Highway 155 Jct sign
155

STH-155“Seven miles of St. Germain, Sayner, and Snowmobiles”

Quickie Summary: Highway 155 is a short, 7-mile connector route from Highway 70 in St. Germain to Sayner and Star Lake area. Along this short ride, the snowmobile was invented, you’ll find museums, shopping, and a tavern with a petting farm – and plenty of people head back and forth for summer and winter fun.

Wisconsin Highway 155 Drive (South to North)

Highway 155 starts at Highway 70 in St. Germain, right near the where the Snowmobile Hall of Fame & Museum is located.

stgermain_snowhofinside

The Snowmobile Hall of Fame & Museum is just west of town; meanwhile, Highway 155 heads to the birthplace of the snowmobile, going north from Highway 70 and St. Germain. It starts at the intersection with Highway 70, which includes this directory of the town:

stgermdir_800

Highway 155 Northbound start in winter

Highway 155 begins at Highway 70 in St. Germain; 70 curves west to Arbor Vitae, 155 forges north to Sayner.

155nbbegin02_winter

Highway 155’s start in winter (above) and summer (below.)

155nbbegin_summer

155northtosayner

Tall trees frame almost the entire length of Highway 155.

Highway 155 winds through the North Woods, intersecting more snowmobile trails and wildlife crossings than other roads for the brief but pretty drive. Access to Big Saint Germain Lake and Lost Lake is available via side roads. This whole area is part of the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, which covers nearly 223,000 acres of Wisconsin’s North Woods.

Shortly after the junction with County C, you head into the other town for Highway 155, Sayner (pop. 207). Sayner combines itself with adjacent Star Lake to offer plenty of recreational opportunities, along with some nice attractions.

On the south side of Sayner you’ll find sled history and more in the Vilas County Museum, run by the Vilas County Historical Society. A 7,500-square foot trip back in time, the museum offers a look back at the County’s history with a big salute to its most famous invention: the snowmobile. Carl Eliason secured the patent for his creation in 1924, and his original sled is on display in a room filled with hundreds of other snowmobile models that have been developed since. Antique exhibits, photographs, and other historic items are on display. You can’t miss the building: it’s fronted by a large statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Inventor of the snowmobile Carl Eliason originally called his creation a “motor toboggan.”

 

Also on the south side of Sayner along Highway 155 by the County C junction, you’ll Weber’s Wildlife (715-542-3781), which is a tavern – and also a petting farm during the warmer months. They’ve been laying claim to the “finest nite club this side of Sayner” since 1945. The animals you can pet are more recent.

Into Sayner along Highway 155, you’ll find Eliason Hardware, It’s a hardware store – owned by Carl Eliason’s grandson – that also commemorates the motor toboggan invention by displaying numerous early models in rotation. You’ll also find a historic marker for the invention there.

sayner_eliasonhardware

Find hardware and motor toboggans from the 1920s & 30s in Eliason’s in Sayner along Highway 155.

sayner_greenweaverdressSayner’s tiny downtown strip marks the northern edge of Highway 155. Bars and restaurants like the tasty Sayner Pub and Danny’s offer up grub and refreshments while boutique stores like Traditions and GreenWeavers offer clothes and home items you may not expect to find in such a small burg. Like this women’s dress – with the logo from the band “Styx” on it (see right) that we stumbled across. Alas, it wasn’t my size.

sayner_saynerpub

Several snowmobile trails cross in Sayner, either part of or connecting to some 600 miles of maintained trails in Vilas County alone. Sleds are welcomed to town under this arch on one trail, reminding them they’re in their machine’s birthplace.

sayner_snowmobilearchwinter

Highway 155 comes to an end at the north edge of downtown Sayner, not connecting to any other state highway but instead at a county road: County N, which connects west to U.S. 51 and east to Star Lake. Plum Lake, an eight mile-long example of why the lakes up here are extra beautiful, is just to the north and hosts a variety of resorts along its shores. It’s where Camp Highlands, one of the nation’s oldest summer camps, was founded in 1904. The Plum Ski-ters Waterski Club performs regular shows at Plum Lake Statehouse Point Wednesdays and Saturdays at 7p.m. during the summer season.

155nbend02 155nbend03

Along Plum Lake just east of Sayner, you’ll also find the Plum Lake Golf Course; founded in 1912, it’s the oldest 9-hole golf course in Wisconsin. More recently, it’s also been voted the best 9-hole golf course in the state. It’s open to the public for golf. The clubhouse reveals beautiful views of both greens and Plum Lake, and to sit in the breezeway on a warm summer day is to truly, happily, get away from it all.

sayner_plumlakegolf01

sayner_plumlakegolf04

So there you go: seven miles of St. Germain to Sayner, with snowmobiles as the main theme. It’s a brief but pleasant drive connecting two North Woods communities that offer plenty of outdoor recreation and everything from museums to golf to shopping to a petting zoo – at a tavern. Check out Wisconsin Highway 155 next time you’re up North!

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 70
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 51, about 8 miles west; Highway 17, about 8 miles east; U.S. 45/Highway 32, about 9 miles east

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: County Highway N in Sayner
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 51, about ten miles west

 

52

STH-052“Zigzagging from Wausau to Wabeno”

WisMap52Quickie Summary: Highway 52 connects central Wisconsin’s primary city with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and towns like Antigo and Lily before terminating just northwest of Wabeno. It’s not a straight shot by any means; Highway 52 does more zig-zagging than a politician at a hostile press conference. On the Wausau end, the tallest structure is the 241-foot, 11-story First Wausau Tower; on the Wabeno end, it’s the 22-foot high Larry the Logroller statue. The many trees along the route typically vary between those two heights!

52begin-rib-mountain-view

Rib Mountain towers above the landscape as you begin your drive on Highway 52.

The Drive (Southwest to Northeast): Highway 52 begins on the west side of Wausau (pop. 39,106), the dominant metro city in central Wisconsin, in the shadow of Rib Mountain and quite to close to the center of both the Northern and Western Hemispheres of the earth (we know how to pump stuff up.) Wausau is the center of a “primary statistical area” according to the U.S. Census that includes all of Marathon County and brings in nearby cities like Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and Merrill. It’s the 141st largest metro area in the country with about 308,000 people (by comparison, Milwaukee takes in most of SE Wisconsin and is ranked 33rd with 2.07 million, while Madison is 69th with 844,000 people, taking in Janesville, Beloit, and Baraboo.)

Wausau has been known far and wide for insurance, as Employers Insurance of Wausau – which became Wausau Insurance Companies – ran national ads that many remember today, especially with the music and focus on the “Wausau” name on an old Milwaukee Road railroad depot. The company was taken over by Liberty Mutual in 1999; they retired the Wausau name ten years later. Grrrr.


Wausau. As in insurance.

The city is also known for American ginseng; while Wisconsin cultivates close to 95% of the ginseng grown in the U.S., much of it is grown in Marathon County. You can see the artificial shade covers over ginseng fields all over the area. But with forests nearby and a big river providing power for sawmills, it was the lumber industry – and then paper production – that really got Wausau going early on; it’s still a big chunk of the economy here. Wausau is the largest city along the Wisconsin River, which runs right through the center and downtown areas. In general, the older part of the city is to the east of the river and newer areas are to the west.

Along with the river, the primary topographic feature in Wausau is Rib Mountain (elevation peak: 1,924 feet), which towers above the local terrain by almost 800 feet. Rib Mountain hosts the Granite Peak Ski Area, which opened way back in 1937 and was thus one of the first ski areas in North America. With a vertical drop of 700 feet, it’s the third tallest ski area in the Midwest and the tallest in Wisconsin. Granite Peak features 74 runs and lots of night skiing; lights from the runs on Rib Mountain can be seen for miles on clear, cold winter nights – ad there are plenty of them in Wausau.

Highway 52 begins almost in the shadow of Rib Mountain on the sprawling west side of town at an interchange connection to Highway 29, an east-west expressway all the way from Green Bay west to Chippewa Falls – it bypasses most of Wausau via U.S. 51. Highway 52 forms a short connector amidst big-box stores and new developments with the U.S. 51 freeway, the major north-south artery in the state. Interchange reconstruction just finished only a few years ago and, well, it’s pretty huge for these parts. It’s also the last time you’ll see a high-speed divided highway along the entire path of Highway 52.

Historic Marker, First Teachers School in Wisconsin. Along Highway 52 in Wausau.As Stewart Street, Highway 52 heads deeper into the city, passing schools and homes before reaching the campus of UW-Marathon County, a two-year campus. You may notice the historic marker along the street, revealing this location as the site of the first teachers’ training school in Wisconsin. Classes began in 1899 and helped usher in better contacts and broader knowledge for people who were traditionally well “out of the loop” in an era where communications were slower and access to schooling was much more difficult in remote areas.

Wausau – Downtown & the River District

wausau_kayakstatue

Heading into downtown and over the Wisconsin River, Highway 52 becomes one-way eastbound and circles around Wausau Center, a downtown shopping mall that opened in 1983. Just south of the mall is the River District, a revitalized area using older buildings and newer ones designed like the older buildings for condos, apartments, shops, and entertainment. The adjacent 400 Block is a recently redeveloped location for summertime outdoor concerts.

wausau_400block01

An empty block in the center of Wausau blossomed into the 400 Block, now a vibrant focal point featuring concerts, Farmers’ markets, festivals, and more throughout the year – but of course more frequently in summer and fall.

wausau_woodchucks02

There are some big balls in front of Athletic Park in Wausau.

The Wisconsin Woodchucks, part of the Northwoods League (a league of top college baseball players, quite a few of whom end up in Major League Baseball) play at Athletic Park on Wausau’s north side. The Class “A” Wausau Timbers played here from 1975 to 1990 before they relocated to Kane County, Illinois; the Woodchucks came along in 1994. The ballpark, originally constructed in 1936, has a capacity of 3,850 and is surrounded by a cool stone wall that extends all the way round the facility. Athletic Park sits at Wausau Avenue & 5th Street, right where Highway 52 westbound turns from west to south to head into downtown. Eastbound 52 is one block east of the park; you can find the ballpark by turning left at Wausau Avenue. You can check out the park and loop back on the side streets back to 6th Street northbound, where you can re-join Highway 52 heading east.

*** Breweries Alert ***
Wausau is home to two commercial breweries – so far. Red Eye Brewing Company is located right along Highway 52/Business U.S. 51 on the east side of downtown Wausau, part of the road’s northbound “wraparound” of downtown as 6th Street. Red Eye brews a number of beers on-site and is at the forefront of using energy sources like solar power to run their brewery and restaurant. South of downtown just to the east of Business U.S. 51, you’ll find Bull Falls Brewery, which takes its name from a real falls along the Wisconsin River as it winds through town. Their popular beers, often canned, can be enjoyed in their tap room on Thomas Street. Tours are also available. The Great Dane, a Madison-based brewpub, also has a Wausau location near Highway 52’s western end close to the junctions of U.S. 51 and Highway 29.

wausau-oilbarn01Heading northeast out of Wausau on Highway 52, check out what may locals call the “Oil Barn,” an old farm filled with old-school signs from gas stations and oil companies – many of which recall places cars and trucks would stop to refuel, refresh, or just get a ton of bugs off their windshields.

Off into the wild blue yonder of rural Marathon County, Highway 52 zigs and zags through beautiful farmland and rolling hills. Just northeast of the city, shortly before tiny Nutterville, you cross the 45th parallel, marking the (theoretical) halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.

Highway 52 at the Eau Claire River Dells access

Follow the sign to the Eau Claire River Dells for some scenic beauty and recreational fun.

Up for some rougher terrain, rugged rocks, and scenic waterfalls? Just past Hagerty, follow County Y south near Aniwa and check out the Dells of the Eau Claire River Park, which offers all of that and more. We’ve jumped off rocks towering over the water and landed in the cool waters of the Eau Claire River tens of feet below. It’s a worthy stop, especially for hiking and camping.

Approaching Aniwa you’ll see a short road to the Motorama Auto Museum, the largest auto museum in Wisconsin. Over 400 models – focusing on the unique, rare, and aesthetic – are on display across five acres in both indoor and outdoor settings. A walk through the “boneyard” on their boardwalk offers a look at rusting yet beautiful mid-20th century makes and models. Motorama is open May-October, Tuesday through Saturday 9am-5pm. You’ll probably notice the signs pointing the way.

About one mile past Motorama, Highway 52 enters Shawano County just briefly enough to meet up with U.S. 45. It joins this major north-south route for the ride north into Langlade County, a meetup with Highway 47 coming in from the Menomonee Reservation, and into the second largest town along Highway 52.

Antigo

That would be Antigo (pop. 8,234), seat of Langlade County. Wisconsin’s state soil since 1983 is the Antigo Silt Loam soil, named, of course after the city. Antigo bustled with sawmills 100 years ago and today still hosts a series of industries dealing with lumber, as well as farming, food production, shoes, fertilizer and steel and aluminum products. It’s a popular stop for tourists on their way to points north and east in the North Woods, so expect a full variety of restaurants and stores, including a Super Wal-Mart.

antigo_markersiltloam_800

To the right is the historical marker describing Wisconsin’s state soil, along Highway 64 outside of Antigo. (Photo courtesy of State Trunk Tourer Agnes Wiedemeier. Thanks, Agnes!)

Antigo is home to the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association. It’s also where John Bradley, one of the Navy corpsmen who took part in the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II, came from; his son, James Bradley, became a best-selling author of books like Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage and The Imperial Cruise. You know that older Menard’s guy that annoyed you in commercials for years? His name is Ray Szmanda and he retired to Antigo. His great-nephew Eric Szmanda portrays Greg Sanders on CSI, although he grew up in Milwaukee. But we digress…back to Antigo.

Highway 52 runs through Antigo with U.S. 45 and Highway 47; Highway 64 also joins on the north side of town, as it now runs on somewhat of a bypass. But Antigo’s main points of interest are right along the road we’re on, including the main downtown crossroads and the Langlade County Fairgrounds. The railroad was important to Antigo, especially because of its logging industry. Along with Highways 45/47/52 just south of downtown, you’ll find the Langlade County Historical Museum & Railroad Park, which includes historic artifacts inside a 1905-built Carnegie Library (pictured below), a classic 1800s cabin, and an original 1900 stream locomotive that is on full display. All are available for tours.

antigo-carnegielibrary

antigotrain_800

antigorefuge_800

Large deer are abundant in northern Wisconsin; only a few are plastic and have the patience to hang out atop restaurant signs, though. This is at the corner of U.S. 45 and Highways 47, 52, and 64.

Highway 52 heads east from Antigo with Highway 64 for about three miles before breaking northeasterly again for more zig-zagging through Langlade County. Lots of woods, curves, and farms with everything from dairy cows to buffalo line the roadway, making for a pleasant drive.

Buffalo along Highway 52 in Langlade County, Wisconsin

Buffalo roam portions of Langlade County. In warmer weather, their coat will do this…

You reach County roads B and S, which of course makes for a fun sign, and then head towards Lily, a small town along the Wolf River. There, Highway 52 intersects Highway 55.

 

Highway 52 in the midst of the Nicolet National Forest.

If you love forest with rolling hills, this section of Highway 52 is a pleasure.

Highway 52 comes to an end around a corner where it meets with Highway 32, just northwest of Wabeno (pop. 1,264). Interestingly, the town got its name from a tornado that blew through back in 1880; the Native Americans named the 1/2-mile to 1-mile wide strip of fallen timber “Waubeno”, meaning “the coming of the winds” or “the opening”. Waubeno grew up, like many towns up here, as a lumber town. By 1905, five sawmills cranked out 35 million board-feet of lumber annually, a trend that lasted several decades until mills shut down during the Great Depression. Much of the local economy moved to farming, with some tourism now mixed in. Wabeno also won the award for “Wisconsin’s best-tasting water” in 2003, and has been bottling and selling it ever since.

wabenobandshell_800

Larry the Logroller along Highway 32 in Wabeno

Larry the Logroller is probably Wabeno’s most recognized symbol. Standing 22 feet high, the bearded fiberglass town greeter grins over you like he’s just ready to kick your tail in a logrolling contest.

Wabeno’s most notable landmark is Larry the Logroller, a 22-foot high fiberglass symbol of the town’s logging history. Similar to a Paul Bunyan statue, Larry brandishes a logging tool as opposed to an ax. He stands guard over a city park along the north branch of the Oconto River, which also holds the Wabeno Logging Museum and a 1901 Phoenix Log Hauler, a steam engine locomotive that, while not active, still works if somehow needed.

wabenochurch_800

Coming into Wabeno, beams of sunlight cast down towards a church…fitting, I’d say.

wabeno_bottomsup

Along Highway 32 just south of the end of Highway 52, the “Bottoms Up” bar helps reinforce their name by creative use of their Old Style sign.

Another charmer is Waubeno’s Public Library, essentially a log cabin originally built by Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1897 for use as a land office. Under town ownership since 1923, it remains a library built of logs – one look, you KNOW you’re up North. It’s the only remaining log cabin library in Wisconsin.

Another indication you’re up here is the extensive network of snowmobile trails; the Lumberjack Memorial Snowmobile Trails consist of a network of over 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails organized by Lumberjack Memorial Trails, Inc., which formed out of five separate clubs that united in 1974. Their website tracks the condition of each trail and provides information on pit stops and more. Wabeno and Laona are at the heart of this trail network.

So really, at either end of Highway 52 there is plenty to see, do, and enjoy; it’s just different things. Tour State “Trunk” Highway 52 and enjoy!

Highway 52 CONNECTIONS:

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 29, U.S. 51
Can connect nearby to: I-39, about 3 miles south (concurrent with U.S. 51)

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 8, about 8 miles north

Back to StateTrunkTour.com



Copper Falls Fall Festival, view of Copper Falls
169

STH-169“Waterfall Lovers… These 18 Miles Are For You!”

Click here for a map overview

WisMap169Southern terminus: Ashland County, at Highway 13 in Mellen

Northern terminus: Iron County, at U.S. Highway 2 three miles north of Gurney

Mileage: about 18 miles

Counties along the way: Ashland, Iron

Sample towns along the way: Mellen, Gurney

Bypass alternates at: none

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 169 connects U.S. 2 and Highway 13, two key routes in the North Woods, and provides access to the splendor of Copper Falls State Park and Potato Falls.

State Trunk Tour Video Tour (North to South):

The Wisconsin Highway 169 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 169 starts at Highway 13 on the north side of Mellen (pop. 935), with good access to Highway 77 as well. Mellen itself sports a charming city hall building, constructed the same year the largest tannery in North America opened here (1896). It would be seven more years before the telephone would come to town. Mellen peaked in population around 1920 when it had almost 2,000 residents; however the tannery closed in 1922 and since then it’s been a small, pleasant burg that considers itself the Gateway to Copper Falls. Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man was filmed here in 1962, when the town welcomed the likes of Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy. Today, it welcomes recreational seekers of all kinds… but you can also catch a movie here if you want.

mellen_cityhall

Mellen’s beautiful City Hall. It’s just south of the start of Highway 169 along Highway 13.

169nbstart_800

The northbound start of Highway 169, winding through the North Woods.

copperfallsspsign_500

Literally within a few minutes, you reach the entrance to Copper Falls State Park.

Less than 2 miles into Highway 169’s start from Highway 13 is 169’s key raison d’etre, the entrance to Copper Falls State Park. Considered one of the most scenic of all Wisconsin’s state parks – a tall order, indeed – Copper Falls features ancient lava flows, deep gorges, and some serious waterfalls. Brownstone Falls is one of the best in the state, as its the park’s namesake, Copper Falls. Campers have their choice of 54 sites, with additional group camping and backpack campsites. You’re in the midst of “snow country” here, with over 100 inches annually being the norm, so it’s generally safe in the winter months to assume the 8 miles of cross-country ski trails are maintained and ready. Copper Falls State Park was designated in 1929 and features a concession area, an observation tower (it’s a climb up two sets of long stairs and a hillside to reach), and miles of hiking trails. Over 100 inches of snow falls in this area annually, and eight miles of cross-country ski trails are maintained for winter use. A beautiful view can be had from the pedestrian bridge crossing the Bad River, including the picturesque scene here which any beer commercial would love to use.

copperfallsbridge_800

The park is connected on both sides of the Bad River by this handsome wooden bridge; crossing it, Copper Falls lies in one direction and in the other, a nice shot of rapids as the waters bubble over rock formations through the forest.

badriverflow_800

Most pictures in beer commercials used to feature a scene like this, before the “partyin’ guys surrounded by bikini models” look took over.

copperfalls2_lg

The park’s namesake once fell about 30 feet; erosion and “human activity” over the past century and change has caused it to become a 12-foot falls today, but nonetheless a beautiful, roaring sight.

copperfalls1_800

 

Beyond Copper Falls State Park, you head into Iron County and approach another great waterfall in the form of Potato Falls. Located on the Potato River, Potato Falls features two 20-foot drops in the Upper Falls, with a series of boulders for dramatic effect in between. A few hundred feet down is the Lower Falls, a 30-foot drop. Definitely a must-see for waterfall lovers!

169view_800gurneyrr_800

Just beyond Potato Falls is the tiny settlement of Gurney (pop. 158) and then a junction with U.S. Highway 2, which is also the Lake Superior Circle Tour route. Ashland awaits to the west and Hurley lurks to the east.

169nbend_800

Highway 169 comes to an end at U.S. Highway 2, essentially the northern frame to the nation – because trees and Lake Superior are all that’s beyond here all the way to Canada. You can head east to Hurley and the U.P. of Michigan, or west to Ashland or Superior – you can even re-join Highway 13 and head up to Bayfield. Heck, it’s all up to you, of course!

CONNECTIONS:

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 2
Can connect nearby to: Highway 122, about 5 miles east

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 13
Can connect nearby to: Highway 77, less than one mile south

77

STH-077“A little slice off the northwest along the ‘Great Divide'”

Western terminus: Burnett County, at the Minnesota state line west of Danbury

Eastern terminus: Iron County, at the Michigan state line in Hurley

Mileage: about 140 miles

Counties along the way: Burnett, Washburn, Sawyer, Ashland, Iron

Sample towns along the way: Danbury, Minong, Hayward, Mellen, Hurley

Bypass alternates at: none

WisMap77Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 77 slices across northwestern Wisconsin, the uppermost state highway to span the state from Minnesota to Michigan (only U.S. Highway 2 is further north.) From the lake-filled forests around Danbury past the beef jerky capital of Minong, through the Hayward area to the crazy bars and skiing resorts around Hurley, Highway 77 provides a nice drive while it takes you on part of the Great Divide National Scenic Highway.

jct77tight

Wisconsin Highway 77 Road Trip

77atstcroix1_800

The waters of the St. Croix River flow southward (toward the picture), eventually reaching the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Minnesota is on the left, Wisconsin on the right. Just around the corner in the distance, the state line becomes a land border, heading straight north until it reaches the St. Louis River just before Duluth & Superior.

77ebintowi1_800

Looking east over the St. Croix River bridge from Minnesota. This is where Highway 77 starts; Hurley is about 140 miles away.

77wbtomn1_800

Highway 77’s western end, looking into Minnesota. At the state line over the river, Minnesota Highway 48 begins.

