Wisconsin Highway 95 feature photo
95

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

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

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

Wisconsin Highway 95 Road Trip

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

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

Highway 95 beginning at Fountain City

Highway 95 eastbound corner, right at the Golden Frog.

Highway 95's western terminus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monarch House & Fountain City Brewery on Highway 95

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

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

Highway 95 - Seven Hawks Winery, Fountain City

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

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

Highway 95, Rock in the House, Fountain City

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

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

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

Highway 95, vista views east of Fountain City

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

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

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

Wisconsin Highway 95 feature photo

Highway 95 zigzagging along Fountain City Ridge in Buffalo County.

Highway 95 zigzagging along Fountain City Ridge in Buffalo County.

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


Highway 95 winds down towards Arcadia

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

Arcadia

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

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

Highway 95 in downtown Arcadia, Wisconsin

Highway 95 rolling through Arcadia.

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

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

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

Farm east of Arcadia along Highway 95

Roadside grazing along Highway 95 between Blair and Hixton

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

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

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

Blair, Wisconsin welcome sign

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

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

Strand Wayside in Blair along Highway 95

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

Amish wagon along Highway 95 east of Blair, Wisconsin

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

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

Wisconsin Highway 95 approaching I-94

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

Silver Mound

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

Silver Mound

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

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

Highway 95 CONNECTIONS:

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

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

 

Back to StateTrunkTour.com



124

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

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

Highway 124 Road Trip

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

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

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

Chippewa Falls

WEAU Winter Sports, Chippewa Falls

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

Check out our State Trunk Tour Podcast about Chippewa Falls:

Downtown Chippewa Falls

Part of downtown Chippewa Falls in early spring.

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

Downtown Chippewa Falls along Bay Street/Highway 124

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

Leinenkugel Brewery Alert!

Chippewa Falls Oktoberfest along Highway 124

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

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

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

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

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

Highway 124 at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumble Bridge in Irvine Park.

The Rumble Bridge in Irvine Park.

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

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

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

Highway 124 comes to an end at Highway 64.

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

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

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

 

 

243

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s turn around back east to Osceola

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




93

STH-093 “Eau Claire to La Crosse the fun way”

 

WisMap93_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 93 is one of two relatively direct connections between Eau Claire and La Crosse – the other being U.S. 53. Highway 93, though, is the faster and less meandering of the two, which is why it’s the “orange” line on Wisconsin state maps – it’s considered the main connector. It’s a nice ride through the northern part of the “Driftless Area” with plenty of valleys and vistas for picture-taking or just general gazing, all while connecting two of western Wisconsin’s largest cities.

The Wisconsin Highway 93 Road Trip

The Drive (North to South):

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Northbound Highway 93 ends approaching Eau Claire at the junction of U.S. 53 & U.S. 12, two major routes that go around the city.

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A key access point to the start of Highway 93 southbound is from U.S. 12 (Claremont Avenue) on the Eau Claire-Altoona border.

Eau Claire

ec_fromus12bridge1_800Highway 93 begins on the southeast side of Eau Claire (pop. 65,883), so before you head out, make sure you visit the place. Eau Claire is the largest city in northwestern Wisconsin and the ninth-largest in the state, it was founded at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers. Eau Claire was named after early French explorers’ declaration of “voici d’eau claire!” (“here is clear water!”) and the city’s ties to its water resources have been tight ever since. The movement of the water gave rise to as many as 22 sawmills that operated in the city in the late 1800s; however, the rivers also run lazy enough to allow for recreational tubing by thousands of UW-Eau Claire students during the summer months.

A major feature in Eau Claire is Carson Park. Situated on a peninsula formed by an oxbow in the Chippewa River, the 134-acre park features stadiums, festivals, trains, museums, lakes, and probably even some playground equipment. The Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum focuses on logging in the 1890s. It opened in 1934 and features a theater show, a blacksmith shop, cook shanty, bunkhouse and more. The Big Cut Room explores logging’s impact. You can check it out from May through September. The Chippewa Valley Museum (715-834-7871) is next door and features a variety of exhibits, including a 1950s era ice cream parlor if the kids (or you) need a treat. A ride on the Carson Park Train is also fun for everyone; you wind amidst the pine trees and enjoy the steam and sounds of an old-school engine.

Carson Park also holds the Carson Park stadium, home of today’s Eau Claire Express, of the Northwoods League. Pro baseball dates back to 1937 in Carson Park, when the team was the Eau Claire Bears. Not wishing to be associated with a certain Chicago football team, they became the Eau Claire Braves in 1954 (okay, it was because they became a minor leage affiliate of the new Milwaukee Braves.) The Braves experienced significant success and local fans got to enjoy the careers of such major future players, managers, and sportscasters as Bob Uecker, Joe Torre, and Hank Aaron. Aaron had a statue of him dedicated in 1994 that commemorated forty years since he’d played there, and all of the home run awesomeness that was to follow. The Braves departed around when the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta, but the Express came aboard in 2005 and continue to display future MLB players.

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An entrance to Carson Park, a little west of where Highway 93 officially ends.

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The Carson Park Train takes passengers on a half-mile ride through the pines, a trip that delights young and old alike.

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Hank Aaron rose up through the minor leagues in Eau Claire, debuting as a pro with the Eau Claire Bears in 1952. After two years playing right here in Carson Park, he would join the Milwaukee Braves and work his way into the top echelons of baseball history, eventually retiring as baseball’s home run king in 1976 – with the Milwaukee Brewers.

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Carson Park also features the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum…the exterior figures here make it pretty obvious. The Chippewa Valley Museum is next door; plenty of other attractions adorn Carson Park.

Eau Claire holds one of the state’s largest four-year universities, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. With over 10,500 students studying, partying, and otherwise sluffing off across a 333-acre campus spanning the Chippewa River, it’s lively and considered one of the state’s most beautiful. U.S. News & World Report ranked UW-Eau Claire the 5th best regional university in the Midwest among all public colleges. The campus features the James Newman Clark Bird Museum, among other facilities. The campus is divided into upper and lower portions, nestled in hills on either side of the Chippewa River. In summer months, tubing and floating on the river is a popular pastime.

Eau Claire’s main employers and headquarters companies include Menard’s, Erbert & Gerbert’s Sandwich Shops, IDEXX Computer Systems, Cascades Tissue Group, National Presto Industries, and Open-Silicon. Computer hardware has become a major manufacturing segment in Eau Claire; for years, a Uniroyal tire plant provided much of the manufacturing employment. Times change.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
In 2012, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranked Eau Claire 7th of “Ten Best Cities for Cheapskates.” Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing…

Eau Claire’s downtown holds plenty of great buildings, parks, bars and restaurants, and historical structures. The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire (220 S. Barstow Street, 715-832-5437) offers plenty of activities for little ones, while places to eat, drink, catch up on the games, listen to bands, see the arts and more downtown can be found at places like The Acoustic Cafe (505 S. Barstow Street, 715-832-9090), Pioneer Tavern (401 Water Street, 715-832-4455), the Eau Claire Fire House (202 Gibson Street, 715-514-0406), Mogie’s Pub & Grill (436 Water Street, 715-836-9666), and Stella Blues (306 E. Madison Street, 715-855-7777). The State Theatre opened as a Vaudeville theatre in 1926, and today serves as the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

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Murals, bridges, and pathways adorn the downtown area, which has bene undergoing major revitalization. The Chippewa River State Trail crosses the Chippewa River downtown and offers recreational walking, hiking, biking, and snowmobiling on a former railroad line, which is why the bridge trestles look as they do.

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One of the most popular summer activities – especially for local college students – is to float down the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers.

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Find out more about things to see and do in Eau Claire by visiting VisitEauClaire.com.

93sblascrossesign_800Highway 93 officially begins heading south from U.S. 12 (Claremont Avenue) at U.S. 53 (Hastings Way). From there, it’s a busy boulevard ride through a bustling area of Eau Claire (it’s near the mall, after all), heading over I-94 and then diving into the farmlands south of the city. This is a fast-growing area of Eau Claire, with suburb of Altonna just to the east and the newer U.S. 53 freeway connecting to Superior serving as a major catalyst for development.

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Left: The first Highway 93 sign heading out, just past a major shopping area in Eau Claire. The first few miles of Highway 93 move you along at a pretty good clip – provided you hit the lights right. Right: Just south of I-94, a four-lane stretch lasts for a bit as you head into the…um, suburbs. Eleva lies ahead, but it’s a little ways yet.

