Highway 105 enters the Oliver Bridge
105

Highway 105 sign“A quick five miles with a unique bridge”

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 105 is a brief tour that connects to Highway 35 on the south side of Superior on the east end, running to the town of Oliver and then crossing the St. Louis River into Minnesota on a unique two-level bridge, with the (narrow) roadway on the bottom and railroad tracks above.

The Wisconsin Highway 105 Road Trip

Highway 105 & 35, Superior city limit

Highway 35 at Highway 105 junctionThe Drive (East to West): Highway 105 begins at Highway 35/Tower Avenue at the southern end of the City of Superior (pop. 27,244), which is nestled into Wisconsin’s northwestern corner and part of the dynamic Twin Ports area that also accompanies Superior’s twin sister city of Duluth, Minnesota.

From Highway 35, Highway 105 heads west past a tavern named after the highway (we like businesses named after our State Trunk Tour roads) and into the rural area southwest of Superior for a few miles.

Tavern 105 along Highway 105 in Superior

Highway 105 westbound west of Superior

It’s a brief but pretty drive along Highway 105 from Superior to Oliver.

This part of Highway 105 is also called Central Avenue, although we’re not sure what it’s in the center of. We do pass a bar called Borders, which is in Wisconsin but seems to be welcoming to both Packers and Vikings fans (no words on Brewers and Twins, Badgers and Gophers, etc.)

Borders bar along Highway 105

Downtown Oliver along Highway 105After a few miles, Highway 105 becomes Union Street and enters the small village of Oliver (pop. 399), which lies close to the banks of the St. Louis River, which demarcates the boundary of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Just through the village, Highway 105 makes a brief bend onto the Oliver Bridge, an unusual crossing over the river that features a road directly underneath some busy Canadian National railroad tracks.

Oliver Bridge, Highway 105

Highway 105 heading onto the Oliver Bridge; note the railroad tracks overhead.

The Oliver Bridge was built in 1910. The railroad was, and still is, a very busy line connecting Winnipeg with Chicago and Superior with locales across Minnesota and the Great Plains. Back in 1910, the road crossing was considered fairly minor and usable for both cars (which were newfangled at the time) and horses. In fact, the original bridge deck on this level was wooden and wasn’t replaced with steel and reinforced concrete until 2000! Today, Highway 105 uses the road but it remains narrow – and the turns that access the bridge are pretty tight. This is definitely a time to follow the low speed limit signs.

Oliver Bridge at the state line

Highway 105 ends here at the Minnesota state line; definitely an unusual view for a typical highway end in Wisconsin.

Halfway across the bridge, Highway 105 technically ends at the Wisconsin-Minnesota state line. You continue across on what is now Minnesota Highway 39 into the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood of Duluth, Minnesota.

You can follow Minnesota 39 to Minnesota 23 north and into Duluth for a ride back into Superior via U.S. 2 or I-535, or turn around and experience the coziness of the Oliver Bridge again! Then, it’s only five miles back to Highway 35 and the ride north into Superior or south to Big Manitou Falls or through the North Woods towards Danbury and Siren. Either way, a pleasant drive awaits!

CONNECTIONS:
West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: MN Highway 39

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: Highway 13, about 7 miles east; U.S. 53, about 10 miles east; U.S. 2, about 6 miles north; I-535, about 8 miles north

124

STH-124“Old 53 through Chippewa, past Leinie’s, Zoos, and Fairs”

WisMap124_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 124 is a short-but-sweet route that follows the original U.S. 53 route from Lake Hallie through the heart of Chippewa Falls before mainlining through the beautiful farmlands of rural Chippewa County before ending near Bloomer. It’s the primary access point for the Leinenkugel Brewery, the Northern Wisconsin State Fair, the lovely Irvine Park Zoo, and Chippewa Falls’ downtown.

Highway 124 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): State “Trunk” Highway 124 begins at the interchange with the U.S. 53 freeway and County OO on the north side of Eau Claire near the border with Lake Hallie. Owing to the fact that much of this stretch is the original U.S. 53 highway from decades back, you’ll also see “Business U.S. 53” signs at times.

From a short connector with the freeway, Highway 124 heads north through Lake Hallie. While no longer the main road to Chippewa Falls, with the four lanes, wide divider, and many business lining the route you can tell this was once the primary road between Eau Claire and Superior.

As you approach the end of Lake Hallie, Highway 124 meets up with Business 29, the original Highway 29 before the freeway bypass was constructed. This short stretch is like a mini expressway, with an interchange at Park Avenue that was part of the historic Yellowstone Trail. This stretch of Highway 124 is now Bridge Street, which uses said bridge to leapfrog the Chippewa River and drop you right into Chippewa Falls.

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WEAU Winter Sports, Chippewa Falls

Highway 124 heads into Chippewa Falls (pop. 14,047), the seat of Chippewa County. Named after a falls on the Chippewa River that’s now a large hydroelectric dam, Chippewa Falls calls itself “Gateway to the North Woods.” It was also the gateway to the supercomputer, being home to Seymour Cray, the famous engineer who took supercomputers to a whole new level in the latter half of the 20th century. From Minneapolis-based CDC to his own company, Cray Research (you may have heard of the Cray-2 supercomputer, for example), Seymour Cray played a key role in making computers what they are today.

Check out our State Trunk Tour Podcast about Chippewa Falls:

Downtown Chippewa Falls

Part of downtown Chippewa Falls in early spring.

Recently redesigned, the downtown area is accessed via a roundabout with Business 29 and then Highway 124 splits into northbound and southbound one-way streets; northbound is High Street while southbound, two blocks to the west, is Bay Street. Duncan Creek flows just to the east of Highway 124 here, and several cool bridges span the waterway; to the west, numerous downtown buildings. They include shops, restaurants, the Chippewa County Courthouse, and the Heyde Center for the Arts, a cultural center that opened on High Street right downtown in a former high school in 2000. The building, constructed in 1907, is a beautiful Neoclassical structure and today hosts a variety of performances, concerts, films, the visual arts, and more.

Downtown Chippewa Falls along Bay Street/Highway 124

Brewery/Distillery Alert
Just west of downtown from Highway 124 via westbound Business 29, a one-half mile trek or so brings you to the Brewster Brothers Brewing Company & Chippewa River Distillery. Opened in 2016, this combination brewery and distillery is full of experimentation.

Leinenkugel Brewery Alert!

Chippewa Falls Oktoberfest along Highway 124

Oktoberfest is a big celebration in Chippewa Falls, both for the Leinenkugel Brewery and the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.

Just past downtown as Highway 124 becomes a two-lane street again, you’ll find one of the most iconic brands in Chippewa Falls: the Leinenkugel Brewing Company. A landmark in town since 1867, Jacob Leinenkugel and his business partner John Miller were lured to Chippewa Falls by the prospect of a town with 2,500 thirsty lumberjacks and no brewery. It turned out to be a wise business move. Leinenkugel’s is famous for beers like Leinenkugel’s Original (originally called “Chippewa Pride”), Summer Shandy, Honey Weiss, Cream Ale, Big Butt Doppelbock (ya hear that, Sir Mix-A-Lot??), Sunset Wheat, Classic Amber…the list goes on and on! Tours are available year-round, every day except major holidays. Check the tour link or call (888) LEINIES for details.

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Amidst a beautiful setting, the Leinenkugel Brewery has been at it since 1867. Tours are extremely popular, so be prepared for a lot of thirsty and appreciative cohorts.

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The Leinie Lodge tasting area offers a wide variety of their brewed beverages and a gift shop where you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something you’ll like.

Chippewa Falls is known to giddy female movie-goers worldwide in the late 1990s as the hometown of Jack Dawson, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the movie epic Titanic. The famous hole in the script deals with Lake Wissota, which actually did not exist when Titanic sunk — it was developed in 1916, when work on a dam created the now-famous body of water.

Highway 124 at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair

This historic marker outlining the Northern Wisconsin State Fair is right on the grounds, just off Highway 124.

Chippewa Falls is home to the Northern Wisconsin State Fair, which serves this part of the state with plenty of State Fair-style fun, events, animal showcases, concerts, and more. It has since 1897, back when it was a lot tougher for northern Wisconsin residents to get to the main fair in West Allis. The grounds are just north of the Leinenkugel Brewery right along Highway 124, and the main entrance is just two blocks to the east along Edward Street. The grounds host various other events throughout the year, including a fun annual Oktoberfest celebration.

A true gem right across the street along Highway 124 is Irvine Park (pronounced “ER-vin”.) It was founded as a city park in 1906 and opened a zoo three years later with a bear pen. Today, this half-square mile complex offers the Irvine Park Zoo, a free zoo with an impressive array of animals. On displays are tigers, cougars (no, the cat kind), lemurs, fishing cats, hyenas, porcupines, and more. A petting zoo area allows children to pet and feed donkeys and goats – and adults can probably feed the animals, too. The grounds beyond offer open areas where – literally – the buffalo roam. A drive along those enclosed grounds will often reveal bison feeding on grains or grass or just hanging out.