The Drive (West to East):

Highway 77 begins at the beautiful St. Croix River, right where Minnesota Highway 48 ends at the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line. Several miles in (going through the Town of Swiss on the way), you reach unincorporated Danbury (pop. 172). Danbury is often referred to locally as the “Last stop to the border”, since Minnesota is just to the west. The Yellow River runs through town and provides beautiful views, just like the nearby St. Croix. You can stop and rent a canoe at Pardun’s Canoe Rental & Shuttle Service (7595 Main Street/Hwy 77, 715-656-7881) to get the view from the water and get a little exercise. As its name implies, they’ll shuttle you to and fro. If you prefer some gambling, the St. Croix Casino Danbury (30222 State Road 35/77, 800-238-8946) is right there for you at the downtown crossroads.

danbury_chainsawsign_800

danbury_marketsign_225hi

Above: Cool signs always add interest to a road trip. The sign like a chainsaw, about two miles east of the state line, seems pretty unique to us; meanwhile, the neon supermarket sign looks like it’s weathered Danbury’s climate for many decades. It’s right near the intersection of Highways 77 and 35.

In Danbury, the “downtown crossroads” refers to the junction of Highway 77 and Highway 35. Worth a stop just south of Danbury, however, is the Forte Folle Avoine Historical Park (715-866-8890). A living history site covering 80 acres, the Park abuts the Yellow River and features reconstructed fur trade posts located on the actual sites where they were originally operating 200 years ago. A large Visitor Center (constructed of logs, of course), a research library, outdoor amphitheater, hiking and cross-country ski trails and an 1887 schoolhouse all beckon. You can reach the Park by following Highway 35 south for about three miles and then turning west on County U. The signs should guide you from there.

danbury_casino1_800

The St. Croix Casino has a location in Danbury. It’s a very modern looking structure compared to most of the surrounding area, where there aren’t many new developments. The Casino has other locations in Turtle Lake and Hertel.

35-77northdanbury

In Danbury, Highway 77 joins Highway 35 northbound for about four miles before breaking east toward Minong.

Highway 77 follows Highway 35 northeast briefly before turning east again and sprinting across the wilderness. Threading past some lakes and getting into Washburn County, there’s a lot of zigging and zagging – and deer crossing signs. Finally, you cross U.S. Highway 53 and enter a place where they like to “mess with Sasquatch.”

I’m referring, of course, to Minong (pop. 531), home of Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, available at stores and just about every gas station convenience store in the Northern Hemisphere. Jack Link started selling beef jerky after being unhappy with what he found at stores during an afternoon hunt. His great-grandfather’s old recipes were unearthed, he started making and selling his jerky to small shops in and around Minong, and to make a long story short, today Jack Link’s sells jerky nationwide from their Link Snacks, Inc. plant and World Headquarters, clearly visible near Highway 77 and U.S. 53. They’ve expanded from simply beef jerky to include steak nuggets, chicken fajita “tender cuts”, organic products, and even something called “Lil’ Chub”, a short, plump sausage (those with sophomoric senses of humor can stop snickering now… including me.) It’s a true American success story that only a vegan could hate.

minong_jacklinks01

Jack Link’s all started from a single guy selling beef jerky out of his truck. Now they sell all over but maintain their headquarters right here in tiny Minong, where Highway 77 and U.S. 53 meet.

minong_fluffys

minong_longbranch

In the “downtown” area, several taverns cater to the locals and passersby coming through by car, snowmobile, bike or ski. You gotta love a place named Fluffy’s, which is anything but. The Longbranch Saloon looks like the definition of “saloon”.

Aside from this gargantuan dried meat-making facility, Minong is small and unassuming. Highway 77 runs through the downtown, which features several bars including Fluffy’s (an interesting name for a bar) and Longbranch Saloon & Eatery, which just looks interesting. Pop inside and I guarantee people will stop what they’re doing and turn around. Friendly people, though. The Wild Rivers Trail cuts right through Minong, too… so if you’re biking, ATVing, cross-country skiing, etc., feel free to load up on beef jerky here.

East from Minong, you’ll blaze through a remote paradise into Sawyer County before hooking up with Highway 27 and heading into Hayward.

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. Hayward also lays claim to the hotly-contested title of “Golf Capital of Wisconsin.”

hayward_birkiesign1_800

hayward_dntn1_800

Hayward is home of the American Birkiebiener – 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. While the now Minnetonka, MN-based chain lives on, “Famous” Dave Anderson, the original founder, is in the process of opening a new restaurant in Hayward called Jimmie’s Old Southern Smokehouse BBQ. Yes, we’ll get up there and try it!

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. More on the Angry Minnow’s beers will be discussed when we finish creating our beer and brewpub section of the State Trunk Tour website.

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 vistors 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!

From Hayward, it’s once again miles and miles of natural beauty and little of anything man-made. On the eastern edge of the area, you’ll spot Club 77 (12695 Wisconsin 77, 715-462-3712), a supper club/bar that’s popular with both locals and the post-Birkie crowd coming in from points all over. Moving on, it’s 47 miles from Hayward to the next State Trunk Tour route (13), through the Chequamegon National Forest, with only little Clam Lake in between. Clam Lake is the “Elk Capital of Wisconsin”, mainly due to a successful reintroduction program that began with 25 elk in 1995; those numbers are now over 175.

The 29-mile stretch from County A in Sawyer County to Highway 13 near Glidden is known as the Great Divide National Scenic Highway, designated as such by the U.S. Forest Service. The “divide” they’re talking about is the watershed boundary between the Great Lakes (emptying into the Atlantic Ocean) and the Mississippi River (emptying into the Gulf of Mexico), which runs just north of Highway 77 for most of the ride. The tall pines and dense forest of the North Woods envelopes you the entire way. Upon reaching Highway 13, you turn northward and actually cross the “Great Divide” on your 13-mile journey into Mellen.

77greatdivide

The Great Divide National Scenic Highway stretch of Highway 77 never actually crosses the “Great Divide”, but you do cross it along the stretch with Highway 13 between Glidden and Mellen.

Mellen (pop. 935), Highway 13 splits off toward Ashland and Highway 77 shoots northeast toward Hurley. Mellen itself sports a charming city hall building, constructed the same year the largest tannery in North America opened here (1896). It would be seven more years before the telephone would come to town. Mellen peaked in population around 1920 when it had almost 2,000 people, but in 1922 the tannery closed and since then it’s been a small, pleasant burg that considers itself the Gateway to Copper Falls (a short drive up Highway 13 and then 169). Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man was filmed here in 1962, when the town welcomed the likes of Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy. Today, it welcomes recreational seekers of all kinds… but you can also catch a movie here if you want.

mellen_cityhall

Mellen City Hall, complete with its bell. This is right along Highway 77.

From Mellen, it’s back to the wilderness, with some great views thrown in as you navigate the Gogebic Range, which features a series of high points and ridges marking the final drop toward Lake Superior, less than 15 miles away. At Upton, watch for Upton Town Park, where you can catch the 18-foot Upson Falls on the Potato River, a nice little waterfall where one can camp, picnic, and have physiological reactions to hearing the water running.

Further east, through Iron Belt – remember, mining has been historically HUGE around here – you reach the City of Montreal (pop. 771, a bit smaller than its Canadian counterpart.) Named for the Montreal Mining Company, the town was home to numerous mine workers, many of whom rented the early versions of pre-fabricated homes in a program started by the company in 1918. Several of those homes live on today in the Montreal Company Location Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. For waterfall lovers, a 15-foot waterfall – Gile Falls – is accessible from town via Kokogan and Gile Falls Streets. A snowmobile bridge crosses the falls at the top; just more evidence this area is “Big Snow Country.”

Hurley

Beyond Montreal, you approach the Montreal River and the infamous city of Hurley (pop. 1,818). The county seat of Iron County, Hurley has a reputation from its wild days as a prime headquarters for lumberjacks who would race into town on weekends to spend their paychecks on booze and women, maybe food if there was time. Highway 77 in town is Silver Street, once home to a long line of speakeasies, saloons and sundry sinister situations. Much lore has been told about Hurley… much of it true.

hurley1_lg

hurley2_800

Downtown Hurley has a series of interesting buildings and scenes. Silver Street, which is Highway 77, is the main downtown drag and includes the former Hurley National Bank (now a bar), decorative street banner designs giving a hint of the town’s history, and more.

hurley3_800

hurley4_800

Hurley is the Wisconsin counterpart to Ironwood, Michigan, and together the two towns host tens of thousands of snow skiiers, snowmobilers, ATV riders and outdoor enthusiasts every year. The annual Pumpkin Run ATV Rally is held in October in Hurley, and a Guinness world record was set in 2005 when 687 participants took part in the Largest ATV Parade ever. The Red Light Snowmobile Rally also takes place in mid-December, marking the “first ride of the season.”

77at51_800

Hurley’s main crossroad: Highway 77 and U.S. 51. Michigan is just beyond the orange overpass in the distance. U.S. 51 is a major north-south national highway that starts in the Lu-zee-ana swamps near New Orleans and ends, well, about a mile north of here at U.S. 2. It’s not like you can get much further north!

Highway 77 crosses U.S. Highway 51 (which ends just one mile north at U.S. 2, 1,286 miles from its start in Laplace, Louisiana) as Silver Street, past the aforementioned bars and entertainment venues, and ends just as it began: crossing a river – this time the narrow Montreal – into another state – this time, Michigan. The rail line running along the Wisconsin side of the Montreal River received a new paint job a few years back, with an orange color that livens up the landscape and murals depicting the history of the area’s mining and lumbering industries.

77ebend1_800

77ebend2_800

77ebend3_800

77wbbegin1_800

Highway 77’s unassuming eastern end – looking westward at its beginning – is at the crossing of the Montreal River between Ironwood, Michigan and Hurley, Wisconsin. In Hurley, Highway 77 is Silver Street and many stories have been told about activities along its path dating back to the 19th century.

Just beyond the end: the World’s Largest Corkscrew

hurley_corkscrew_800Some places in Vienna, Austria and Bangkok, Thailand may beg to differ, but Hurley, Wisconsin lays claim to the World’s Largest Corkscrew. You can find it by heading north from Highway 77 on U.S. 51 briefly before heading west on U.S. 2, less than one mile. It’s right in front of – fittingly enough – a liquor store.

Clocking in around 140 miles, it’s a great cross-section of Wisconsin’s northwest.

CONNECTIONS

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Minnesota Highway 48
Can connect nearby to: Highway 35, about 3 miles east

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 51
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 2, about 1.5 miles north

Highway 70 in the North Woods, west of Florence
70

STH-070“Cutting across the North Woods from Minnesota to Michigan, hey”

WisMap70Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 70 cuts across northern Wisconsin all the way from Minnesota to just short of the Michigan line near Florence. Long stretches of forest, roadside lakes and rivers, recreational trails, the World’s Largest Penny, Snowmobile Capitals of the World, and an array of small towns and vacation destinations line the road from end to end. Truly an “up North” road all the way.

Wisconsin Highway 70 Road Trip

The Drive (West to East):

70ebbegin1_800

70ebbegin2_800

Highway 70 in Minnesota becomes Highway 70 in Wisconsin at this bridge over the St. Croix River. At this point, you’re very close to the westernmost point in the state. The original bridge here was a toll bridge that opened in 1929.

70ebbegin3_800

The western start on 70 entering Burnett County, in from Minnesota. Highway 70’s eastern end is in Florence County, which has neither cities nor villages… in fact, no incorporated places at all.

hwy70landing_800

Numerous recreational opportunities abound along the St. Croix River, where you can have fun in two states at once.

Highway 70 enters Wisconsin from Minnesota’s own Highway 70 over the St. Croix River and runs through a few miles of wilderness before entering Grantsburg (pop. 1,460), which bills itself as the “Gateway to Crex Meadows.” It’s also a key access point for the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a 200-mile corridor along the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers that epitomize the beauty and recreational fun of the wild rivers up north.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Crex Meadows is the largest wildlife area in Wisconsin, with over 30,000 acres, 270 species of birds and 600 species of plants.

Crex Meadows started as a carpet company’s land, when the Crex Carpet Company bought 23,000 acres in 1912 to use for grass rug production. The company lasted until 1933, when the popularity of linoleum put them under. The “Crex” lives on in name with the wildlife area, the largest in the state and considered by the National Bird Conservancy to be one of the top 500 Globally Important Bird Areas in the U.S. Find out more about Crex Meadows here. Another major natural area is Governor Knowles State Forest, which runs like a path extending 55 miles long and up to two miles wide. It’s all about the nature up here. It’s also about tall people: “Big Gust” Anderson was a favorite son, towering 7 1/2 feet tall (unfortunately for him, before the days of the NBA – he died in 1926) and is commemorated with a wooden statue by the Community Center building (416 S. Pine Street) in Grantsburg. A stop at the statue will reveal the story he has to tell.

A good stop if you’re hungry or in a malt mood is The Drive-In, a classic burgers, fries, and malts joint that evokes the 50’s – in part because it opened in 1956.

In Grantsburg, Highway 70 meets the northern end of Highways 48 & 87, and then heads east across the northwestern Wisconsin wilderness. Next up is Siren (pop. 988), originally named “Syren” after the Swedish word for “lilac.” Siren is the county seat of Burnett County (having moved there from Grantsburg in 1982), a popular vacation home area for Twin Cities residents and features a local farmer’s market as well as a series of festivals, including a spring one saluting the lilacs it was named after. Siren is a significant stop along the Gandy Dancer State Trail, a rail-to-trail that runs from St. Croix Falls all the way up to Superior – with some ducking into Minnesota along the way. “Gandy Dancer” is named for 1800s railroad workers and the songs and chants they occupied themselves with while they worked what were very tough jobs. Siren is flanked by lakes and has bounced back nicely after suffering major damage from a 2001 tornado.

Highway 70 joins up with Highway 35 in Siren, following it north for a few miles before heading east again to Spooner (pop. 2,653, and believe it or not, the largest city along Highway 70.) Spooner calls itself “Crossroads of the North”, and with Highway 70, U.S. 53 and U.S. 63 all meeting there and the city being the center of much activity, it basically is. On the west side of town is the World’s Largest Muskie Hatchery in the form of the Tommy G. Thompson State Fish Hatchery (951 W. Maple, 715-635-4147.) Spooner wasn’t always just a significant crossroads town for highways; it was a big railroad town, once the home of the Omaha Railroad Line. This heritage lives on with the Railroad Memories Museum on Front Street (715-635-3325), inside the original train station – which was built in 1902. Ten rooms of rail memorabilia, with each room depicting a different facet of the railroad industry. The former main rail line lives on as the Wild River State Trail, a nearly 100-mile long recreational trail – of which Spooner is a major stop. Other museums in Spooner include the new Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum (312 N. Front Street) and the nearby Museum of Woodcarving (five miles south on U.S. 63 in Shell Lake, 715-468-7100). The Museum of Woodcarving features incredible works from Joseph Barta, who retired from teaching in Spooner so he could dedicate his life to woodcarving. More than 100 life-size and 400 miniature carvings are on display, including a follow-the-story depiction of the life of Jesus Christ. Like Siren, Spooner hosts a number of annual festivals that draw people from around the region, including the Heart of the North Rodeo and Jack Pine Savage Days.

spoonerrrmuseum1_800

spoonerrrmuseum2_800

The Railroad Memories Museum is a rail buff’s paradise. One of the original trains lurks outside, available for tours…it just looks like it’s anxious to barrel down the tracks again.

spooner_baranarchy

Downtown Spooner lies along Walnut Street, several blocks north of Highway 70 via U.S. 63. A series of watering holes await, some with names like “Bar Anarchy.”

Here’s some unusual history: apparently President John F. Kennedy came to Spooner while campaigning in 1960. One stop was a bar, now called Big Dick’s Buckhorn Inn (105 Walnut Street, 715-635-6008). He used the facilities, and porcelain preservation remains inside the men’s bathroom. The wood-carved sign on the door reads: “President John F. Kennedy used these facilities, March 18, 1960”. Pee with the prez! (Click on the picture for a closeup of the sign.)

spooner_kennedybathroomspooner_jfk_closeup

Highway 70 is Maple Street through Spooner… a main drive to be sure, but the actual downtown area of Spooner is several blocks north. If you follow U.S. 63 (River Street) north, you’ll reach downtown. Straight north on Front Street, which also parallels the Wild River State Trail, you can access the main area of shops and museums. Continuing east on Highway 70, you’ll reach the intersection with the U.S. 53 freeway, the only location where Highway 70 meets with an expressway along its nearly 250 mile journey.

Two interesting – but different diversions can be found by taking U.S. 63 for a few miles. You can head south about 5 miles to Shell Lake and check out the Museum of Woodcarving, the largest collection of woodcarvings in the world done by one man…

shelllake_woodcarvingmuseum

…and to the north via U.S. 63 just on the north side of Spooner, you can get a kick out of big ol’ Cowboy Muffler Man, who today guards Bulik’s Amusement Center, which offers waterslides, mini golf and go-karts (N5639 Highway 63 North, 715-635-7111).

spoonerguy_800

East of Spooner and the junction with U.S. Highway 53, Highway 70 cuts through vast expanses of forest on its way to Stone Lake (pop. 544), where the forests give way to cranberry bogs around nearby Spring Lake. Stone Lake hosts a cranberry festival every October and is a gateway to a series of lakes that flank this area.

Highway 27, fresh from Hayward, joins Highway 70 for the next 25 miles or so into Sawyer County and threading between a series of lakes and winding along the Couderay River, affording sometimes brief but always lovely views. Starting at the 27/70 junction to run 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), 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 4, 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 27 turns south and Highway 70 forges on along the Chippewa River, which offers excellent canoeing.

Further east, you reach Winter (pop. 344), a village whose weather matches its name about seven months of the year. Winter celebrates its location along the Tuscobia Trail, which Highway 70 parallels – though not always closely – for much of this stretch. The Tuscobia State Trail is another of Wisconsin’s celebrated rail-to-trail routes, covering 74 miles from Tuscobia to Park Falls. Plant lovers will want to check out the Winter Greenhouse, which features over 1,000 varieties of herbaceous perennials and display gardens including a waterfall.

East from Winter, through Loretta and Draper, Highway 70 heads through the Flambeau River State Forest. This is a long ride filled with beautiful scenery. The tree-lined stretches are broken by river views, including multiple crossings of the Flambeau River. This is a terrific stretch of river with ample canoeing possiblities. Fifield (“a little town in northern WI with more cars than people”, as some of their materials say) provides a junction with Highway 13; this is the only place you can stop for gas and services for about 25 miles in either direction. Of course, there are some taverns here and there to keep you company! From Price County, Highway 70 shaves the northwest corner of Oneida County for less than a mile before entering Vilas County and the Lac du Flambeau Reservation. Through this area, the highway threads the needle between a number of lakes before ducking back into Oneida County and heading toward bonafide civilization as you approach Woodruff and its sister towns, Minocqua and Arbor Vitae. This is where you go from vacationers who primarily hunt, fish and hike to vacationers who shop and buy t-shirts.

Woodruff, Minocqua and Arbor Vitae.
One of Wisconsin’s most frequented vacation destinations is this stretch of towns surrounded by lakes, forest, and beauty. The presence of Illinois license plates gives you the proper impression that this area is filled with shops, restaurants, t-shirt stores and throngs of families looking to rent lake homes or hang out in the resorts that dot the lakes ringing the area. Highway 70 enters Woodruff (pop. 1,982) past Jim Peck’s Wildwood Wildlife Park, the “Zoo of the Northwoods.” Over 500 animals, some of whom are roaming, will greet you.

51n70e_woodruff_summer_800

Highway 70 with U.S. 51, heading from Minocqua into Woodruff.

Entering Woodruff, you’ll find shopping, plenty of gas stations and even some fast-food restaurants, as well as the first traffic light for something like 100 miles – the last one was in Spooner, for cryin’ out loud! Highway 70 hooks up with the north-south backbone of Wisconsin, U.S. 51, which is the main drag through Minocqua and Woodruff. Minocqua lies to the south along U.S. 51. Highway 70 follows northbound for several miles, which includes a crossing with Highway 47. This stretch can be bumper-to-bumper on warm summer days – and some nights, too.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Within a short distance of Minocqua-Woodruff-Arbor Vitae are over 1,600 miles of professionally groomed snowmobile trails amidst 1,300 glacial lakes and 233,000 acres of public forest lands.

Also in Woodruff, you’ll find the World’s Largest Penny. Located just west of Highway 70/U.S. 51 at 923 Second Avenue, it came about from a fund-raising effort by Dr. Kate Pelham Newcomb (a.k.a. the “Angel on Snowshoes” in these parts). In the early 1950s, Woodruff needed a hospital. Dr. Kate encouraged area children to save their pennies, a story that spread around the nation. Pennies poured in from all over the U.S., and eventually 1.7 million of them helped get the hospital built. Apparently health care was a lot less expensive back then. Ironically, the schoolkids from 1953 (the year stamped on the penny) will soon approach the age where some may enter the assisted living facility behind it.

woodruff_largestpenny

woodruff_pennyfromagnes

So how’s this for cool? State Trunk Tour fan Agnes W. sent in this picture of her (she’s on the left) and her siblings the year the penny was dedicated in 1953. Thanks, Agnes!

Off U.S. 51, Highway 70 goes through Arbor Vitae and threads around a series of – surprise! – lakes. You enter the Town of St. Germain (pop. 1,932), which refers to itself as “In the Center of it All.”

70ebwintertime_800

Rolling through the North Woods between Woodruff/Arbor Vitae and St. Germain, into the heart of snowmobileland – if that’s a word.

If you love fishing, hiking, biking and snowmobiling, though, it pretty much is. St. Germain brags that it has some of the cleanest water in the world – probably because it does. While there are plenty of lakes allowing all kinds of boats, some are designed “no motorized boats allowed”, making for great swimming beaches. Um, in the summer. In the winter, they pull out the snowmobiles. So much so that the Snowmobile Hall of Fame and Museum (8481 Hwy. 70, 715-542-4477) is in St. Germain, having moved here from Eagle River in 1993. They underwent expansions in 2005 and 2015 and today house a wide variety of snowmobiles and salutes to racing champions.

stgermain_snowhofsignstgermain_snowhofbldg

stgermain_snowhofinside

stgermdir_800Like a massive “You Are Here” map, this directory in the heart of St. Germain shows you where things are, and also illustrates clearly just how many lakes are around here. Highway 70 intersects with the southern start of Highway 155 here, a short seven mile spur to Sayner (nice alliteration, no?) that brings you to the museum where the snowmobile was invented!

The drive from St. Germain to Eagle River is beautiful any time of year, but during fall colors is especially striking. The Wisconsin River, early on in its journey toward the Mississippi, is often right by the roadside on this stretch of Highway 70. The “Hardest Working River in the World”, as the Wisconsin is called, is still in its infancy here. It’s great for canoeing at this point, so try Hawk’s Nest Canoe Outfitters (715-542-2300) and spend some time floating down to the Rainbow Flowage. They’re located right along Highway 70 east of St. Germain.