Highway 93 is a busy 4-lane highway heading south at first, crossing over I-94 and heading into southern parts of Eau Claire County. Eau Claire sits on the northern edge of the “Driftless Area” part of a wide swath of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and parts of Iowa that were spared the relative flattening of the land that the glaciers imposed tens of thousands of years ago. The result? You come across some nice topography and beautiful views almost right away. As Highway 93 gradually transitions from four-lane divided highway to two-lane rural road, the drive becomes more and more scenic.

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After a cross into Trempealeau County, the next town up is Eleva (pop. 675). Highway 93 meets up with U.S. 10 in this village, which features some interesting structures. Bridges over ponds, turkeys on buildings, grass on roofs, that kind of stuff. Makes for an interesting look-see in such a small town.

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State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Eleva’s original name was “New Chicago.” When the local grain elevator only had “ELEVA” painted on it before winter struck, newcomers saw it and assumed it was the name of the village. Hey, better than being associated with Chicago…
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This pedestrian bridge over a pond in downtown Eleva was eye-catching – especially with the reflection beneath.

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Engen’s Auto Sales on the corner of Highway 93 and U.S. 10 has a number of great old-school car and gas station metallic signs draped around the sides of the building. Click the picture for a detailed look!

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Eleva’s main crossroads, where Highway 93 meets U.S. 10.

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Family Farms Market, a wholesale food distributor, has asphalt in the parking lot and grass on the roof.

eleva_turkey2_800For such a small town, Eleva and its environs have their fair share of eye-catching businesses. The Family Farms Market prefers grass to shingles for its roof; the Elk Creek Inn (N40351 State Road 93, 715-985-3304) further south towards Independence evidently offers turkey dinners, as evidenced by their roof. Can you imagine if they put samples of the whole menu up there?

Past Eleva, Highway 93 passes through small settlements like Chimney Rock and Elk Creek. The scenery on this stretch is great, with long vistas and plenty of curves. A few miles down the road, Highway 121 comes in Gilmanton and joins Highway 93 for the ride into Independence (pop. 1,336), the first incorporated city along Highway 93 since Eau Claire. The area was named Independence in 1876 and became a city in 1942. Located where Elk Creek merges with the Trempealeau River, Independence also features 35-acre Bugle Lake, which has an island park and is popular for both lake homes and multiple festivals, such as on Independence Day (fireworks reflecting off water are cooler than fireworks over land, after all.) It also hosts one of the state’s most popular ice fishing contests, held every February.

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Highway 121 heads east toward Whitehall on the north end of town while Highway 93 dives right into downtown Independence. A lovely church (below) from 1895 greets you on the north side of town, while in the downtown area, a number of interesting older buildings will catch your eye.

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This church, with a date on 1895 stamped on it, greets you as you approach Independence from the north along Highways 93 & 121.

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Independence City Hall, which also houses the Opera House, was completed in 1903. The clock tower almost reminds one of the “Back to the Future” movies. It’s located right along Highway 93 downtown.

The City Hall was completed in 1903 and the clock tower has “towered” over Independence ever since. There is an Opera House on the second floor, used for various activities and events. A restoration completed in 2002 updated quite a few things inside, but the exterior retains its classic look.

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Independence has a slew of older buildings downtown that have a variety of businesses. One of the cool things about towns like this is some original signs that have been there for decades, like this “Northern Investment Company” one.

As you continue through downtown Independence, on the south side you’ll come across Nelson’s Straightline Texaco Station (23923 Burrows Road/Highway 93, 715-985-2626), a restored 1931 Texaco station that still operates… as a used car dealership. It’s an absolute draw for car and old gas station buffs… memorabilia from the 1930s and 1950s are in abundance.

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South of Independence, Highway 93 continues through beautiful countryside. Next up is Arcadia (pop. 2,925), the largest city in Trempealeau County. Arcadia may be best known as the world headquarters of Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc.. From this quaint burg, Ashley operates over 400 stores, plus manufacturing and distribution facilities in six U.S. states, plus China, Vietnam, and more. It’s rare that a company founded in Chicago in the 1940s ends up controlling a worldwide corporation from a small Wisconsin city, but here’s how.

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Today’s Highway 93 skims the eastern edge of Arcadia; what is now County Highway A is the former route of 93 that used to go directly into town. The main street running through “downtown” Arcadia is Highway 95, and it’s worth the very brief detour. A good stop is Memorial Park, an Ashley-financed endeavor that salutes and pays tribute to the fighting men and women of all of our wars and conflicts. We’re talking everything from the Revolutionary War to World War II to victims of the 9/11 attacks… which includes a steel beam from the wreckage of the Twin Towers in New York City on that fateful day. A 2,500-seat amphitheatre and other facilities are also included in the park.

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Ashley Furniture’s HQ includes a Visitors’ Center, located along Highway 95/Main Street on the west side of downtown by the Trempealeau River. The eagle in front of Ashley’s big “A” is an eye-catching sculpture downtown.

Arcadia’s local history museum is in this building along Highway 95, right by Ashley’s visitor center.

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We’re always up for a good bar name; “Up-Chuck’s” is as good as any we’ve seen. We didn’t go in and check out the floors.

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Arcadia’s Public Library opened in 1907. A $5,000 donation from none other than Andrew Carnegie himself helped solidify the building’s construction, and his name graces the entrance to this day.

There is, of course, an Ashley’s Home Store on Highway 93, since you’re in the heart of it all!

Heading south from Arcadia, Highway 93 again rides ridges and swoops through valleys as it continues south through Wisconsin’s Driftless Region. A few marked “scenic overlook” areas are just the beginning of the expansive views one can take in of the rolling hills, farms, distant ridges and valleys, and more that makes this one of the most beautiful areas in the Midwest. The only named crossroads for miles is a settlement called Tamarack; past there you just keep getting closer to the Mississippi River, although on Highway 93 you never quite reach it.

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Eventually, Highway 93 heads down a few hundred feet into unincorporated Centerville, where there’s a junction with Highways 35 and 54. From this point on, Highway 93 joins other routes; it’s never on its own again. If you head straight, you follow Highway 35 to the Mississippi River and little Trempealeau (pop. 1,319), which features some nice sights including Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau Hotel (608-534-6898), a restaurant, saloon and place to stay since 1871. Highway 93 used to head this way, but a 1990 swap means it follows Highway 54 east right away.

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Highway 93 stops being an “only child” at Centerville, joining Highway 54 for a ride east to U.S. 53 and then south towards Holmen on the way to La Crosse.

Heading east, Highway 93 – joined with Highway 54 – becomes a busier, straighter, faster highway, passing a historical marker or two (and one crumbling, but cool looking, building, on its way to a junction with U.S. 53. Highway 93 joins U.S. 53, which it last departed in Eau Claire, for a ride to Holmen. When Highway 35 meets up with U.S. 53, Highway 93 ends – although there’s no marker for the occasion. At this point, you’re on a four-lane expressway headed to La Crosse. Hit the city and enjoy!

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Remnants of what was: this building was a beautiful full structure at one point; today it’s ruins are rather captivating still.

marker_decorahpeak_800Here’s The marker at Decorah Peak. The rock-crested hill was named for a Winnebago chief named One-Eyed Decorah, who took refuge in the peak after being wounded; he recouped and surprised his attackers the next day, gaining sweet, sweet revenge. He later fought along with Black Hawk during the Black Hawk War, although that didn’t go quite as well.

Highway 93 has no marked end, although you reach it along U.S. 53 at Holmen, at which point you’re in the northern La Crosse suburbs at Highway 35. U.S. 53 becomes your ride into La Crosse, which is a bunch of fun in itself!

CONNECTIONS:

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 12, U.S. 53
Can connect nearby to: I-94, about one mile south; Highway 37, about two miles west; Highway 124, about four miles north

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 53, Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: Highway 54, about six miles north; Highway 16, about eight miles south; I-90, about eight miles south

71

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

 

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

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

Mileage: about 54 miles

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

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

Bypass alternates at: Sparta

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

Wisconsin Highway 71 Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

Elroy Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

64

STH-064“Twin Cities to Twin Cities”

 

WisMap64Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 64 is another “coast to coast” highway, connecting the twin cities of Marinette and Menomonee, MI, with the fast-growing northeast suburbs of the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Forests, Main Street USAs, state forests, a variety of terrain, and wide-open rural driving all await you in between.

