell Art (227 S. Park St.) features almost 4,000 of the famous artist’s works. Speaking of artists, famous comic artist and cartoonist Clare Briggs hailed from Reedsburg. It’s also the starting point for the “400” State Trail, which runs to Elroy as part of the state’s increasingly-extensive rail-trail system for bicycles, hikers, cross-country skiiers and snowmobilers.

reedsburg_90thmeridianmarker

This marker almost marks the exact spot of the 90th meridian, the halfway point between the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. The actual spot is within a few hundred yards – but why don’t they just put it right at that spot??

Reedsburg sits on the 90th Meridian, which marks the halfway point between the Prime Meridian (which runs through Greenwich and London, England) and the International Date Line, marking the exact center of the Western Hemisphere. A marker in the median of Highway 23 notes the meridian’s location – actually, for some reason, it sits 325 feet west of it. The city once hosted a World War II POW camp and pioneered both the first Ford dealership and the first sanctioned Little League in Wisconsin. On the way out just east of the city, the Pioneer Log Village and Museum provides a first-hand look at log buildings, antique furnishings and a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th century frontier days. Tours are available from 1-4pm on weekends during the summer. Also in summer, Reedsburg holds its annual Butter Fest.

reedsburg_23-33downtown01

Downtown Reedsburg, which Highway 23 goes right through as the main street along with Highway 33, extends for a while with storefronts on either side. It’s a wide street compared to most smaller towns’ main streets, and the views – especially of the Baraboo Bluffs – show the beautiful topography that beckons.

reedsburg_trainstation

Built in 1906, the Reedsburg Train Depot served passenger traffic until 1963. Today, it’s a popular stop along the “400” Bicycle Trail, which runs on the railbed of the former train between St. Paul and Chicago.

reedsburg_signs02

We spotted this on a trailer sitting by itself in Reedsburg. What’s it about? We don’t know, but being sign geeks we liked it!

reedsburg_sunflowersalong23-33

Colorful sunflowers added to the beauty of the drive along Highways 23 & 33 just east of Reedsburg,

For several miles east of Reedsburg, Highways 23 and 33 hang together until 23 breaks to the northeast for a weaving 6-mile jaunt through portions of Mirror Lake State Park and a junction with I-90/94. And right away, you enter it: the Dells.

Taking Highway 23 past the I-90/94 interchange and you immediately come upon Lake Delton (pop. 1,982), which pairs with the city of Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418) to make up the gargantuan land o’tourism known at the Dells.

wisdells_welcomesign01Wisconsin Dells Area

Ah, Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. Highway 23 comes into the area and immediately, the architecture changes. The vibe changes. And the amount of traffic changes. When people refer to “Wisconsin Dells”, they usually mean the whole area, including Lake Delton and the region up and down the Wisconsin River, whose gorgeous ‘dells’ and gorges give the area its name. Wisconsin Dells itself started out as Kilbourn City in 1857. It was named after founder Byron Kilbourn, who also played a major role in getting Milwaukee started as a city one decade earlier. Renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931, the city set the state’s high temperature record of 114 degrees Fahrenheit five years later. But indeed, it gets cold here, too, which explains why so many waterparks offer indoor facilities.It’s also chock full of foreign workers, many of whom are college age from Eastern Europe and South America. Time magazine actually named it one of the “Best Places for College Students to Work during the Summer” in 2004, proving there’s a list for nearly everything.

wisdells_tolakedelton

Highway 23 crosses over Spring Creek, giving a peek towards Lake Delton.

Highway 23 meets up with U.S. 12 and joins it heading northbound into a vast array of sights: the Crystal Grand Theater, roller coasters, mini golf courses, ferris wheels, waterparks, upside-down White Houses (a place called “Top Secret”), plastic pink flamingos, motels, hotels, ski jumps in bodies of water… it’s all along this stretch. The world’s largest Trojan Horse can’t be missed. I mean, it’s right there.