70wisriver2_800

eagleriversign1_800Eagle River

After Highway 17 comes in from Rhinelander and joins Highway 70, you get into Eagle River (pop. 1,443), one of Wisconsin’s most popular vacation towns. It’s nicknamed the “Snowmobiling Capital of the World“, and competitions are held here throughout the winter months. Extensive trails stretch for miles from the town and around the multitude of lakes in the area. In warmer months, boating is very popular on these lakes… so many area lakes (28), in fact, that the Eagle River/Three Lakes Chain compose the largest number of interconnected lakes in the world. These lakes are frozen a good chunk of the year, obviously, and on the weekend closest to New Years’, area firefighters and volunteers cut 3,000 foot-thick blocks of ice from nearby Silver Lake to build the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace has been constructed almost annually since the 1920s and usually stands about 20 feet high, lit up at night with a multitude of colors. Tourists are welcome to check it out and take pictures; just don’t build a fire nearby or chip off any ice for your beverage.

eagleriver_icecastle

In a five-day period, thousands of pounds of ice find their way from a nearby lake to become part of an annual tradition, the Eagle River Ice Castle. It often lasts for 60-90 days, depending on temperature, sunlight, and how many people breathe warm air onto it.

eagleriverwelcomewinter_800Snowmobiling Capital of the World

Okay, back to this snowmobiling thing. Home of the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Eagle River’s Derby Track hosted its first race on February 9, 1964 – about 40 years after Carl Eliason of nearby Sayner invented the first model that was comparable to today’s snowmobiles (and, that evening, The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show). The races since have drawn participants and spectators from far and wide – tens of thousands, regardless of the weather. The races are held in mid-January, meaning it can be sunny and near 40, the typical cold of 6 above zero, or wind chills of -50 – as it was in 1994. There’s plenty of room to watch around the track, and luxury boxes are even available. Additional races and attractions have been added over the years; you can read a pretty comprehensive history right here. Eagle River averages 53 inches of snowfall each year – nothing too crazy, especially when areas closer to Lake Superior average over 100. But with hundreds of miles of trails and the invention of the snowmobile having taken place in the area, this is the epicenter of the sport. Bottom line, this is a place to road trip to in the midst of winter’s grasp!

eagleriver_derbyrace01

Racers line up for the oval. Straightaway speeds can reach 100mph. Are there are no seat belts.

eagleriver_derby01

Snocross is awesome to watch, including at night. They can really get some air!

snowmobiletracksummer1_800

The rarely-seen Derby Track in summer. A lot less action.

Highway 70 through town is also joined by U.S. 45 and Highway 32. Restaurants and motels line the route, and Wall Street – one block north through the heart of town – is where most of the action is. Lining the Wall are shops, confectioneries, bars, restaurants and the Vilas Theater, a five-screen cinema that dates back many decades.

eagleriverdntn1_800

Along Wall Street, Eagle River’s main street.

eaglerivericecream

Two scoops from the Country Store in downtown Eagle River.

Just down is the Country Store, a confectionery with numerous fudge choices, candy, chocolates and ice cream where a “scoop” is half the size of Rhode Island. Plenty of other treats are available too, whether it’s 20 below or 95 above outside.

eagleriverhookers_800

The local fishing contingent features its own two cents on available t-shirts.

 

 

 

Eagle River is named after the – you guessed it – Eagle River, which flows out of the Chain O’Lakes and into the Wisconsin River. The Wisconsin’s source in Lac Vieux Desert is only about 15 miles north along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, and it’s still pretty small as it flows past Eagle River. Of course, it gains significant size and strength as it flows nearly 400 miles and drops over 1,000 feet on its way to the Mississippi!

eaglerivereagle

An eagle statue for Eagle River is right by the old railroad station at the west end of downtown. It looks cool during the day, but more soaring and dramatic with the light at night.

East of Eagle River, services are few and forest is all encompassing. The drive is beautiful – especially during the fall color season – and don’t be surprised to find wild turkeys congregating along the roadside (interestingly, their numbers seem to thin out during November). Occasional establishments pop up along Highway 70, including Bogart’s Oasis, which might have the only HDTV set between Eagle River and Florence. I could see a football game from the road through the front door. Further east, you cross Highway 55 and Highway 139; all other intersections are small forest roads, since this area traverses the Nicolet National Forest.

70thruforestco1_800

Even with few cross streets, every 10 miles or so you’re reminded you’re on Highway 70. Trees solidly line the roadway in this area, which is part of the Nicolet National Forest.

70eb_towardflorence_800

High points along Highway 70 provide a view of miles across the forest; this shot looks toward Florence, with Upper Michigan in the distance.

Highway 139, a minor state trunk highway which Highway 70 joins briefly, connects north across the Brule River to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Iron River, and south to Long Lake and, further down, U.S. 8. This is all in the midst of the Nicolet National Forest and some of the best hiking, camping and ATVing in the Midwest. You can find lists of trails, from snowmobiling to ATVing to waterfall hiking trails and more, on the Florence County website. As you head out of the Nicolet National Forest, Highway 101 meets up from its rural run through forest land and some hilly areas, as it connects to the Keyes Park Ski Hill. While not a major skiing destination, it does offer a 230 foot vertical drop as part of its 5-trail system, which also features a 450-foot run.

The end of the line for Highway 70 (with Highway 101 in tow, having joined just a few miles back) is at the western edge of Florence (pop. 2,319), county seat of Florence County and the only unincorporated county seat in Wisconsin. That doesn’t stop the area from having the largest ATV and snowmobile trail system in the state; this place is a haven for those loving the outdoors.

70eb_end_800

Highway 70 – with 101 – comes to an end at U.S. 2 & 141 during their dip back into Wisconsin from the U.P. on the western edge of the Town of Florence.

From Florence, you can head north into the U.P. if you so desire, or head east into Florence. The town features the Wild Rivers Interpretive Center, which does everything from offer exhibits on the rivers and how logging and mining towns developed and continue to walking trails and facilities for RVs and dog owners whose pooches need a little exercise and sniff time.

Just beyond Florence you can check the eyebrow-raising settlement of Spread Eagle, which doesn’t spread too far but does offer the 7,400-acre Spread Eagle Barrens State Natural Area (715-528-5377), which was designated in 1995 to protect an extensive landscape of bracken grassland and barrens dominated by scattered jack pine, red pine, scrub oak, and quaking aspen, all bisected by the wild-flowing Pine River. The Area offers wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, trapping, and even berry-picking – in season. The Barrens is open from April through December.

U.S. 141 south will head back into Michigan, but then back into Wisconsin so you can check out Niagara and Marinette County with all of its waterfalls and scenic beauty – plus access back to the rest of the state!

CONNECTIONS

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Minnesota Highway 70
Can connect nearby to: Highway 48, about 3 miles east

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 2, U.S. 141, Highway 101
Can connect nearby to: Ah, that’s about it up here.

Highway 55 in Menomonee County
55

STH-055“High Cliffs, Hamburgers and High Up to Michigan”

 

WisMap55Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 55 starts on a picturesque overlook above Lake Winnebago, cut through the eastern edge of the Fox Valley and becomes a winding highway through Seymour, birthplace of the hamburger and home to the world’s largest burger, both the Menominee Indian Reservation and the Nicolet National Forest, with excellent access to campgrounds, fishing, hunting and a variety of summer and winter up Nort’ activities.

Wisconsin Highway 55 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 55, which once began all way down in Milwaukee, begins today where U.S. 151 veers away from Lake Winnebago on its way to Chilton in Calumet County. Where 151 heads east, Highway 55 continues north, running often within eyeshot of the eastern shore of the rural side of Lake Winnebago. Lake Winnebago is the third largest freshwater lake in the U.S. overall (Okeechobee in Florida was first, in case you were curious), the largest lake in the nation entirely within one state, and is visible from space. While the lake’s west side is heavy with reefs and cities like Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Menasha, and Neenah, the east side is characterized with serene shorelines, hills and rocky cliffs.

151at55nb_600

Highway 55, which once started in Milwaukee, now begins where U.S. 151 veers east toward Manitowoc. The highway runs up the barely-developed east shore of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin’s largest inland lake.

55towardlake_800

Lake Winnebago is about 30 miles long and expands to 10 miles wide. It’s quite visible from Highway 55 for quite a while.

Dub's Pub Suds & Grub sign along Highway 55 in Wisconsin's Calumet County.

It may be a different bar by now (we didn’t see this sign on our most recent passing), but we love the name “Dub’s Pub, Suds & Grub.”

By the way, our award for “Best Tavern Name of the Day” was Dub’s Pub Suds & Grub”. That’s rhyming on the level of old-school rapper right there… even though on our last trip, it looks like Dub’s may have become something else by now.

Highway 55 buzzes through the middle of the Village of Stockbridge (pop. 636), which bills itself as the “Sturgeon Center of the World.” Clearly big on fishing, Stockbridge offers piers and a marina on Lake Winnebago. Next up is Harrison (pop. 11,532), one of the state’s newest villages. Harrison was a township that became a village in 2013 and immediately became the second-largest incorporated place along Highway 55. Harrison stretches into Outagamie County along Highway 55, where we meet up with Highway 114.

High Cliff State Park

High Cliff State Park is the best place for viewing Lake Winnebago. Perched atop the limestone cliff of the Niagara Escarpment, which runs from this point to Door County and then to Niagara Falls, you can picnic, camp, walk the Indian Mound Trail, check out the nature center, or climb the 40-foot observation tower and get a look across the lake to Appleton, Oshkosh and even north to Kaukauna, which Highway 55 cuts right through on this Tour.

Sunset from High Cliff State Park

Hazy sunset from a lookout at High Cliff State Park, right off Highways 55 and 114.

55_contraption_800

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” Department: this thing. No idea what this is… something resembling an old-style train or tractor. Just saw it by the roadside and decided it’s worth a picture.

Kaukauna

After a brief combo with Highway 114, which heads west toward Appleton, you enter Outagamie County, crossing U.S. 10 and going past the Wisconsin International Raceway into Kaukauna (pop. 12,983). Known far and wide for the tasty cheese spread brand (now technically made in Little Chute), Kaukauna is considered the easternmost of the Fox Cities. One of the first communities in Wisconsin, Kaukauna was explored by Father Claude Allouez in 1670 and a fur trading post was established at KeKalin Falls in 1760. Back then, travelers moving by canoe had to detour by land around three waterfalls on the Fox.

** Drive-In Alert **

Right along Highway 55 on the south side of Kaukauna, a tasty stop is Dick’s Drive-In – a popular Fox Cities stop since 1955. Although car hops aren’t normally serving there, they did originally and Dick’s still cranks out delicious burgers, fries, rings, cones, malts, shakes, and much more. You can eat in your car in the lot or at the picnic tables on a nice day.

Wisconsin Drive-Ins: Dick's in Kaukauna along Highway 55

Great burgers, shakes, cones, and more can be enjoyed at Dick’s Drive-In, a Kaukauna staple since 1955.

 

kaukaunabridge_800

Just south of the Highway 55 & 96 junction in Kaukauna, you can see the Veterans Memorial Bridge, one of five that span the Fox River in Kaukauna. The city essentially has two “downtowns”, one for the north side and one for the south side. Highway 55 heads through both.

The numerous small waterfalls on the Fox made Kaukauna a natural choice for hydroelectric power generation, which dates back to the 1880s. With several plants and some of the lowest power rates in the state, Kaukauna embraces the nickname “The Electric City”. They weren’t using electricity in 1793, when Dominique Ducharme secured the first land deed granted in Wisconsin along portions of the Fox River in Kaukauna. On part of that land now stands the Grignon Mansion, built in 1837. Parkland surrounds the mansion; paper mills (and when the wind is right, their essence) dominate across the street.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The first land deed in Wisconsin was granted to Dominique Ducharme in 1793. The initial payment? Two barrels of rum.

grignon_800grignonbr_800

(Above) The Grignon Mansion, built in 1837 on the site of Wisconsin’s oldest deeded land. To the side is the mansion’s outhouse… and yes, they cut crescent moon shapes into the door for ventilation. And because that’s how outhouses always seem to look. It’s not available for public use, but then, why would anyone want to use it?

Finding Freedom – and a Drive-In!
Through Kaukauna, Highway 55 crosses Highway 96 and then heads north to cross I-41 and heads out of town into the rural portions of Outagamie County. That’s where, after several miles, you’ll find Freedom. Well, actually there are three towns in Wisconsin called “Freedom”, but THIS one is along Highway 55 AND Field of Scenes, one of only five active drive-in theaters in Wisconsin. Field of Scenes shows movies like any drive-in theater, but it’s also a sprawling campus featuring horse-pulled wagon rides, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a game room, and basketball and volleyball courts.

freedom_fieldofscenes

This scene isn’t very common anymore; a working drive-in theater! It’s right along Highway 55 in Freedom.

Beautiful church on a beautiful day in Freedom along Highway 55.

Beautiful church on a beautiful day in Freedom along Highway 55.

Statue of Liberty, symbol of freedom, in Freedom, Wisconsin along Highway 55.

Statue of Liberty, symbol of freedom, in Freedom, Wisconsin along Highway 55.

It’s a straight beeline through Freedom and most Outagamie County, where you cross through southwestern section of the Oneida Indian Reservation. You can connect to Oneida Casino and Green Bay by taking Highway 54 east when you reach it; otherwise, Highway 55 joins 54 going westward for a brief jaunt into the birthplace of one of the best road foods ever created.

Burger Time!

seymourburgersign_500I speak of the hamburger, and Seymour (pop. 3,335) calls itself “Home of the Hamburger.” One of several places worldwide that lays claim to being the hamburger’s birthplace, Seymour grabs the title with a full embrace and hosts its annual Burger Fest every August. Burger Fest features hamburgers, a hamburger eating contest, kids’ games, music and a hot air balloon rally, no doubt tons of buns and a (what the…) ketchup slide. Don’t wear clothes you care about. But it sounds fun!Seymour also hosts the Outagamie County Fair every July, drawing tons of people from the Appleton area and beyond. Want some racing? Grab a burger and plop down in a seat at Seymour Speedway, a 1/3-mile clay oval on the fairgrounds. The speedway hosts Fastrak Late Models, IMCA Modifieds, Stock Cars, and Northern Sport Mods. And they all move pretty fast.

seymour_burgerstatue Seymour’s Version of the Hamburger Invention:
“In 1885, Charles N. Nagreen, a young lad of 15, came to the Seymour Fair to sell meatballs. When he realized people wanted to walk around the fair grounds and eat, he flattened a meatball between two slices of bread and called it a ‘hamburger.’ This was the first time the hamburger sandwich was produced and sold.”

 

seymour_hugeburgergrill

The Guinness Book of World Records noted that Seymour is where the “World’s Largest Hamburger” was cooked – right there on the Charlie Grill. In August of 2001, a 8,266 pound hamburger was cooked up and served to over 13,000 people.

Feature: Burger Fiesta
Seymour’s annual hamburger festival runs in early August. The State Trunk Tour was there; amidst the bands, the model railroad museum and hungry and thirsty festival goers milling about under the statue of Charles “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen (the hamburger’s inventor), was the main attraction: a 60-pound hamburger. Sure, it’s a fraction of the monstrous 8,266 pound record grilled in 2001, but it was still a monster.

60lbburger01_80060lbburger02_800

Left: The 60 pound mound of meat, hot off the grill. Right: It took some work, but the meat was successfully wedged within a gi-normous bun – even though part of the patty’s north side fell a bit!

North of Seymour, Highway 55 is a pretty straight shot to Angelica, where you get to hop the “express” by joining Highway 29 on a freeway for a while.

Around Bonduel, you also combine with Highway 47. There, right along the highway, you can check out Doc’s Zoo & Muscle Car Museum (715-758-9080), which features a variety of 60’s muscle cars, motorcycles, a classic 1930’s Standard gas station, and a whole line of unique autos, including one of the 1958 Plymouth Fury cars used in the Stephen King classic “Christine”. It’s hard to miss; part of Doc’s Harley-Davidson, Inc. of Shawano County, you’ll notice Bo & Luke Duke’s General Lee looking like it just leaped the building (yes, it’s one of the actual General Lee cars used in filming “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

29genlee

 

Shawano to Crandon to the U.P. is coming soon!

In Menomonee County, 10 miles past Keshena though, we want to note Big Smokey Falls. More than the whitewater rafting opportunity on the Wolf River is also coming soon!

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 151
Can connect nearby to: Highway 32 & Highway 57, about 8 miles east

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: M-73 in Michigan
Can connect nearby to: Highway 70, about 5 miles south

47

STH-047“Manitowish to Menasha”

 

WisMap47Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 47 is a key route through the North Woods from U.S. 51 (which it intersects twice, serving the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation, the Minocqua/Woodruff vacation towns, Hodag Country in Rhinelander, the Menomonee Reservation and Shawano before becoming the main north-south road into Appleton and its final destination, Menasha next to Lake Winnebago. For 76 of its 188 miles, Highway 47 is combined with other routes, including Highway 182, U.S. 8, U.S. 45, Highways 29 and 55.

The Wisconsin Highway 47 Road Trip

47at51_800
47sbbegin_800

The Drive (North To South): Highway 47 begins in Manitowish along U.S. 51, the primary north-south highway in central Wisconsin, at a bar called the Ding-A-Ling (you can’t make this stuff up). It winds through the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation for most of its first 27 miles. Highway 182 also begins with 47 and branches off about 4 miles in, heading southwest to Park Falls. Just before 182 branches off, by the way, you cross the 90th meridian, also known as the halfway point between the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. We didn’t find a marker, but there should be one there…it’s a major line on the globe!

lacduflam_enter_500

histmarker_lacduflambeau_800

The Lac du Flambeau Reservation dominates a large piece of the Highway 47 drive between Woodruff and the end at U.S. 51. Their history can be viewed on this marker pictured above, as well as all over the town. In this area, Highway 47 winds around and along multiple lakes, including Lake Pokegama (below).

47pokegama

mensroom_800

Not sure of the story here, but if you look closely at these restrooms, they seem to cater to one gender.

The Lac du Flambeau Reservation was created via treaties in 1837 and 1842 and has around 3,500 residents. Like the rest of this region, an extensive chain of interconnected lakes and rivers dominate the landscape (behind all the trees). The Lac du Flambeau Reservation area includes over 260 lakes, 65 miles of rivers and streams and over 24,000 acres of wetlands, so fishing and kayaking are popular local activities. Wild rice grows, well, wild, and has always been a local delicacy. Frybread is another, and they get creative with the toppings and fillings. There’s even a “downtown” Lac du Flambeau, where Highway 47 ducks in between Flambeau, Pokegama, Fence and Crawling Stone Lakes. The crossroad is County D, known for much of its length as Peace Pipe Road. For a good look at Ojibwa history and culture (also known as Anishinaabe), the George W. Brown, Jr. Ojibwe Museum & Cultural Center offers up exhibits that include a world-record sturgeon, a dugout canoe over 200 years old, artifacts and thousands of photos. If you feel more like slots or “doubling down” on 11, hit the Lake of the Torches Casino, which features 24-hour gaming including bingo and blackjack, dining and a variety of concerts and events. The phrase “Lake of the Torches” refers to the old practice of harvesting fish at night by torchlight.

The lakes here stay stocked with fish. Over the past three decades, the tribal fish hatchery here restocked the lakes with over 415 million walleye fry. That requires a lot of breading!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The World’s Largest Sturgon was speared in Pokegama Lake. Measuring over seven feet long, 40 inches around and weighing almost 200 pounds, this fish “sleeps with the museums” by being on display at the the George W. Brown, Jr. Ojibwe Museum & Cultural Center.
casinotorches_800

The Lake of the Torches Casino is a major Wisconsin casino, and a major employer in this area. Remember, always double down on 11.

ojibwemuseum_800

The George W. Brown, Jr. Ojibwe Museum & Cultural Center is just down Peace Pipe Road from Highway 47 and features a lovely lake behind it.

lakeflambeau_800

Beautiful Lake Flambeau.

47atpeacepipe_800

Highway 47 at the junction with Peace Pipe Road. You don’t see to many roads with this name, so it was worth a picture.

Woodruff, Minocqua and Arbor Vitae.

spuron47_800

You don’t see many Spur gas station signs in Wisconsin, so it’s worth a picture of this one between Lac du Flambeau and Woodruff.

One of Wisconsin’s most frequented vacation destinations is this stretch of towns surrounded by lakes, forest, and beauty. The presence of Illinois license plates gives you the proper impression that this area is filled with shops, restaurants, t-shirt stores and throngs of families looking to rent lake homes or hang out in the resorts that dot the lakes ringing the area. Highway 47 enters Woodruff (pop. 1,982) from the Lac du Flambeau area, just inside Vilas County. Woodruff features Jim Peck’s Wildwood Wildlife Park, the “Zoo of the Northwoods” with over 500 animals – some of whom are roaming. That’s located along Highway 70 on the west side of Woodruff.

47toward5170_800

Approaching U.S. 51 and Highway 70, the first major crossroads since Highway 47 began (ironically, ALSO at U.S. 51), you have plenty of options for eats, drinks and shopping. This is Woodruff, which along with its neighbor Minocqua, is a major tourist destination in Wisconsin – especially for Flatlanders from Illinois.

In Woodruff itself, you’ll find shopping, plenty of gas stations and even some fast-food restaurants, as well as the first traffic light along Highway 47. Here, you intersect with the north-south backbone of Wisconsin, U.S. 51, which is the main drag through Minocqua and Woodruff – Highway 70 is along for the ride, too. Minocqua lies to the south along U.S. 51. This whole stretch can be bumper-to-bumper on warm summer days – and also some nights.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Within a short distance of Minocqua-Woodruff-Arbor Vitae are over 1,600 miles of professionally groomed snowmobile trails amidst 1,300 glacial lakes and 233,000 acres of public forest lands.

Also in Woodruff, you’ll find the World’s Largest Penny. Located just west of Highway 70/U.S. 51 at 923 Second Avenue, it came about from a fund-raising effort by Dr. Kate Pelham Newcomb (a.k.a. the “Angel on Snowshoes” in these parts). In the early 1950s, Woodruff needed a hospital. Dr. Kate encouraged area children to save their pennies, a story that spread around the nation. Pennies poured in from all over the U.S., and eventually 1.7 million of them helped get the hospital built. Apparently health care was a lot less expensive back then. Ironically, the schoolkids from 1953 (the year stamped on the penny) will soon approach the age where some may enter the assisted living facility behind it.

woodruff_largestpenny

woodruff_pennyfromagnes

So how’s this for cool? State Trunk Tour fan Agnes W. sent in this picture of her (she’s on the left) and her siblings the year the penny was dedicated in 1953. Thanks, Agnes!

Out of Woodruff, Highway 47 heads southeasterly again, winding around more lakes and wetlands past small hamlets like Lake Tomahawk, McNaughton and Newbold on the way into the next city, which is all about the Hodag…and more.

Of course, we’re talking about Rhinelander (pop. 8,135), the Oneida County seat and metropolitan center of everything north of Wausau. The two cities even split the television market up here, with WJFW-TV (Channel 12) serving as the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. Rhinelander is where NFL player Jason Doering, five-time PGA golf champion Dan Forsman, playwright Dan Wasserman, entertainment reporter Steve Kmetko and 2002 Miss Teen USA winner Vanessa Semrow, the only Wisconsinite to win the pageant, all came from. College coaching legend John Heisman, namesake of the Heisman Trophy, is buried in Rhinelander – because that’s where his wife was born.