Wisconsin Highway 64 Road Trip

The Drive (East to West):

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Highway 64 begins as an offshoot from U.S. 41 in Marinette, about 1/2 mile in from the Michigan state line.

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Highway 64 begins in Marinette (pop. 11,749) at U.S. 41, just short of the Michigan state line and Marinette’s over-the-river twin city, Menomonee. Marinette’s location, where the hard-working Menomonee River flows into Green Bay, cemented its destiny to be a logging town in the 1800’s. Named after an early Native American fur trader’s common-law wife, Marinette is the county seat of Marinette County, Wisconsin’s largest by land area… yet Miller Park at capacity for a Brewers game holds more people than Marinette County has residents. Marinette – the city – has a nice downtown within a few blocks of the river along U.S. 41 just east of where Highway 64 begins and serves up numerous options for boating and fishing. Its “twin city” sister, Menomonee, Michigan, lies right across the Menomonee River. The two cities boomed in the late 1800’s when lumber came from forests upstream and were loaded onto ships at the docks of Green Bay. The two city’s main high schools share one of the oldest interstate rivalries in the U.S. It’s also where the 2005 film The Godfather of Green Bay was shot. The main bridge between the two cities carries U.S. 41 and was reconstructed in 2007. Stephenson Island is in the middle of the river; a nice pedestrian bridge allows a stroll there. There’s also a Wisconsin Welcome Center at the U.S. 41 bridge – as well as a Michigan Welcome Center on the other side.

State Trunk Tour Approved Eats & Drinks
marinette_mickey-lu_outsidesunWhile in Marinette, along U.S. 41 just south of Highway 64 there are two great places to check out. The first is just under two miles south of Highway 64 and it’s a well-known classic among locals and veteran road trippers: Mickey-Lu Bar-B-Q (1710 Marinette Avenue, 715-735-7721). An old fashioned diner with jukeboxes and counter service, Mickey-Lu’s serves up incredibly tasty little burgers charcoal grilled in a brick oven that’s right in front of your face. Everything here is old school, including the price. USA Today named it in a nationwide list of “Great American Burger Joints”! (It’s the 10th one on there.)

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Mickey-Lu in Marinette

This is actually Mickey-Lu’s deal with Tootsie Rolls.

Mickey-Lu’s – from the outside to the brick-lined charcoal grill, from the 1950s era jukeboxes to the tasty little burger itself –  is a chow-down pleasure. Further south, the Rail House Restaurant & Brewpub (2029 Old Peshtigo Road, 715-735-9800) houses 11 microbrews from the Rail House Brewing Company, including a delicious Silver Cream, a Blueberry Draft and a hoppy Big Mac IPA. Try the sampler!

Highway 64 begins about 1/2 mile from Michigan as a western offshoot from U.S. 41. Beginning with a slow push past some residential neighborhoods (Highway 180, which runs along the Menomonee River to Wausaukee, angles off in Marinette’s west side) and over the Peshtigo River just outside of town, Highway 64 becomes a straight shot west for about 15 miles before intersecting with the newly-expanded 4-lane U.S. Highway 141 and grazing the northern edge of Pound (pop. 484). Pound is part of the Lena-Coleman-Pound-Crivitz stretch of towns that run north-south along U.S. 141 in central Marinette County. Pound itself is a small burg that was once featured in national commercials for a weight loss company (“How many pounds did the people of Pound lose?”) where the town’s residents lost a collectively sizeable amount of weight. Highway 64 grazes the northern edge of Pound with an interchange at U.S. 141 and a connection to County CP, which is the original U.S. 141 and connects to the heart of Coleman and Pound (hence the CP.) From here, Highway 64 makes another beeline west, over rolling hills into Oconto County and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

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It’s less than an hour to Lambeau Field in this stretch west of Pound along Highway 64, where Packer fans aren’t shy about their allegiance. No word on if the mailman ever drop-kicked letters or packages through the uprights.

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Oconto County.org and Highway 64

West of Pound, Highway 64 enters Oconto County, straddling the line for about two miles. At a hilltop right by County Z is a great butcher shop called Meatski’s, where a quick stop for sausages and jerky is always a great idea for fans of said foodstuffs.

Oconto County is officially part of the Green Bay Metropolitan Statistical Area, so despite your current relatively rural location, you’re in a “metro area.” The County runs from the waters of Green Bay and its county seat, Oconto, and stair-steps northwestward through the Oconto River Valley and into higher ground within national forestland. Highway 64 heads mainly through the latter; it’s an area filled with forests, ATV and recreational trails, and outdoor adventure opportunities.

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Highway 64 travels through some beautiful, wide open spaces like here, just east of Mountain. Which is interesting, because there are no mountains around.

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The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest covers wide swaths of northern Wisconsin; Highway 64 travels through parts of it in Oconto, Langlade and Taylor Counties.

Highway 64 runs a beeline westward for and reaches the boundary of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, a 1.5-million acre wonderland of old growth and replanted forest land. The eastern part of the state primarily holds the Nicolet portion.

Just inside the Forest boundary, Highway 64 curves slightly and meets Highway 32 for a trip into the town of Mountain, which goes on along the road for several miles. This unincorporated town,  with a center around the intersection with County W. It’s a popular stretch for stores catering to visitors hunting, fishing and snowmobiling in the area since two major state highways run together here for about six miles. It’s a good stop for gas, sacks, or other refreshments. Just past the center of Mountain, Highway 32 breaks away to head north and 64 continues westerly through more of the forest and into Langlade County.

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A TORNADO’S POWER: Taken along Highway 64 in June of 2007 just after a tornado cut a wide swath through parts of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, these show just how strong the winds of a tornado can be. This was solid forest prior to the storm.

Just inside the county line, you cross Highway 55 and the crossroads of Langlade (pop. 472), along the Wolf River. A marker at that junction describes the town and county’s namesake, Charles Michel de Langlade, as the “Father of Wisconsin” (pictured below). A series of lakes and rivers dot the landscape around Highway 64 continuing westward, past settlements like Elton (not named after the singer, apparently) and Polar, past the Ice Age Trail, picking up Highway 52 and heading towards the county seat, Antigo.

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Langlade County’s namesake, Charles Michel de Langlade, is commemorated at Highways 55 & 64 with this marker. Langlade was one of Green Bay’s first settlers, fought in several wars and led, among others, a young guy named George Washington.

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The Elton Schoolhouse, opened in 1912.

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Elton Schoolhouse after its 2009 restoration.

See these above? A nice before and after between Elton and Antigo, the Elton Schoolhouse opened in 1912 and closed several decades ago. It looked charming but decrepit when I first drove by it on Highway 64. By 2009, the Elton School Preservation Society had arranged for its restoration and today the Elton Schoolhouse serves as a small museum.  State Trunk Tour reader Agnes Wiedemeier drove by provided the new photo (thanks, Agnes!) and you can tour the school by appointment (call Donald Rose at 715-882-3008 or Carl Zuelke at 715-882-2112) and check out local artifacts in there, including an old chalkboard signed by residents and visitors who attended the school.

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

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

Antigo

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Large deer are abundant in northern Wisconsin; only a few are plastic and have the patience to hang out atop restaurant signs, though. This is at the corner of Highway 64 where it meets up with U.S. 45 & Highway 47.

Highway 64 once joined U.S. 45 and Highways 47/52 for the ride downtown; today, 64 continues west from that busy intersection on the city’s north side and bypasses the town to the north and west by itself. To see Antigo’s main points of interest, you need to head south along 45/47/52 past the Langlade County Fairgrounds to downtown.

 

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

 

 

Merrill alllll the way west to Stillwater, Minnesota is COMING SOON! Keep watching the site for developments… but in the meantime, here’s the west end!

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Highway 64 comes to an end on the bridge to Stillwater, Minnesota, which you see in the background behind the “END 64” sign.

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The Stillwater Lift Bridge opened in 1931. Particularly on summer weekends, this bridge carries plenty of traffic between Wisconsin and Minnesota. The newer, high-speed bridge construction is underway.

Coming up: Express bridge across the St. Croix

Work has officially begun on the new four-lane bridge connecting Highway 64 with Minnesota Highway 95 in Stillwater. Check out this video from the MN Dept. of Transportation, showing what the new bridge over the St. Croix will look like. Highway 64 westbound travelers will see something very different heading into Minnesota; a virtual trip begins about 8:50 into it:

 

54

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

 

WisMap54Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 54 is a “coast to coast” route, connecting the colleges and hills around Winona, Minnesota, winding through the hills around the Black River and Black River Falls, through the forests, cranberry bogs, and lakes of central Wisconsin, and punching right through the heart of Green Bay on its way to the beautiful lakefront setting of Algoma.