23tocopa_600

Motels, pedestrians and stray beach balls line this stretch, with skywalks allowing pedestrians to avoid traffic and/or winter; and as you can see, traffic can get heavy on this stretch. Stop and go traffic much of the time on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer is not uncommon.

wisdells_handsonwisdells_topsecret

wisdells_trojan01

It’s hard to miss the World’s Largest Trojan Horse along Highway 23. A ride passes through it; no word on if anything else is hiding inside.

Meanwhile, Highway 23 joins up with Highways 13 and 16, breaking east to hop over the Wisconsin River and enter the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418).

23nbto13_500

At the intersection coming up, U.S. 12 and Highways 13, 16, and 23 all converge. I-90/94 is less than a mile to the west via Highway 13.

In addition to being home to the amphibious World War II vehicles known as the Wisconsin “Ducks” (which started in 1946) and Tommy Bartlett’s Water Ski & Jumping Boat Thrill Show (which made the Dells its permanent home after an amazingly successful temporary stop in 1952), Wisconsin Dells’ selection of waterparks is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

wisdells_ripleys-and-ducks

One of the Wisconsin Ducks in front of Ripley’s, believe it or not.

This is truly a mecca of recreational vacation fun. Let’s take a look at some facts about the area around the Dells (thanks to the “Quick Facts” section of wisdells.com):

– There are 18 indoor waterpark/playground properties in the Dells, the highest concentration of such facilities in the world
– The first indoor waterpark in the nation, The Polynesian, opened here in 1989
– The largest indoor waterpark in the U.S. is the Kalahari Resort, with 125,000 square feet
– North America’s largest waterpark is Noah’s Ark, covering 70 acres, utilizing five million gallons of water and powering screaming people down three miles of waterslides
– The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort’s indoor and outdoor waterpark space combined covers the space equivalent to six football fieldsAnd if you want fudge shops, only Mackinac Island in Michigan can compete with the downtown strip along Highways 13/16/23. Mmmm… fudge. “The Strip” features t-shirt stores that seem to repeat every 100 feet or so. But there are also a ton of unique – or just not too common – things. Among them: Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not!” Museum, one of only two in the U.S. (the other is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming); the Rick Wilcox Theater; and waterparks a’plenty. Feel like going extreme? Extreme World features a 130-foot high bungee jump, a skycoaster and for those who prefer to stay on the ground the whole time, a big selection of go-karts and tracks.

wisdells_chalet

wisdells_downbroadway

wisdells_fudgewisdells_nigsnite

Plenty of sights to see along Broadway, the stretch of Highway 23 where it goes through the heart of Wisconsin Dells. Highways 13 and 16 run with 23 here, too. Nig’s Bar, pictured at night just above, is one of those places advertising itself via t-shirts that people wear (“I had a swig at Nig’s”) all over the place… you’ve probably seem them.

wisdells-cyclesthru13-16-23Basically, Highway 23 goes through the Dells’ two main areas: through Lake Delton with U.S. 12 as Wisconsin Dells Parkway, and then with Highways 13 and 16 as Broadway on the main drag through Wisconsin Dells itself. This basically marks a change where Highway 23 stops bring a route through the Driftless Region on Wisconsin and becomes more of an east-west main road across east-central Wisconsin.

wisconsindellsrocks

This is part of the “dells” in Wisconsin Dells. A boat ride reveals all kinds of rock formations along this stretch of the Wisconsin River. These dells were formed about 15,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.

club23_225hi

Club 23 along Highway 23 just east of the Dells – we love places named after our highways!

At the east end of Wisconsin Dells, you’re suddenly in the countryside again. Highway 16 breaks off southeast towards Columbus and Milwaukee; Highway 13 heads north toward Wisconsin Rapids and Ashland; and Highway 23 meanders east. This stretch deals with a lot of county corners; in about a 14-mile stretch, you go from Sauk County back in the Dells, to Columbia County on its east side, to a southeastern sliver of Adams County to the far southwestern corner of Marquette County. There, you reach the little town of Briggsville which, while unincorporated, is still the largest settlement between the Dells area and the freeway that lies ahead.