Rhinelander was originally called Pelican Rapids, but changed the name when the city was chartered to salute Frederic Rhinelander, who was president of the main railroad at the time. By 1882, the railroad was extended to the city from Monico (which Highway 47 touches on later) and lumber mills went crazy, exporting wood and wood products. Lumber today still plays a big role in Rhinelander’s economy.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
WJFW-TV, Rhinelander’s Channel 12, is the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. When a plane crash took out its original tower in 1968, the rebuilt tower was the 7th tallest structure in the world and was the first in the U.S. built exclusively for color TV transmission. When it was sold in 1979 to Seaway Communications, it was the first VHF commercial TV station owned by minority interests.

rhinelanderbeerimage1The city also became a brewery town back in 1882, when Rhinelander Beer was introduced. The brewery pioneered and patented the 7-ounce “shorty” bottle and grew to become one of the more influential local breweries in the country. They closed in 1967, but the brands continued to be brewed under contract in Monroe, where the Huber (now Minhas Brewery) kept cranking it out. In 2009, the brands were brought back to Rhinelander when Jyoti Auluck became president of the “new” Rhinelander Brewing Company. They are in the process of bringing back the original formulas and labels to their brands and plan to build a new brewery in Rhinelander. Some of the brands, including the original Rhinelander beer, are now available in various bar and store locations around Wisconsin and upper Michigan. We’ll definitely do more research on this!

Downtown Rhinelander.

As the Oneida County Seat, Rhinelander’s downtown includes the beautiful Oneida County Courthouse, with its Tiffany glass dome serving as a visible landmark through the town. A host of local shops, bars and restaurants and sporting goods stores are ready to serve the healthy numbers of tourists who hang out in Rhinelander; many use the city as a launching point for taking in the recreational opportunities that abound across all seasons.

The stately Oneida County Courthouse, with its Tiffany glass dome, dominates in downtown Rhinelander.

Here’s some history you probably didn’t know: the first comprehensive rural zoning ordinance in the U.S. took place right here in Oneida County. Adopted in 1933, we tried to read the rest of it but it was kind of snowy that day.

Downtown Rhinelander is where the old Highway 17 (Stevens Street), U.S. 8 and Highway 47 all came together. The downtown area is still pretty vibrant, since Rhinelander is a major center for commerce and recreation in the North Woods. For shops, bars and restaurants, Brown Street is the main strip, one block west of Stevens in the downtown area. There’s even a 24-hour drive-through McDonald’s (rare for this part of the state) and plenty of sites to see, including:
– The Rhinelander Logging Museum (334 N. Pelham Street, 715-369-5004), a complex featuring a replica of an 1870s lumber camp, the original Soo Line Depot (built in 1892, in service until 1989), an extensive model railroad display in the basement and an outdoors display of early logging equipment, a narrow-gauge locomotive and steam-powered “snow snakes”. What’s a snow snake? Well, that’s why you have to road trip and discover stuff. For more, visit their website.
ArtStart! (68 S. Stevens Street) an arts and cultural center that established itself in 2011 inside the historic Federal Building – which they bought for $1 from the feds (no wonder the government is broke!). As of our last trip, they were still getting things together, so check out their Facebook page to keep up with the latest developments.
– For outdoor adventurers, Mel’s Trading Post (105 S. Brown Street, 715-362-5800) has been outfitting residents and visitors alike since 1946.
– If you need to catch the game or imbibe in some bar food and sandwiches, Bucketheads Sports Bar & Grill (46 N. Brown Street, 715-369-5333) is a good stop. Check out the sweet potato fries and brewery equipment in the front.

The Hodag.

Yes, you’ve probably heard, Rhinelander is Hodag Country. So what is a Hodag? According to folklore, the Hodag was first seen in 1893 and had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” Advanced by Eugene Shepard, who was known for pranks, the beast became something of legend when the “remains” of one was released to area newspapers. Later, he claimed to have overpowered a live Hodag using chloroform and brought it with him to the 1896 Oneida County Fair. Curious onlookers came from all over to examine the animal, which Shepard worked up and attached wires to, for the occasional tugging to make the creature move…sending audiences running. Apparently, it seemed pretty real: scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. announced they would be coming to Rhinelander to examine this Hodag creature…essentially forcing Shepard to admit it was a hoax.

hodag2_800Nevertheless, the Hodag came an indelible part of Rhinelander’s local lore. The Hodag is the high school mascot, the city’s official symbol, is commemorated with sculptures around town and even lends its name to the local country music festival, which draws some pretty big names (Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, Kellie Pickler and, in its inception in 1978, good ol’ Freddy Fender. Anybody up for a round of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights“?)
You can find the biggest Hodag statue right next to the Rhinelander Visitors’ Center, along Kemp Street (the traditional U.S. 8) on the southwest side of town, just off the bypass. Here he is in winter.

Highway 47 technically goes around Rhinelander in combination with U.S. 8 and Highway 17, which swoop around the southwest and eastern sides of town. For full Rhinelander flavor, go INTO the place.

From Rhinelander, Highway 47 stays with U.S. 8 to Monico, where it follows U.S. 45 south. At Pelican Lake, you can detour east and check out the Mecikalski Stovewood Building & Museum, along County B about five miles down the road. A National Historic Site, it’s the only known commercial example of the “stovewood” building method in the U.S. It’s open during the summer months.

Neon Heaven. On the north side of Antigo is Northern Advertising, which among other things makes neon signs for companies around the U.S. Somewhat visible by day, this building shines in the nighttime, with neon signs from Blatz, Oldsmobile, Rexall Drugs, and even the old Red Owl stores beaming along the roadway. Inside is an incredible collection of neons: some custom, some originals from the 1930s, some great replicas. It’s one of the largest neon collections in the world in one area. The owner, Dean Blazek, makes signs and has two sons, one in Seattle and one in Australia, who also make them and send them to destinations around the world.

neons1_800neons2_800

neons_epdb_800

This is just a sample of the phenomenal collection of neon signs Northern has. My mouth rarely hangs open when I look at things, but that was the case looking around here. At bottom, owner Dean Blazek showed me around and stopped shaping glass long enough to pose for a picture.

Antigo

Highways 45 & 47 continue south, eventually meeting up with Highways 52 and 64 as you enter the City of Antigo (pop. 8,560). Sitting atop a plateau about 1,500 feet above sea level, it’s been an over 900-foot climb since the start of the route in Marinette. Wisconsin’s state soil since 1983 is the Antigo Silt Loam soil, named, of course after the city. Antigo bustled with sawmills 100 years ago and today still hosts a series of industries dealing with lumber, as well as farming, food production, shoes, fertilizer and steel and aluminum products. It’s a popular stop for tourists on their way to points north and east in the North Woods, so expect a full variety of restaurants and stores, including a Super Wal-Mart.

antigo_markersiltloam_800

To the right is the historical marker describing Wisconsin’s state soil, along Highway 64 outside of Antigo. (Photo courtesy of State Trunk Tourer Agnes Wiedemeier. Thanks, Agnes!)

Antigo is home to the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association. It’s also where John Bradley, one of the Navy corpsmen who took part in the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II, came from; his son, James Bradley, became a best-selling author of books like Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage and The Imperial Cruise. You know that older Menard’s guy that annoyed you in commercials for years? His name is Ray Szmanda and he retired to Antigo. His great-nephew Eric Szmanda portrays Greg Sanders on CSI, although he grew up in Milwaukee. But we digress…back to Antigo.

kcbagels_500

This just confused me… KC Bagels are NY style… in Antigo.

antigorefuge_800

Large deer are abundant in northern Wisconsin; only a few are plastic and have the patience to hang out atop restaurant signs, though. This is at the corner where Highway 47 & U.S. 45 meet Highways 52 & 64 on the north side of town.

Highway 64 heads west as a newer bypass of Antigo, while U.S. 45 and Highways 47/52 make the ride downtown.

antigotrain_800

The railroad was important to Antigo, especially because of its logging industry. Along with Highways 45/47/52 just south of downtown, you’ll find the Langlade County Historical Museum & Railroad Park, which includes historic artifacts inside a 1905-built Carnegie Library, a classic 1800s cabin, and an original 1900 stream locomotive that is on full display. All are available for tours.

South of Antigo, Highway 52 breaks away to head towards Wausau while Highway 47 leaves U.S. 45 a few miles later to head east. Check out the interesting designs on a few lawns passing the unincorporated settlement of Phlox, then be ready to leave Langlade County and head into Menominee County, the newest county in Wisconsin. It was carved out in 1961 specifically to replace the Menominee Indian Reservation, although the reservation status was restored in 1973 and now the two are co-terminus. There are only two counties in Wisconsin without any incorporated communities; Menominee is one of them. The other? Florence County, which is so far up north people here consider it “up north”.

menomoneelayout_800

47intomenresnorth_800

As seen above, entering Menominee County also means entering the Menominee Indian Reservation. This a very rural, heavily forested stretch – Menominee County actually has the largest single tract of virgin timberland in Wisconsin. Just after a crossing of the beautiful Wolf River, Highway 55 joins in for the ride into Keshena (pop. 1,262), the county seat. Keshena – not to be confused with Kenosha – is home to the local college and the Menominee Casino Resort, which was the first Vegas-style resort casino in Wisconsin when it opened in 1987.

47at55men_800

Crossing the Wolf River at the junction of Highways 47 & 55. Forest abounds.

menomoneerock_800

Just south of Keshena, Highways 47/55 enter Shawano County. The county seat, Shawano (pop. 8,298) is just down the road. Abutting Shawano Lake, the town is a major point along the Mountain-Bay Trail, a great 83-mile rail-to-trail bike route that connects Rib Mountain in Wausau with the shore of Green Bay. Being the largest city between Wausau and Green Bay, Shawano is a signficant center for shopping and other necessities for towns for miles around. Gas tends to be a little cheaper here, too.

Highway 47 brings Highway 55 with it coming into Shawano, and in town, it also hooks up with Highway 22 and the “City” route of Highway 29, which now is officially south of town on a freeway bypass. All four highways get together for the easterly push through the heart of town. At the junction of these highways downtown, this attractive statue illustrates the farming history – and hard work put in – of the area surrounding the city.

shawanostatue_800

This statue marks the downtown crossroads in Shawano.

22shaw02

Four State Trunk Highways converge and go through Shawano’s main drag: 22, 47, 55, and “Business” 29, which was the mainline 29 until they built the bypass.

camelshawano_800

From the “You Never Know What You’ll See on a State Trunk Tour” Dept: a camel grazes in the front yard of a home along the main drag downtown. The Shawano County Fair was in town at the moment – we can only assume there was a connection there.

Heading south from Shawano, Highways 47/55 hook up with the expressway bypass on the city’s southeast side, today’s mainline Highway 29. Together, they run southeast for a few miles into Bonduel (pop. 1,478), where there’s a very interesting stop – especially for motorcycles – that also happens to be a State Trunk Tour favorite.

It’s Doc’s Harley-Davidson and Muscle Car Museum, a can’t-miss fixture along the highway that features the General Lee from the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show suspended in mid-air… because the sheriff (presumably Roscoe P. Coltraine) is also suspended in mid-air, just a little ways back, in hot pursuit. If you like motorcycles (particularly Harleys), muscle cars, old school gas station memorabilia, and even a variety of animals from pigs to birds to mini-crocodiles, Doc’s is worth carving out plenty of time for.

More about Doc’s, along with the rest of the route to Appleton and Neenah is coming up soon!

CONNECTIONS:
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 51
Can connect nearby to: Highway 70, about 15 miles south

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 114
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 10, about 2 miles north; Highway 441, about 2 miles north; I-41, about 3 miles west from the terminus; Highway 96, about 6 miles north

32

STH-032“The Red Arrow Highway”

 

WisMap32Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 32 runs the north-south length of Wisconsin and goes through the heart of so many key Wisconsin cities and towns, serves as the lakefront route for southeastern Wisconsin and a key highway for the lake- and forest-filled regions in northern Wisconsin. It’s both the main drag for downtowns in Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Green Bay, and the distant road winding through otherwise quiet forests seemingly hundreds of miles from anywhere.
On Highway 32, you can see Wisconsin’s tallest building, look up at the largest four-faced clock in the Western Hemisphere, drive on and past the two streetcar lines Wisconsin cities feature, pass along the Titletown District and near Lambeau Field, and wander through miles of Nicolet National Forest very close to the source of the Wisconsin River..
It’s also designated the “Red Arrow Highway” in honor of the 32nd Division (a.k.a. the Red Arrow Division, and known as “Les Terribles” to the French), which fought with impressive distinction in World War I, among them being the first American division to set foot on German soil in the war. The highway is designated as such officially by Wisconsin State Statute 84.104, in case you want to check it out.

Wisconsin Highway 32 Road Trip

The Drive (South To North): We begin the northbound drive at the Illinois state line. With the exception of the Carol Beach Yacht Club, you’re pretty much as far in Wisconsin’s SE corner as you can get. Highway 32 is Sheridan Road here, following about 2,000 feet west of Lake Michigan. You’re also on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.

32wiilline

Somewhat unceremoniously, Highway 32 takes over in Wisconsin where Illinois Route 137 leaves off. This begins the 325-mile journey to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The first town is Pleasant Prairie (pop. 16,136) a vast expanse of town without a real center. In fact, Pleasant Prairie for a long time was known not to have a single sidewalk. The enclave of Carol Beach lies along the water just east of Highway 32 as you go past bars whose allegiances gradually lean more Packers/Brewers/Bucks than Bears/Cubs/Bulls as you keep heading north.

The Wooden Nickel, almost within sight of Illinois, features Wrigley Field’s beers. These signs change dramatically as you continue north on Highway 32.

The Wooden Nickel, almost within sight of Illinois, features Wrigley Field’s beers. These signs change dramatically as you continue north on Highway 32.

The historical marker details Highway 32 as the "Red Letter Highway" in Pleasant Prairie (a similar marker is just inside the state line near 32's northern end).

The historical marker details Highway 32 as the “Red Letter Highway” in Pleasant Prairie (a similar marker is just inside the state line near 32’s northern end).

The first state highway junction you encounter is just one mile north of the border; it’s Highway 165, which provides access west a few miles to the Jelly Belly Plant Tours. Want to see them spin sugar into those delectable flavored candies? Then this is the tour for you. You can watch videos of how they make the candy whilst riding on an indoor train through their distribution center. You can reach Jelly Belly by going west from Highway 32 via Highway 165 about five miles, just past the intersection with Highway 31. Tours are generally available every day from 9am-4pm, and you can call 866-868-7522 for more details.

After only a few miles, past the Keno Drive-In and other older landmarks, you enter Kenosha (pop. 99,889), Wisconsin’s fourth largest city and the fourth largest city on the Lake Michigan coast (and oh so close to the coveted 100,000 population level!) Originally known as Pike and then Southport – a name many businesses still use – Kenosha got its current name in 1850, a descendent name from the original Potawatomi name, Mas-ke-no-zha, meaning “place of the Pike.”

Today, Kenosha just keeps changing. Relying on heavy manufacturing for many, many years, the demise of the American auto industry in the 1970s and 80s took a heavy toll. Kenosha’s economy hums along, however, buoyed by services and health care. Some manufacturing remains and the area contains headquarters for companies like Jockey International and Snap-On Tools. Proximity to Chicago and Milwaukee make it a handy area for transportation, warehousing and tourism. A recent influx of Chicago-area residents heightens the Packers-Bears tension every autumn. Kenosha actually did have its own NFL team once: the Kenosha Maroons, which played for one season in 1924, posting no wins. It does have the Kenosha Kingfish, a Northwoods League team. They play at Historic Simmons Field, which once hosted the Maroons and the Kenosha Comets, a pro women’s baseball league (AAGPBL) – the same one depicted with the Rockford Peaches in A League of Their Own. Simmons Field, named after the longtime bedding company, is right along Highway 32 on the city’s south side.

Kenosha – Downtown & HarborPark

As Sheridan Road just past the intersection with the start of Highway 50, Highway 32 runs along Kenosha’s downtown and revamped harbor district, both of which are redeveloping at a rapid pace.

Formerly the site of a massive American Motors assembly plant that sat right along the lake, HarborPark is now an upscale-leaning area giving rise to lakefront condos, museums, and emerging small businesses with a streetcar system with a trolley connecting them all.

kenoshawalk_lg

HarborPark features walkways along the lake, beautiful views of the water, and easy access to museums, the streetcar, and downtown shops, restaurants, and attractions.

HarborPark is basically the eastern and northern edge of Kenosha’s downtown; attractions there include the Kenosha Public Museum and the Museum of the Civil War. Two new microbreweries have opened up within blocks of each other, Rustic Road Brewing Company on 56th Street (the boulevard) and Public Craft Brewing Company on 58th Street, two blocks south. Adjacent to Public Craft you’ll find Frank’s Diner, a classic diner located in a real train car that’s been whipping up classic breakfasts for hungry locals since 1926, when a team of horses towed the train car to its present location. Plenty of tourists check out Frank’s too, as it’s been featured in numerous travel magazines, on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and now – I’m sure this makes them proudest – as part of the State Trunk Tour!

Taken from the Wyndham Garden Inn, this panorama of Kenosha’s harbor shows the Kenosha Southport Lighthouse on the far left, continuing across the port to the HarborPark district, which features condos, museums, offices and restaurants. Downtown is to the right. Most of the area in the center of this picture was once the massive American Motors Lakefront plant, which built a variety of makes and models for decades. At its zenith, over 350,000 cars were produced here annually. The plant closed in 1988 and was demolished two years later. The HarborPark development began in the 90s and more aggressive development started around 2000, with new construction continuing at a rapid pace as business and professionals take advantage of the downtown amenities. (Click on the image for a larger picture so you can actually make out stuff.)

Kenosha’s manufacturing history is massive: not only were cars produced here, but Simmons made bedding, mattresses, and even wooden insulators and cheese boxes here; they moved their headquarters to Atlanta in 1975. The G. Leblanc Corporation was the nation’s largest manufacturer of wind instruments here for over half a century. Snap-On still has its headquarters in Kenosha, Ocean Spray turns cranberries into juices at a major facility, Jockey was founded in Kenosha in 1876, invented men’s “Y”-front briefs in 1934, and still has its headquarters in the city; many other smaller machine shops continue to operate. To show how the economy has changed, Abbott Labs is now the largest employer in the Kenosha area.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Car manufacturing in Kenosha dates back to 1902, when Thomas Jeffery switched from making bicycles to building cars. Since then, models by American Motors, Chrysler, Dodge, Nash, and Renault have been made here. Full production stopped in 1987, although component-making continues.
kenosha_southportlighthouse1_600 Simmons Island lies north of Kenosha’s harbor and downtown district, right along the lake (of course.) The Simmons Island Lighthouse (left) was built of Cream City brick in 1886 and has marked the harbor entrance ever since. Dormant for 90 years, the lighthouse was reactivated in 1996.
 kenoshaharborchimney_lg
A remnant once of once-mighty American Motors Lakefront Plant sits amidst parkland and boats bobbing in the Kenosha marina in HarborPark – a reminder of what once stood here.
Kenosha’s streetcar loop runs two miles through HarborPark and around the downtown, connecting to the METRA station and museum attractions.
kenoshatrolley_800

Continuing north past downtown and the junction with Highway 158/52nd Street, which connects west to I-94, you’ll come to Washington Road. Just west via Washington Road you’ll find the Washington Park Velodrome – the oldest continuously operating velodrome in the United States. It opened back in 1927 and still hosts bike races even as it works on upgrades.

Shortly thereafter beaches that are used by nearby students from Carthage College and UW-Parkside. Bet you didn’t realize Kenosha was such a college town, right?

kenoshashore

Kenosha’s Lake Michigan shore, north of downtown just south of Carthage College.

Parking at the Hob Nob Supper Club along Highway 32*** Supper Club Alert ***

We love classic Wisconsin supper clubs, and the Hob Nob is an awesome one. Opened in 1954, the Hob Nob is perched right along Lake Michigan and offers great food and cocktails, mid-century modern decor, and views of the lake. Hob Nob is known in particular for steaks, seafood, an extensive wine list, ice cream drinks, and chairs at the bar that bring you back to the 1950s. Reservations are definitely recommended Friday and Saturday nights, but duck in anytime after 5 Tuesday-Thursday or after 4:30 on Sunday and get a good feel of the place; it’s definitely a terrific throwback supper club. You’ll find it right along Highway 32, just before the Kenosha-Racine county line. Despite its location in Kenosha County, it has a Racine mailing address.

Hob Nob Supper Club along Highway 32 near the Racine-Kenosha County line

Racine

Just past the Hob Nob, you enter Racine County and make a beeline to the start of Highway 11 (Durand Ave.) and the City of Racine (pop. 81,855), which calls itself the Belle City and is Wisconsin’s fifth-largest.

The French may have named the city (Racine is French for “root”, after the Root River which flows into Lake Michigan here), but Danish immigrants left the more indelible marks on the city. Racine is known as the “Kringle Capital of the World”. Famous locales like Lehmann’s, O&H, and the Larsen Bakery crank out millions of the tasty iced and filled pastries every year and ship them worldwide. You, however, can stop in for a fresh one right there. They’re best that way.

Racine’s industrial and entrepreneurial history now spans three centuries. Home to major companies like J.I. Case and S.C. Johnson, it’s where the garbage disposal was invented in 1927; In-Sink-Erator still calls Racine home. It’s also where malted milk was invented in 1887 by William Horlick, who now has a high school named after him (they do not have a malted milk stand, however, according to my limited research.)

Highway 32 hooks up with Highway 20 for the push into downtown Racine.

Many cities the size of Racine host minor-league baseball, but Racine hosts minor-league football. The Racine Raiders of the North American Football League are one of the most respected minor-league football organizations in the country and have been around for over 50 years. The Raiders have sent players to the NFL over the years, although unfortunately many of them went to the Vikings. They play at Horlick Field, on the north side of town just a few miles off Highway 20’s path. Their season begins in June, so no frozen tundra talk here.

Racine Art Museum on Main Street

The Racine Art Museum’s entrance, right along Highway 32.

20monument

The Civil War Monument that gives Racine’s Monument Square its name.

Downtown Racine and the Harbor area offer a wealth of sights and things to do. The Racine Art Museum (441 S. Main St.) houses a series of contemporary craft exhibits and street-level displays while the Racine Heritage Museum (701 Main St.) houses a bird collection and other features from Racine’s early days. Monument Square (500 S. Main Street, just off Highway 20’s eastern end) offers a look back – and up – with its 61-foot high Civil War Soldiers Memorial, dedicated in 1884, when it was called Haymarket Square, while also giving a nod to the future with Wi-Fi Internet Access for anyone using their laptops in the square, perhaps imbibing in a beverage or meal from the surrounding stores. If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned diner experience and one of the best-rated burgers in the state, by the way, a visit to the Kewpee (520 Wisconsin Ave.) should satisfy you, as it has for Racine residents since the 1920’s.