Buffalo roam - and eat - in Irvine Park, along Highway 124 in Chippewa Falls.

Buffalo roam – and eat – in Irvine Park, along Highway 124 in Chippewa Falls.

Irvine Park also offers historic structures including the Sunny Valley School, a historic schoolhouse that was moved to the park in 1965 and offers tours on weekends. The 146-foot long “Rumble Bridge” was built over a ravine in 1907, shortly after the park opened. This interesting pony truss structure features diagonal wooden deck slats fastened at only one end – hence the “rumble” when vehicles crossed the bridge. The bridge stopped carrying vehicle traffic in 1981. It’s only for pedestrians now (and perhaps cross-country skiers in winter) and it’s fun to explore, cross, and admire. Irvine Park also features a cave with natural springs that once served as a storage facility for a early brewery in town – no, it was Leinenkugel’s. The cave doesn’t go very deep, but it gets dark in there quickly!

Rumble Bridge in Irvine Park.

The Rumble Bridge in Irvine Park.

Highway 124 Historical Marker noting the nation's first co-operative generating station.North of Chippewa Falls

As Chippewa Falls fades, Highway 124 makes a beeline north through the farmlands of Chippewa County. This is where U.S. 53 headed north for nearly a half century before the U.S. 53 freeway opened in 1972. But for decades, this was one of the busiest roads in northwest Wisconsin. Right near the 45th parallel crossing, you’ll find a historic marker noting the Nation’s First Cooperative Generating Station. Formed in 1937, it brought much-needed electric power to a wide swath of rural Wisconsin from Buffalo and Trempealeau Counties over to Rusk, Sawyer, and Taylor. The generating plant lasted until 1975. While long dismantled, this first for the nation definitely deserved a marker!

After passing through tiny Eagleton, Highway SS heads west towards Bloomer; this is where U.S. 53 left this stretch from 1926 to 1972. The remaining two miles of highway was always the original Highway 124 – all of it.

Highway 124 comes to an end at Highway 64.

Highway 124 comes to its northern end at Highway 64, about five miles east of Bloomer. You can connect nearby to Highway 40, which goes north well into the forests or west to Bloomer itself, the “Jump Rope Capital” of the nation. Maybe you should skip over there! (Bad pun, we know, but we’ve literally come to the end of the road.)

CONNECTIONS:
Southern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 53, Business U.S. 53
Can connect nearby to: Highway 29, about 1/2 mile north; Business 29, about 2 miles north; the Yellowstone Trail, about 2 miles north; Highway 312, about 3 miles south

Northern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 64
Can connect nearby to: Highway 40, U.S. 53

 

 

243

STH-243“The shortest state highway, like, ever”

 

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 243 is a VERY short connector road from Osceola, Wisconsin to Minnesota, where it becomes MN 243 and connects west to MN Hwy 95 and I-35. We just included it because it was fun, easy, and quite a pretty drive for 3/10 of a mile.

The Wisconsin Highway 243 Road Trip (all 0.3 miles of it!)

The Drive (East to West): Highway 243 starts at Highway 35 in Osceola (pop. 2,728), a beautiful St. Croix River town founded in 1844 at the foot of Osceola Bluff, a prominent local landmark the Native Americans once followed as part of the “ginseng trail.” The bluff is over 100 feet high and Highway 243 wraps around it on its very short journey. We’ll get back to Osceola, but let’s first traverse this less-than-a-half-mile route!

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Highway 243 basically curves under Osceola Bluff, which is to the south and west; to the north and east lies the town and Cascade Falls, which is definitely worth a stop once you’re back. Around the curve, you happen upon the bridge over the St. Croix River almost immediately.

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The views up and down the river are lovely, especially on a sunny day – or the day after a big snow. The natural beauty of the area led to its being named the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, once of the first such designations, in 1968.

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After that briefest of brief drives, Wisconsin Highway 243 becomes Minnesota Highway 243, lasting for another mile and a half before ending at Minnesota Highway 95, the west-of-the-river counterpart to Wisconsin’s Highway 35. It runs from Prescott in the south to St. Croix Falls in the north.

Let’s turn around back east to Osceola

Well, that was so short, let’s go back! Below the video is more pictures and description.

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Coming in from Minnesota (above), you immediately see the Wisconsin welcome sign, followed by the Polk County sign, followed shortly by the “end 243” sign (below). The towering Osceola Bluff is to your right; the Osceola welcome sign will be to your left, and the road ends at Highway 35. And you’re heading into the heart of Osceola.

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The shortest State Trunk Highway in Wisconsin
Highway 243 is a connector road from Minnesota, over the St. Croix River, to Highway 35 in Osceola. The Wisconsin leg of it lasts only 0.3 miles. We just thought we’d do a quickie video of it.
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The welcome sign for Osceola points you to various sights; a quick right on Highway 35 will bring you to the Osceola Railway, right on the other side of the bluff and the railroad track.

 

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Osceola (pop. 2,728) is a signature town along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a 255-mile federally protected corridor, Osceola is home to the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway, a heritage railroad that offers 90-minute excursions from May through October through the beautiful scenery along the St. Croix and surrounding areas.

You can also check out the St. Croix ArtBarn (715-294-2787), a restored century-plus old dairy barn that now includes an art gallery and 180-seat performance theater. Each year, Osceola hosts events like Rhubarb Days and Wheels & Wings.

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

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

While in Osceola check out Cascade Falls, a beautiful 25-foot waterfall where Osceola Creek drops on its way into the St. Croix River. This is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

Cascade Falls and its beautiful park are a great stop along Highway 35 at the end of 243. Check out the wooden sign on the deck, which gives you a bit of Osceola’s history (click on the pictures for larger versions.)

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

CONNECTIONS
East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 8, about 12 miles north

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Minnesota Highway 243
Can connect nearby to: Minnesota Highway 95, about 2 miles west

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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Wisconsin Highway 77 Road Trip

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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??

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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):

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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…

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…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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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.

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Along Wall Street, Eagle River’s main street.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

35

STH-035“Up Wisconsin’s West Coast”

 

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

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

The Wisconsin Highway 35 Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following Highway 35 (still coupled with U.S. 61) out of Dickeyville, you’re in Paris. Well, the town of Paris, but still…anyway, you’re running along high ridges on occasion, with the bluffs lining the Mississippi to the west and a vast view to the east. In fact, to the east on a clear day along this stretch, the world’s largest “M” is visible, a historic monument completed by UW-Platteville engineering students in 1937. It is constructed of rocks arranged 241 feet high and 214 feet wide and looks at the land from a 45-degree angle on Platte Mound, about 12 miles away. Ahead, though, is the “twin towns” of Tennyson (pop. 370) and Potosi (pop. 711), known as “Wisconsin’s Catfish Capital.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new carp-droppin’ tradition. Perhaps the newest tradition in Prairie du Chien deals with New Years’ Eve. In 2001, they started lowering a carp via crane to coincide with the ringing in of the new year. Similar to the apple in New York City or the peach in Georgia, residents count down the last minute or two of the year while the carp – a 30-pound female named “Lucky” for the 2010 New Years’ – gets lowered via crane from about 110 feet high. Now called the “Droppin’ of the Carp”, it’s certainly one-of-a-kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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The “swashbuckling” story of DeSoto’s namesake adorns the wall along Highway 82, just up from Highway 35, across from a school. Exploration of the Mississippi gives one immortality if you’re one of the first, after all.

82tomissview_500DeSoto is perched above the Mississippi River. This is the view (left) coming towards Highway 35 from Highway 82 after it descends the bluffs to the east.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Highway 35 through La Crosse.

The Downtown La Crosse Option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you believe there are two Kinnickinnics??

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

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

River Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Hudson Toll Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highway 27 between Rising Sun and Fairview
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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??)

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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??

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Highway 27 runs right through Downtown Black River Falls.

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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.

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*** Brewery Alert ***
Black River Falls is home to Sand Creek Brewing Company (320 Pierce St., 715-284-7553), which makes a variety of quality brews on a site that started brewing beer in 1856 – 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.

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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.

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

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

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.

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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!

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This area of Highway 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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

Highway 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

25

STH-025“A ‘Stout’ drive from Barron to the Mississippi”

 

Northern terminus: Barron County, at Highway 48 five miles west of Rice Lake

Southern terminus: Buffalo County, on the Wabasha-Nelson Bridge coming in from Wabasha, Minnesota

Mileage: about 86 miles

Counties along the way: Barron, Dunn, Pepin, Buffalo

Sample towns along the way: Barron, Wheeler, Menomonie, Durand, Nelson

Bypass alternates at: none

WisMap25Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 25 heads pretty much straight north-south through rolling farmland and hard-working small towns across western Wisconsin. As you head south, the hills and valleys get bigger and the vistas ever more attractive as you approach the Mississippi River and the Great River Road.