Wisconsin Highway 54 Road Trip

The Drive (West to East): Highway 54 begins smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi River – on the North Channel Bridge leading away from picturesque Winona, Minnesota (named after our favorite Hollywood shoplifter) toward a massive bluff on the Wisconsin side of the river – the first of many this road comes across as it begins its ride through the Driftless Area on its way to Algoma, 244 miles away. As soon as you’re off the bridge onto terra firma, you reach Wisconsin’s Great River Road, Highway 35.

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Highway 54 starts as you cross into Wisconsin from Winona, Minnesota, a lovely river town that’s billed as the Stained Glass Capital of the World. Just as long as there’s none in the road, I guess it’s alright. Once you enter Wisconsin, Highway 54 meets up with Highway 35 for a little trek into Trempealeau – County.

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Highway 54 junction sign in Brown CountyHighway 54 turns east and follows Highway 35, hugging the bluffs with the river and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge to your right. The Trempealeau N.W.R. covers over 10 square miles and consists of the backwaters away from the Mississippi and the Trempealeau Rivers. Called a “prairie wonderland” by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, you’ll find tall grasses that reach heights of eight or nine feet. Watch for controlled fires in the area, primarily during the spring months. Past tiny Marshland and over the Trempealeau River, Highway 54 leaves Buffalo County and enters Trempealeau County (I’ll bet you’ve never seen the word “Trempealeau” so many times in one paragraph) for a beeline ride east, past the intersection where Highway 35 breaks away to head south toward La Crosse and Highway 93 joins from the north for the ride into Galesville (pop. 1,427). Galesville celebrates the apple orchards of Wisconsin the first Saturday in every October with the Apple Affair, featuring everything apple (except, perhaps, for Gwyneth Paltrow’s kid), tons of activities and multiple bicycle tours that let you pedal around and check out the fall colors.

U.S. Highway 53 joins Highways 54 & 93 for a miles east from Galesville. U.S. 53 and Highway 93 then take off southeast toward La Crosse and Highway 54 becomes its own road for the first time since the bridge over the Mississippi. The next twenty miles or so are beautiful; you wind through the Driftless Region. There are many twists and turns on this fairly narrow stretch of road — it’s not the place to open it up and do 100 mph, even on a motorcycle — as you enter Jackson County and approach the Black River near North Bend, a great place to stop and do some canoeing.

Try Riverview Inn & Supper Club (608-488-5191), where you can dine and/or navigate the Black River as a nice break from the drive.Further past, you cross the northern beginning of Highway 71, which leads toward Sparta. Highway 54 then heads into Melrose (pop. 529) before a meandering ride roughly paralleling the Black River to Black River Falls.

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

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From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” Department: I have no idea what this is, but it was definitely picture-worthy.

Black River Falls (pop. 3,618) is the county seat of Jackson County and, frankly, the first sizeable town along Highway 54 since Winona. The county seat of Jackson County, Black River Falls sits along the Black River. A small waterfall provided the hydroelectric power for a sawmill, which of course was all that was needed back then to establish a town.

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

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Highway 54 runs right through Downtown Black River Falls.

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The Black River, which runs through the heart of Black River Falls (logically enough), indeed has a blackish hue due to its high iron content. It’s a popular paddling and canoeing river, as evidenced by the opportunity you had earlier in North Bend. The Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce offers information on a bunch of other places to take advantage of the river’s amenities, as well as the city’s. Just follow U.S. 12/Highway 27 (Water Street) north from the downtown junction for a brief minute and it’s right there. You can also call them at 800-404-4008.

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*** BREWERY ALERT! ***

Black River Falls is home to Sand Creek Brewing Company (320 Pierce St., 715-284-7553), which makes a variety of quality brews on a site that started brewing beer in 1856, but has had a wild history since then. Brewing here actually took a 75-year hiatus until the Pioneer Brewing Company started up in 1995 and became the new home of Sand Creek Brewing in 2004. For more history, check out this page. Meanwhile, stop in (right off Highway 54) and check out their brews, from the light Golden Ale to the hearty Sand Creek Imperial Porter. State Trunk Tour picks include the Groovy Brew, Woody’s Wheat (banana overtones are a good thing) and the Pioneer Black River Red, which won the World Beer Cup’s Gold Award for a German-style Marzen in 2000.

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sphagnummoss_500Ever heard of Sphagnum moss? Me neither, but it’s actually a significant plant that pumps money into the local economy. Growing quickly in the boggy and marshy lands in the area, Sphagnum moss is used to keep nursery plants and flowers alive and watered during shipping, since this moss can hold 20 times its weight in water. It’s used in hydroponic gardening, which I had to look up — it’s basically about growing plants with mineral nutrient solutions instead of the traditional soil. It’s even used for surgical dressings because it is sterile (ironically, it reproduces quickly.) It also helps prevent fungus attack in seeds. Wisconsin is actually the only state that produces Sphagnum moss commercially.

Cool kitsch: Familiar with the British band The Fall? They actually mention the Black River Falls Motel. Why? I’ll do some digging and find it, ’cause I’ll bet the story’s interesting. Also, you should check out the orange moose at the Best Western Arrowhead Lodge & Suites, and the “cow” McDonald’s, a Mickey D’s with cow-like themes on the tables – although they could be dalmation-like, too. They’re both right along Highway 54 by the I-94 interchange. Also, the Majestic Pines Casino is maintained by the Ho-Chunk Nation just east of Black River Falls, so if you’re feelin’ lucky, stop in and test your fate.

The Legend of the Orange Moose
54moose2_lgThey proudly call it the world’s most unusual town ornament. Legend says a Norwegian farmer named Torvaald Kjorvak (try pronouncing that) found a wounded moose calf along the Black River. With no mother around to be found, Kjorvak nursed the animal back to health himself. He then fed him an experimental grain that helped him grow huge… and orange. Find out more here!

East from Black River Falls, Highway 54 moves from the state’s Driftless Area to forestland, where dense trees and occasional bogs replace the jagged hills as you speed through the sparsely-populated eastern part of Jackson County. After the curvy nature of Highway 54 west of Black River Falls, a little straightaway can be nice. Expect few services, though: this is a pretty remote stretch for a while. You go through the Black River State Forest, past Sugarloaf Mound and toward Wood County in the tiny settlement of City Point. This is one of the most sparsely populated areas in Wisconsin, so if you truly want to get away from it all, this is a pretty good place to be.

Highway 54 mileage sign to City Point

It’s a long way to anywhere heading east from Black River Falls on Highway 54. The stretch from BRF to Wisconsin Rapids is one of the longest without sizable towns, or even gas stations, in the state as you head through remote forests and bogs.

Evidence of the forthcoming cranberry domination along Highway 54 shows up just before City Point, a town that crams 189 people into only 90 square miles. Many more of the brilliant red seas of berries (in season) will come in Wood County. Meanwhile, how about some wildlife? Check out the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails inside the 9,100-acre Sandhill State Wildlife Area. It features a 3.5-mile hiking trail known as the Swamp Buck, a captive herd of bison, and camping abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing and interaction. If you prefer the comfort of your vehicle, there Trumpeter Trail Auto Tour gives you 14 miles of road to follow. Three observation towers and a slew of guidance and informational signs tell you more about the animals you’re watching, including white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, Canada geese, ducks, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, owls… you get the idea. Oh, and there’s no hunting allowed. You can access the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails right off Highway 54 by following County Highway X south.

Rail bridge over the Yellow River from Highway 54 near Dexterville

The railroad paralleling Highway 54 over the Yellow River near Dexterville has some interesting low trestles.

Back onto 54, you cross the Yellow River (check the cool railroad bridge trestle just to the south, pictured above) and meet up with Highway 80. Together Highways 54 & 80 go through Dexterville briefly before Highway 54 breaks east again and plows eastward through miles of cranberry bogs in towns with names like “Cranmoor.”