Kewpee Burgers in Racine

Little burgers don’t get much tastier than the old-school Kewpee in Racine.

Racine’s attention to the lakefront is among the most impressive in the state. Buildings lining downtown streets offer increasingly busy storefronts, but their upper floors also offer sweeping lake views, as do the condos springing up all over the place. The Reefpoint Marina, Festival Park and Pershing Park can be accessed right off Highway 32, along 4th and 5th Streets leading down to the water.

 

racine_down6th

Downtown Racine along 6th Street, where Highways 20 & 32 go past a series of shops, restaurants, galleries, even a brewery.

*** BREWERY ALERT ***

Racine Brewing logoAlong Highway 32 at 303 Main Street, you’ll find the Racine Brewing Company, which established its Tap Room in a storefront in 2017. The Reefpoint Brew House is located just east of the end of Highway 20 in the busy Marina area; they don’t brew beers on site but do offer unique crafts that are contract-brewed by other breweries in southeastern Wisconsin.

racine_rootriverboats

Boats busily buzz under Highway 32 as it crosses the Root River, just before the river empties into Lake Michigan.

Johnson Wax Tower, as seen from Highway 32 in Racine.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin skyscraper, the Johnson Wax Research Tower, as seen from Highway 32.

Other things to see in Racine include the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Johnson Wax Research Tower, the Johnson Wax Golden Rondelle (1525 Howe Street), built in 1964 for the New York World’s Fair, and the Racine Zoo (2131 N. Main Street, about 1.5 miles north of downtown), which offers an impressive array of animals – over 76 species – overlooks the lake, and offers its “Animal Crackers Jazz Series” on Wednesday and Selected Sunday evenings. The Zoo is located right where Highway 32 turns away from Main Street and onto Goold for a little jog through the north side neighborhoods.

Heading north from Racine, you’ll see the “Mile Roads.” Many drivers on I-94 are familiar with 7 Mile Road (and perhaps 7 Mile Fair). Well, the Mile Roads in Racine County actually measure the number of miles to Highway 20, and they go up as you head north. Near 3 Mile Road, you can head east to Wind Point and check out the beautiful Wind Point Lighthouse (4725 Lighthouse Drive, Wind Point), one of the oldest (1880) and tallest (108 feet) lighthouses on the Great Lakes.

Once your cross 5 Mile Road, Highway 32 becomes a two-lane road again; at 6 Mile, you meet up with Highway 31, the inland route back through Racine and Kenosha; and at 8 Mile, you reach Milwaukee County (note: this is not the same “8 Mile” that Eminem sang and starred in a movie about. Trust me, they’re quite different.)

After 8 Mile and into Milwaukee County is Oak Creek (pop. 31,029), a city formed in 1955 out of its original township. A huge We Energies power plant lies between the road and Lake Michigan, cranking out a sizeable chunk of the power used in this part of the state. The junction with Highway 100 provides an option to bypass much of the Milwaukee area, but hey, if you’re on the Red Arrow Highway, you gotta keep going, right? Many suburbs and a major downtown lie ahead!

One such suburb is South Milwaukee (pop. 21,256), a city in its own right founded in 1892. It’s the only city in Milwaukee County that follows its own numbering system for addresses and is home to manufacturing giant Bucyrus International, formerly known as Bucyrus-Erie. Bucyrus made shovels for building of the Panama Canal, and continues today making dragline excavators and shovels, including some of the world’s largest. One former famous Bucyrus product was Big Muskie, a dragline used from 1969 to 1994 that stripped over 200 million tons of coal during its tenure and moved more earth than was dug for the Panama Canal – and this was just in the State of Ohio. It consumed the electrical power of 27,500 homes.

Highway 32 jogs a few times approaching South Milwaukee’s downtown, which is focused on Milwaukee Avenue in the midst of a whole series of cross streets starting with the letter “M.” From Milwaukee Avenue, you end up on Chicago Avenue – ironically as you head in a northerly direction. On the west side of this stretch is the Bucyrus International World Headquarters and the Bucyrus Museum (1100 Milwaukee Ave., 414-768-4594), which opened in 2009. The Museum provides a detailed look at the company’s history, complete with multimedia displays, scale replicas and interactive activities – including a re-creation of an early mine.

southmilwaukee_mural01 southmilwaukee_mural02

Along Highway 32 in South Milwaukee, the wall mural next to the city’s public library will get your attention. Across the street, you’ll find the Bucyrus Museum, part of the Bucyrus International World Headquarters complex.

As Chicago Avenue, Highway 32 continues northward for another mile and then heads east on College Avenue for a brief spell before returning to Lake Michigan’s shore as Lake Drive, where you head north again.

cudahystatue

Patrick Cudahy, bacon lover and business magnate

Once on Lake Drive, you’re in Cudahy (pop. 18,267), with houses on your left and parkland to the right (and, to quote America, “here we are, stuck in the middle with you…”) A blue-collar town founded originally as Buckhorn Settlement and then in the 1890s was renamed after meat-packing magnet and bacon lover Patrick Cudahy, whose statue guards the entrance to Sheridan Park along the lakefront right along Highway 32.

Cudahy still cranks out Patrick Cudahy’s applewood smoked bacon and other meat products as it has for generations – even the high school team name is the Packers, and they weren’t copying Green Bay. Cudahy’s industry also includes airplane and machine parts, such as from the sprawling Ladish Drop Forge Company plant. They started in 1905, grew huge during the World Wars, shrank in the late 20th century, and yet continue today – albeit in a smaller capacity – as ATI-Ladish Forging. So one might say they “forge on,” serving aerospace and mining industries.

cudahylawn

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” Department: this lawn on Highway 32 (Lake Drive) at Armour Avenue in Cudahy features a snowmobile, old gas pumps, and a slight “Cadillac Ranch” feel.

From Cudahy into St. Francis, Milwaukee Bay and the skyline of downtown Milwaukee comes into view. At this point, Highway 32 (aka Lake Drive) runs about 60 feet above lake level and the views on a nice day – or evening – can be quite impressive. St. Francis (pop. 8,662) is one of Milwaukee County’s smallest incorporated places and is named after St. Francis of Assisi. Condos line the lakefront now where a power plant and substation stood for decades; this area is now growing as a bedroom community for commuters to downtown Milwaukee.

Highway 32 officially turns west on Howard Avenue just inside the City of St. Francis to head north on Kinnickinnic Avenue, about 1/2 mile inland. Here, we’ve provided two options for you to get through Milwaukee – both of which are quite enjoyable; one is the official highway route and the other is a slight bypass.

Highway 32 through Milwaukee

hwy32mkelakebypass**BYPASS ALERT – MILWAUKEE LAKEFRONT ALTERNATIVE**
There are two officially sanctioned State Trunk Tour options for following Highway 32 through Milwaukee: the official route and a “hugging the lakefront” alternative, which is a bit shorter time-wise. At Howard Avenue, continue up Lake Drive, which becomes Superior Street; you’ll follow the signs to I-794 to use the Hoan Bridge to leapfrog Jones Island, the harbor entrance, and Summerfest with a beautiful view of the city skyline beckoning you in. From there, follow Lincoln Memorial Drive (Milwaukee’s pleasant version of Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive) along the city’s shoreline parks and beaches you meet up with Highway 32 officially on the north end of the city, where it once again is called Lake Drive. In doing so, you bypass Bay View, much of downtown Milwaukee and the East Side, but if it’s rush hour on a weekday or time is of the essence, or if you prefer sticking close to Lake Michigan, do this:

Lakefront Alternate Route Guide:

Continue north on Lake Drive through St. Francis and into Milwaukee, where it becomes Superior Street. You’re going through Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, same as Highway 32 does, but through a residential area. South Shore Park is a nice stop, especially detouring east on Iron Street, which drops into the South Shore Yacht Club; the view to downtown is postcard-like on a nice day. Along Pryor Street within about 100 feet of Superior Street is the Iron Well, an artesian water well built in 1882. A pressurized aquifer below keeps a cold, constant stream of water flowing night and day throughout the year; you can load up on drinking water all you want! The water is iron-rich, which is good for your body but not as kind to taste buds. If you don’t mind the well taste, though, it’s great drinking water and served as a valuable alternative when Milwaukeeans suffered from the Cryptosporidium outbreak in 1993. During that time, people lined up for blocks for water from Pryor Street’s Iron Well.

Further down, a right turn on Russell takes you to the lakefront and past the U.S. Coast Guard Station. This is also the access point for the Lake Express, a high-speed ferry boat to Muskegon, Michigan. Follow the signs to I-794 West, which brings you up onto the Hoan Bridge. The Hoan Bridge, named after Milwaukee’s last Socialist mayor, is an elevated freeway structure that provides a fantastic view as you move northward: to your left is the salt flats where Milwaukee County stores its road salt for winter use, and a number of storage facilities for the feature just to your right: the Port of Milwaukee. An international port, it’s not uncommon to see ships flying numerous flags of foreign nations transporting goods to and fro on the Great Lakes System, sometimes out into the oceans for voyages far, far away. Watch the sailboats as they dodge 550-ton iron ore freighters; it can be rather sporting. The view ahead, of course, is the increasingly interesting Downtown Milwaukee skyline and the line of towers running along the coast on the city’s East Side.

The highest point of the Hoan Bridge rises 173 feet above the entrance to Milwaukee Harbor, where the Milwaukee River channels into Lake Michigan. Yellow steel arch supports hold the highway up and make it look like a McDonald’s restaurant from a distance (this author mistook the Hoan Bridge once for a McDonald’s. But hey, he was only 4 years old.) From the Hoan Bridge arches on towards downtown the Third Ward neighborhood of Milwaukee is to your left and the Henry Maier Festival Grounds (home of Summerfest, the World’s Largest Music Festival) is to your right.

The tallest building in Milwaukee, the 42-story, 625-foot U.S. Bank Tower, is straight ahead. At this point, you can re-join Highway 32 northbound by following the Milwaukee Street exit and turning right, or continue the Lakefront Alternative by following the Michigan Street/Lincoln Memorial Drive exit to the right. Continue straight onto Lincoln Memorial Drive, crossing Michigan Street, which is also the beginning of U.S. Route 18.

This intersection gives you access to so many things: downtown and its multitude of activities is to your left via Michigan Street; to your right via Harbor Drive, is Discovery World; and just to the north of that the Milwaukee Art Museum rises with its internationally-known “Briese Soleil,” a set of majestic “wings” that open and close above the Museum’s grand entrance hall that opened as a 2001 expansion. It was the first project in North America for famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Santiago Calatrava’s internationally-renowned “Briese Soleil” addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum has become a local symbol of pride, and a source of inspiration for photographers and car commercial location scouts everywhere. Some terrific art is inside, too.

milwaukee_lmdinfallUp Lincoln Memorial Drive, you have a lovely drive along the lakefront. Big-shouldered residential towers sit atop the cliff to your west up above while bikers, runners and skaters flank you on the both the recreational trail to the west (once the main rail line connecting Milwaukee with Green Bay and the North Woods) and the Oak Leaf Trail to the east, running right alongside the parkway. Access to Juneau Park can be had via Lagoon Drive, where you can rent kites, bikes or roller blades and take advantage of the miles of trail in the area. Under the Brady Street pedestrian bridge, look to your right and you’ll see the Milwaukee Yacht Club and McKinley Marina, with a mass of boats that dot the lake during those nice summer days. At the junction with Lafayette Hill, feel free to stop in Colectivo-on-the-Lake Coffee, a local bean-brewing house that occupies what was once Milwaukee’s main Water Works. Built in 1888, the building contains original machinery that pumped water from Lake Michigan in a museum-like display on one side… and good coffee on the other. Colectivo-on-the-Lake is a popular spot for UW-Milwaukee students to get some studying done while satisfying their caffeine fix at the same time. In the nicer months, outdoor concerts are held that drown out the tennis balls popping back and forth on the courts across the street.

Lincoln Memorial Drive goes past McKinley Beach and abuts the lake closely for the next two miles, offering up a wide variety of views depending on the weather and time of day. Shortly before the next light, check out Villa Terrace to your left; it’s easily seen as this mansion with horticultural splendor stair-stepping their way up the cliff to the house, once a private residence and now a museum. It’s also a popular spot for weddings for couples with big budgets. Several hundred feet to the north, visible for miles, is Milwaukee’s answer to Chicago’s Water Tower. Since 1873 this 175-foot Victorian Gothic limestone tower has hovered over the East Side; for the first ninety of those years it pumped water and equalized pressure between Lake Michigan and the Kilbourn Reservoir, about one mile to the west. Today, it still houses the 120-foot standpipe but is otherwise simply something cool to look at.

milwaukee_bradfordbeach2010

Lincoln Memorial Drive continues along the lakeshore, with Bradford Beach at your side. Bradford is one of Milwaukee’s most popular beaches, and an August 2008 revitalization has brought thousands back to the shore for volleyball, swimming and showing off whether or not they worked out a lot over the winter. Bradford Beach runs along the drive for about one-half mile. Further down, on the cliff to your left is Lake Park Bistro, an upscale restaurant in Lake Park (above the cliff) that offers great views of Lake Michigan as you dine on things that are a pleasure to eat but occasionally hard to pronounce, like Assiette de Pates Maison. Check out the grand staircase that leads up to the restaurant. Continuing on Lincoln Memorial Drive, you’ll head gradually up the cliff slightly further to the north and rejoin Highway 32 for the turn north again onto Lake Drive.

Back to the regular route, starting at the intersection of Lake Drive & Howard Ave. in St. Francis:

This is all still part of the original Yellowstone Trail, by the way. After the brief time on Howard Avenue, Highway 32’s north turn onto Kinnickinnic takes you along the route of a trail that has led into Milwaukee since it was a mere Native American trading stop. Today, the dynamic neighborhood of Bay View is reemerging with an eclectic mix of old and new. Bay View was once an independent place in its own right, incorporating in 1879 with its own downtown, Post Office and distinct identity. By 1892, it was absorbed into the city of Milwaukee. It has remained a strong, distinct neighborhood.

Along Kinnickinnic Avenue (aka KK), you’ll find a wide variety of homes, small businesses and taverns. This is a great place for creating for own pub crawl. The Palm Tavern (2989 S. KK) offers a wide variety of European beers; old-school Lee’s Luxury Lounge (2988 S. KK) across the street was a pizza restaurant in the 1950s and now offers fantastic furniture, seats, and decor from the 50s and 60s; a few blocks north, Kneisler’s White House (2900 S. KK) has been in business since the 1890s and brims with history – and beverages –  while Frank’s Power Plant (2800 S. KK) up the street – look for the Blatz sign – is a towny bar that often hosts rock bands. Bay View is the kind of neighborhood where bars will pop up along side streets too, so feel free to explore. Side streets like Delaware, Ellen and Clement provide plenty of places for you to pleasantly stumble onto. This area has plenty of new places, too: The Highbury (2320 S. KK) features a variety of European beers, live music (often jazz) and shows soccer matches live for the surprisingly high number of British soccer fans in Milwaukee. Bar Lulu (2265 S. Howell, in full view of KK) is part funky bar, part kitsch, and part hipster. It’s where the guys from Swingers would stop in for a drink. Lulu has an adjoining cafe complete with old school counter service, so there’s definitely variety here.

For other eats in Bay View, traditional comfort food-style fare can be found at Honeypie Cafe (2643 S. KK), which features pasties, though they’re open-faced. Sven’s Cafe (2699 S. KK, at Russell) started as a coffee roasting operation but moved to Bay View to provide not only that great coffee smell, but a variety of fair trade and organic coffees, sandwiches and salads. The owner’s name is actually Steve, though, not Sven, and he hails from Berlin, Germany. More tasty, smaller meals can be found at the Hi-Fi Cafe (2460 S. KK), which also features a cool jukebox and just a slight dose of counterculture energy. Up the street, Tonic Tavern (2335 S. KK) is an “eco-chic” lounge.

The Bay View stretch of Highway 32 is great for parking your vehicle and getting out to walk around. Abundant stores and places to check out abound: Rush-Mor Records, Loop, , even Bay View Bowl are cool to explore. The Alchemist Theatre (2569 S. KK) features a variety of, as they put it, “Ego-Free” Art, local musicians and unique theatrical performances. Meanwhile, the recently restored Avalon Atmospheric Theatre & Lounge (2473 S. KK) opened in the 1920s and is updated to feature dining service during movies, a lounge, full digital movie experiences, and more. Bay View has a burgeoning arts and entertainment scene and the evidence is pretty much all around you.

Once you cross Bay Street, you’re leaving Bay View. On a nice day, you can get a dose of Florida’s outdoor drinking and eating shack experience by heading to the hard-to-find-but-worth-it Barnacle Bud’s (1955 S. Hilbert St, east off KK Ave. on Stewart and north on Hilbert past some warehouses), where you can munch seafood out of a basket or a bucket along the KK River, sometimes with people who arrived by boat. Past the intersection with Stewart that leads you to Barnacle Bud’s and continuing north on Highway 32, you duck under some railroad tracks, hop over the Kinnickinnic River, and duck under more railroad tracks (the Amtrak line from Chicago) before heading up a hill and spotting another fun bar, Chaser’s Pub (2155 S. KK, 414-769-0630). Chaser’s is not only a good drinkin’ place, but they advertise their “last minute gift shop”…and they’re not kidding. Knick-knacks a’plenty, including deer-themed merchandise, pewter dragons, and assorted sundry items that help if you find yourself suddenly realizing you need a last-minute gift and 2am is approaching.

From there you head into Walker’s Point, an area that hummed with factory activity in the 19th century and today hums with redevelopment. As Highway 32 becomes 1st Street, the former World’s Largest Four-Faced Clock appears. The Allen-Bradley clock has been boldly providing the correct time to south-side Milwaukeeans since 1964 and, at night, serves as a shining beacon. Once dubbed “the Polish moon” to reflect the area’s primary ethnic group at the time, it could now be a moon of many faces: this area is heavily Hispanic now, and increasingly a place for artists to establish studios and galleries. After a larger clock debuted in Mecca, Saudi Arabia a few years back, the Allen-Bradley is now the World’s Second-Largest Four-Faced Clock.

The Massive Concentration of Bars in Walkers Point
Scientists have calculated that if you spent 30 minutes inside each bar and restaurant in the Walkers Point area, it would take several years to make the full rounds (although I think they a) rounded up and b) may have gotten a little disoriented during research). Highway 32 as 1st Street has a variety of places right along it; 2nd Street runs parallel one block west features many more. Further west along 5th and 6th Streets near the cross street with National Avenue (Highway 59) is another concentrated area of places to go, especially if the Latin flavors are tempting you; this is also a center for the LGBT community with plenty of bars and clubs

Another concentration of bars and restaurants lie within a few blocks of Highway 32/1st Street at National Avenue (the start of Highway 59), including but not even remotely limited to Steny’s (800 S. 2nd), Crazy Water (839 S. 2nd), V Bar (703 S. 2nd), Braise (1101 S. 2nd) and a host of others. State Trunk Tour Recommendations include:
O’Lydia’s (338 S. 1st), which features great food, a wide variety of beers and other beverages, and an outdoor patio that ranges from peaceful, cozy and sun-kissed to loud and wild when the freight and Amtrak trains grind away on the tracks above you. Try the Reuben Rolls!
La Merenda (125 E. National) opened in 2007 and offers a variety of tasty tapas items.
Just Art’s Saloon (181 S. 2nd) is old, kinda dumpy and yet quite endearing. There’s just something about it.

Walkers Point is named after one of Milwaukee’s founding fathers, George Walker. Before Milwaukee was Milwaukee, it was three different settlements: Juneautown, founded by French trader Solomon Juneau; Kilbourntown, founded by aggressive developer Byron Kilbourn; and Walkers’ Point, founded by businessman George Walker. Walker was the largest of the three men; he tipped the 19th century scales at over 300 pounds and yet was renown for his skills as an ice skater and on the dance floor. Three three men competed for settlers until they realized the nastiness of things – particularly between Juneautown and Kilbourntown – got so adversarial that settlers were getting scared away. Finally, they united under one city charter in 1846, and Milwaukee was born. Walkers’ Point is most distinct of the three original settlements in terms of identity – what was Juneautown and Kilbourntown are now known as a variety of neighborhoods: downtown, Third Ward, Yankee Hill, Westown, East Side, etc. Meanwhile, the original Walkers Point is still Walkers Point.

Highway 32 as 1st Street continues through Walkers Point, providing a nice view of the impending downtown area. Straight ahead are buildings like the 100 East, which at 37 stories is the second tallest building in the city. The blue glass building in front of it is the Chase Tower, completed in 1962. And you’ll see new construction all around you as you go through Walkers Point. The aforementioned O’Lydia’s will be on your right at Florida Street, right before the railroad bridge overhead where Amtrak and freight trains hover over the back patio. Just past the railroad underpass, Highway 32 angles to the right; the street ahead is Water Street, a main downtown thoroughfare. Highway 32 heads east briefly as Pittsburgh Street, then angles north over the Milwaukee River into the Third Ward.

Milwaukee’s Third Ward along Highway 32

Highway 32 runs right up the middle of the Third Ward, mostly as Milwaukee Street. In years past, this was also part of U.S. Highway 16, right before it joined the old Milwaukee Clipper for the ferry ride to Michigan. Just over the Milwaukee River at Erie Street, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (aka “MIAD”) is to your left, with art and design students everywhere; to your right is a long line of growing condo and art galleries and restaurants, as well as the south end of the Henry Maier Festival Grounds, home to Summerfest, The World’s Largest Music Festival, and so many great ethnic festivals that make Milwaukee one of the best festival cities in the United States. Continuing north, you’ll have lines of six-story, late 19th century-era buildings on either side. Plenty of opportunities for eating, drinking, shopping, browsing and architectural marveling are not only right along Highway 32, but down every cross street: Menomonee, Chicago, Buffalo and St. Paul, all the way to I-794.

About the Historic Third Ward
The Third Ward is one of Milwaukee’s most interesting neighborhoods. Nestled just south of downtown, the Third Ward is bordered by the Milwaukee River to the west and south as the river makes its final push into Lake Michigan. Once home to factories and small working class homes, the Third Ward was an Irish neighborhood and became Italian later in the 19th century. Two major events shaped the neighborhood in the 19th century: the tragic sinking of the Lady Elgin in 1860, which claimed the lives of so many in the area it fundamentally changed the neighborhood, and a massive fire in 1892 that left the area in ruins. Many of the buildings along Broadway, Milwaukee and Water Streets, three key north-south thoroughfares, were built between 1893 and 1906 during the recovery process. Factories boomed here in the early 20th century, but a decline got so ugly that in the 1970s some city officials toyed with the idea of turning the area into a “Combat Zone”-style red light district. By the 1980s, however, the revival had begun. Classic old buildings became apartments, studios and new restaurants. The pace quickened in the 1990s and today, it’s a booming blend of boutique retail, restaurants, bars, offices, art galleries, studios and condos.