The Wisconsin Highway 25 Road Trip

The Drive (North to South): Highway 25 starts at Highway 48 between Cumberland and Rice Lake and makes a beeline south to Barron (pop. 3,320), county seat of Barron County and “Turkey Capital of Wisconsin,” since it’s home to one of the largest turkey processing plants in the nation. You can find the Jennie-O Turkey Store (34 N. 7th Street, 715-537-3131) and their massive processing plant pretty much where Highway 25 and U.S. 8 come together in downtown Barron.

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Highway 25’s entrance into Barron is hardly exciting. Sheesh, on U.S. 8 they at least have a sign telling you you’re entering the Turkey Capital of Wisconsin!

South of Barron, Highway 25 traverses farmland and rolling hills, some of which roll quite high and low: vistas can be quite pretty in these parts, especially when the sun is at a strong morning or evening angle. You pass through the small settlement of Hillsdale, and to the east via County U, O, or A is the hamlet of Dallas (pop. 409). Like its Texas counterpart, it was named after George Mifflin Dallas, the 11th VP of the United States – he served from 1845-1849. Founded in 1870, the Wisconsin version of Dallas remained a bit smaller than the gargantuan one 1,200 miles south. But it does have the Valkyrie Brewing Company (234 W. Dallas Street, 715-837-1824), a microbrewer that started up in 1994 as Viking Brewing and has been rolling in some awards for its craft beers. Tours are available every Saturday at 1pm or by appointment. We still need to get there, but it’s on our list!

Back to the Highway 25 main line: just inside Dunn County, you go through Ridgeland (pop. 265). Originally called Annesburg, it was renamed because of the wooden ridges flanking the settlement. It was originally constructed to be a model community for railroad workers. They celebrate Winter Pioneer Day every year, having just celebrated their 30th in 2012. A “chicken drop/chicken fly” was deemed controversial a few years back; we found a video from 2011 to see how it’s been done more recently, along with kids racing after treasure in a hunt… the things you stumble upon! Check it out here.

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The calm after the storm: after a thunderstorm, the following sunshine generated this pleasant scene just south of the Dunn-Barron county line near Ridgeland.

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It’s a serene ride as you enter Ridgeland. Note the small ridge just off the roadway.

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Farmers’ cooperatives continue to operate in rural Wisconsin, helping farmers deal with everything from fuel to waste disposal. This building in Ridgeland sports an original-looking neon; Lakeland Cooperative apparently dates back to 1931, and if that’s the case, I’m thinking the sign is an original. Plus, the sky looked cool at that moment.

South of Ridgeland, the topography stays rolling for a bit as you meet up with Highway 64 for a brief combined jog west. Heading south again, it’s a quick to – and through – Wheeler (pop. 317). You pop over the Hay River, meet Highway 170, and continue south past some access points to the Red Cedar River, which shows up again shortly.

Menomonie

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As you approach I-94 (the only freeway crossing on this tour), you start noticing something: a lot of development. That’s because you’re entering Menomonie (pop. 16,264), by far the largest city along Highway 25. The exit with I-94 – which Exit #41 along the Interstate – is the busiest exit between Hudson and Eau Claire and offers plenty of services.

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Highway 25 officially enters Menomonie just south of the interchange with I-94; U.S. 12 comes in from Knapp, Hudson, and points west to join Highway 25 on the north side of Menomonie for the ride into downtown. There’s a long line of fast-food restaurants, car dealers, and other developments that you don’t see much of anywhere else along 25.

Menomonie sprung up because of its handy location on the southern shores of Lake Menomin, a reservoir section of the Red Cedar River (yes, it showed up again!), which bisects both Menomonie and Dunn County. Consistent settlement in Menomonie dates back to 1830, predating Madison, St. Paul, and Eau Claire. Rapid growth in lumber production during the 1850s and 1860s did a few things: it gave Menomonie the gravitas to snag the Dunn County seat, it gave the city bragging rights as home to the “greatest lumber corporation in the world” for a while (Knapp, Stout & Company produced over 5.7 million board feet of lumber in 1873 alone), and it produced enough population and wealth to create a university campus (today’s UW-Stout) and now-historic landmarks like the Mabel Tainter Theater. Just south of where you cross I-94 and U.S. 12 joins in for the ride, you can angle east on Pine Avenue to the Rassbach Heritage Museum (1820 Wakanda Street, 715-232-8685). Tucked behind local schools and athletic fields, the Rassbach Heritage Museum traces Dunn County’s history and features exhibits involving early automobile design, folk art, lumber milling, a children’s discovery area, and more.

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You’re driving through the heart of Dunn County on Highway 25, why not find out more about its history? The Russell Rassbach Heritage Museum, just east of Highway 25, offers a look at the city and county through the centuries.

There is a Menomonee River in Wisconsin, and a Menomonee, Michigan across from Marinette; the Muppets even had a song called Ma-Na-Ma-Na. But this Menomonie, with its slightly different spelling, is the one that tends to confuse people. Menomonie is a college town; it’s home to UW-Stout, named after one of the early settlers who had a hefty hand in the lumber business and became a U.S. Senator to boot. Founded in 1891 as the Stout Manual Training School, it went through several name changes before becoming Stout State University in 1964 (first time it was named as a “university”) and then UW-Stout when the University of Wisconsin system consolidated in 1971. In 2007, UW-Stout was officially designated as “Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University” by the UW System Board of Regents… so if you want to study polytechnics, this is the place to go. Today, UW-Stout has about 9,300 students and the campus covers 131 acres.

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Highway 25 is rarely a four-lane road – in fact, this is only time it is – but it’s a busy ride on some days into downtown Menomonie as connections with I-94, U.S. 12, and Highway 29 are all part of the ride through town.

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Bowman Hall’s tower rising above the UW-Stout campus. Bowman Hall dates back to 1897 and is the oldest surviving building on campus.

Highway 25 winds extensively thru Menomonie, combining with Highway 29 and U.S. 12 downtown. Like River Falls, Menomonie is a college town, home to UW-Stout, named after one of the early settlers who had a hefty hand in the lumber business and became a U.S. Senator to boot. Founded in 1891 as the Stout Manual Training School, it went through several name changes before becoming Stout State University in 1964 (first time it was named as a “university”) and then UW-Stout when the University of Wisconsin system consolidated in 1971. In 2007, UW-Stout was officially designated as “Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University” by the UW System Board of Regents… so if you want to study polytechnics, this is the place to go. It’s also a pretty well-respected hospitality school. Today, UW-Stout has about 9,300 students and the campus covers 131 acres, some of which abut and cross Highway 29 going through town.

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The Mabel Tainter Theater, built in 1890 and still fulfilling its mission of bringing the finest in arts and culture to Menomonie and western Wisconsin. The theater and areas around it host a series of events throughout the year. (Photo Credit: Flickr)

Menomonie is also home to the Mabel Tainter Theater, a gorgeous sandstone theater built in 1890…you can see the picture above of its interior. The name “Tainter” is big in this town because a talented young engineer named Jeremiah Burnham Tainter invented the Tainter Gate here. A Tainter Gate is a device designed to help control water flow on rivers and at dams. The clever twist vs. other gates is that a Tainter Gate has a curvature which allows the rush of water to help open and close the gates, minimizing the need for power assistance. The first version was built and demonstrated on the Red Cedar River here in Menomonie in the 1886; to give you an idea of its adaptation since, consider that the Upper Mississippi River uses 321 Tainter gates alone. Get a better sense of how it works here.

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Part of Wilson Place, an 1859 home that today serves as a museum in Menomonie.

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The Tainter Mansion, which now serves as the UW-Stout Alumni center. Gates for dams and water locks essentially built this place.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Menomonie was ranked #15 in Smithsonian Magazine’s “Best 20 Small Towns in America” in its May, 2012 edition.

Menomonee certainly has its share of industry for a town its size. Enjoyed Swiss Miss Cocoa lately? There’s a good chance that it was made in Menomonie. Same for Sanalac nonfat dried milk, all part of a large ConAgra facility here. Windows, metal food cans, iron fittings, and a variety of machinery parts make Menomonie a manufacturing center.

Leaving Menomonie, you start to see more evidence that you’re entering the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin, where hills, bluffs, and valleys become a larger part of the landscape. This is the part of the state that the glaciers went around more than over, either preserving or forming landscape features that make the area ahead of you one of the most attractive in the Midwest.

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Back to a serene ride south of Menomonie, more indications that you’re entering Wisconsin’s “Driftless Area” show up, with more pronounced hills and bluffs along the way.

The next settlement you reach is Downsville (pop. 146), an unincorporated community along the Red Cedar River & Trail that features some charming specialty shops. It has plenty of parking and facilities for trail users. Just off Highway 25 via County C, Downsville has the Empire in Pine Museum and was the home for Caddie Woodhouse, who as a girl was author Carol Ryrie Brink’s inspiration for the popular children’s book Caddie Woodlawn. Brink grew up along Highway 25; you can see the childhood homestead (and setting for the book) in Caddie Woodlawn Historic Park just south of Downsville, about three miles south of the intersection with Highway 72.