The Wisconsin River beckons as you hook up with Highway 73, just out of Nekoosa and head into Port Edwards (pop. 1,944). Originally known as “Frenchtown”, Port Edwards grew around a sawmill owned by John Edwards, Sr. and Jr., and the town was eventually renamed after them. The “Port” part comes from the Wisconsin River, upon which Port Edwards sits. While there, check out the Alexander House Center for Art & History, (715-887-3442) which features art displays, colonial furniture, and historical looks at the area’s papermaking and lumber industry. The Alexander House is right along Highway 54. The Edwards and most of its inhabitants weren’t big drinkers; this was a “dry” community from its establishment in the 1830s all the way into the 1990s. So for a century and a half, residents in search of imbibe-ment headed up today’s Highway 54 to their “big city” neighbor.

Wisconsin Rapids

Highway 54 entering Wisconsin Rapids

Wisconsin Rapids (pop. 18,435) isn’t necessarily a big city, but it is big enough to be its own “micropolitan” area, which has over 54,000 people. “Da Rapids”, as some locals call it, used to be two cities on opposite sides of the Wisconsin River, Centralia and Grand Rapids; they merged in 1900. Then, in 1920 when locals were fed up with getting mail misdirected to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they changed the city’s name to Wisconsin Rapids. The “rapids” refers to a 45-foot drop this “hardest working river in the world” made at this point, which provided some good acceleration to boats and canoes that didn’t want to make the portage. Dams have since changed this – there are five now from Stevens Point to Nekoosa – but this stretch of the river still provides hydroelectric power and makes it convenient to pound wood into pulp so we can eventually have something to write on.

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

Side Trip: Rudolph Grotto & Dairy State Cheese
Fans of the remarkable collections of stone, glass and rock that make up Wisconsin’s fascinating grottos will want to check out Rudolph Grotto & Wonder Cave, located about nine miles north of Wisconsin Rapids via Highways 13/34. Red gossan rocks dominate much of the grotto, ranging from pebble-sized to a 78-ton boulder. The Wonder Cave itself is something to see. So is the cheese selection at Dairy State Cheese – they like to point out that cheese is they “whey” to good health.

Highway 54/73 runs along the Wisconsin River’s west shore into the city. Shortly after the city limit, you can enjoy beautiful Ben Hansen Park, which is home to the Wisconsin Firefighters Memorial. Established in 1996, the Memorial salutes and remembers firefighters across the state who were injured or killed in the line of duty. The 7.5-acre park, trees, riverside location, and memorials make for a great to stop to reflect and relax. The Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial (WSFM) is designed like an early 1900s firehouse and contains articles and artifacts, as well as facilities like restrooms and water fountains.

Just north of the park and memorial, Highway 54 comes to a junction with Highway 13. At this point, Highway 73 breaks west and Highway 54 joins 13 eastbound across the Wisconsin River via the “Riverview Expressway.” The Riverview, built in 1982 to route state highways around downtown, isn’t that expressway-like but it’s still the first real divided highway stretch on Highway 54 since it began on its Mississippi River crossing. At 8th Street, Highway 13 heads south toward Wisconsin Dells; Highway 54 used to shoot north along 8th Street into downtown Wisconsin Rapids. Highway 13 used to follow this route too, so you’ll see “Business” 13 signs along your way. Wisconsin Rapids via Google Maps.

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

Highway 54 leaves “Da Rapids” on Baker Street (insert Gerry Rafferty song here) and then into Portage County as Plover Road for the ride to – you guessed it – Plover. This stretch is a 65 mph expressway, so open it up and enjoy. The Canadian Pacific Railroad parallels this straightaway for a while… and it’ll probably be going faster than you.

Plover (pop. 10,520) was once the Portage County seat, a distinction lost to nearby Stevens Point in the 1860s — and some resentment may still remain. Plover itself incorporated and was dissolved several times over its history, but that situation stabilized a while back and now – in a way – it’s a southern suburb of Stevens Point. The town is pretty good at producing athletes. They stretch back a ways to Walt Wilmot, an MLB player who began his career with the Washington Nationals in 1888 (the first incarnation of that team, obviously) through the 1898 season with the New York Baseball Giants, with a long stint with the Cubs in between. Current hockey star Joe Pavelski, who skates and body slams for the San Jose Sharks, also grew up in Plover. Former wrestling Olympian Dennis Hall, who snagged the Silver in Atlanta in 1996 and the Gold the year before that at the Pan Am Games, now lives in Plover, although he also spends a lot of time training future Olympians up in Marquette, Michigan.

*** BREWERY ALERT! ***

Just north of Highway 54 along I-39/U.S. 51 at County B (the next exit north) you’ll find the O’so Brewing Company (you can also access it by continuing east on Plover Road past where Highway 54 turns south to follow Business U.S. 51.) Tucked into a shopping center at the southwest quadrant of the interchange, O’so makes some pretty popular microbrews including their “Big O” Wheat Ale and a Memory Lane Pilsner, where they donate portions of sales to help Alzheimer’s research. Their Tasting Room offers about 40 beers on tap, encompassing a variety of Wisconsin and regional selections.

Right by O’so Brewery in Worzella Pines Pink, you’ll find the Wisconsin Korean War Veterans Memorial. Situated on an island in a small lake, the Memorial features an “Isle of Honor” commemorating the 132,000 Wisconsin residents who served in the Armed Forces during Korean War, including 4,286 who were injured and 801 who died. The Main Wall is filled with memorials, statues commemorate soldiers, medical staff, and others who served in the line of fire, and thousands of tiles are posted in memory of individuals.

Highway 54 dives southeast out of Plover, crosses I-39 & U.S. 51 and then across a wide expanse of farmland through Portage County and into Waupaca County, where you cross the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with access to Hartman Creek State Park, a great park for camping and canoeing. The Park is on the edge of the popular “Chain O’Lakes” area. Once known as the “Kilarnies of Wisconsin”, the area features 22 interconnected glacial lakes and ample opportunities for swimming, boating, scuba diving, hanging out next to the water doing absolutely nothing, and more. Highway 54 grazes the northern area of these lakes. For access, follow County Q or QQ south and check out Ding’s Dock (715-258-2612) for pontoons, boat rentals, cottage rentals and more. You can also take a cruise on the lakes by contacting Clear Water Harbor (715-258-2866), which also features the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar and Moo’s Dairy Bar, charged with the task of keeping plenty of malts, floats and ice cream at the ready for boaters. At the eastern edge of the Chain O’Lakes lies King, an unincorporated area that holds the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, a sprawling complex where veterans receive care and can enjoy the beauty of the lakes.

** BYPASS ALERT **

Technically, Highway 54 hooks up with the U.S. 10 freeway  to bypass Waupaca… but what fun is that? Follow the business route through town. This is about experiencing these places, after all. Just go straight instead of onto the freeway. Signs guide you through.

So, following our “city” route, Highway 54 crosses U.S. 10 and hooks up with Highway 49 for the ride into Waupaca (pop. 5,676). A popular tourism town, due in large part to the nearby Chain O’Lakes, Waupaca’s name is also familar because of the former Waupaca Foundry, now known as ThyssenKrupp Waupaca (they have additional foundries in Marinette, Indiana, and Tennessee.) The Waupaca location melts over 9,500 tons of gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron castings. Actress Annie Burgstede, who played Willow Stark in Days of Our Lives and has also had roles in CSI, Smallville, Charmed, and most recently, Without A Trace, grew up in Waupaca.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Clay Perry, the caver who first coined the term “spelunker”, was born in Waupaca.
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Entering Waupaca, we checked out South Park, which features Shadow Lake and a nice beach across the way, which a large assortment of Waupacians(?) were enjoying on a nice summer day.

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The Rosa Theater and part of Main Street in downtown Waupaca, which features a lot of places to shop, eat and yes, drink.

Waupaca hosts a number of events throughout the year.One of them is Strawberry Fest, which loads up downtown with berry, berry happy festivalgoers (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Being the county seat of Waupaca County and the largest town for about 20 miles, Waupaca bustles quite a bit for a city its size.

Highway 54 joins up with Highway 22 for the ride eastward out of Waupaca for a little while. Highway 110 joins briefly too, before both break away and head north to Manawa and beyond. Meanwhile, Highway 54 cuts east through Royalton and Northport before heading into New London.