*** BREWERY ALERT ***
The Milwaukee Ale House is located at 233 N. Water Street, two blocks west of Highway 32 in the Third Ward. Original home to the Milwaukee Brewing Company, the Ale House has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1997. Several beers are brewed on location, including the famous Louie’s Demise, a Downtown Light and the hoppy-good Pull Chain Ale. They don’t offer tours per se, but you can take an online tour right here. (The rest of Milwaukee Brewing Company, by the way, is located a few blocks south of the river on 2nd Street, one block west of Highway 32 – you’re parallel to it when you pass the huge Mobil station.) The Ale House is huge, with two dining areas plus a fantastic two-level outdoor patio overlooking the Milwaukee River. Boaters come in and tie up before tying one on. The downstairs area also has a separate, quieter area for imbibing called “Hopside Down” in case the Swing Dance Tuesdays or karaoke Thursdays are a little much for you (the upper level of the Ale House is usually filled with all kinds of activity.) The Milwaukee Ale House opened a second location in Grafton in 2008.

Within the Third Ward is another bar and restaurant that is a longtime State Trunk Tour favorite: The Wicked Hop (345 N. Broadway, 414-223-0345). Serving up a wide variety of food and beverages in the Third Ward’s oldest building, The Wicked Hop is known for incredible Bloody Marys, packed with everything from a beef stick to stuffed olives to string cheese that jostles atop the vodka-V8 concoction and making it quite a meal. The building, constructed in 1875, is located right across from the Milwaukee Public Market, where Highway 32 (southbound) jogs from Broadway onto St. Paul Avenue and back to Milwaukee Street. The outdoor seating (pictured on a beautiful October day), under one of the long awnings that have graced this block of Broadway since it was part of “Commissioners’ Row” in the 1870s, makes for a fun and comfortable meal – or series of beverages – in the great outdoors with plenty of great people-watching. Across the street is Cafe Benelux (346 N. Broadway, 414-501-2500), which focuses on Belgian-style biers (over 30 on tap and hundreds to choose from overall) and foods like pannekaken, which – as its name harkens – is like a giant pancake filled with a wide variety of fillings. Both places do brisk brunch business.

wickedhopout_800

State Trunk Tour Feature: Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward

The Third Ward is worth an afternoon, or even an overnight stay, in itself. Here are some things to do and see:
ATTRACTIONS

Milwaukee Public Market
400 N. Water Street
414-336-1111
Originally modeled on Pike’s Place in Seattle, the Milwaukee Public Market has grown into its own, hosting a series of vendors selling fresh fish, sausage, cheese, sushi, Middle Eastern ingredients and cuisine, spices, chocolates, soups, coffee, taquerias and more. Weekend mornings feature an outdoor farmers’ market and you can always belly up to the stainless steel counter at St. Paul’s Fish Company to shuck some oysters, dine on lobster or grab a quick tuna melt or sample some wine flights at Thief Wine, which is open after hours for evening imbibing.

SHOPPING
shoo
241 N. Broadway
414-765-2355
It’s shoes: hand-crafted, unusual designs – much of it funky. Prepare, guys: your female companion(s) may need extra time here.
Lela Boutique
321 N. Broadway
414-727-4855
The women’s boutique that touched off a bigger trend of fashion in the Third Ward, Lela features a variety of designer collections from around the world.
Anthropologie
301 N. Broadway
414-271-1105
The famed chain has a location in the Third Ward, right at the corner of Broadway and Buffalo Streets, one block west of Highway 32.

Festivals abound in this area, with Henry Maier Festival Park just to the east along Lake Michigan. The Third Ward also features a variety of art and music festivals, including a very popular Gallery Night & Day. Courtesy of State Trunk Tour fan Tony Silvia, here are some shots from their 2012 festival, which takes place along Broadway, one block west of Highway 32/Milwaukee Street.

thirdwardjazz1_800 thirdwardjazz4_800

Highway 32 southbound under I-794 in Milwaukee, about to enter the Historic Third Ward

Highway 32 southbound under I-794 entering the Historic Third Ward. The Hop, Milwaukee’s streetcar, has its tracks turn to follow St. Paul Avenue at this point.

Highway 32 under I-794 in Milwaukee, with streetcar tracks

As Milwaukee Street, Highway 32 heads from the Historic Third Ward into Downtown Milwaukee by ducking under I-794. Here, Milwaukee’s Streetcar (known as “The Hop”) joins the road for about six blocks.

32wells_600hiDowntown Milwaukee is home to Wisconsin’s busiest business district and has undergone an amazing rebirth over the last decade and change. The diversification of the area from primarily a 9-to-5 enclave that was otherwise deserted has become, not unlike the Third Ward, an active neighborhood where people live and play as much as work. On the Milwaukee Street portion of Highway 32 alone, a streetcar line opened in 2018 to help connect everything. There are tons of restaurants and an increasing number of hotels, including a Marriott and a terrific luxury boutique hotel called Hotel Metro (411 E. Mason Street, 414-272-1937) that provides “green certified” accommodations in an Art Deco building that has attracted attention from the New York Times and Travel & Leisure, which called Hotel Metro a “Top 500 in the World” hotel. Half a block away along Wisconsin Avenue, the five-star Pfister Hotel opened in 1893 and has long been considered one of the nation’s best. Blu, the cocktail lounge atop The Pfister’s 23-story hotel addition that opened in 1965, offers one of the best views of the city.

On the two blocks along Highway 32 (Milwaukee Street) between Wisconsin Avenue and Wells Street, you can choose from a number of great restaurants, including Cubanitas for a phenomenal Cuban sandwich or some empenadas, Carnevor for steak (bring credit cards with a high max), and Saketumi for sushi. This is one of several popular nightlife districts in downtown Milwaukee, known as “East Town”. Highway 32 heads east on Wells Street and that brings you to more bars and restaurants and a lovely park called Cathedral Square, which flanks the St. John Cathedral and hosts a popular Thursday night summer excursion known as Jazz In The Park. Along Wells, you head to the lakefront and (thankfully) before the cliff, Highway 32 turns north again onto Prospect, which carries you through the East Side.

IMAG0094A “must see” for industrial art buffs is the Grohmann Museum of Industrial Art, where Highway 32 turns from westbound on State Street to southbound on Broadway (joining U.S. 18). The rooftop features an amazing patio, complete with statues of workers – which sets interestingly with the buildings toward the lakefront.

32wellseast_800

milwaukee_eastside1_800

A bird’s eye view from the U.S. Bank Tower shows Highway 32’s path northeast; the line of buildings in the middle of the photo flank Hwy 32/Prospect Avenue; they’re atop the cliff. Below, you can see Lincoln Memorial Drive, the alternate we noted, running past Juneau Park Lagoon. The two roads meet up again further north. Both are great drives.

This stretch of Highway 32 northbound runs one-way northeast as Prospect Avenue and, one block west, one-way southbound as Farwell Avenue. This is probably the most cosmopolitan part of the Brew City, with a variety of condos, apartments, bars, restaurants and small offices flanking the tree-lined street for a two-mile stretch that is seeing ever-taller buildings going up. As you pass Windsor Street and go over a small bridge that today spans a bike path but once spanned the main railroad heading north out of town, check out the large building to your left. What today houses UW-Milwaukee students and a variety of shops including Urban Outfitters, was a Ford Model T factory back in the 1920s, cranking out the black cars every 30 minutes from a massive assembly line.

Highway 32 jogs around a little more past North Avenue, turning right onto Bradford (and becoming two-way again) before turn north again onto Lake Drive. At this point, you’re in one of the most expensive urban residential districts in Wisconsin – and the Midwest, for the matter. To the east is Lake Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (of New York’s Central Park fame) and flanked with trails, graceful bridges over ravines and a wonderful upscale restaurant called Lake Park Bistro that offers great views of Lake Michigan as you dine on things that are a pleasure to eat but occasionally hard to pronounce, like Assiette de Pates Maison.

milwaukee_32lakedriveeastside

The tree-lined Lake Drive along Highway 32 on Milwaukee’s East Side. Don’t even ask what the property taxes are around here.

The Lakefront Bypass Alternative re-joins Highway 32 at Kenwood Boulevard, which a few blocks west runs right past the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. UWM was established in 1956 – young by state school standards – and has over 26,000 students. The campus is hemmed in by the tight-knit neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s East Side and is working to expand into additional campus locations, including back downtown and in the Walkers’ Point area – in which case Highway 32 would be the major connector between them.

As you continue north, you head into suburbs collectively referred to as the North Shore. First up is Shorewood (pop. 13,763), a charming suburb that was once known as “East Milwaukee.” Shorewood is where former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist grew up; it’s also where the movie Airplane! was made possible, since directors Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abrahams also grew up here. So it’s high court or high comedy: take your pick.

Shorewood is a coffee shop-laden village where many residents walk to get what they need. As Lake Drive, Highway 32 is purely residential for most of this stretch. Good shopping is available to the west along Oakland Avenue, starting north from Shorewood’s “downtown” at Capitol Drive (Highway 190), which you meet with at the beautiful Atwater Park.

atwater1_500Atwater Park is a great stop for beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Perched on a cliff about 70 feet above the water, the vantage point is hard to beat. Access to Atwater Beach below means you can enjoy about 800 feet of sandy shoreline – although that can get crowded on a beautiful summer day! Of note is a sculpture – lauded by some and lampooned by others – called Spillover II by artist Jaume Plensa. Made of up steel letters, the sculpture depicts a crouching man taking in the same view you can enjoy. The sculpture reaches just over 10 feet high including its base and was dedicated in 2010. Some people like to explore the lettering close up and see if they can find a pattern or hidden messages.

32nbat190_800

One of the most beautiful views of Lake Michigan: Shorewood’s Atwater Park, where Highway 190 ends at Highway 32. There’s a reason 32 here is called Lake Drive. Highway 190 is Capitol Drive, and it heads west across Shorewood and Milwaukee out to Pewaukee, at the start of “Lake Country” – the ‘inland’ lakes – in Waukesha County.

Highway 32 continues north as Lake Drive into Whitefish Bay (pop. 13,508), the original home of the Milwaukee Brewers’ own Craig Counsell, Actress Kristen Johnson (most notably of 3rd Rock from the Sun fame) and filmmaker Niels Mueller (The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Tadpole, 13 Going on 30). The village originally grew up around Captain Fredrick Pabst’s Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort, which featured concerts, Ferris wheel rides, free-flowing beer and attracted as many as 15,000 visitors on warm summer days from 1889 to 1914. Today, Whitefish Bay is a quiet residential village with some very impressive homes along your drive. Highway 32 zigzags a lot here, hugging the lakefront while adjusting to its changing contours. Whitefish Bay’s “downtown” is along Silver Spring Drive, which Highway 32 joins briefly before zagging north again. A trip down Silver Spring brings you through a strip of traditional “Main Street” style shops; another half mile or so brings you to Bayshore Town Center, a massive shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex.

Back along the lakefront on Lake Drive, Highway 32 continues north into Fox Point (pop. 6,818) and Bayside (pop. 4,518) through forested neighborhoods and expensive real estate before turning west along Brown Deer Road. At this point, you can head east – slightly – into the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (1111 E. Brown Deer Rd., 414-352-2880), 185 acres of unspoiled beauty along the lakefront with six miles of trails, a variety of nature programs and a 60-foot observation tower that lets you enjoy the lake view as well as the sight of downtown Milwaukee, now about 10 miles to the south.

Once you’ve turned onto Brown Deer Road, you head inland a little over a mile. Here, Highway 100 begins and continues west while Highway 32 turns north and joins Interstate 43 for the high-speed ride (this is the first time since Oak Creek the speed limit has been above 35!) into Ozaukee County.

Ozaukee County is quite different from Milwaukee County, consisting mostly of farms and small towns. In the county’s southern half, Highway 32 follows I-43; the old route can be followed on the parallel Port Washington Road, if you prefer.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Ozaukee County is the second smallest county in Wisconsin by land area. It’s one of the 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S.; Forbes rated it #2 on its list of “Best Places to Raise a Family” in 2008.

The first city inside Ozaukee County is Mequon (pop. 23,820) is consistently rated as one of the “Best Places to Live in the United States” by Money Magazine (and there’s a lot of money in Mequon). The city has a lot of high-end homes, some plotted on acre-plus lots and others amidst forested neighborhoods. Mequon is often paired with Thiensville (pop. 3,254), known locally by some as the “worthwhile square mile,” accessible along Mequon Road (Highway 167) several miles to the west. At this point (Exit #85), Highway 57 also joins the freeway for a few miles – so it’s a three-way (I-43/Hwy 32/Hwy 57) for about eleven miles heading north. Mequon is Wisconsin’s fourth largest city by area – in the state’s smallest county, no less.

Next up, Highway 32 has an interchange with Highway 60 and Grafton (pop.11,568). Originally called “Hamburg” prior to its 1846 charter, Grafton flipped its name to “Manchester” from 1857 to 1862 before changing back. So far, it’s stayed “Grafton” ever since. Originally a lumber town, Grafton has hosted a series of industries ever since, including the famous Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. It was right here where 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation, allowing artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock ‘N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton at a make-shift studio that was formerly a chair factory; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called “race records” of the era. You can get to the heart of Grafton by following Highway 60 west for just a few miles from Highway 32/I-43.

Where Highway 60 begins was once part of what was to be that turnpike from Port Ulao on Lake Michigan (just east of the interchange) to the Wisconsin River, which eventually runs into Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. So this would have been major connection. You can buzz east real quick from the Highway 60 interchange and follow County Road Q east to the lakefront, where on foot you can discover the original piles that made the piers of Port Ulao, although watch for lots of private property owners in the area. Ulao itself was established along the railroad tracks when they were built through in 1873. You’ll see the Ghost Town Tavern, essentially all that remains of Ulao, from Highway 32/I-43.

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

*** Brewery Alerts ***
Grafton features a Water Street Brewery, which also has locations in Milwaukee and Delafield. Six beers are brewed on the premises in this nice new building that features an outdoor deck, full restaurant and plenty of beer memorabilia. It’s located right along the I-43/Hwy 32/Hwy 57 freeway at Highway 60 (Exit 92). Just west along the Milwaukee River in, there’s a Milwaukee Ale House location, a piece of the aforementioned Milwaukee Brewing Company.

grafton_mem_lg

Grafton Veterans Memorial Park overlooks the Milwaukee River, a very picturesque scene as it flows through town just west of Highway 32/I-43 along Highway 60.

grafton_riverwalk

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

*** BYPASS ALERT ***
You can save time if needed by staying on I-43 around Port Washington; Highway 32 will re-join the freeway at Exit 100.

Visit Port Washington

Port Washington

At Exit #93, Highway 32 leaves I-43 and returns to its original path, heading northeast through farmland on a beeline to Ozaukee County’s seat, Port Washington (pop. 11,762). This attractive town, originally named Wisconsin City, then Washington, and then Sauk Washington, has a beautiful harbor area and port – and the “port” became part of its name. Port Washington has the largest collection of pre-Civil War buildings in the state, and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places; they can be easily navigated in walking tours downtown. As you approach downtown via Spring Street, you reach an intersection that marks the start of Highway 33, which heads west out of Port Washington all the way to La Crosse. Meanwhile, Highway 32 heads east into downtown as Grand Avenue, dropping into the harbor area.

portwashington_smithsign

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 now part of a Duluth Trading Company retail store and offices. The landmark sign has been refurbished and towers over the view towards the lake where Highway 32 approaches.

portwashington_fireworks01

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.

portstmarys_800

Up this section of Highway 32 in Port Washington, known as Franklin Street, has shops, restaurants, access to the harbor and a nice view of St. Mary’s on the hill. Lake Michigan is just behind the block on the right.

Port Washington has a few claims to fame, including being the setting of the ABC television show Step By Step (a Brady Bunch-esque sitcom that ran during the late ’90s) and the current residence of Dustin Diamond, Screech from Saved By The Bell. No word on whether Tiffani Thiessen plans to relocate here, however. The city has a long manufacturing history, including chairs and tractors. Simplicity Manufacturing was founded here, as was Allen Edmonds shoes, which we’ll get to in a minute. You can get a ton of information at the Visit Port Washington Visitors center, located one block west of Highway 32’s turn by the old Smith Brothers Fish Shanty sign.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Dredging and other improvements in Port Washington in 1870 resulted in the first man-made harbor in North America.

Into downtown, you turn north onto Franklin Street and go past a variety of shops and restaurants. St. Mary’s Church looms above on the hill, providing a picture postcard view that has actually made it onto quite a few picture postcards. Check out the lighthouse that marks the harbor entrance… and count the number of tourists taking its picture. For biking enthusiasts, the Interurban Trail winds through town, and all of Ozaukee County, on a former rail line. This is a good place to stop and take some time, whether you want to hike or bike the trail or check out the shops downtown. If you have your rod, Port Washington also offers some terrific fishing and extensive piers and places to go. Some longtime shops like Bernie’s Fine Meats (119 N. Franklin Street, 262-284-4511) have existed for decades; other, newer shops include Duluth Trading Company and Sherper’s, as well as a number of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and stores for housewares, yoga, and more.

ptwashharbor01_800Port 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.

portwashfish_800

Apparently, Port Washington is #1 for trout and salmon. I don’t know if that means on Lake Michigan, or in the world or what, but hey, who am I to argue? I just tour the state and write about stuff.

*** Brewery Alert ***

Along Lake Street just east of Highway 32 at the northeast edge of the heart of downtown you’ll find Inventors Brewpub.

Heading north on Highway 32, you pass the headquarters of Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation and the “Shoe Bank”. It’s a great stop for discounts on high-quality men’s shoes. Tell ’em you’re driving on the State Trunk Tour when you go in!

Just as it did before Port Washington, Highway 32 once again links up with I-43. You re-join the freeway for about 13 miles, into Sheboygan County. The Lake Church exit (#107) provides access to Harrington Beach State Park. County Highway D, the access road to the park, continues east all the way to Lake Michigan – literally: the pavement practically disappears into the beach. Originally, Highway 32 followed the old U.S. 141, which used to be the main road from Milwaukee to Green Bay before the freeway was built. The old road lives on today as County LL, which parallels the freeway mostly just to the west… so if you’re in a two-lane mood, go ahead and follow LL – that’s the way it was back in the day!

At Exit 113, Highway 32 leaves the freeway and heads west into Cedar Grove (pop. 1,887). The village and area has a strong Dutch heritage, including having a full-size replica of a windmill in – you guessed it – Windmill Park. Cedar Grove was also the setting for one episode of FOX’s Prison Break in 2006, although it wasn’t actually filmed here.

32oldpumps_600

Sometimes the old gas stations are kept intact…as they should be. Along Highway 32 north of Cedar Grove. Ah, the old days of leaded gas for 15 cents a gallon…

A roundabout greets you at the junction with Highway 28, which will take you west into Kettle Moraine or east into Sheboygan. As you go ’round and continue north on 32, you enter lovely Sheboygan Falls (pop. 6,772). Located along the Sheboygan River between the Onion and Mullet (yes, Mullet) Rivers, there are quite a few rapids along the water and – no surprise – a waterfall. Sheboygan Falls is home to Bemis Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest maker of toilet seats. And while Johnsonville is its own unincorporated community just north of here, tasty sausage maker Johnsonville Foods lists Sheboygan Falls as its official headquarters.

sheboyganfallsdntn1_600hi

shebrapids_400Sheboygan Falls has a beautiful downtown. They’re done a great job of preserving and restoring 19th century-era buildings, now filled with shops, restaurants and artisan galleries. It’s a great place to spend a few hours. To the right is an example of one of the many rapids along the river downtown, which flows behind a series of buildings and provides a nice view and good venue for a picnic or just to stretch out and relax for a bit.

Highway 32 heads right into downtown Sheboygan Falls, a well-preserved cluster of 19th-century era brick buildings. The Sheboygan River, with rapids and a waterfall, runs through the area and it makes for a very pleasant setting. Water power from the river is what established Sheboygan Falls originally back in 1835, and industry sprung up. Sheboygan Falls won the “Great American Main Street Award” in 1995 and today has two historic districts, one for the downtown area and one called the Cole Historic District. The Cole features a mill house and hotel built in the 1830s and 1840s. Sheboygan Falls is worth a longer stop if you plan on some lunch or milling about the stores.

Heading north from Sheboygan Falls, Highway 32 crosses Highway 23 and heads north to Howards Grove (pop. 2,973), where you meet Highway 42. At Howards Grove, Highway 32 turns northwest and heads toward Manitowoc County and a junction with Highway 57, where the two highways start traveling together for quite a ways and the road opens up as a divided highway briefly. Two crossings of the Sheboygan River and a few more miles send you to a junction with Highway 67 and Kiel.

32horns_800

North of Sheboygan Falls, some farms look like ranches in Texas with the longhorn-lookin’ cattle enjoying some grass along Highway 32.

3257_4lane_800

Right after Highways 32 & 57 come together, there’s a brief expressway-like section – perhaps in anticipation of what was the originally planned Interstate between Milwaukee and Green Bay??

Past Plymouth, Highway 32 heads straight through the “great wide open”, bending northwest slightly as Highway 32 joins in just inside the Manitowoc County line. Two crossings of the Sheboygan River and a few miles send you to a junction with Highway 67 and Kiel.

kielbratfry_600

First thing we stumbled on in Kiel: a brat fry. We like this town.

3257thrunh_600

This stretch of Highway 32, combined with 57, goes through the heart of a series of towns, from Kiel to New Holstein to Chilton. This tree-lined stretch goes through the neighborhoods of Kiel.

Kiel (pop. 3,450) bills itself as the “little city that does big things.” What are those big things? I’m working to find out. Situated halfway between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago, Kiel sits on the Sheboygan River and dams it in the downtown area, about where Highway 32/57 crosses it for the third time. This is where I stumbled across a brat fry – which, of course, requires stopping and imbibing. On the other side of Kiel, 32/57 heads northwest again, into Calumet County (technically, you’re now in the Appleton-Oshkosh metro area – even though Highway 32 doesn’t go near either city.)

Just a few miles later, along the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks is New Holstein (pop. 3,301). Where is the “Old” Holstein? We have an answer: the Holstein region in Germany, which is where many of the town’s founders came from. Remember our discussion of Hildegarde back from Adell? New Holstein is where she was raised, before hitting the big time. New Holstein also “sired” Edward Schildhauer, who was the chief engineer on a little digging project (the Panama Canal) and three NFL players (Ken Criter of the Broncos and Bob Schmitz of the Steelers and… grumble grumble… Vikings.)

So is the glass half empty of half full? At Optimist Park, you should know the answer. It all began in 1974 – not a majorly optimistic time – on land purchased partially to prevent encroachment of the adjacent wastewater treatment facility. Sound good so far? In 1995, they moved to Sled Hill Park with, as the city website notes, a “small warming shack and a homemade Optimist Sign.”
Optimism can pay off, however: today, Optimist Park has a Chalet Building, a real sign, park benches, memorial trees and a landscaped terrace. The sledding hill remains and is very popular.

timmhousewinter_200

New Holstein’s Timm House.

The Timm House is a local landmark that served as the home of one of the city’s founders. Built in the Greek Revival style in 1873, it was expanded in 1891 and was donated by Timm’s ancestors to the local historic society in 1974. See the story to the right, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the $1.2 million restoration that was just completed several years back.

