56


STH-056

“A lovely Driftless tour from the Great River to Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthplace”

WisMap56_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 56 runs through “Driftless Area” countryside between the Mississippi River at Genoa to just north of Richland Center. Along the way, you get beautiful geography, cool small towns, bucolic farm scenery, and some history.

The Drive (West to East): Highway 56 starts at Highway 35 in Genoa (pop. 253), in full view of the Mississippi River. Genoa is home to Lock & Dam No. 8, which offers view of the boats being raised and lowered as they make their way up or down the river. The one might expect, the fishing here is terrific and a place like Clements Fishing Barge offers the chance for a great catch from the middle of the waters.

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The fish are plenty under Lock & Dam No. 8, and from Clements Fishing Barge you can drop a line and haul up a nice catch.

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The fishing can be great off the river, too: the village is home to the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. Founded in 1932, Genoa provides over 30 million fish, eggs and mussels across 26 species to meet aquatic species and research objectives across the country. If you visit you can check out a 1,000 gallon aquarium of Mississippi River fish in the sturgeon building, a wetland and native prairie boardwalk including an outdoor classroom area, a walking trail and map of the facility, and culture buildings housing 24 species of fish, freshwater mussels and amphibians, and a pond where fishing is available based on conditions; call (608) 689-2605 for details.

Okay… NOW let’s follow State Trunk Highway 56!

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From Highway 35/Great River Road, Highway 56 heads up the hill into the heart of Genoa. Which isn’t huge or anything, but there are some interesting older buildings, bars, and shops to check out. The road climbs Genoa Ridge and starts winding through the valleys and hills of the Driftless Area, where beautiful vistas await. There’s a small settlement called Romance at the crossing of the Bad Axe River’s North Fork, and the topography that follows includes names like Purdy Valley and Lars Anderson Hollow.

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Many farms, old and new, line Highway 56 through Vernon and Richland Counties.

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Happy cows really come from Wisconsin – especially on days like this.

Another small settlement Highway 56 passes through is called Bud. Their definition of “exit” is pretty loose, actually; this burg definitely has a sense of humor. It’s worth noting that while there is Bud here, there is no Bud Light. Or are they talking about a different kind of bud? Or is everybody here buddies? (Okay, we’ll stop with that.)

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Metal coin turkey along Wisconsin Highway 56 near Bud

Quite the eye-catching turkey… you know, when it’s huge and made of metal. We saw this along Highway 56.

Viroqua

Winding up, down, and around more of the Driftless Area brings you to the largest city along Highway 56, Viroqua (pop. 4,362). 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.

Temple Theatre, Viroqua

Viroqua’s Temple Theater, a Classical Revival structure built in 1922…. five years before the “talkies” came out.

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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, historic Temple Theatre and numerous coffee shops and galleries are just a hint of the growing arts community. Highway 56 cuts east-west across town intersecting U.S. 14 & 61 and Highway 82 in the heart of the city, where architecture buffs can enjoy the Temple Theatre, the Fortney Building (both pictured above), and the Sherry-Butt House, an 1870 structure constructed in the Southern style… all of which are on Main Street.

Driftless Cafe, Viroqua

The Driftless Cafe, a destination for foodies from all over, adds a unique and ever-changing twist to Viroqua’s restaurant scene – which is impressive for this small city.

The Northern Wisconsin Tobacco Pool and Warehouse is a historic landmark on Highway 56 (Decker Street) just east of downtown. Originally constructed in 1906, it was built by Martin Bekkedal, who immigrated to Wisconsin in the 1880s and became the largest tobacco wholesaler in the state at a time when tobacco was one of Wisconsin’s biggest cash crops. From a historical signficance standpoint, it became the nation’s first tobacco marketing cooperative – formed in response to a significant drop in the price of tobacco in 1921. Its method of enlisting most of the area’s tobacco farmers to better control market prices – creating a tobacco “pool” – inspired the emerging pool of dairy farmers in the state and became the model so many ended up using.

As Highway 56 leaves Viroqua, it pairs with Highway 82 for a while.