Straddling the Waupaca-Outgamie county line, New London (pop. 7,085) sits along the Embarrass and Wolf Rivers and is considered among the best places in the state to catch some tasty walleye. It hosts a variety of historic buildings, five of which are in the Heritage Historical Village. There’s also the New London Public Museum, which has been hosting exhibits since 1917. Adding the culture in this relatively small burg, the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe performs at the Wolf River Theatre. There’s even a group of movie stunt performers that hosts a western stunt show called “Whips, Garters, and Guns Wild West Review” that is based here but puts on shows all over the country.

newlondon-newdublin-leprechaunsThe luck o’ the Irish is all over Wisconsin, but it hits New London with four-leaf clover force on St. Patrick’s Day, when the city becomes “New Dublin” for the week.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user “Leprichauns”)

 

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New London is the birthplace of the American Water Spaniel breed, registered by Dr. F.J. Pfeifer in the 1920’s. The historical marker is in Franklin Park, on Beacon Avenue near downtown.

U.S. 45 used to intersect Highway 54 in the midst of downtown, but it now runs on a bypass on the east side of New London. Once you cross U.S. 45, Highway 54 barrels eastward through Shiocton (pop. 954) and then to Black Creek (pop. 1,192), where it intersects with Highway 47. Black Creek is often locally pronounced as Black “Crick”. One fun thing of note is that two of its first settlers were named Abraham Lincoln Burdick and Thomas Jefferson Burdick. It was originally called Middleburg, probably because it pretty much is smack dab in the middle of Outagamie County. A creek at the village’s edge, which is apparently dark in color, prompted the name change.

seymourburgersign_500After Black Creek, Highway 54 skims the southern edge of Seymour (pop. 3,335), a.k.a. “Home of the Hamburger.” One of several places worldwide that lays claim to being the hamburger’s birthplace, Seymour grabs the title with a full embrace and hosts its annual Burger Fest every August. Burger Fest features hamburgers, a hamburger eating contest, kids’ games, music and a hot air balloon rally, no doubt tons of buns and a (what the…) ketchup slide. Don’t wear clothes you care about. But it sounds fun!

Seymour also hosts the Outagamie County Fair every July, drawing tons of people from the Appleton area and beyond. Want some racing? Grab a burger and plop down in a seat at Seymour Speedway, a 1/3-mile clay oval on the fairgrounds. The speedway hosts Fastrak Late Models, IMCA Modifieds, Stock Cars, and Northern Sport Mods. And they all move pretty fast.

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

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

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

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

Just east of Seymour, Highway 55 heads south towards Kaukauna while Highway 54 heads through the Oneida Indian Reservation, which was established by treaty in 1838, ten years before Wisconsin became a state. There’s the town of Oneida, and then Hobart (pop. 5,090), which incorporated as a village in 2002. Hobart is a fast-growing suburb of Green Bay, based in part on its proximity to Austin-Straubel International Airport and the surrounding highways. While Highway 54 is one of the main highways, the key freeway route is I-41, which marks the boundary between Hobart and Green Bay itself.

Green Bay

Entering Green Bay (pop. 102,313 and a.k.a. “Titletown U.S.A.”), Highway 54 is a major east-west (well, learning southeast-northwest) thoroughfare called Mason Ave. Green Bay is Wisconsin’s oldest city and – not sure if you heard about this or not – are the smallest city to host a National Football League team. They’re called the “Packers” and…what, you’ve already heard about them? Okay.

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

** Triple Brewery and One Distillery Alert! **

titletown_front_lgGreen Bay calls itself “Titletown”, so when some guys decided to start up a brewery there, it only made sense to call it the Titletown Brewing Company. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – Titletown Brewing started in December of 1996, right before the Packers’ first Super Bowl victory in nearly three decades. Located on Dousman Street/U.S. 141 just west of downtown and the Fox River, Titletown occupies a classic old railroad station built in 1899. Titletown brews Packer-backer beverages such as the Johnny “Blood” Red and Canadeo Gold as well as a great root beer called Sno-Cap, which uses Clyde the Penguin as its mascot. Trains, football, beer, food… definitely a good stop on the State Trunk Tour. Meanwhile, across the street Copper State Brewing Company moved into the former Hinterland Brewing space (more on that in a sec), which is a former meat-packing warehouse (yes, how the “Packers” got their name.)

Meanwhile, in the Titletown District, adjacent to Lambeau Field on the north you’ll find Hinterland Brewing, which did start where Copper State is now but moved into a brand new space in 2017 on the grounds of the former Mobil station so many of us stopped at to get snacks before going into a game. South and east of Lambeau but within the Titletown District, you’ll also find Badger State Brewing Company, a relative newcomer with a great selection of in-house craft brews and others from across Wisconsin. And just over on Mike McCarthy Way (named after the now former coach who – along with Aaron – brought up Super Bowl 45), you’ll find the Green Bay Distillery. It opened in 2011 with a classic vodka and a cherry vodka (handy for Green Bay winters) and expanded to gin and whiskey in subsequent years. Their restaurant has a full menu – including a full menu of macro- and craft-brewed beers if spirits aren’t your thing. Either way, both Badger State Brewing and the Green Bay Distillery are easy walking distance to Lambeau Field, the Resch Center, Ray Nitschke Field, the Brown County Arena, the famous Stadium View bar, Anduzzi’s, the BEST WESTERN Green Bay Inn Conference Center, and more.

Side Trip to Lambeau.
For Lambeau Field seekers on this route, the “frozen tundra” lies about 2 miles south of Highway 54/Mason Street; you can cut south to it via I-41, Oneida Street, or Military Avenue. Trust me, you WILL be able to find Lambeau, the home of the Green Bay Packers… the cross street is Lombardi Avenue, after all.

Highway 54 enters the heart of Green Bay just south of downtown and becomes a brief expressway and it leapfrogs the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America. From here on north through downtown, bridges are lit up at night, flanked by condos, bars, offices, and shops that are springing up at an increasing rate. At the intersection with Broadway, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. Also in the downtown area along the Fox River at U.S. 141/Dousman Street, you’ll find the Neville Public Museum, which focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is also a Children’s Museum, currently undergoing redevelopment.

East of the Fox River, blocks feature an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner’s Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar – yes, think about it.) Green Bay’s party crowd hangs out in this area, and it’s not uncommon for Packers players to be seen…and perhaps you can see their Super Bowl ring!

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

For a few miles, Highway 54 becomes a little mini-freeway, lifting up over neighborhoods and leapfrogging over the Fox River. On the west bank of the Fox is Ashland Avenue (Highway 32), which is available via an exit. For train enthusiasts, Green Bay is the site of the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway, accessible along Highway 32 about two miles south of Highway 54), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars, including the world’s largest steam locomotive, known as “Big Boy.” Also, just across the river off Highway 172 (Green Bay’s southern freeway bypass), you’ll find the lovely Heritage Hill State Historical Park. Technically located in Allouez, this 48-acre outdoor museum lives up to its name. Over 30 historic structures and endangered buildings are perched on a hill overlooking the Fox River in an area that once served as a prison farm. Log cabins from the fur trade era, original stores and public buildings, even buildings from the original Fort Howard are all located here and available for exploration. Populating the grounds in summer are live historic interpreters – many in period attire – to help illustrate what these buildings are all about. More and more fun events take place throughout the year here, too.

5457thrugb_east_600On the east bank of the Fox River, Highway 57 comes in as Monroe Avenue. At this point, Highway 54 leaves Mason Street and joins Highway 57 for the ride into downtown Green Bay. We’ve already mentioned much of the downtown attractions that tend to be just west of the Fox River, but one is coming up on the east side of the river if you detour under I-43 a bit. That’s Bay Beach Amusement Park, which offers everything from roller coasters to carousels and water rides from May through September. The biggest coaster is Zippin’ Pippin, a 2,800-foot long wooden coaster with nearly hundred-year-old origins in Memphis, Tennessee. It was moved to Green Bay and re-opened in 2011 and has remained quite popular. A new Ferris wheel is going up for 2019!

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

57eb54split_800From the east side of Green Bay – now as University Avenue – Highway 54 & 57 are coupled together past the interchange with I-43 and begins a push northeast. After five miles, Highway 54 branches off to head east towards Lake Michigan.

On the way, Highway 54 goes through New Franken and into Kewaunee County. The first town in this last county on the route is Luxemburg (pop. 1,935), one of many towns in this area named after European places – others in close proximity include Denmark, Brussels and Poland. The town was named after – not surprisingly – the home country of its first settlers. They came primarily from the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, an area that has since graced the town with a statue to commemorate U.S. soldiers who helped free Luxemburg in World War II. Luxemburg also hosts the Kewaunee County Fair on the (not surprisingly named) Kewaunee County Fairgrounds. Also nearby is the Luxemburg Speedway, which hosts IMCA modifides and other races. The Speedway is on the south side of town, best accessible via 3rd Street.