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We found Downsville, centered on County C just off Highway 25, during their annual “Downsville Days,” so traffic was busier than usual.

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We stumbled upon the town during “Downsville Days”, and kids were enjoyed a little tug ride in mini railroad cars.

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Part of the Empire of Pine Museum is the “Knapp, Stout & Co” store.

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Continuing south on Highway 25, you enter Pepin County, which was carved out of the original Dunn County in 1858. Right by the county line you pass Waubeek Mound, which peaks at 1,150 feet. To the east, the Chippewa River starts coming close to the highway. Along this stretch, you’ll find the Eau Galle Cheese Factory (N6765 State Highway 25, 715-283-4276). Founded in 1945 in nearby Eau Galle (an actual village up the river of the same name a few miles away), the current facility along the highway opened in 1986. Eau Galle produces millions of pounds of cheese each year and has won numerous awards, plus an appearance on the Today show.

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The Eau Galle Cheese Factory along Highway 25, which offers up plenty of cheese, sausage, and Christmas items…it’s just something you have to see.

Shortly past the Eau Galle Cheese Factory, you reach U.S. Highway 10 and join it for the ride across the Chippewa River to Durand (pop. 1,968). Originally named Bear Creek, it was first settled in 1856 and incorporated in 1887. The Chippewa River runs 183 miles through northwestern Wisconsin, and at Durand you’re about 15 miles upstream from the Mississippi; the city bills itself as the “Gateway to the Lower Chippewa River.” Highway 25 stays with U.S. 10 past the northern edge of downtown before turning south just east of downtown. At that point, Highway 85 begins and heads northeast towards Eau Claire; U.S. 10 eventually heads east toward Osseo, Marshfield, and Appleton.

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Approaching Durand on Highway 25 & U.S. 10, you traverse some hills and get a nice view before approaching the bridge over the Chippewa River.

Downtown Durand is tucked along the banks of the river. Murals are on the sides of many buildings on a variety of blocks. The Durand Theatre (110 E. Main Street, 715-672-3456) is a centerpiece of Main Street, and a number of businesses, eating and drinking establishments, and some riverside parks. Durand has a number of festivals each year, along all along the river.

Some scenes in downtown Durand:

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Older signs in these towns are always cool to see, including a sign for the Village Inn Cafe that features Dolly Madison, and a tavern with a Schmidt beer sign – Schmidt’s seems to have been a pretty popular beer here through the years.

durand_pepincc2_800Durand is the seat of Pepin County. The original Pepin County Courthouse, built in 1873-1874, is Wisconsin’s last remaining wood-frame courthouse. Pepin is by far the smallest county by land area in Wisconsin, at 249 square miles – Ozaukee County in the Milwaukee metro is second-smallest… at 1,116 square miles. With about 7,500 residents, Pepin is also the 4th-least populated county in the state.

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South of Durand and crossing into Buffalo County, Highway 25 parallels the Chippewa River. Much of the way between the highway and the river for nearly 10 miles is an expanse called the Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area. Part of a large floodplain forest, Tiffany Bottoms encompasses the delta area of the Chippewa River as it flows into the Mississippi – the most extensive river delta in the Midwest.

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Along Highway 25 between Durand and Nelson, Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area is to the west, as are some farms – some of which are abondoned, resulting in shells of former buildings like this one.

With Tiffany Bottoms to the west and nothing more than a few settlements around street junctions, Highway 25 is peaceful, pleasant ride. Soon, you hook up with Highway 35 and the “Great River Road” for the ride into Nelson (pop. 395), a small Mississippi River town known to most as being the home of Nelson Cheese Factory (S237 State Road 35 South, 715-673-4725), which sits just south of the Highway 25/35 junction in the heart of Nelson.

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Highway 25 meets Highway 35 for the trip into Nelson; at this point, you’ve joined the Great River Road and the bluffs that line the Mississippi start showing up.

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Once into Nelson, several stops are popular with travelers and bikers, from the Nelson Cheese Factory to cafes and taverns that provide a nice break from the road. The Nelson General Store Deli’s brilliant red wall contrasts with the towering green bluffs behind it.

The Nelson Creamery, aka the Nelson Cheese Factory, has been a fixture in the town for over 100 years. They do a brisk business in mail orders from here, and serve many thousands of passersby who stop in for cheese, fresh ice cream, wines, and other refreshments. You can relax on their patio or enjoy a cone out front along Main Street.

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The Nelson Cheese Factory and Creamery have been a local fixture for over a century. People stop in constantly for cheese, ice cream cones, wine, even snacks, and tend to walk up and down Main Street or hang out on the patio to enjoy them. A room inside also offers musical performances on occasion.

While Highway 35 heads south to the Nelson Creamery and points south like Alma and La Crosse, Highway 25 gets on its final leg – the connection over the Mississippi River to Wabasha, Minnesota. This connection more than just a bridge; it’s a causeway for about three miles before going up and over The Ol’ Miss. You’re going through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, Winona District. The bridge is called (easily enough) the Wabasha-Nelson Bridge, for the two towns it connects. This truss bridge opened in 1988, replacing an earlier structure from 1931.

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Along this stretch of the Mississippi for a long way is the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife & Fish Refuge. While the main channel of the river varies from several hundred feet to over one mile, the area that roads must transcend to connect Wisconsin and Minnesota often cover 3 or 4 miles because the roads must bring traffic across swamps, wetlands, backwater bogs, and more.

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Once across the bridge, Highway 25 (and Wisconsin) ends and you’re on Minnesota Highway 60 in the city of Wabasha. Watch for Vikings fans and fans of the movie Grumpy Old Men and its sequel, since Wabasha is where the movie was set and much of it was filmed. If you’re a fan of eagles, though, the National Eagle Center is a cool stop.

Then turn around and enjoy the ride back into Wisconsin, and check out a trip up or down Highway 35!

CONNECTIONS

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 48
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 53, about 4 miles east

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: Highway 37, about 7 miles south

13

STH-013“From The State’s Largest Vacation Spot To The World’s Largest Freshwater Lake”

Southern terminus: Sauk County, at I-90/94’s Exit 87 in Wisconsin Dells

Northern terminus: Douglas County, at the U.S. 2/53 freeway near Superior

Mileage: about 340 miles

Counties along the way: Sauk, Columbia, Adams, Portage, Wood, Marathon, Clark, Taylor, Price, Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas

Sample towns along the way: Wisconsin Dells, Adams/Friendship, Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Abbotsford, Medford, Phillips, Park Falls, Ashland, Bayfield

Bypass alternates at: Marshfield

WisMap13Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 13 connects the Dells with Wisconsin’s rugged Lake Superior shores. Along the way, you hit touristy areas like the Dells and Bayfield, run through mid-size Wisconsin cities like “da Rapids” and Marshfield, wind through the North Woods, scoot just to the west of Wisconsin’s highest point, and then hit the state’s northernmost areas along the lake Gordon Lightfoot sang about – for better or worse.

Wisconsin Highway 13 Road Trip

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Highway 13 begins as a ramp off I-90/94 going past the Dells; it runs right through the heart of downtown before making its way north through the state.

The Drive (South To North): Highway 13 begins along a busy interchange with I-90/94 (Exit 87) as it whizzes past Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. In fact, I caught the local “vacation station”, WDLS (AM 900, which since unfortunately flipped formats), playing “Holiday Road” by Lindsay Buckingham, which served as the opening theme to National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was the perfect accompaniment to rolling through the bustling main street strip filled with shoppers and tourists on a beautiful summer day.

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Almost immediately, Highway 13 intersects with all the main roads in the Dells area: Highways 16 and 23, and U.S. 12

Wisconsin Dells

Past roller coasters, mini golf courses, waterparks, and hopping over the Wisconsin River, you enter the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418), which actually is a city. However, when people refer to “Wisconsin Dells”, they usually mean the whole area, including Lake Delton and the region up and down the Wisconsin River, whose gorgeous ‘dells’ and gorges give the area its name. Wisconsin Dells started as Kilbourn City in 1857. It was named after founder Byron Kilbourn, who also played a major role in getting Milwaukee started as a city one decade earlier. Renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931, the city set the state’s high temperature record of 114 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius.) five years later. But yes, it gets cold here, too – hence a lot of indoor waterparks. In fact, it’s the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” It’s also chock full of foreign workers, many of whom are college age from Eastern Europe and South America. Time magazine actually named it one of the “Best Places for College Students to Work during the Summer” in 2004, proving there’s a list for nearly everything.

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

South of Highway 13 into Lake Delton via U.S. 12/Highway 13 reveals a vast array of sights: the Crystal Grand Theater, roller coasters, mini golf courses, ferris wheels, waterparks, upside-down White Houses (a place called “Top Secret”), plastic pink flamingos, motels, hotels, ski jumps in bodies of water… it’s all along this stretch. The world’s largest Trojan Horse can’t be missed. I mean, it’s right there.