Back to StateTrunkTour.com

 

Highway 133 near Cassville
133

STH-133 “Breweries, Morels, Ferries, and Lone Rocks”

WisMap133_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 133 twists and turns into a “c”-like arc around southwestern Wisconsin and the gorgeous Driftless Area. From the “World’s Longest Main Street Without an Intersection” to the state’s only ferry service on the Mississippi to picturesque views on ridges and valleys in the Driftless Area, Highway 133 is a fun little Frito Scoop-shaped drive in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Highway 133 Road Trip

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Highway 133 starts in Tennyson at U.S. 61 & Highway 35. This is one of the few places where the Great River Road in Wisconsin diverts from 35 – because it follows 133 here.

The Drive (South to North): Highway 133 begins just outside of Tennyson, heading west from Highway 35 and U.S. Highway 61, the main north-south route through this part of the state. Almost immediately, you’re on the main street through Potosi. Tennyson and Potosi often work in conjunction with each other and the area bills itself as the “Catfish Capital of Wisconsin.”

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Beer is key in the history of Potosi (pop. 671), and is a key to its future. The National Brewery Museum and Library opened along Highway 133 just recently and offers tours every day (including Sundays) from 10am to 6pm. 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.

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The Potosi Brewing Company fell into decline, as seen in this picture from the late ’90s above. Today (below, looking from the opposite direction), it’s the centerpiece of a resurrected brewery and museum.

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The National Brewery Museum and Potosi Brewing’s resurrection
The newest cool thing in Potosi is the National Brewery Museum, which has resurrected the buildings that made up the Potosi Brewing Company for decades. The Museum conducted a national search for a location; candidates included Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee…but they chose little Potosi. Evidence of the Potosi Brewing Company is everywhere, including this tower (below) 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.

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potosimarker_800Highway 133 serves as a long, long main street for Potosi. Past the downtown area and the National Brewery 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.

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Highway 133 in Potosi winds and twists through town, gradually heading from the hilltops near Tennyson down to the Mississippi River. For the most part, it’s the only street through town.

The World’s Longest Main Street Without an Intersection is another claim to fame for Potosi. 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.

 

 

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In Potosi, you drop in elevation as you go down Main Street. On the 19-mile trek to Cassville the bluffs make themselves known and you alternate between views of the Mississippi River and winding curves that go through forest and farmland. The hills in the distance in this photo are across the river in Iowa. There are some blind hills and curves on this stretch, so drive carefully!

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On the west end of Potosi, Highway 133 has a sharp curve where it begins to parallel the Mississippi for the ride to Cassville. A gravel road brings you to this point, popular for fishing… or just gazing at the natural beauty around here.

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We like the tree shot at this point off Highway 133 at the river near Potosi, too. It pays to show up in the late afternoon sometimes.

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

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:

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

Cassville is also known for the Cassville Car Ferry (608-725-5180), which makes the run from Cassville to Turkey Creek, Iowa. It’s the only river crossing between Dubuque and Prairie du Chien, and still serves as the oldest operating ferry service in Wisconsin – Cassville has been served by a river ferry in some form or another since 1833. Click here for a schedule and fare information. Highway 133 provides access to the Cassville Car Ferry via Crawford Street.

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

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

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Need the ferry? Flip the switch!

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

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

In downtown Cassville, you connect with Highway 81 which heads out to the county seat, Lancaster, as well as Platteville and points east. Highway 133, after a long trek southwest, west and northwest since Tennyson, begins heading north and northeast (part of the big “C” shape the entire route makes in its entirety) and winds through more bluffs and valleys through North Andover to Blooomington (pop. 701), where it meets up with Highway 35. Highway 133 joins 35 for several miles before arriving at U.S. Highway 18. While Highway 35 heads west with 18 towards Prairie du Chien, 133 joins U.S. 18 for the ride east, along the Military Ridge for about 6 miles before heading north again at Mount Hope.

Highway 133 ambles through some beautiful hills and valleys approaching the Wisconsin River; when you reach the river (though it’s tough to see through all the trees), 133 turns northeast, paralleling the river’s southern shore but often inland by several blocks or even a mile. It all depends on the backwaters and towns.

Pretty much everywhere a bridge crosses the Wisconsin River on this stretch, you’ll find a town. One of them is Boscobel (pop. 3,047), Wisconsin’s “Wild Turkey Hunting Capital”. So, if you feel like hunting wild turkeys, you’re in luck. Boscobel is also the birthplace of the Gideon Bible and the Gideon Society… so the people who got the idea for placing Bibles in hotels and motels all over the country came from here. Boscobel offers up a beautiful downtown lined with a number of well-preserved – or adapted – 19th century buildings; fans of architecture should check it out, several blocks east of Highway 133 at the U.S. 61 crossing. The Rock School (207 Buchanan Street) is another stunner, once shockingly designated for demolition. Boscobel Station, built in 1857, has historically served as a “nerve center” of town and includes a new museum.