*** Brewery & Cheese Alert ***
Yes, Luxemburg now has its own brewery once again: Thumb Knuckle Brewing Company opened in 2017. Their Tap Room right along Highway 54 is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers a peek into their brewery area. And while you’re in Luxemburg, be sure to check out Ron’s Wisconsin Cheese (124 Main Street/former Highway 163, just south of Highway 54, 920-845-5330.) This cheese shop, which offers a variety of cheeses but highlights locally-made cheeses from Pagel’s Ponderosa, the state’s largest privately-owned dairy farm not too far away. At Ron’s, you’ll find their own Ponderosa brand cheeses, super fresh curds and string cheese and a huge selection of other fresh, aged, and flavored cheeses and spreads along with other state favorites like summer sausage and beef sticks. Definitely a fun State Trunk Tour stop!

Continuing east, Highway 54 heads through Casco (pop. 572), Rio Creek and Rankin, all very small settlements about 2-3 miles apart.

And with that, we come to the eastern end of Highway 54 at Algoma (pop. 3,357), perched atop the Lake Michigan shore and home to a large charter and commercial fishing fleet (once the largest on Lake Michigan) as well as a nice downtown. Algoma also has a nice beach. Fish shantys used to dot the shoreline, and some remain, which leads to the biggest annual event in town, “Shanty Days”, which takes place every August. They have fish, music, and – if you ask nice – beer and wine. Algoma is known as a salmon and trout capital of the Midwest. They make stuff here, too: hammocks, doors, mops and labels among them. Algoma also has a heavy Belgian population (as in “numerous.”)

*** Winery & Brewery Alert! ***
algoma_vonstiehl1_800Algoma is home to the Von Stiehl Winery, the oldest licensed winery in Wisconsin. The winery offers tours in its building constructed in the 1860s, back when Algoma was called Ahnapee (they renamed it Algoma in 1879.) In 1967, when the building was about 100 years old, Dr. Charles Stiehl founded the winery, using Door County’s famous cherries to create Door County Montmorency Cherry Wine. Over 30 varieties are available now, including several produced just for special events. Tours are available for $3.50 from May through October; wine tasting is complimentary all year.

Next door you’ll find the Ahnapee Brewery, named for the river that runs through town – in fact, “Ahanpee” was Algoma’s original name. Ahnapee was a brewery in town from 1868 to 1886, and it was resurrected in 2013 with a brewery just outside of town that supplies in their in-town tap room with fresh craft beer. They’re open Wednesday-Sunday, always opening at noon while closing at 9pm Wednesday and Thursday, 10pm on Friday and Saturday, and 5pm on Sunday. You’ll find Von Stiehl Winery and Ahnapee Brewery’s Tap Room along County S in downtown Algoma, just east of Highway 42 and north of the eastern terminus of Highway 54, within a few hundred yards of Lake Michigan.

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Highway 54 comes to an end at Highway 42, in full view of Lake Michigan – by the time you get to the intersection.

On the south side of Algoma, Highway 54 ends at Highway 42, 244 miles from its origin over the Mississippi River going into Winona, Minnesota. Travelers to Door County at this point can use Highway 42, or County S, which runs through Algoma’s northeast side and serves as a “short cut” to Sturgeon Bay. If you follow Highway 42, you’ll go through downtown Algoma and then head along the Ahnapee River (they changed the name of the town, but not the name of the river) for several miles to Forestville.

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

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

 

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

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 42

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.

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STH-029“From the Mississippi river split to lighthouses on Lake Michigan”

WisMap29Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 29 is a “coast to coast” highway, running between Prescott at the Mississippi/St. Croix river split and the shore of Lake Michigan in Kewaunee. On the way, you traverse hills along the St. Croix River Valley, brush by several UW college campuses, kiss the middle of two hemispheres at once, look up at Rib Mountain and check out Wausau, go through the heart of Green Bay, and even visit Poland before landing at Lake Michigan’s doorstep. The middle two-thirds of Highway 29 is high-speed expressway; west of Chippewa Falls and east of Green Bay it’s a rural two-lane just like most state highways. It’s one of the most significant east-west roads in the state and carries the designation of the World War I Veterans Memorial Highway for its entire length.

Wisconsin Highway 29 Road Trip

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The Drive (West To East): The best place to start is actually with U.S. 10 and Highway 35 in the heart of Prescott, the westernmost incorporated city in Wisconsin. Prescott lies right at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers; looking upstream, this is where the Mississippi River turns away from the Wisconsin-Minnesota border and heads straight for Minneapolis and St. Paul. Prescott itself (pop. 4,000) dates back to 1839, named after its founder; his first name was Philander (I believe they just called him “Phil” for short.) Prescott’s location just 25 minutes from downtown St. Paul counts it within the Twin Cities metro. For some, it’s a suburb; the outskirts are seeing subdivisions popping up. But in the downtown area up and down Broad Street (also Highway 35), the original Prescott includes antique shops, a goldsmith shop and a walking tour of historic homes, plus a marina. A State Trunk Tour favorite is Muddy Waters Bar & Grill (231 Broad Street, 715-262-5999). Seems like every year it gets bigger and adds more decks out back that overlook the rivers, a road and rail bridge, and the barges being flanked by boaters and jet-skiers (whom I assume aren’t present in the winter.) The Wisconsin Welcome & Heritage Center, which chronicles local history and features displays, sits next to Muddy Waters at the U.S. 10 bridge crossing into Minnesota.

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The confluence of the St. Croix & Mississippi Rivers at Prescott. The rail bridge pictured is part of the main line from New Orleans to St. Paul.

From Prescott, heading northeast via Broad Street/Highway 35 brings you to the technical start of Highway 29, about one mile north of downtown. Once you hit 29, open countryside beckons. The road, multiplexed with Highway 35 for the 11 miles into River Falls, winds around, up and down hills and valleys that characterize the area close to the St. Croix River. And it’s pretty.

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.

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In rural Pierce County, Highway 29 snakes into and around hills that are part of the northern “Driftless Area.”

River Falls – the first of two college towns

Next up on Highway 29 is River Falls (pop. 14,015), “The City on the Kinni”, as it calls itself. River Falls is definitely a college town, with about 14,000 regular residents and 6,000 college students. The city is home to UW-River Falls, which served as the summer practice facility for the Kansas City Chiefs until 2009, and Chippewa Valley Technical College. Like Prescott, River Falls is also increasingly a Twin Cities suburb (Twin Cities workers seem to be seeking out homes in Packers territory.) Highway 35 branches off and heads north at this point towards Hudson; Highway 29 continues its push east through Pierce County. After a short coupling with U.S. Highway 63, Highway 29 heads east into Spring Valley (pop. 1,189), home of Crystal Cave, “Wisconsin’s Longest Showcave!”, as it says. Discovered by accident in 1881, Crystal Cave offers tours taking you through multiple levels of dolomite bedrock revealing stalactites, stalagmites, rippling flowstone, and more. And times, it feels like you’re in a dinosaur’s mouth looking up at its teeth. But don’t, like, let that stop you from checking it out. The cave is cool year ’round, since it burrows down as much as 70 feet from the surface.

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State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Founded the same year Wisconsin became a state (1848), River Falls’ original name was Greenwood. Problem was, there already was a Greenwood, Wisconsin. Then they noticed there a falls along the river, and the name change seemed obvious.

Spring Valley is clearly a valley – as you cross the Eau Galle River, you can see the bluffs and ridges on either side. Swimmers frequent the Eau Galle Dam and Recreation Area, home to the largest earthen dam in the Midwest.

Menomonie

Beyond Spring Valley, you enter Menomonie (pop. 14,937), which flanks the Red Cedar River. There is a Menominee River in Wisconsin, and a Menominee, Michigan across from Marinette; the Muppets even had a song called Ma-Na-Ma-Na. But this Menomonie, with its slightly different spelling, is the one that tends to confuse people. (To further the confusion, there’s a Menomonee Falls and a Menomonee River in southeastern Wisconsin.)