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Motels, pedestrians and stray beach balls line the stretch south of Highway 13 in Lake Delton via U.S. 12 and Highway 23, with skywalks allowing pedestrians to avoid traffic and/or winter; and as you can see, traffic can get heavy on this stretch. Stop and go traffic much of the time on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer is not uncommon.

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It’s hard to miss the World’s Largest Trojan Horse along U.S 12/Highway 23, just south of Highway 13. A ride passes through it; no word on if anything else is hiding inside. It could be a trick!

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

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

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

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

– There are 18 indoor waterpark/playground properties in the Dells, the highest concentration of such facilities in the world
– The first indoor waterpark in the nation, The Polynesian, opened here in 1989
– The largest indoor waterpark in the U.S. is the Kalahari Resort, with 125,000 square feet
– North America’s largest waterpark is Noah’s Ark, covering 70 acres, utilizing five million gallons of water and powering screaming people down three miles of waterslides
– The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort’s indoor and outdoor waterpark space combined covers the space equivalent to six football fields

And if you want fudge shops, only Mackinac Island in Michigan can compete with the downtown strip along Highways 13/16/23. Mmmm… fudge. “The Strip” features t-shirt stores that seem to repeat every 100 feet or so. But there are also a ton of unique – or just not too common – things. Among them: Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not!” Museum, one of only two in the U.S. (the other is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming); the Rick Wilcox Theater; and waterparks a’plenty. Feel like going extreme? Extreme World features a 130-foot high bungee jump, a skycoaster and for those who prefer to stay on the ground the whole time, a big selection of go-karts and tracks.

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

wisdells-cyclesthru13-16-23Basically, Highway 13 goes through the heart of the Dells with Highways 16 and 23 in tow. Wisconsin Dells is a great starting – or ending – point for any trip. You could spend a whole summer here and not run out of things to do. Since this is a road trip, it’s also about the journey. At least ’til we come back to the Dells.

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

So, onward!

Onward from the Dells

After the intersection where Highway 16 breaks southeast toward Columbus and Milwaukee and Highway 23 continues east toward Green Lake and Sheboygan, Highway 13 turns north. Northward from the Dells, Highway 13 is a pretty straight shot through the tree cutaways, past smaller lodging camps and some access points that lead you back to the Wisconsin River. Beyond the junction with Highway 82 and over the interestingly-named Risk Creek lie the twin towns of Adams-Friendship.

fmound2Adams (pop. 1,914) is the larger of the two, due to the railroad’s new depot location in 1910; its twin city Friendship (pop. 698) remains the county seat and sits under Friendship Mound, which dominates the north view as you drive through the towns.

It gets quite mound-y here. Just on the other side of Friendship Mound is Roche-A-Cri State Park, which features a steep mound of its own… called, interestingly enough, Roche-A-Cri. The mound is 300 feet high and can be scaled via a 303-step wooden stairway that offers interpretive signs and two rest stops on your way to a gorgeous view from the top.

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The top of a long, steep 300-foot climb has its rewards on Roche-A-Cri Mound.

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The rock formations and views from above or below are great in Roche-A-Cri. Birds overhead only add to the enjoyment of a hike, a picnic, or – perhaps – bird watching.

While there, I saw a guy who made me think that Carrot Top and Owen Wilson had a kid. And by the way, this stairway provides quite a workout. Note that this climb is equivalent to scaling almost halfway up Milwaukee’s tallest building and you’ll know why the sounds of huffing and puffing are audible at the lookout point.

Back to ground level, we see that even the early Native Americans wanted to carve their initials in something – some left rock carvings in the rocks called petroglyphs. They’re deep carvings, considering they’ve survived the weather and elements for all these years. In fact, the earliest decipherable markings date back to about 100 A.D. More recent carvings from European settlers date to the 19th century.

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It’s 19th century – and before – graffiti, well before the invention of spray paint.

Buttes like Roche-A-Cri, and nearby Rabbit Rock, were islands in a glacial lake that once covered the area Highway 13 goes through today. Continuing north past Highway 21, which to the west crosses the Wisconsin River at man/dam-made Petenwell Lake (Wisconsin’s 2nd largest), you enter the town of Rome, where “Picket Fences” was set – alas, no Lauren Holly sightings. Motorcycle enthusiasts, however, can find the Dyracuse Motorcycle Recreation Area (yes, like “Syracuse”, but with a D.) Named after Dyracuse Mound, another major Adams County landmark, DMRA offers eight miles of trails for motorcycles, motocross, ATVs and an Enduro Loop. Full facilities are offered in the recreation area, which is operated by both the Town of Rome and the Rapid Angels Motorcycle Club. So get your motor runnin’/ head out on the highw… well, you know the rest.

In the Lake Arrowhead area, a newer golf resort with its eye on big national things has emerged. Sand Valley Golf Resort opened its first course in 2017 with more under construction. Sand Valley was established to take advantage of the natural sand hills and dunes in this area of Adams County, once the bottom of a glacial lake. The sprawling complex covers over 1,700 acres and looks to become of the premier destinations for golf in the nation and beyond – stay tuned!

Continuing north into Wood County, Highway 13 junctions with Highway 73, which goes west to Nekoosa; we’ll see 73 again before too long. Next up is the Rapids.

Wisconsin Rapids

Wisconsin Rapids (pop. 18,435) isn’t a big city, but it is big enough to be its own “micropolitan” area, which has almost 50,000 people. “Da Rapids” – as some locals call it – used to be two cities on opposite sides of the Wisconsin River, Centralia and Grand Rapids; they merged in 1900. Then, in 1920 when locals were fed up with getting mail misdirected to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they changed the city’s name to Wisconsin Rapids. The “rapids” refers to a 45-foot drop this “hardest working river in the world” made at this point, which provided some good acceleration to boats and canoes. Dams have since changed this – there are five from Stevens Point down to Nekoosa – but this stretch of the river still provides hydroelectric power and makes it convenient to pound wood into pulp so we can eventually have something to write on.

Consequently, Wisconsin Rapids is a major hub for papermaking and also serves as the shipping point for a lot of cranberries you saw in the bogs getting here. Wisconsin grows more cranberries than any other state – over 300 million pounds per year – and Wood County (of which Wisconsin Rapids is the county seat) is pretty much the center of it all. It’s home to a major educational software company, Renaissance Learning, Grim Natwick, creator of Betty Boop (and to salute that, the city has an annual Betty Boop Festival) and the hometown of the driver with NASCAR’s coolest name ever, Dick Trickle – even though he’s technically from Rudolph, which we get to next!

Hey, tours aren’t just for highways, breweries and museums. Tour the Stora Enso North America papermaking plant at 4th Avenue and High Street (715-422-3789) or, if you want to see paper in its original form, check out the Griffith State Nursery (473 Griffith Avenue, 715-424-3700), the largest forest nursery in Wisconsin.

During the summer months, you can take in a baseball game at Witter Field, a nice old-school ballpark that hosts the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, a Northwoods League team that plays opponents from all over the Midwest. If you like BMX biking, check out the nearby Central Wisconsin BMX track (715-572-2075), which has competitive racing on a 1,075-foot sealed track surface built into a natural amphitheater. I’ve raced on it, and you’re off to a good start with the 10-foot start hill and some serious jumps you can make once you get going.

Highway 13 is clearly the main commercial strip as it heads into town at 8th Street South. At the junction with Highway 54, 13 jogs west and bypasses downtown to the south and west as the Riverview Expressway. If you’d like to head downtown, stay north on “Business” 13 (which is also today’s Highway 54) to Avon Street, then turn left. You’ll jog onto Jackson Street for the river crossing before re-joining Highway 13 and head north out of town.

On the west side of Wisconsin Rapids, Highway 73 breaks west; Highway 13 followed that route for decades but was recently re-routed north along Highway 34, which begins at the same intersection where 73 leaves. Around the north side of town, Highway 66 begins and heads towards Stevens Point; we continue north into little Rudolph (pop. 439), where thousands of holiday greetings are sent each year to the postmaster for a special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer postmark.

Rudolph is the actual town where racing legend Dick Trickle grew up, a huge part of Wisconsin’s legacy in racing. The state’s legacy in cheese is also well-represented in Rudolph: this is where Dairy State Cheese (715-435-3144) makes a variety of fantastic cheeses and curds, whey protein concentrates, and brings in ice cream so everyone has something to enjoy. It’s right along Highway 13/34 in town.

Grotto Alert.
Fans of the remarkable collections of stone, glass and rock that make up Wisconsin’s fascinating grottos will want to check out Rudolph Grotto & Wonder Cave, located about nine miles north of Wisconsin Rapids via Highway 34. Red gossan rocks dominate much of the grotto, ranging from pebble-sized to a 78-ton boulder. The Wonder Cave itself is something to see.