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Boscobel Station, which dates back to 1857.

Out of Boscobel, Highway 133 makes a beeline towards the village of Blue River (pop. 429). Near Blue River is Eagle Cave (16320 Cavern Lane, 608-537-2988), the state’s largest onyx cave. It was discovered back in 1849, although it was almost ninety years before the cave was opened to the public. It’s a popular camping location and a cave exploratory program gives people a comprehensive tour.

It’s another straight shot to Highway 80 and Muscoda (pop. 1,400), the “Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin.” The city holds an annual Morel Mushroom Festival featuring the tasty fungi, considered a delicacy in French cooking – and despite looking like an undersea sponge, morels really do taste great in a variety of dishes (the butter also helps.)

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Muscoda’s water tower above Vicki’s Cozy Cafe… the kind of small town diners that offer the best road food. This is along Highway 80 right through town, just north of Highway 133.

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The annual Morel Mushroom Festival celebrates the area’s status as a prime source of the popular delicacy.

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Morel mushrooms don’t look like your typical ‘shroom… but they don’t taste quite like a typical mushroom, either.

From Muscoda heading east, Highway 80 joins 133 for several miles before breaking south towards Highland and Cobb – and eventually the Illinois line south of Cuba City. Meanwhile, Highway 133 heads through Avoca (pop. 608), named after the town in Ireland (and yes, they have a St. Patty’s Day parade.) The nearby Avoca Prairie features the largest tallgrass east of the Mississippi River. You can reach it by turning north on Hay Road off 133 just east of town. Depending on how much rain there’s been, it’s sometimes easier to reach the Avoca Prairie by canoe!

While much of this stretch goes through marshland, eventually you move upwards and Highway 133 lines the southern hill along the Wisconsin River. Depending on weather and density of the trees, the sights of the river can be quite enjoyable – but since this is a narrow and occasionally curvy stretch, be careful! Before you know it, Highway 133 meets Highway 130. (Highway 130 heads south and east towards Highway 23; it’s a good access road for House on the Rock, Governor Dodge State Park, and Dodgeville, if you want to check those places out!)

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Above: Between Avoca and Lone Rock, Highway 133 hugs the shore above the Wisconsin River, the view of which varies based on how thick the trees are; the river is to the left in this shot.

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Highways 130 & 133 cross the Wisconsin River using several bridges, including the Long Lake Bridge (built in 1932 and rehabbed in 1989) and the Wisconsin River Bridge, which crosses the main channel. This bridge, pictured, dates back to 1942. Updates were done in 1968 and 1989. They carry about 2,500 vehicles per day.

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Highway 133 meets up with Highway 130 for the ride across the Wisconsin River into Lone Rock, the final destination on the route.

The final destination for Highway 133 is Lone Rock (pop. 929). Named after a large sandstone rock that served as a navigation point along the Wisconsin River, little is left of the actual rock; it was used extensive in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to help build the town’s houses.

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Highways 130 & 133 cross the main channel and a few backwater areas of the Wisconsin River before finally heading into Lone Rock.

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A stop at Brace Memorial Park reveals not only a relaxing place, but some history about the town’s origin and name.

Lots of Wisconsin cities have registered low temperatures, but the -53 on January 30, 1951 gave Lone Rock claim as the coldest place in the United States, at least for a while (you knew a place in Minnesota would eventually get colder). But they play off the “cold hands, warm heart” saying with this sign below along U.S. 14/Highway 60, just past of the end of Highway 133.

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Just north of the Wisconsin River, Highway 133 comes to an end approaching Highway 60 & U.S. 14 on the north end of Lone Rock. You can head west to La Crosse, Richland Center, or Prairie du Chien, or east towards Spring Green, Madison and points east.

CONNECTIONS:
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35, U.S. Highway 61
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 151, about 8 miles southeast

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 60, Highway 130, U.S. Highway 14
Can connect nearby to: Highway 23, about 7 miles east

 

Highway 131 looking towards Steuben
131

STH-131 “Wanna Kickapoo through the Ocooch?”