23briggs01_800

Highway 23, going gently through the quiet town of Briggsville.

23at39-51Eventually, Highway 23 joins the “backbone” of Wisconsin, the I-39/U.S. 51 freeway. The highway heads north on it for about six miles. One exit brings to you little Packwaukee, which lies on Buffalo Lake, an elongated stretch of the Fox River as it heads up to Lake Winnebago. This is prime fishing and hunting country in the heart of Marquette County. At Exit 106 from I-39/US 51, Highway 82 begins to the west and goes all the way to DeSoto and the Mississippi River; meanwhile, Highway 23 continues east away from the freeway for the next leg, now as a more major artery across the eastern half of the state.

23at39-51-82

Remember the Buffalo Lake we just mentioned? It parallels Highway 23 to the south; both end up in Montello (pop. 1,397), a very water recreation-oriented town considering its Fox River location wedged between Buffalo Lake and Montello Lake. There’s even a nice waterfall right at the main intersection downtown where Highway 23 meets up with Highway 22; it’s part of a larger park with exposed stone and multiple waterfalls developed from a granite quarry

22at23

Highways 23 and 22 come together in downtown Montello, with rock formations and waterfalls making things much more interesting.

Speaking of granite, La Maison Granite (“Granite Mansion” in English) is an historic mansion at 55 Underwood Street just off Highway 23, built in 1912 from locally-quarried granite – the quarry where the waterfall-adorned park now sits. In the home’s front yard is Wisconsin’s largest tree, a cottonwood towering 140 feet with a 23-foot circumference… we shall dub it the “Cottonwood on Underwood.” Both are seen here:

montello_maison01montello_cottonwood
Montello’s downtown area, which runs along Highway 23 (and 22, since for about a half mile they’re combined) offers crafts from local artists and the numerous Amish communities in close vicinity of the town.

montello_23intotown

Highway 22 breaks north for Waupaca, and we continue east on Highway 23 for the short ride to another shopping and antique destination, Princeton (pop. 1,214). Highway 73 joins in for the ride through town, where Highway 23 serves as Main Street. Much of the shopping action is a block south along Water Street, east of the Fox River crossing in a district called the Shops of Water Street. Both along Water Street and throughout town in “off-the-beaten path” areas, you’ll find boutiques and – amidst such a rural region – a number of urban flair shops with offerings from clever coffees to hand-blown glass, vintage arts, accessories, and antiques. Two larger antique malls are also in town – there’s likely something to find for everyone, no matter their taste. The Princeton Flea Market is the largest weekly outdoor flea market in Wisconsin, held April through October on Saturdays in City Park. Admission and parking is free and not only are the items for sale a lesson in interesting variety, so is the food offered by vendors – it goes beyond the typical fare.

princeton_mukluksmuseum01

Muk Luks, baby!!

Along the Shops of Water Street, fans of comfy footwear might want to check out the Muk Luks Museum, an homage to the famous brand that originated in Princeton. A variety of the styles, artifacts, tools, shipping materials, and more from back in the day can be found. It’s open Saturdays, the peak shopping day in town.

While named after a town in Massachusetts as opposed to the prestigious university, don’t forget you can always come here, do some unique shopping, and then tell people you “went to Princeton.”

A few miles east of Princeton, Highway 73 breaks away and heads south through a gap between Puckaway Lake to the west and Green Lake to the east. Green Lake is Wisconsin’s deepest inland natural lake; it averages 100 feet deep (compared with 15 feet for Lake Winnebago, for example) and a maximum depth of 237 feet. Green Lake isn’t only deep, it’s pretty big… 11.5 square miles. It’s one of the last lakes around to freeze in water and thaw in spring but it’s one of the best in the state for fishing. Joe Gotz pulled a 35-pound trout out this in lake in 1957 and everything from northern pike and walleye to crappier and perch can be found here. The lake has featured numerous resorts and hotels since the 1800s, although many of the early ones burned down – as hotels often did in the late 19th century. Golf courses have remained and thrived, with Tuscumbia dating back to 1896 and nationally-ranked Golf Courses of Lawsonia offering its Links and Woodlands courses that include lakeshore panoramic views.