13caronsiloRight: Yep, you’ll never know what you’ll find on the State Trunk Tour. We found this near Marshfield along what WAS Highway 13 back in the day. Now it’s part of Highway 80. Not sure if it’s still there, but it sure was eye-catching when we went past!

Marshfield

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After the junction with U.S. Highway 10 freeway and heading west at expressway speeds for about 15 minutes, you reach Marshfield (pop. 19,201), which is perhaps best-known as a medical destination for patients from all over the world. That’s because it’s the headquarters of Marshfield Clinic, a sort of Wisconsin counterpart to Rochester, Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Founded in 1916, the clinic has expanded across the state and into upper Michigan with satellite centers and remains at the forefront of medical research, technology, development and treatment.

The medical research may come in handy, given what people will eat in Wisconsin at events like the Central Wisconsin State Fair, also held annually in Marshfield (deep-fried Twinkie on a stick, anyone??). Another Marshfield claim to fame is on these fairgrounds: the World’s Largest Round Barn. Recognized in places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, this huge red superlative at 513 East 17th Street is 150 feet in diameter and holds up to 1,000 people for a variety of events, many of them livestock-related. Built in 1916 without the use of scaffolding, it is 70 feet high.

Marshfield, World's Largest Round Barn near Highway 13

The World’s Largest Round Barn in Marshfield. Built in 1916, it anchors the grounds of the Central Wisconsin State Fair; you can’t get much more central in Wisconsin than Marshfield.

The annual Dairyfest is also held here, as is a 10K road race called the Cheese Chase. They also have Hub City Days, a fun festival saluting the city’s original nickname. Marshfield was a major hub of early railroads and its location very close to the geographic center of Wisconsin made it a hub of transportation long before it became a hub for medical care.

With a large medical anchor and associated businesses, Marshfield ably supports a local orchestra, the Foxfire Botanical Gardens and the Wildwood Zoo (608 W. 17th Street, 715-384-4642), a beautiful and free zoo covering 60 acres. The zoo features everything from cougars and lynx to bison and prairie dogs. Of particular interest are Kodiak bears, unique in a city this size and a harkening back to the zoo’s 1904 origins, when city utility workers started caring for two black bears in town. Another nice break from your road trip at Wildwood Zoo is the Sensory Gardens, featuring a wide variety of flowering and non-flowering plants designed to enhance your senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch amidst a tranquil setting.

Marshfield, like many Wisconsin cities, also supports locally-brewed beer. The Blue Heron Brew Pub (108 W. 9th Street, 715-389-1868) boasts over 16 varieties of beer and ales that are quaffed all over Central Wisconsin. They’re located in Parkin Place, an old dairy processing plant with a history all its own. Getting a parking place at Parkin Place usually isn’t too much trouble, so stop in!

Hub City Days

How wide is Central Avenue in Marshfield? Wide enough to accommodate crowds like this during Hub City Days. This is Business Highway 13 through the city.

In Marshfield, “Business 13” follows 13’s original route: Central Avenue. Downtown offers a wide variety of shops that cater more to the city itself than tourists. When increasingly busy roads through cities cause congestion, the solution is often to build a bypass way around the city; not Marshfield. They built a “through-pass”, essentially an upgraded version of Highway 13 (known also here as Veterans Parkway) that also cuts right through town but kind of juts in from a different angle. It stays multi-lane all the way through Marshfield.

Out of Marshfield, you follow the CN (Canadian National) train line, often witnessing long trains carrying loads of lumber. The next town is Spencer (pop. 1,932), which is somewhat of a suburb for Marshfield.

colbymarkerShortly before going through Unity (pop. 368), Highway 13 begins straddling the Clark-Marathon County line and continues as the divider into the small town of Colby (pop. 1,616), which is famous for – you guessed it – the birthplace of Colby cheese! Colby is similar to cheddar cheese, but is milder and softer because it is produced though a washed-curd process. In fact, it takes more than one gallon of milk to produce just one pound of Colby cheese (I’m dying to try producing it with chocolate milk!) The 1885 development put Colby on the map, where it remains as a little dot.

In Unity, by the way, I saw a bar so shacky it made the Boar’s Nest in “The Dukes of Hazzard” look like Tavern On The Green in Central Park. I almost stopped in for a Blatz. I will next time.

Just north of Colby and the junction with the new expressway bypass of Highway 29 lies Abbotsford (pop. 2,000). Holding claim as “Wisconsin’s First City”, it’s “first” in terms of the alphabet, not in population or age (those distinctions go to Milwaukee and Green Bay, respectively).

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hawkeyecone_225hiHighway 13 goes right through town and intersects with “Business” (read: Historical) Highway 29 at the main crossroads. This portion of 29 is also the old Yellowstone Trail, by the way.

Abbotsford features plenty of old-school businesses to check out, including Duke’s for Italian beef, antique shops and taverns. Right: Between Old 29 and Now 29 along Highway 13 is the Hawkeye Dairy, which features a wide variety of cheeses, sausages, and ice cream – it’s hard to miss the massive cone!

Crossing the 45th parallel (halfway point between the equator and the North Pole) at Dorchester, you end up in Taylor County. Going through Stetsonville (pop. 563), I noticed no Stetson hats; then the next place you reach you find people curiously asking you what you want on your tombstone.

Don’t worry, it’s just Medford (pop. 4,350), home to Tombstone Pizza (now owned by Kraft) and Pep’s Pizza. Basically, it’s the frozen pizza capital of Wisconsin, indirectly serving thousands of college students at 3am every night. Astrologer/psychic Jeane Dixon was born in Medford before moving to California and becoming a famous for her syndicated astrology column, predicting the Kennedy assassination and advising President Reagan’s wife Nancy during his term.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Tombstone Pizza started in 1962 as the bar pizza served at Medford’s own Tombstone Tap, a tavern whose name was inspired by the graveyard across the street.

After Medford and the junction with Highway 64, increasing evidence of the North Woods comes into play. Chequamegon National Forest is accessible on either side; you climb higher and higher, too, as Timm’s Hill, the highest point in the state, lurks just off Highway 13 about five miles east of Ogema, along Highway 86 and County C.

Timm’s Hill (elevation 1,951 feet) is a fairly low “high point” for a U.S. state, but standing atop the lookout tower, over 2,000 feet above sea level, you can easily tell it’s the highest point around. Many nearby hills are visible; all are clearly below you. If you want to do the Leonardo DiCaprio/Jack Dawson/Titanic “I’m king of the world!” shout from the top of the tower, well, that’s up to you.

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The views from Timms Hill, the highest natural point in Wisconsin, is remarkably expansive. You can truly tell you’re at the top!

Near Prentice lies an expressway junction with U.S. Highway 8, and then you reach the town of Phillips (pop. 1,675). County seat of Price County, Phillips offers several in-town lakes, a Wildlife Museum featuring a variety of wildlife mounts by taxidermist Martin Ribnicker, and Wisconsin Concrete Park, a crazy array of sculptures and folk art figurines using concrete, broken glass, shells and other materials. Some of them reflect both the relative dullness of concrete and the sparkle of multicolored glass, especially if it’s a sunny day.

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Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips, chock full of stone-based works of art.

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Highway 13 blazes right through downtown Phillips, county seat of Price County.

On the north side of town in the parking lot of the R Store gas station, see if Lola’s Lunchbox – one of our favorite food trucks – is parked and cooking up stuff. They grill up phenomenal burgers, tacos, and sandwiches with a unique menu. They also make puffed corn in a dizzying array of flavors, including Oreo, caramel, and much more. It makes for incredible road food!

Fifield (“a little town in northern WI with more cars than people”) provides a junction with Highway 70, one of the last main east-west highways left in the state as you head north; shortly thereafter, you cross the Flambeau River and enter Park Falls (pop. 2,793) Park Falls was originally called Muskellunge Falls, but it turns out “Park” was much easier to spell.

Park Falls boasts two stoplights, which is significant only in that they’re in the only two in Price County; the next set of stoplights is about 40 miles away in any direction. So yes, I’d say you’re officially “away from it all” by this point.

Fishing enthusiasts, of which there are many here, note Park Falls as the home of St. Croix Rod, known worldwide for its equipment. Along with a Pamida sighting, I took note that Park Falls is the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World”. Alas, I did not see any ruffed grouses on my way through town.

From Park Falls, Highway 13 forges northward through towns like Butternut (pop. 407), home of the “Best Tasting Water In Wisconsin.” (Water is supposed to be tasteless, though, right?) The high school team name is the Butternut “Mighty Midgets”, evoking thoughts that their offensive line doesn’t need to crouch at the line. The players are probably regular-sized, though. Another town is Glidden (no relation to the paint), the “Black Bear Capital of the World,” meaning it’s the place where you least likely want to go camping and leave food out.