 

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

Wisconsin Highway 131 Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Gays Mills Antique Store, Highway 171 near 131

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more State Trunk Tour routes here, and enjoy!

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

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

Historic Mindoro Cut on the original route of Highway 108
108

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

 

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

The (original) Wisconsin Highway 108 Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Mindoro Cut Marker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




82

STH-082“Vernon, Viroqua and Valleys”

 

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

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

Mileage: about 116 miles

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

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

Bypass alternates at: none

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

Wisconsin Highway 82 Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

Mauston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Downtown Elroy along Main Street is right along The Commons.

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

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

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

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

Highway 82 at 33 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing

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

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

81

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

 

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

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The Wisconsin Highway 81 Road Trip

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

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

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

Beloit

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown Beloit

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

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

 

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

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

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

Monroe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World's Largest M, on Platteville Mound

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

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

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

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:

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

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

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

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

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Need the ferry? Flip the switch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

80

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

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

Wisconsin Highway 80 Road Trip

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

 

Highway 80 south begins

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

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

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

Pittsville, the center of Wisconsin along Highway 80

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

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

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

Necedah Visitor Center sign

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

Necedah NWR guide signs

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

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

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

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

Actor Kurtwood Smith was born in New Lisbon, Wisconsin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Downtown Elroy along Main Street is right along The Commons.

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

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

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*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin Highway 60 along the Lower Wisconsin River Road
60

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

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

Wisconsin Highway 60 Road Trip

The Drive (East to West):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The question is: does Ryan STILL love Tracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbus

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** Winery & Distillery Alert ***

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

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

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

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

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

Lower Wisconsin River Road Scenic Byway brochureLower Wisconsin River Road Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

33

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

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

Wisconsin Highway 33 Road Trip

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

The Start: Port Washington

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

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

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Port Washington’s beautiful, bustling harbor.

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

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

For biking enthusiasts, the Interurban Trail winds through town, and all of Ozaukee County, on a former rail line. For music enthusiasts, it’s good to know that Port Washington – along with neighboring Grafton – was an early hub for Blues, Gospel, even some Country music a century ago. Grafton, about five miles southwest of Port Washington, had a building that hosted the legendary Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. There, 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation, allowing artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock ‘N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton at a make-shift studio that was formerly a chair factory; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called “race records” of the era. Many of the musicians were African-American and came up from Milwaukee or Chicago (often originating in St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans) and would record in Grafton and then stay overnights in Port Washington, where the record company had its offices independent from the studios. Both towns embrace this grand era of music and celebrate it annually on Labor Day weekend with the Paramount Music Festival, a three-day outdoor live music salute to the music styles of early musicians and those who followed them.

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

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

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

West Bend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Horicon and the Horicon Marsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Creek Cheese House along Highway 33

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

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

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

 

 

Beaver Dam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Highway 33 entering Portage

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

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

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

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Fort Winnebago site along Highway 33

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

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

Highway 33 in Portage as Cook Street.

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

Downtown Portage, a significant crossroads for a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

Man Mound

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

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

Baraboo

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

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

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

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

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

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on a State Trunk Tour” Dept:
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On the Sauk County Courthouse grounds, an impromptu oversize chess match.

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Imagine getting a ticket for going 3 mph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cow Pie Alert!

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

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

Reedsburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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The Amish population is significant between Wonewoc and Cashton on Highway 33, especially near this market parking area in Hillsboro. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds.

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

In Hillsboro, Highways 80 breaks south; three miles later Highway 82 splits off to the southwest.

Hillsboro and the Cheyenne Valley… Diversity before diversity was cool

In the mid-1800s, a sizable group of African American settlers came to eastern Vernon County and established Wisconsin’s first integrated schools, churches and sports teams. Interestingly, a racially diverse and by all accounts harmonious community was more easily achieved in rural Wisconsin in the 19th century than some areas are able to have today. Although much of the old community is gone, landmarks remain… including many of the area’s famous “round barns”, many of which were designed and built by Algie Shivers, one of the settlers. About half the barns he supervised and participated in the construction of still stand, and some are seen along Highway 33. There is an official driving tour of the Cheyenne Valley exploring this, which can be download in .PDF format here. Highway 33 from Hillsboro to Wildcat Mountain State Park is part of the tour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Crosse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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