The epicenter of the area’s vacation and recreation activities focus on the city of Green Lake (pop. 960), the seat of Green Lake County. Highway 23 skims the northern edge of town today but “Business” 23 brings you towards the center of town, and it’s worth exploring. Green Lake is home to resorts like the famous Heidel House, which lies on the eastern banks of the lake southeast of the town center, and the Green Lake Conference Center, founded in 1943 by American Baptists. Its Judson Tower carillon provides some chimes for golfers on the Lawsonia courses, since they’re located on the same large grounds just west of town. Downtown Green Lake offers shops, bars, and restaurants, and lakeside parks that cater to vacationers and recreational visitors. Also downtown on Mill Street, the historic Thrasher Opera House opened in 1910 and hosted everything from vaudeville performances to (very) early movies into the mid-20th century before – as most performance venues did back in the day – close and fall into disrepair. A restoration brought Thrasher back to life, and today it’s once again a hub for activity in Green Lake. Many theatrical, comedy, and musical performers come through here now, including many national acts – not much opera, though. But in our minds, that’s perfectly fine; we’d be thinking about Adam Sandler as “Opera Man” on SNL anyway.

At Green Lake, Highway 49 joins in from the north and Berlin (pronounced BER-lin) for the ride with Highway 23 east six miles into Ripon (pop. 7,733), a college town with a history of debate and cookies. Ripon was named after the English cathedral city of Ripon, North Yorkshire, in 1849 when it was first settled. The 1850s were busy for Ripon; in 1851 city founder David Mapes founded Brockway College, which evolved into Ripon College. Three years later, the Republican Party was founded in Ripon’s “Little White Schoolhouse” – which happens to be located right along today’s Highway 23/49. It’s all part of Ripon’s downtown, where Highway 23/49 wraps around the northeast side of the downtown square.

ripon_republican01

The “Little White Schoolhouse”, where the Republican Party was founded on an anti-slavery platform in 1854.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Ripon influenced the Golden State when former Ripon, Wisconsin resident Amplias B. Crooks (names were rather interesting back then) moved to Stanislaus City, California and started a store. Unhappy with the town’s name, he had it changed to Ripon, California in 1874.

Ripon was also home of the NFL for many decades. Really! We’re talking the National Forensic League, an organization dedicated to training students in communication and debate skills. Founded in 1925, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest debate and speech honor society. Alums of this NFL include President Lyndon Johnson, Senators Russ Feingold and Bill Frist, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, Kelsey Grammar, Shelley Long, Jane Pauley, CSPAN founder Brian Lamb, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and more. They changed their name to the National Speech & Debate Association (less cool, but easier to interpret) in 2013. Either way, if you stop in town and get into a debate with someone, be prepared. There could be a speech and debate expert that’ll mop up on any topic.

Cookies & College in Ripon
Ripon College counts among its graduates and students people like actors Spencer Tracy and Harrison Ford, singer Al Jarreau and more recently Brittany “McKey” Sullivan, a recent winner on America’s Next Top Model. Ripon College students, like other area residents, generally revel in the fact that the town is home to Rippin’ Good cookies (now owned by ConAgra Foods, which is reducing production ) Ever had the Mint Creme Cookies? If not, you have yet to live to the fullest extent. The Rippin’ Good Cookie Outlet can be found just north and east of downtown Ripon, at 420 E. Oshkosh Street, which is also Highway 44 (920-748-0293 if you want to call ahead). It is generally open Monday-Friday 8am-4:30pm and Saturday from 8am to 1pm. Prepare for sugar and goodness.

Fond du Lac, Plymouth, Kohler, Sheboygan and everything in between has been toured and will be posted shortly!

CONNECTIONS

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 11
Can connect nearby to: Highway 78, about 6 miles east

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 28, Highway 42
Can connect nearby to: Highway 32, about 6 miles west; I-43, about 3 miles west