77greatdivideHighway 77 joins in for ride, fresh off its route as the Great Divide National Scenic Highway. You do indeed cross the “Great Divide” (I call it the “subcontinental divide”), where south of the divide water flows southward toward the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico; north of it, water flows north and east into the Great Lakes and to the Atlantic Ocean. At this point, you’re 950 ft above Lake Superior, 1,550 feet above sea level. That means from there to Ashland, you’re dropping about 950 feet.

Mellen (pop. 935), Highway 77 heads away and shoots northeast towards 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. 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.

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Mellen City Hall, featuring a charming bell tower on its corner. This at the intersection of Highways 13 and 77.

Copper Falls State Park is accessible north of Mellen right off Highway 13 via Highway 169. 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 is its 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.

Beyond Mellen and Highway 169, Highway 13 climbs to vistas where you can sense the coming of Lake Superior (especially in winter, when the lake effect snows can be relentless.) Past small towns like Highbridge and Marengo, The Big Lake They Call Gitchigumee (sometimes it’s hard to get Gordon Lightfoot songs out of your head) finally comes into your view as you drop down into Ashland.

Home to a shipping port, Northland College and a beautiful view of Chequamegon Bay, Ashland (pop. 8.620) serves as a gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (more on this later). A great place to stop and stretch after your long trek northward is the Northern Great Lakes Center, which offers interactive exhibits, displays, a boardwalk, an observation tower, and information about everything from historical events to best places to stay. It’s located west of Ashland along U.S. 2, just after the Highway 13 turnoff northward.

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It’s been a while since Highway 13 had boulevards and traffic lights; the drive into Ashland as Lake Superior becomes visible in the distance.

ashlandchBack in town, Ashland hugs the Bay and buildings for several blocks heading back from the shore offer nice views of the water. Highway 13 couples with U.S. Highway 2 here, but another, parallel route is Main Street, one block south. You pass a J.C. Penney Department store – one of the few times you won’t see one as a mall anchor store, the beautiful Ashland City Hall, the city’s main downtown shopping district and the South Shore Brewery before Main becomes just another side street in the neighborhoods.

One of the cool things to check out in Ashland comes from the increasing plethora of artists residing in these parts. On the sides of a number of downtown buildings, formerly drab brick facades have given way to vibrant, colorful murals depicting everything from streetscapes to people to simple extensions of how each building looks on its more “detailed” sides. You’ll find one on the north-facing side of the building along Highway 13 and Main as you approach U.S. 2; others lie along Main and its side streets downtown. Check out 4th, 5th, and others for evidence of these murals.

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After that, check off another brewery tour and imbibe in a cold one at the South Shore Brewery. Makers of the popular South Shore Honey Pils, the South Shore Brewery also brews up a Nut Brown Ale, a Pale Ale, and the new Rhoades’ Scholar Stout, their first “named” beer. South Shore Brewery offers tours, some on a regular basis and some by appointment. Bo Belanger, the head brewer, will happily show you around and let you sample a variety of brews.

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It’s probably the most hoppin’ place in town, no pun intended. The brewery is connected to the Deep Waters Grille and a bar so you can enjoy their freshly-brewed products with a variety of food, sports, and conversation with locals and visitors; there’s also a view of Lake Superior out of the front window. What else do you need? You know it’s a small, interconnected world when fresh grilled mahi-mahi with mango-tomatillo sauce is the special in a restaurant in Ashland, Wisconsin. It’s not like they pull mahi-mahi out of Lake Superior.

To be a good Sconnie, I partook in the Walleye fish fry, which ironically enough was not beer-battered. It was really good, though, as was the interesting combination of “cream of wild rice, ham and mushroom soup.” For my beers, the Brewers’ Choice was the Blonde Bitter (which I’ve dated a few), and was terrific. Others in my sampler included the Golden Lager, Nut Brown Ale, Rhoades’ Scholar Stout, the Cream Ale and the South Shore Honey Pils, a personal favorite of mine back in Milwaukee. Since I spent the whole evening there, dessert consisted of pizza. Bar manager Merri, who originally hails from Colorado, was managing that night. Since I wasn’t hungry enough for a whole pizza, we split one – chorizo with four cheeses (five if you count the parmesan sprinkled on top.) Everyone there was fun and interesting to talk with, and I was hardly the only out-of-towner in the place. Lots of Northland College students work there, and they come from all over the country.

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Ashland’s waterfront features a marina and the railroad pier, once used for exporting lumber and iron ore at a breakneck pace. In 1899, Ashland was the second largest iron shipping port on the Great Lakes. The Soo Line Iron Ore dock, pictured here, was the largest in the world until it was demolished in 2011.

Ashland features an array of lodging, since it’s the largest city between Duluth-Superior and the Ironwood-Hurley “microplex”. Of the notables, Best Western The Hotel Chequamegon is the most gracious, and a recent addition to the Best Western family. Victorian-style rooms overlooking the city or the water beckon to the days of the classic 19th century hotels that once served cities coast to coast.

Just west of Ashland into Bayfield County, Highway 13 veers off U.S. 2 and begins its final push into Wisconsin’s northernmost territory.

Bayfield’s county seat of Washburn (pop. 2,285) is the first town that greets you. Located along the Bay, Ashland is visible across the water. Highway 13 is the main downtown street and shops line the road. Several places that specialize in quilting adorn Washburn, as does Chequamegon Books, a great bookstore featuring stacks upon stacks of new and used books – and wireless Internet. I had a nice chat in the bookstore with proprietor Carol Avol, who reminded me that “Chequamegon” is pronounced without the “Q”.

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The Washburn Historical Museum and Cultural Center. Which also offers quilting essentials; the obelisk to the right is a memorial to Washburn’s nickname, “The Monolith City.”

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Chequamegon Books, pronounced, please, without the “q”…

Proceeding north, Mount Ashwebay provides a tree-filled backdrop to your view while approaching Big Top Chautauqua, a 900-seat entertainment venue that manages to combine “state of the art” with “all canvas tent theater” in one sentence – and mean it. Located at the base of Mount Ashwabay between Washburn and Bayfield, artists including Willie Nelson, Keb’ Mo, John Hiatt, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Robert Cray have complimented the already bustling line-up of orchestras, singers and performance artists that cover over 60 dates every summer from mid-June through mid-September.

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Mount Ashwebay dominates the landscape between Washburn and Bayfield.

Popular Bayfield (pop. 611) is well-known to tony vacationers around North America. Its charming shops, picturesque, sweeping views of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands, access to the islands and interior recreation, and wide variety of B&B’s, hotels, motels and restaurants make this a popular destination for relaxers and adventurers alike. The Chicago Tribune called it the “Best Little Town in the Midwest” and numerous presidents and Hollywood stars have made Bayfield a regular stop on their “get away from it all” itineraries. It’s not rare to see autographed pictures of familiar people and historical figures adorn the walls of some shops and restaurants. Like Ashland and Washburn, Bayfield is a very popular place for artists to set up shop. whether just for the summer or all year ’round. Bayfield is noted as one of the “best 100 artist towns in the U.S.”, and you’ll find more galleries here than perhaps any other town with a population of 611 people. Bayfield is also the access point for cars wishing to visit Madeline Island and the Apostle Islands.

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Along Highway 13, a trio of flags wave in front of a hotel overlooking Chequamegon Bay, with Madeline Island in the distance.

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Highway 13 through downtown Bayfield.

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Boats and yachts a’plenty in the marina around Bayfield, prepping to navigate around the Apostle Islands.

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Cars boarding the ferry to Madeline Island, the only island in the Apostles with roads.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, designated in 1970, is a series of islands dotting Lake Superior, as well as a 12-mile slice of the shoreline itself – most if along Highway 13 from Bayfield north and west. Only one of the Apostle Islands – Madeline Island – is accessible by car. In Bayfield’s downtown, the Madeline Island Ferry is located right off Highway 13 and heads 2 1/2 miles from the mainland to the island. In the winter when the ice is thick enough, you can simply drive across to Madeline Island and its sole town of La Pointe, which receives both the ferry and the ice road on the island side. Madeline Island is the only inhabited one of the twenty-two Apostles and therefore the only island not part of the official National Lakeshore. Others include Stockton Island, the largest one at over 10,000 acres; Oak Island, which has the tallest elevations (almost 500 above the water); Sand Island, furthest to the west and the only island other than Madeline to once have enough settlement to warrant a post office; Raspberry Island, with a popular lighthouse now undergoing restoration; Devils Island, the northernmost one and therefore the one giving ships in the busy Lake Superior shipping lanes the most trouble; and two of the islands, Eagle and North Twin, the only two completely off-limits to campers, hikers and the like, because they are proetcted areas designated for preservation and study. Other islands are available for non-motorized recreation and camping… if you can get to them.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Apostle Islands have the highest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the United States (take that, Maine!) and its largest island, Stockton, has the highest concentration of black bears in the U.S. (don’t leave your food uncovered if you’re camping there.)

madelineismarker_500Madeline Island’s original name? Moningwunakauning. Meaning “Home of the golden-breasted woodpecker”, the island was renamed for the daughter of an Ojibway chief who married a French settler. This marker right along Highway 13 tells the story. Had the original name been kept, Moningwunakauning would have replaced Oconomowoc for the trickiest name in Wisconsin to pronounce on the first try.