State Trunk Tour Sidebar: The Timm House Story:
Check out what the heck happened with this historic city landmark:
“The house had a major roof leak that forced an end to the house tours in 1998. An architectural assessment was performed on the house, and the cost to reconstruct the house was estimated between $116,020 and $126,220. Before the roof was repaired, there was a broken pipe in the dining room. The break happened in January 1999. It dumped 500,000 gallons of water through the first floor and into the basement. The rising basement waters extinguished the furnace, causing the water in the pipes and the radiators to freeze, then burst. City water meters knew there was a problem somewhere in the city, but no one could find the source of the leak. A volunteer at the house discovered the leak. The volunteer arranged for a heating repairman to stop the flooding. When the repairman left, he slamming the door closed. The door frame was so swollen that the volunteer was stuck inside. She had to go upstairs and call for help through a front window.”
Yikes!
newholstein_sukup

New Holstein’s employment base is quite good for a town its size. So what is a Sukup? It’s an Iowa-based company that handles, dries and stores grain. It’s also a good description for Smithers in “The Simpsons.”

32-57-151_400Next up in this string of cool little Wisconsin cities is Chilton (pop. 3,708), Calumet’s county seat. Chilton features several things to check out, including the Ledge View Nature Center, which can take you through a butterfly garden, high up on a 60-foot observation tower or way down in a series of caves featuring crawl passages, fossils and places called the Bat Room and Wayne’s World. In Mother’s Cave, it’s all crawling. One area called “the Squeeze” recognizes the size of Wisconsinites; you have to fit through a box simulation of the Squeeze before you’re allowed into the cave. Its position on the Niagara dolostone reveals more fossils (coral reefs used to exist there), and they tap the area for maple syrup in the spring months. You can also rent snowshoes and cross-country skis, but it’s best to try doing that in the wintertime. Ledge View is accessible off Highway 57 by taking Irish Road (just before entering Chilton) south to Short Road.

*** Brewery Alert ***

chilton_rowlands01Like an increasing number of Wisconsin communities, Chilton has a local brewpub. Rowland’s Calumet Brewery (25 N. Madison Street, via U.S. 151) features 17 different beers, including interesting names like “Bitter Bitch Belgium Ale”, “Fat Man’s Nut Brown Ale” and a “Total Eclipse”, a monstrously malty opaque beer. Varieties of the beer are also available in liquor stores and restaurants in locations around Chilton and out to places like Manitowoc, Elkhart Lake, Plymouth and Appleton. Rowland’s is along U.S. Highway 151, which runs through Chilton and joins Highway 32 & 57 for a brief spell.

chilton_32-57-151thrudowntown

Highway 32/57 combine with U.S. 151 for the ride through downtown Chilton.

Northward from Chilton and over the interestingly-named Killsnake River (there must be a story in there somewhere), Highway 57 opens up a bit and becomes quite the straightaway for a while, perfect for traversing quickly. It’s also perfect for county sheriffs. One speed zone is in Hilbert (pop. 1,089), birthplace of jazz musician Bunny Berigan in 1908, the last year the Chicago Cubs celebrated a championship (couldn’t resist). Fox Lake (along Highway 33) also claims Berigan and their hometown son, since he grew up there for more of his life before hitting New York and the big time. Berigan’s marker is in Fox Lake, but Hilbert is where he first left any marks at all. In Hilbert, Highway 114 provides access to High Cliff State Park, a beautiful vista high atop Lake Winnebago, which only lies about 7 miles west of this point. A little further up is Forest Junction, whose “junction” claim started with two major railroads intersecting; now Highways 32 & 57 cross U.S. 10 here, making it an increasingly popular bedroom community for people working in Appleton and Green Bay. After all, their slogan is “You CAN get there from here.”

What you get to just past Forest Junction is Brown County and another junction (a relatively new roundabout, actually), this time with Highway 96 in Greenleaf. A rail trail parallels Highway 32 in Greenlead, and the Trail’s End Restaurant hints that you just might be at the end of that trail. Highway 96 accesses Denmark and I-43 to the east and Wrightstown and Appleton to the west. We’re heading north toward the heart and soul of Packer Country.

deperedinos_300

Evidence that dinosaurs once roamed this land in DePere??

Civilization emerges in the form of DePere (pop. 22,310), a suburb of Green Bay. It’s pronounced “d’peer”, which a lot of Sconnies also say they fish off of. Split by the Fox River, the name DePere is French (no doy), coming from the term “Les Rapids des Peres”, the “Rapids of the Fathers”. A mission was established here waaaay back in 1671 by French Jesuit priests, led by Father Claude Allouez, whose name adorns the bridge that Highway 32 uses to split from Highway 57 and enter downtown DePere before heading into Green Bay west of the Fox River.

St. Norbert College lies on the west bank of the Fox River. St. Norbert started in 1898 with a single student; today it has over 2,000 and continuously ranks among the best comprehensive colleges in the Midwest, and this author can tell you their alums are loyal. I’ve run into them watching Packer games at Leff’s Lucky Town in Wauwatosa, and instead of Packer gear, many wear St. Norbert College gear – the “Green Knights'” colors are a variation of green and gold, after all, and the Packers have been conducting training camp here since 1958 – the year before Vince Lombardi showed up.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The training camp relationship between St. Norbert College and the Green Bay Packers is the longest between a team and a school in the NFL, dating back to 1958.

Green Bay

Now firmly ensconced on the west side of the Fox River as a 4-lane divided highway called Ashland Avenue (once the historic U.S. 41 route before the freeway was constructed in the early 1970s), Highway 32 makes a beeline north into Green Bay (pop. 104,779), Wisconsin’s oldest city and – not sure if you’ve heard – home to a professional football team. In fact, LLLLAAAAMMMMBEAU FIELD lies just west of Highway 32.; at the intersection with Lombardi Avenue, take a left and one mile away, you’ll hit the stadium.

Green Bay is also the headquarters of ShopKo Stores and Schneider National (admit it, you know the commercials and you’ve seen the “big orange trucks”). Famous people from Green Bay include Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame, ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson, comedian and Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, Pat MacDonald of the group Timbuk 3 – you know, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”? – that group. Naturally, Green Bay is home to tons of athletes too, among them NFL stars Curly Lambeau, Jerry Tagge, Ted Fritsch Jr., Arnie Herber and Aaron Stecker, as well as baseball pitcher Bob Wickman.

lambeaufrom32_800

Lambeau is THAT close to Highway 32. Angle west on Lombardi Avenue and you’ll be there in literally a minute!

Just across the river near Lambeau and Highway 172 via Highway 57, you’ll find Heritage Hill State Historical Park. Technically located in suburban Allouez, this 48-acre outdoor museum lives up to its name. Over 30 historic structures and endangered buildings are perched on a hill overlooking the Fox River in an area that once served as a prison farm. Log cabins from the fur trade era, original stores and public buildings, even buildings from the original Fort Howard are all located here and available for exploration. Populating the grounds in summer are live historic interpreters – many in period attire – to help illustrate what these buildings are all about. More and more fun events take place throughout the year here, too.

On THIS side of the river, train enthusiasts and kids alike will love the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars including the world’s largest steam locomotive – known as “Big Boy.” You can access that just east of Highway 32 by Lombardi Avenue.

Flanking the stadium is the massive new Titletown District, which includes the Brown County Arena, the Resch Center, and a number of bars and restaurants including the classic Anduzzi’s, Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, the Stadium View bar, and newer breweries and distilleries on streets all named after Packers players and coaches. For example, on Mike McCarthy Way you’ll find Green Bay Distillery, which serves up spirits distilled nearby in Door County. Badger State Brewing Company is on Tony Canadeo Run, and the new Leatherhead Brewing Company is on Lombardi Avenue, all within blocks of Highway 32.

Past the Lambeau Field and Titletown District areas, Highway 32 continues north on Ashland Avenue toward downtown Green Bay, though it doesn’t quite get there. At the junction with Mason Street (Highway 54,), Highway 32 joins it and heads west for a ways to the U.S. 41 freeway. You then break away from Highway 54 and go north all of one mile, whereupon you leave the freeway and join Highway 29 at Shawano Avenue. At that point, you start heading northwest out of Green Bay. If you want to check out downtown Green Bay (and it’s worth a side drive), continue following Ashland north to Walnut Street and take a right…you’ll be right in it. Otherwise, onward!

Downtown & other parts of Green Bay

Following Ashland past where Highway 32 begins to head west and into downtown Green Bay, there are plenty of sights and places to check out. Here are just some of them!

Towards downtown along the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America, bridges are lit up at night with condos, bars and shops springing up around them. Nearing Highway 29 and Broadway on the west side of the river, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. The Neville Public Museum focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; it’s a great stop for an afternoon, especially before or after hitting Titletown and/or Hinterland Brewing, which are both within eyeshot.

Green Bay does have a bit of a nightlife area downtown, east along the Fox River. Centered on Washington Street adjacent to Highway 29, the area features an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner’s Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar – yes, think about it.) Green Bay’s party crowd hangs out in this area, and it’s not uncommon for Packers players to be seen.

browncoch

The handsome Brown County Courthouse, completed in 1908. You’ll find at the corner of Highway 29/Walnut Street & Jefferson Avenue on the east side of downtown and the Fox River, just a little west of Highway 57.

On the east bank of the Fox River, a ride along University Avenue (also Highways 54/57 east a bit brings you toward Bay Beach Amusement Park, which offers everything from roller coasters to carousels and water rides from May through September. The biggest coaster is Zippin’ Pippin, a 2,800-foot long wooden coaster with nearly hundred-year-old origins in Memphis, Tennessee. It was moved to Green Bay and re-opened in 2011, where it’s become quite popular.

Just next door to the action and noise, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is next door, providing 700 acres of refuge for animals. The Sanctuary features live animal exhibits, educational displays, miles of hiking/skiing trails and various wildlife viewing opportunities; they care for more than 4,500 orphaned and injured animals each year. It traces its roots to 1936, when it established as a site for waterfowl rehabilitation with an assist from Aldo Leopold. The Sanctuary is free and open year ’round. The whole area of Bay Beach lies along the waters of Green Bay, adjacent to where the Fox River empties into this arm of Lake Michigan.

** More Brewery Alerts! **

titletown_front_lgGreen Bay calls itself “Titletown”, so when some guys decided to start up a brewery here before all the others in this recent resurgence, it only made sense to call it the Titletown Brewing Company. Coincidentally(?!) Titletown Brewing started in December of 1996, right before the Packers’ first Super Bowl victory in nearly three decades. Located downtown on Dousman Street/U.S. 141 just west of downtown and the Fox River, Titletown occupies a classic old railroad station built in 1899. Titletown brews Packer-backer beverages such as the Johnny “Blood” Red and Canadeo Gold as well as a great root beer called Sno-Cap, which uses Clyde the Penguin as its mascot. Trains, football, beer, food… definitely a good stop on the State Trunk Tour. Meanwhile, across the street Hinterland Brewing started the year prior in a former meat-packing warehouse (yes, how the “Packers” got their name) and brews up their popular Packerland pilsner, several IPAs, an English-style ale, and a number of seasonals. They’re parlayed their success into a gastropub down in Milwaukee and an affiliation with a restaurant up in Fish Creek in Door County. They offer tours on Saturdays – get details here.

Meanwhile, Highway 32 proper joins Highway 54/Mason Street westward towards I-41, where it rides with the Interstate northward quite briefly before joining Highway 29 westbound on a large, new flyover ramp that sends you northwest out of the city.

greenbayarbys_800

An “old school” Arby’s sign along Mason Street, where Highways 32 & 54 combine for a bit. You don’t need big old hat sign too often anymore.

Below: Here’s what U.S. 41 at the Highways 29/32 exit USED to look like. It’s now I-41 and access to 29/32 heading northwest is a massive flyover ramp. Pictures to come!

32exitoff41_800

For a little while, you’re on the same expressway that takes Highway 29 west to Wausau. You get off sooner than that, though, at Pulaski (pop. 3,060), which Highway 32 goes right through. Pulaski was first settled – not surprisingly – by Polish immigrants. They named the town after famous Polish Revolutionary War General Kazimierz Pulaski, who also created the first cavalry in the United States. Yes, flatlanders, it’s the same guy that Chicago names its “Pulaski Day” after. Pulaski hosts the annual Polka Days – one of the largest Polish festivals in the U.S.

pulaskichurch_800

Pulaski has a nice downtown, including the Assumption BVM Church, the largest rural Catholic church in the United States. It’s located right along Highway 32 as you head through town.

Through Pulaski – parts of which cover three counties (Brown, Oconto and Shawano), you also cross the Mountain-Bay State Trail, an 83-mile bike trail following an old railroad bed that links Green Bay to Wausau. If you’re up for some biking, Pulaski’s a good place to bring the bikes and hit the trail. If you’re forging onward on your motorcycle or in your car or truck, then you’ll be straddling the Oconto-Shawano County line for a while up past another Polish-inspired settlement, Krakow, on the way to meet with Highway 22 and then fully getting into Oconto County.

Oconto County.org and Highway 64

There, you join 22 westward into Gillett (pop. 1,256). It has nothing to do with the razor – that’s Gillette – the town was named after Rodney Gillett, an early settler in the 1860s. Gillett is home of the Oconto County Fair and the Earthaven Museum, an earth sciences museum a few miles north of town along Highway 32 just down Valley Line Road. The Earthaven Museum features thousands of rocks, minerals and fossils with extensive collections of early human tools and artifacts. It’s a rockin’ time. Get it? Okay, we’ll move on…

Gillett ATV Capital along Highway 22ATV Capital of the World

Gillett bills itself as the “ATV Capital of the World,” owning the trademark and everything. While a tall order to claim, Gillett backs it up with over 18 miles of maintained ATV trails just within their small city limits and the adjoining towns of Underhill and Maple Valley. A popular starting point is at Zippel Park, which is also home to the Oconto County Fair every summer.

North of Gillett, Highway 32 turns to and fro a bit and lines up on the 45th parallel for the ride into Suring (pop. 605). The town prides itself on its smack-dab-on-the-45th location, as evidenced by the “Halfway between the Equator and North Pole” flags hanging from street lights downtown.

suring45th_225hisuring_rrbyroad_800

Suring makes it clear what latitude you’re on. Heading west of town, an old railroad bridge remains next to Highway 32, even though the old line doesn’t.

Now that you’re closer to the North Pole than the Equator (although TECHNICALLY, the halfway point in terms of mileage between the two is 45° 8′ 45.7″N because the earth is an oblate spheroid…but I’m sure you knew that from science class, right? Yeah, I didn’t either.) Continuing north along Highway 32, you squeeze past lovely Anderson Lake (pictured below left), cross into Oconto County, arrive into the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and hook up with Highway 64 for the ride into the town of Mountain (pop. 860). Mountain is spread out far and wide and is a popular stop for campers, hunters and those who wish to imbibe at the School House Bar (lower right below.) County Highway W is the only real crossroad going through Mountain.

mountain_schoolhousebar_800

The Schoolhouse Bar, where the classes now generally involve learning what beverage you should have. It’s a popular stop for ATVers, snowmobilers, and bikers.

After “downtown” Mountain, Highway 64 cuts away and heads west toward Antigo and Minnesota; Highway 32, meanwhile forges northward through the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and towns like Lakewood and Townsend.

andersonlake_800

Anderson Lake is just one of many beautiful places that will dot the landscape along this stretch of Highway 32.

The tall, neat lines of pines that frame Highway 32 comes from the extensive logging the area around Mountain and Lakewood experienced over the years. In fact, some areas of these woods have been cleared and regrown four or five times.There is one area, however, that’s still virgin timber: Cathedral Pines, an officially designated “State Natural Area.”

32nofmtn_800A protected old growth area of pines, hemlocks, maples, beech, basswood, yellow birch and white ash trees, Cathedral Pines is also home to an active Great Blue Heron rookery, where members of this endangered bird species continue to inhabit. You can reach Cathedral Pines by turning left (south) onto Forest Road 2121 (also called Archibald Lake Road) just past Lakewood. The main parking and viewing area is about a mile and a half down the road. Highway 32 itself borders Cathedral Pines to the northeast for 1.3 miles.

townsendflowage_800Through this area, Highway 32 cuts through forest and slides past a variety of lakes, rivers and areas like Townsend Flowage (pictured at left) that make for lovely views when driving, or stopping to picnic and swat away mosquitoes.

Wabeno and logging
Into Forest County (appropriately named, since you’re still in the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest), Highway 32 goes through Carter before hitting its larger neighbor, Wabeno (pop. 1,264). Interestingly, the town got its name from a tornado that blew through back in 1880; the Native Americans named the 1/2-mile to 1-mile wide strip of fallen timber “Waubeno”, meaning “the coming of the winds” or “the opening”. Waubeno grew up, like many towns up here, as a lumber town. By 1905, five sawmills cranked out 35 million board-feet of lumber annually, a trend that lasted several decades until mills shut down during the Great Depression. Much of the local economy moved to farming, with some tourism now mixed in. Wabeno also won the award for “Wisconsin’s best-tasting water” in 2003, and has been bottling and selling it ever since.

wabenobandshell_800

Larry the Logroller along Highway 32 in Wabeno

Larry the Logroller is probably Wabeno’s most recognized symbol. Standing 22 feet high, the bearded fiberglass town greeter grins over you like he’s just ready to kick your tail in a logrolling contest.

Wabeno’s most notable landmark is Larry the Logroller, a 22-foot high fiberglass symbol of the town’s logging history. Similar to a Paul Bunyan statue, Larry brandishes a logging tool as opposed to an ax. He stands guard over a city park along the north branch of the Oconto River, which also holds the Wabeno Logging Museum and a 1901 Phoenix Log Hauler, a steam engine locomotive that, while not active, still works if somehow needed.

wabenochurch_800

Coming into Wabeno, beams of sunlight cast down towards a church…fitting, I’d say.

 

wabeno_bottomsup

Along Highway 32, the “Bottoms Up” bar helps reinforce their name by creative use of their Old Style sign.

Another charmer is Waubeno’s Public Library, essentially a log cabin originally built by Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1897 for use as a land office. Under town ownership since 1923, it remains a library built of logs – one look, you KNOW you’re up North. It’s the only remaining log cabin library in Wisconsin.

Another indication you’re up here is the extensive network of snowmobile trails; the Lumberjack Memorial Snowmobile Trails consist of a network of over 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails organized by Lumberjack Memorial Trails, Inc., which formed out of five separate clubs that united in 1974. Their website tracks the condition of each trail and provides information on pit stops and more. Wabeno and Laona are at the heart of this trail network.

Next up, further north through the woods, you reach Laona (pop. 1,367). Home of the popular Lumberjack Steam Train that will take you to an historic logging camp, museum, country store and blacksmith shop, Laona is also a center for forestry and snowmobiling, like Wabeno just down the road. It’s also home to the World’s Largest Soup Kettle, a legacy of the town’s Community Soup Day which started with free soup in the 1920s and continues today (BYOB – bring your own bowl – if you happen to be there on the proper day.)

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The nation’s first School Forest was founded in Laona in 1927.

histmarker_laonaforest_600

histmarker_nohighlands_500

In Laona, Highway 32 meets with U.S. 8, the main highway from Minneapolis to Escanaba and a key route east-west across Wisconsin’s North Woods. We join U.S. 8 for about 11 miles westerly to Crandon (pop. 1,961). The only incorporated community in Forest County, Crandon serves as a county seat and was named after Frank Crandon, a tax commissioner with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad who helped Forest County get established (it was part of Oconto County prior to 1887.) Like so many towns in this area, Crandon originally grew via a bustling lumber industry that tripled the town’s size in the early 1900’s and brought a slew of settlers and loggers from Kentucky, so much so that Crandon still holds an annual Kentuck Day’s Festival. Crandon is also home to the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway, which hosts the World Championships Off-Road Races every year; in fact, they’re 40 years old now. The World Championships usually take place over Labor Day weekend.

8-32-55int_800

Highway 32 meets with U.S. 8 and Highway 55 for the ride through downtown Crandon. This convergence of roads, fairly major for the region, has helped make Crandon a popular destination for travelers and vacationers.

crandonhotel_500Much of Crandon’s downtown was built during its “boom” era, which is roughly 1900-1930. The Hotel Crandon (200 N. Lake Ave., 715-478-2414) is an example of “old school”, including the sign claiming the hotel to be “modern” and “fireproof.” Not sure if that’s true, but after all, it’s still there after all these years.

In Crandon, U.S. 8 breaks off and heads west toward Rhinelander, while Highway 32 – coupled with 55 – pushes north to Argonne. There, Highway 55 heads north towards Iron River, Michigan (it’s pretty much just forest all the way there), while Highway 32 zigzags northwest into the highlands and the town of Hiles (pop. 404). At this point, by Pine Lake, you’re about 1,633 feet above sea level, more than 1,050 higher than Milwaukee or Kenosha. Being such high ground, a) it gets really cold here in the winter and b) this area is the headwaters for two major Wisconsin rivers, the Pine River and the Wolf River. This area of Highway 32 follows (sometimes roughly, but still) an old military road that dates back to before this was United States territory. The route connected Green Bay with towns in the U.P. on the shores of Lake Superior. Hiles sprung up as the junction of headwaters and this military road, with settlement dating back to 1860. By 1920, Hiles boasted streetlights, a fancy water fountain in the village park and a modern six-room schoolhouse (everybody else pretty much had one-room schoolhouses), complete with central heat and cement sidewalks. It was quite advanced for the time, although nowadays one of the appeals of these small towns is that time seems to stand still.

chickeninthewoods_500Past Hiles and into Oneida County, Highway 32 twists and turns as it navigates the shores of a series of lakes; we’re entering the Chain O’Lakes area, part of the largest chain of freshwater lakes in the world.

You never know what you’ll find on the State Trunk Tour. There’s gotta be a story behind “Chicken in the Woods Road”. Meanwhile, the nearby Harbor Restaurant and Campground near Three Lakes salutes Highway 32…

32signharborcamp_600

In Three Lakes (pop. 2,339), Highway 32 meets up with U.S. 45, which stays with it to the end. Three Lakes, which is actually amidst hundreds of them, was named so because of frustrated railroad surveyors who had to alter their planned route because of – you guessed it – three lakes. Three Lakes is also the home of model and Big Brother 8 cast member Mike Dutz, who was also on Lifetime’s show Gay, Straight or Taken? (he was the straight and available one.)

*** Winery Alert ***
Three Lakes is home to Three Lakes Winery, which was an early pioneer in cranberry wine and other types when it debuted back in 1972. Their popular Tasting Room – located in a former Chicago & Northwestern Train Depot – is open seven days a week all year except Christmas and New Years’. They’re open 9am-5pm every day except Sunday, when they’re open 10am-4pm. You’ll find Three Lakes Winery right where U.S. 45 & Highway 32 meet County A in the downtown area.

From Three Lakes, Highways 32 & 45 head north into Vilas County. The county seat comes up pretty quickly!