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This curve over Saxon Creek is the northernmost point on Highway 13; Lake Superior is just to the north and the next paved road to your north is in Canada.

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The vista as you head west in the Bayfield Peninsula approaching Cornucopia.

Cornucopia is “Wisconsin’s Northernmost Village”… also, not coincidentally, with Wisconsin’s Northernmost Post Office. From the Latin Cornu Copiae, Cornucopia means “horn of plenty” or “harvest cone”; it’s actually the town’s symbol, clearly visible on signs as you drive through. With two marina facilities on Lake Superior and a beach called Corny Beach (I was wondering what kind of jokes beachgoers were telling on the sand), Cornucopia sports a large array of boat-oriented seasonal visitors, many of whom visit Ehler’s General Store, right next to the state’s northernmost post office. Ehler’s has been around since 1915 and is still operated by descendents of one of the original founders. Squaw Bay, just northeast of Cornucopia, features a series of sea caves that are quite a sight, especially if you can kayak. If you have a kayak or can rent one, definitely check out the bay; it’s accessible off Highway 13 via a series of small side roads, including Squaw Bay Road, Meyers Road and Squaw Point Road.

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Ehler’s is a good stop in Corncopia for supplies; and it’s always fun to mail something from Wisconsin’s “Northernmost Post Office.”

Herbster (part of the Town if Clover, and perhaps the only place that didn’t entirely hate Burger King’s “I’m Not Herb” campaign from the ‘80s), Port Wing had “Wisconsin’s largest fish boil” going on when I passed through.

Somewhere along here in the depths of winter, you can check out the Bayfield Sea & Ice Caves when conditions are right. You can kind of see them from hiking trails in the non-frigid months on land, but when Lake Superior freezes over enough you can walk out directly to them and check out the crazy works of Mother Nature when she’s cold. When are conditions right? This link will tell you, or you can call (715) 779-3397.

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This is how cool the ice caves can look. In places they look even cooler. Thanks to State Trunk Tourer Erin Uselman for this shot!

Side note: Now here’s the wild thing about Bayfield County: it’s the largest in the state by area, covering 2,042 square miles – larger than Rhode Island and only a little smaller than Delaware. It has 962 lakes, varies by almost 1,100 feet in elevation, contains a number of tourist sites and offers a ferry service to nearby Madeline Island; and yet, there isn’t a single traffic light in the whole county. Not one. Which in a way is good, because there’s no way you can get a ticket for running a red light; just a stop sign here and there.

In the distance, Minnesota is visible, usually about 40-50 miles away. Interestingly, a majority of the cars heading eastbound sported Minnesota plates, reiterating how popular these reaches are as a vacation spot for out-of-staters. You see, in the “south” (of Wisconsin), out-of-staters are usually Illinois people – going about 90 mph.

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Along with U.S. 2, Highway 13 carries the Lake Superior Circle Tour route through Wisconsin. The ride through the Brule River region is hilly and filled with forest.

13lsctsignJust inside Douglas County, Highway 13 stops hugging Lake Superior and heads straight south for a few miles. At County H, 13 turns west again (you can access Highway 27 by heading about 9 miles south on County H to Brule), heads through a narrow swath of the Brule River State Forest, and makes a beeline for the final stretch, a straight shot towards the final terminus just south of Superior in the Town of Parkland.

Just inside Douglas County, Highway 13 stops hugging Lake Superior and heads straight south for a few miles. At County H, 13 turns west again (you can access Highway 27 by heading about 9 miles south on County H to Brule), heads through a narrow swath of the Brule River State Forest, and makes a beeline for the final stretch, a straight shot towards the final terminus just south of Superior in the Town of Parkland.

Less than five minutes up U.S. 2 & 53 from Highway 13’s end is Superior (pop. 27,368), Wisconsin’s northwest corner and one of the Twin Port cities (the other, of course, being Duluth, Minnesota) that together have one of the busiest ports in the world. Superior basically runs along the western end of Lake Superior’s shore. The drive up U.S. 2 & 53 runs you right along Superior Bay, protected from the rough lake waters by Wisconsin Point and Minnesota Point. Native Americans settled here not only for its proxoimity to the lake, but portage access to the St. Croix River, just south of Superior near Solon Springs. Superior is the county seat of Douglas County (named for the Illinois senator famous for being the “D” side of the Lincoln-Douglas debates) and features the second largest municipal forest in the United States. The UW system has a Superior campus and counts bodybuilder, actor and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger among its alumni. The economy here has had its up and downs, as has the city itself; the population peaked at just over 46,000 back in the 1930s, more than currently live in all of Douglas County. Lately, though, things have been on the upswing; traffic at the Port is up, manufacturing and transportation business is growing again, and the city is drawing more tourists than ever before.

Superior offers a look at the “World’s Largest Whaleback” at the S.S. Meteor Museum. Originally named the Frank Rockefeller, it was one of only 44 whaleback ships ever built. It’s a 366-foot long vessel launched in 1896 as an iron ore carrier. In 1927, many many years before the TV show, it was renamed the South Park, where it carried automobiles and hauled sand and fill for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. During World War II it was sold and renamed the Meteor, where it continued service until running aground near Marquette, Michigan in 1969. It was retired and by 1973 became the museum it is today in Superior. Tours are available from mid-May to mid-October; admission prices vary: it’s free for kids under 6, $5 for students and seniors, and $6 for adults. The Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center (305 Harbor View Pkwy., 715-392-7151) salutes the United States’ highest-scoring air ace and Medal of Honor recipient. He’s the same Bong who has a Recreation Area in Racine County named after him – a place originally slated to be an Air Force base – as well as the namesake of one of the bridges from Superior to Duluth (the one carrying U.S. 2), a bridge in Townsville, Australia, an Air and Operations Center on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and even a theatre in Misawa, Japan. The Heritage Center celebrates all who dealt with World War II, from frontline fighters to those who kept things running at home. It’s located right along Superior Bay.

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Superior’s harbor, well protected from Lake Superior’s waves by Minnesota Point and Wisconsin Point, offers a popular marina and anchoring place for not only large ships, but plenty of pleasure craft. The hills towering above Duluth, Minnesota across the way form a nice backdrop.

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The northern end of Highway 13 at the edge of Superior, more than 340 adventurous miles from the start in Wisconsin Dells.

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Looking back at the start of southbound Highway 13. It’s just as fun the second time around!

Alas, after 340+ miles, Highway 13 comes to an end. Just as Highway 13 begins at a freeway junction with I-90/94 in Wisconsin Dells, it ends at a freeway junction with U.S. Highways 2 & 53 on the southern outskirts of Superior.

Big Manitou Falls and some of the spectacular rock formations near it.

Beautiful Big Manitou Falls and the splendor of Pattison State Park, not far from the end of Highway 13.

Just Beyond, State Parks Edition: At the end of Highway 13, you can also head straight west on County Z, then south on County A and right on Weinstein Road to hook up with Highway 35, where you can head south and check out Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park. At 165 feet, it’s the highest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains. The Park and waterfall is about 13 miles south of Superior and about 15 miles from the end of Highway 13.

Just Beyond, Food Edition: While Highway 13 ends at the U.S. 2/53 interchange, food lovers might want to head straight on County Z, hang a left on County E at Parkland, then right on County K a mile or so to Kounty Quarthouse (4119 S. County K, South Range, 715-398-5582), a self-proclaimed “Five-Star Dive Bar” which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Also, straight north from 13 on U.S. 2/53 in Superior you’ll find Gronk’s Grill (4909 E. 2nd Street/U.S. 2 & 53, 715-398-0333), a souped-up log cabin dishing up bar-b-que and some excellent burgers, including their soon-to-be-famous “Upside Down” Gronk’s Burger… which is exactly like it sounds. Finally, Shorty’s Pizza & Smoked Meat (1015 Tower Avenue/Highway 35, 715-718-0889) was also featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, where Montreal-style smoked meats and specialty pizzas and sandwiches are the norm. You drove a long way – EAT!

From the Dells to the southern outskirts of Superior, you encounter tourist towns, logging towns, paper- and cheese-producing villages, medical center cities, shoreline burgs, beachside hamlets and miles of forest. It’s a truly huge cross-section of Wisconsin and a great way to spend a few days road-tripping on one of the Wisconsin’s longest State Trunk Highways – a must route on the State Trunk Tour!

CONNECTIONS:
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 2, U.S. Highway 53
Can connect nearby to: Highway 35, about 4 miles west; Highway 105, about 5 miles west

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-90, I-94, Highway 16, Highway 23, U.S. Highway 12
Can connect nearby to: Highway 33, about 9 miles southwest via I-90/94 & Highway 23