That would be Eagle River (pop. 1,443), one of Wisconsin’s most popular vacation towns. It’s nicknamed the “Snowmobiling Capital of the World“, and competitions are held here throughout the winter months. Extensive trails stretch for miles from the town and around the multitude of lakes in the area. In warmer months, boating is very popular on these lakes… so many area lakes (28), in fact, that the Eagle River/Three Lakes Chain compose the largest number of interconnected lakes in the world. These lakes are frozen a good chunk of the year, obviously, and on the weekend closest to New Years’, area firefighters and volunteers cut 3,000 foot-thick blocks of ice from nearby Silver Lake to build the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace has been constructed almost annually since the 1920s and usually stands about 20 feet high, lit up at night with a multitude of colors. Tourists are welcome to check it out and take pictures; just don’t build a fire nearby or chip off any ice for your beverage.

Highway 70 comes in from the east and joins Highways 32 & 45 into town. Restaurants and motels line the route, and Wall Street, one block north through the heart of town, is where most of the action is. Lining the Wall are shops, confectionaries, bars, restaurants and the Vilas Theater. A good stop for food, drink and even the occasional live band is BBT’s (715-477-2313) along Wall Street. Just down is the Country Store, a confectionary with numerous fudge choices, candy, chocolates and ice cream where a “scoop” is half the size of Rhode Island.

eagleriver_icecastle

In a five-day period, thousands of pounds of ice find their way from a nearby lake to become part of an annual tradition, the Eagle River Ice Castle. It often lasts for 60-90 days, depending on temperature, sunlight, and how many people breathe warm air onto it.

eagleriverwelcomewinter_800Snowmobiling Capital of the World

Okay, back to this snowmobiling thing. Home of the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Eagle River’s Derby Track hosted its first race on February 9, 1964 – about 40 years after Carl Eliason of nearby Sayner invented the first model that was comparable to today’s snowmobiles (and, that evening, The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show). The races since have drawn participants and spectators from far and wide – tens of thousands, regardless of the weather. The races are held in mid-January, meaning it can be sunny and near 40, the typical cold of 6 above zero, or wind chills of -50 – as it was in 1994. There’s plenty of room to watch around the track, and luxury boxes are even available. Additional races and attractions have been added over the years; you can read a pretty comprehensive history right here. Eagle River averages 53 inches of snowfall each year – nothing too crazy, especially when areas closer to Lake Superior average over 100. But with hundreds of miles of trails and the invention of the snowmobile having taken place in the area, this is the epicenter of the sport. Bottom line, this is a place to road trip to in the midst of winter’s grasp!

eagleriver_derbyrace01

Racers line up for the oval. Straightaway speeds can reach 100mph. Are there are no seat belts.

eagleriver_derby01

Snocross is awesome to watch, including at night. They can really get some air!

snowmobiletracksummer1_800

The rarely-seen Derby Track in summer. A lot less action.

eagleriverdntn1_800

Along Wall Street, Eagle River’s main street.

eaglerivericecream

Two scoops from the Country Store in downtown Eagle River.

Just down is the Country Store, a confectionery with numerous fudge choices, candy, chocolates and ice cream where a “scoop” is half the size of Rhode Island. Plenty of other treats are available too, whether it’s 20 below or 95 above outside.

eagleriverhookers_800

The local fishing contingent features its own two cents on available t-shirts.

 

 

eaglerivereagle

An eagle statue for Eagle River is right by the old railroad station at the west end of downtown. It looks cool during the day, but more soaring and dramatic with the light at night.

As Highway 70 leaves to head west toward Woodruff, Highway 17 comes in from Rhinelander and joins Highway 32 & U.S. 45 for a few miles through the north side of town and past the AMSoil Derby Track, the local airport, and a bunch of shops (this is the prime shopping town for tens of miles around), and county roads connections to the nearly endless chains of lakes in the area.

We head northward through Conover and shortly before hitting the state line, cross a teeny tiny Wisconsin River. Why is it so small? Because we’re only about two miles from its headwaters at Lac Vieux Desert, the Wisconsin River’s source along the Wisconsin-Michigan line.

wisriverat32_800

Yup, the Wisconsin River really is this small here, only about two miles from its headwaters.

histmarker_wisriverhead_500The Wisconsin’s source in Lac Vieux Desert is only about 15 miles north of Eagle River along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, and it’s still pretty small as it flows past Eagle River. Of course, it gains significant size and strength as it flows nearly 400 miles and drops over 1,000 feet on its way to the Mississippi! The Wisconsin River actually begins at a small dam that accessible via a walking path if you take County E east to Shore Road, then head just slightly north. There’s a sign and parking area so you can go check it out!

State Line Time – the End of the Line

After 325 miles, Highway 32 comes to an end at the Michigan state line. U.S. 45 continues into the U.P. before ending in Ontonagon on the Lake Superior shore – a loooong way from its start in Mobile, Alabama! We stop where Wisconsin stops, although this state line turned out to be fairly interesting.

endof32nb_800

Above: Highway 32 ends with the “Welcome to Michigan” sign; only U.S. 45 keeps going. Below: Turning around, this is the scene as you enter Highway 32 southbound coming in from Michigan; no huge “WISCONSIN” sign, although a wooden one shows up a mile or so down the road. County Road B runs along the state line briefly before angling in by a block or two on the Wisconsin side to run through the heart of Land O’Lakes, which is literally several thousand feet to the west.

32sbstart_800

A sizeable marker along the roadside, however, marks the state line quite exactly. On the left, notice the tree cut in the background, following the state line. In this shot, Michigan is on the left and Wisconsin is on the right. The picture on the right is a close-up of the marker, showing the state line as the strip of grout. It was taken from the Wisconsin side.

wi-mi-marker01_600wi-mi-marker02_800

The Gas Station That Spans Two States

straddlingwi-mi_400What was really interesting – at least to a geography geek like me – was the BP station. It literally straddles the state line. I gassed up in Michigan but paid for my gas in Wisconsin. Below: the actual state line is marked with lighter tile inside the convenience store. In this shot, I’m in both Michigan (my left foot) and Wisconsin (the other one) at the same time. In the shot at right, you can see that you can buy Wisconsin lottery tickets on one side of the line, and Michigan lottery tickets on the other. The bait for sale is on the Wisconsin side; most of the Pepsi products and magazines are on the Michigan side. Is there a rhyme or reason to this? I’ll have to find out next trip. But it was cool.

bpstateline_800

Yes, two state lotteries can be played at the State Line BP – you just have to be on the proper side of that line for each state.

And that concludes our trip on the Red Arrow Highway, State Trunk Highway 32. It was a long but very enjoyable haul from the Illnois state line near Kenosha all the way up to Land O’Lakes on the Michigan border. Along the way, there’s so much to see… a very highly recommend route! Keep watching this page, as we’ll be providing updates and keep up with changes.

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Illinois Highway 137
Can connect nearby to: Highway 165, about one mile north; Highway 50, about 4 miles north; Highway 158, about 5 miles north

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 45
Can connect nearby to: Highway 17 about 11 miles south; Highway 70, about 18 miles south

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 17 in Phelps on a State Trunk Tour
17

STH-017“Angling up through Snowmobile Country and the North Woods”

WisMap17Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 17 is a connector road between up North vacation and recreation hotspots, connecting U.S. 51 travelers to Rhinelander, Eagle River, and many of the myriad lakes in Vilas County. If you’ve ever camped, fished, snowmobiled or hung out in a lakeside vacation home in the North Woods, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve used Highway 17.

The Wisconsin Highway 17 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Although it starts on the outskirts of the town today at the interchange with U.S. 51 and Highway 64, prior to the late 1980s Highway 17 used to start in Merrill at the former U.S. 51 before the freeway was built. And since we don’t like to bypass towns on the State Trunk Tour unless we’re in a hurry, we’ll start at the former terminus.

Merrill

Highway 17’s historical beginning is at the junction of County Highways K (the original U.S. 51) and G (the original Highway 17, also known as 14th Street). This is just north of downtown Merrill (pop. 9,364), which you can check out by going south on County K (Center Ave.) to 1st Street (Highway 64). Merrill lies along the Wisconsin River, “the hardest working river in the world.”

Merrill was originally called Jenny Bull Falls when it was founded in 1843. It was changed to Merrill in 1881 in honor of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad’s general manager, S.S. Merrill (yes, it sounds more like a boat, but he actually managed the railroad.) During this decade of Merrill’s history, they became a leader in Wisconsin for the number of those newfangled telephones put into operation, named its first mayor, cranked out a boatload of lumber – 150 million board feet of lumber and 86 million shingles in 1892 alone – and even introduced some transit.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Merrill was one of the first cities in the U.S. to make use of electric streetcars, introducing them in 1890.

Downtown Merrill is accessed via County K or Highway 64; it’s worth checking out. A pair of one-way streets mark Highway 64’s run through the heart of town, which features two beautiful government buildings: the original Merrill City Hall and the Lincoln County Courthouse. Merrill City Hall sits where Highway 64 forks into one-way streets downtown; completed in 1889, this Queen Anne-style structure held city offices until 1977. Today, it’s one of the most beautiful apartment buildings in northern Wisconsin. The Lincoln County Courthouse by the river features a prominent clock tower.

merill_cityhall01

Merrill City Hall opened in 1889; in 1977, they became apartments. We hope since they’ve been updated to not include 70s decor, such as shag rugs.

merrill_lincolncoch01

The Lincoln County Courthouse in downtown Merrill. The tall clock tower keeps people on time throughout the center of town.

Along Highways 64 on the west side of Merrill right at the junction with Highway 107, you’ll find a beautiful triple arch bridge crossing, constructed in 1904, crossing the Prairie River right before it merges with the Wisconsin. Several sights are here as part of a city park. First is the bridge itself, whose striking design must be appreciated from the river level below.

merrill_stonearch01

Built in 1904, this stone arch bridge carries Highway 64 over the Prairie River in Merrill, right by Highway 107. This is on the west side of town; Highway 17 begins on the east side.

merrill_stonearchmarker

Next is the T.B. Scott Free Library, which originally opened in 1889 inside City Hall but moved to its current “Prairie style” building in 1911. It was one of the first “traveling libraries” in the state and the first to offer English classes for immigrants, which they started back in 1905. In between the bridge and the library, a quirky statue known as the “River Rat” pays tribute to the loggers who rode logs and helped ensure the wood cut down in forests upstream made it safely to the mills downstream… often by riding on the logs themselves.

merrill_tbscottlibrary01

The T.B. Scott Free Library moved into this Prairie-style structure in 1911, where it continues to serve Merrill and other north central Wisconsin residents.

merrill_riverrat

The “River Rat”, who spent all day riding logs down the river making sure as much lumber as possible made its way to the mills. Beavers were likely a natural enemy.

Commune with nature and get beautiful views of the Wisconsin River in Council Grounds State Park., on the northwest side of Merrill via Highway 107. This 508-acre park abuts the Wisconsin River on grounds that once held Native American encampments. The dense forests, hiking trails, fishing and hunting opportunities, and campgrounds offer a peaceful and fun place to hang out, along with some beautiful views of the Wisconsin River. In season, you can rent canoes to ply the river and Lake Alexander or launch your boat (just watch out for canoes.)

107_councilsp01

Cirrus clouds reflect nicely in the gentle waters of the Wisconsin River at Council Grounds State Park, just north of Merrill along Highway 107. Highway 17 begins a few miles to the east in Merrill.

107_councilsp02

Hectic day? Try this instead.

Okay – NOW we’re off on Highway 17!

 

From Merrill, Highway 17 makes a beeline northeast across the woods and farms of Lincoln County, past small hamlets like Gleason (where the 1983 horror flick The Devonsville Terror was filmed) and Parrish, part of a quick swing inside Langlade County before ducking into Oneida County for – in most cases – less than a minute. Then you’re in Lincoln County again, then back into Oneida County. You dizzy yet?

Finally, you reach the next city along Highway 17, which is all about the Hodag…and more.

Rhinelander

Of course, we’re talking about Rhinelander (pop. 7,798), the Oneida County seat and metropolitan center of everything north of Wausau. The two cities even split the television market up here, with WJFW-TV (Channel 12) serving as the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. Rhinelander is where NFL player Jason Doering, five-time PGA golf champion Dan Forsman, playwright Dan Wasserman, entertainment reporter Steve Kmetko and 2002 Miss Teen USA winner Vanessa Semrow, the only Wisconsinite to win the pageant, all came from. College coaching legend John Heisman, namesake of the Heisman Trophy, is buried in Rhinelander – because that’s where his wife was born.

Highway 17’s Rhinelander Bypass vs. City Route

Highway 17 traditionally ran right through downtown Rhinelander. In 2004, the 3.25 mile “Rhinelander Bypass” opened, carrying Highway 17 officially around the city to the south and then east (U.S. 8 and Highway 47 were re-routed onto the bypass as well.) You can follow it, but that kind of defeats the purpose of checking out the towns along the way unless you want a tour of big-box store parking lots. On the State Trunk Tour, we try to follow the original city routes!

So how do you do that? When Highway 17 officially turns onto the bypass, go straight, which is Boyce Street. Follow that to Kemp (the former U.S. 8) and turn right. About 1/2 mile down, turn left onto Arbutus Street, which curves onto Pelham. At Rhinelander City Hall, angle onto Stevens Street, which takes you through downtown and leads you back to today’s Highway 17 on the northeast edge.

Rhinelander was originally called Pelican Rapids, but changed the name when the city was chartered to salute Frederic Rhinelander, who was president of the main railroad at the time. By 1882, the railroad was extended to the city from Monico (which Highway 47 touches on later) and lumber mills went crazy, exporting wood and wood products. Lumber today still plays a big role in Rhinelander’s economy.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
WJFW-TV, Rhinelander’s Channel 12, is the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. When a plane crash took out its original tower in 1968, the rebuilt tower was the 7th tallest structure in the world and was the first in the U.S. built exclusively for color TV transmission. When it was sold in 1979 to Seaway Communications, it was the first VHF commercial TV station owned by minority interests.

An original Rhinelander beer label. Could it be brewed again soon in downtown Rhinelander?

The city also became a brewery town back in 1882, when Rhinelander Beer was introduced. The brewery pioneered and patented the 7-ounce “shorty” bottle and grew to become one of the more influential local breweries in the country. They closed in 1967, but the brands continued to be brewed under contract in Monroe, where the Huber (now Minhas Brewery) kept cranking it out. In 2009, the brands were brought back to Rhinelander when Jyoti Auluck became president of the “new” Rhinelander Brewing Company. They are in the process of bringing back the original formulas and labels to their brands and plan to build a new brewery in Rhinelander. Some of the brands, including the original Rhinelander beer, are now available in various bar and store locations around Wisconsin and upper Michigan. We’ll definitely do more research on this!

Following the traditional Highway 17 through Rhinelander involves jogging a bit from Boyce to Kemp Street (the original U.S. 8) and then heading left on Arbutus, which becomes Pelham Street. At Rhinelander City Hall in a triangular intersection, angle left onto Stevens Street. That’s when you’re officially into the downtown area. As the Oneida County Seat, Rhinelander’s downtown includes the beautiful Oneida County Courthouse, with its Tiffany glass dome serving as a visible landmark through the town. A host of local shops, bars and restaurants and sporting goods stores are ready to serve the healthy numbers of tourists who hang out in Rhinelander; many use the city as a launching point for taking in the recreational opportunities that abound across all seasons.

The stately Oneida County Courthouse, with its Tiffany glass dome, dominates in downtown Rhinelander.

Here’s some history you probably didn’t know: the first comprehensive rural zoning ordinance in the U.S. took place right here in Oneida County. Adopted in 1933, we tried to read the rest of it but it was kind of snowy that day.

hodag2_300The Hodag.
Yes, you’ve probably heard, Rhinelander is Hodag Country. So what is a Hodag? According to folklore, the Hodag was first seen in 1893 and had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” Advanced by Eugene Shepard, who was known for pranks, the beast became something of legend when the “remains” of one was released to area newspapers. Later, he claimed to have overpowered a live Hodag using chloroform and brought it with him to the 1896 Oneida County Fair. Curious onlookers came from all over to examine the animal, which Shepard worked up and attached wires to, for the occasional tugging to make the creature move…sending audiences running. Apparently, it seemed pretty real: scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. announced they would be coming to Rhinelander to examine this Hodag creature…essentially forcing Shepard to admit it was a hoax.

Nevertheless, the Hodag came an indelible part of Rhinelander’s local lore. The Hodag is the high school mascot, the city’s official symbol, is commemorated with sculptures around town and even lends its name to the local country music festival, which draws some pretty big names (Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, Kellie Pickler and, in its inception in 1978, good ol’ Freddy Fender. Anybody up for a round of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights“?)
You can find the biggest Hodag statue right next to the Rhinelander Visitors’ Center, along Kemp Street (the traditional U.S. 8) on the southwest side of town, just off the bypass.

Downtown Rhinelander is where the old Highway 17 (Stevens Street), U.S. 8 and Highway 47 all came together. The downtown area is still pretty vibrant, since Rhinelander is a major center for commerce and recreation in the North Woods. For shops, bars and restaurants, Brown Street is the main strip, one block west of Stevens in the downtown area. There’s even a 24-hour drive-through McDonald’s (rare for this part of the state) and plenty of sites to see, including:
– The Rhinelander Logging Museum (334 N. Pelham Street, 715-369-5004), a complex featuring a replica of an 1870s lumber camp, the original Soo Line Depot (built in 1892, in service until 1989), an extensive model railroad display in the basement and an outdoors display of early logging equipment, a narrow-gauge locomotive and steam-powered “snow snakes”. What’s a snow snake? Well, that’s why you have to road trip and discover stuff. For more, visit their website.
ArtStart! (68 S. Stevens Street) an arts and cultural center that established itself in 2011 inside the historic Federal Building – which they bought for $1 from the feds (no wonder the government is broke!). As of our last trip, they were still getting things together, so check out their Facebook page to keep up with the latest developments.
– For outdoor adventurers, Mel’s Trading Post (105 S. Brown Street, 715-362-5800) has been outfitting residents and visitors alike since 1946.
– If you need to catch the game or imbibe in some bar food and sandwiches, Bucketheads Sports Bar & Grill (46 N. Brown Street, 715-369-5333) is a good stop. Check out the sweet potato fries and brewery equipment in the front.
– For fancier fare, check out the White Stag Inn (7141 State Highway 17N, 715-272-1057), a little north of town via Highway 17, closer to Sugar Camp…look for the – creatively enough – white stag out front.
– Since the State Trunk Tour is a big fan of pasties, we have to recommend Joe’s Pasty Shop (123 Randall Avenue, 715-369-1224) . Opened in 2004, it’s a sister shop to the original Joe’s up in Ironwood, Michigan. Tasty!

17nb_nearsugarcamp_800

The ride on Highway 17 north from Rhinelander takes you through the best of Wisconsin’s North Woods on your way to Eagle River. The only settlement to speak of is the tiny burg of Sugar Camp, a town spread along Indian Lake that actually does host a number of camps. After a snowfall, the clingy snow that stays on the tree branches makes for a beautiful drive, especially when the sun emerges afterwards.

Eagle River

After Highway 17 comes in from Rhinelander and joins Highway 70, you get into Eagle River (pop. 1,443), one of Wisconsin’s most popular vacation towns. It’s nicknamed the “Snowmobiling Capital of the World“, and competitions are held here throughout the winter months. Extensive trails stretch for miles from the town and around the multitude of lakes in the area. In warmer months, boating is very popular on these lakes… so many area lakes (28), in fact, that the Eagle River/Three Lakes Chain compose the largest number of interconnected lakes in the world. These lakes are frozen a good chunk of the year, obviously, and on the weekend closest to New Years’, area firefighters and volunteers cut 3,000 foot-thick blocks of ice from nearby Silver Lake to build the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace has been constructed almost annually since the 1920s and usually stands about 20 feet high, lit up at night with a multitude of colors. Tourists are welcome to check it out and take pictures; just don’t build a fire nearby or chip off any ice for your beverage.

eagleriver_icecastle

In a five-day period, thousands of pounds of ice find their way from a nearby lake to become part of an annual tradition, the Eagle River Ice Castle. It often lasts for 60-90 days, depending on temperature, sunlight, and how many people breathe warm air onto it.

eagleriverwelcomewinter_800Snowmobiling Capital of the World

Okay, back to this snowmobiling thing. Home of the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Eagle River’s Derby Track hosted its first race on February 9, 1964 – about 40 years after Carl Eliason of nearby Sayner invented the first model that was comparable to today’s snowmobiles (and, that evening, The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show). The races since have drawn participants and spectators from far and wide – tens of thousands, regardless of the weather. The races are held in mid-January, meaning it can be sunny and near 40, the typical cold of 6 above zero, or wind chills of -50 – as it was in 1994. There’s plenty of room to watch around the track, and luxury boxes are even available. Additional races and attractions have been added over the years; you can read a pretty comprehensive history right here. Eagle River averages 53 inches of snowfall each year – nothing too crazy, especially when areas closer to Lake Superior average over 100. But with hundreds of miles of trails and the invention of the snowmobile having taken place in the area, this is the epicenter of the sport. Bottom line, this is a place to road trip to in the midst of winter’s grasp!

eagleriver_derbyrace01

Racers line up for the oval. Straightaway speeds can reach 100mph. Are there are no seat belts.

eagleriver_derby01

Snocross is awesome to watch, including at night. They can really get some air!

snowmobiletracksummer1_800

The rarely-seen Derby Track in summer. A lot less action.

Highway 70 through town is also joined by U.S. 45 and Highway 32. Restaurants and motels line the route, and Wall Street – one block north through the heart of town – is where most of the action is. Lining the Wall are shops, confectioneries, bars, restaurants and the Vilas Theater, a five-screen cinema that dates back many decades.

eagleriverdntn1_800

Along Wall Street, Eagle River’s main street.

eaglerivericecream

Two scoops from the Country Store in downtown Eagle River.

Just down is the Country Store, a confectionery with numerous fudge choices, candy, chocolates and ice cream where a “scoop” is half the size of Rhode Island. Plenty of other treats are available too, whether it’s 20 below or 95 above outside.

eagleriverhookers_800

The local fishing contingent features its own two cents on available t-shirts.

 

Eagle River is named after the – you guessed it – Eagle River, which flows out of the Chain O’Lakes and into the Wisconsin River. The Wisconsin’s source in Lac Vieux Desert is only about 15 miles north along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, and it’s still pretty small as it flows past Eagle River. Of course, it gains significant size and strength as it flows nearly 400 miles and drops over 1,000 feet on its way to the Mississippi!

eaglerivereagle

An eagle statue for Eagle River is right by the old railroad station at the west end of downtown. It looks cool during the day, but more soaring and dramatic with the light at night.

Heading north out of Eagle River, Highway 17 branches off from Highways 32 & 45 a few miles north of town. From there, Highway 17 dives deep into the forest, winding through Nicolet National Forest property and past more lakes before reaching tiny Phelps.

phelps_17wintersunset01

 

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 51, Highway 64
Can connect nearby to: Highway 29, about 12 miles south; Highway 52, also about 12 miles south

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Federal Forest Highway 16 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Can connect nearby to: County roads in Vilas County; also Highway 32 & U.S. 45, about 20 miles southwest