Menomonie’s downtown runs along State Highways 29 and 25, which combine for a short distance. U.S. 12 also runs through town and I-94 flanks the town to the north, which allows some people who live in Menomonie to commute to Minneapolis or Eau Claire. Menomonie sprung up because of its handy location on the southern shores of Lake Menomin, a reservoir section of the Red Cedar River that bisects both Menomonie and Dunn County. Consistent settlement in Menomonie dates back to 1830, predating Madison, St. Paul, and Eau Claire. Rapid growth in lumber production during the 1850s and 1860s did a few things: it gave Menomonie the gravitas to snag the Dunn County seat, it gave the city bragging rights as home to the “greatest lumber corporation in the world” for a while (Knapp, Stout & Company produced over 5.7 million board feet of lumber in 1873 alone), and it produced enough population and wealth to create a university campus (today’s UW-Stout) and now-historic landmarks like the Mabel Tainter Theater – more on those in a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North along Highway 25 past the UW-Stout campus, where you U.S. 12 departs, you can angle east on Pine Avenue to the Rassbach Heritage Museum (1820 Wakanda Street, 715-232-8685). Tucked behind local schools and athletic fields, the Rassbach Heritage Museum traces Dunn County’s history and features exhibits involving early automobile design, folk art, lumber milling, a children’s discovery area, and more.

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On Menomonie’s north side just off Highway 25 and U.S. 12, the Russell Rassbach Heritage Museum offers a look at the city and county through the centuries.

Heading east from Menomonie and past the Hoffman Hills Recreation Area, Highway 29 parallels I-94, which runs just about 1-2 miles to the north, over to Elk Mound, when the two routes cross. At this junction, which features a store called Private Pleasures (I’m guessing it’s an adult store; I didn’t stop in, honest), Highway 29 begins its voyage as a 4-lane expressway, which it continues as all the way to Green Bay.

The upgrades to Highway 29 have been going on for almost two decades and the result is a new, smooth, fast highway that lets you jet across the middle of the state with ease. It’s more interesting, of course, to stop and check things out, so that’s why I recommend stopping off in some of the towns the upgraded Highway 29 now whizzes past.

Winery Alert.
Shortly after you follow the original Highway 29 via County X, a quick right on 103rd Street leads you to River Bend Vineyard & Winery, seven acres of vineyards with a lovely tasting room. Many of River Bend’s wines are from the grapes they grow on the premises, with some imported from Australia in the off-season. They create and age their wines in oak barrels right in the building. During summer weekends, they often have live music in their patio yard; people are welcome to bring food and enjoy River Bend’s wines while enjoying the atmosphere. They also have a fairly new distillery, so inquire if you get a chance to visit!

Riverbend Winery just off Highway 29

Riverbend Winery is just off Highway 29 along a bend in the Chippewa River. Sample wine, explore the vines, and maybe even experience an outdoor music performance on a nice summer day.

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Chippewa Falls (pop. 13,661) is Eau Claire’s northern counterpart and calls itself “Gateway to the North Woods.” A drive on the old 29 – now known as “Business 29”- takes you through the city on County X, River Street and Seymour Cray Blvd, named after the famous engineer who took supercomputers to a whole new level in the latter half of the 20th century. From Minneapolis-based CDC to his own company, Cray Research (you may have heard of the Cray-2 supercomputer, for example), Seymour Cray played a key role in making computers what they are today. He died in 1996, and Highway 29’s Business route through Chippewa Falls carries his name in memoriam.

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Now County X/Business 29, this was THE main road into Chippewa Falls from Minneapolis for decades. You wind along the Chippewa River for a while before getting into the heart of town.

Chippewa Falls is home to the Northern Wisconsin State Fair, which serves this part of the state with plenty of State Fair-style fun, events, animal showcases, concerts, and more and has since 1897, back when it was a lot tougher for northern Wisconsin residents to get to the main fair in West Allis. The grounds, on the north side of town, host various other events throughout the year. The city has its cultural side, too: the Heyde Center for the Arts opened on High Street right downtown in a former high school in 2000. The building, constructed in 1907, is a beautiful Neoclassical structure and today hosts a variety of performances, concerts, films, the visual arts, and more. Irvine Park (pronounced “ER-vin”) was founded as a city park in 1906 and opened a zoo three years later with a bear pen. Today, this half-square mile complex offers the Irvine Park Zoo, which also has exhibits for tigers, cougars (no, the cat kind), bison, bobcats, and more – including some historic structures and a cave with natural springs.

Rumble Bridge in Irvine Park.

Irvine Park offers a zoo, a range where the buffalo literally roam, historic buildings, and the Rumble Bridge, which offers beautiful views along a nice trail.

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Chippewa Falls has a pretty healthy downtown.

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Highway 29 Business runs right past the new Chippewa River Distillery

Highway 29 Business runs right past the new Chippewa River Distillery.

BREWERY & DISTILLERY ALERTS!

Right along Business 29 as you approach downtown Chippewa Falls you’ll find the Brewster Brothers Brewery & Chippewa River Distillery. It opened in 2016 right across from its distillery’s namesake river and offers a variety of small craft brews and spirits, specializing in new cocktail concoctions.

Of course, a major stop for many in Chippewa Falls is the Leinenkugel Brewing Company, famous for beers like Leinenkugel Original (originally called “Chippewa Pride”), Summer Shandy, Honey Weiss, Cream Ale, Big Butt Doppelbock (ya hear that, Sir Mix-A-Lot??), Sunset Wheat, Classic Amber…the list goes on and on! Tours are available year-round, every day except major holidays. Check the tour link or call (888) LEINIES for details.

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

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

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

Downtown Chippewa Falls features old school advertising signs

Quite a few old advertising signs adorn buildings throughout Chippewa Falls.

At Chippewa Falls, Highway 29 hits a junction with U.S. Highway 53, now on a freeway bypass that connects to Duluth-Superior, Rice Lake and Spooner to the north and provides access to I-94 for destinations to the south. “Business 53” follows the original route through downtown Chippewa Falls, which is also today’s Highway 124 through town. Of course, since we’re “touring” Highway 29, we’ll keep heading east.

As you pass Lake Wissota east of Chippewa Falls, Highway 29 continues its path as a major 4-lane expressway. The “old” 29 parallels this road just to the north as County X, which runs you right through the center of towns like Cadott, Boyd, Stanley and Thorp. The new 29 as an expressway provides exits to each of these towns. Cadott, at the junction with Highway 27 (Exit 91), features the Wisconsin Veterans Tribute. Part of the River Country Plaza Truck Stop at the exit, you’ll find many significant memorials, an AH-1S helicopter, cannons, markers and more all under an eye-catching cadre of flags from all over the world.

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

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From Cadott, Highway 29 continues east across central Wisconsin as an expressway. Just to the north, County X parallels as the original route of Highway 29. While the expressway bypasses slightly to the south, County X/old 29 heads right through the heart of towns like Boyd, Stanley, Thorp, Withee, Owen, and Curtiss. All are located on a railroad line that came through in the early 1880s, giving rise to the towns and their industries, which often centered around lumber, milling, or dairying. Stanley (pop. 3,633), which extends between Chippewa and Clark Counties, became known for brickmaking; Withee (pop. 487) became a Mennonite settlement.

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We found this old directional sign that pointed travelers on Highway 29 to Curtiss probably in the 1940s and beyond for several decades. Where did we find the sign? In western Oconto County in front of a residence, whose last name we can only guess…

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The name just works, what can we say?

Thorp (pop. 1,620) where Highway 73 extends north from 29, still makes frequent use of horse-drawn wagons in town. Along Highway 29 you’ll find one of our favorite names for a diner, the Thorpedo. It’s a classic type of spot to get great home-cooked food when you’re on the road. Thorp is also home to the Marieke Gouda Store & Holland’s Family Cheese, where you’ll find the award-winning Marieke Gouda cheeses and all kinds of other foods, accessories, and more from Holland’s Family Farm. “Marieke” is named for Marieke Penterman, who grew up on a dairy farm in The Netherlands, came to America, met her husband Rolf, and together they started a dairy farm in Thorp in 2002. Her cheesemaking skills led to Gouda styles that started garnering awards in 2007 and the U.S. Grand Champion Award in 2013. This facility opened in November, 2013 and you’ll find it right along Highway 29 at Exit 108, where Highway 73 meets up for the eastbound trip.

You can view the cheese factory from the store itself; they make cheese every day but Monday. There’s also family fun to be had on the farm various days (like a jumpy pillow), so don’t be surprised if the kids want to hang out there for a while as much as you do.

Marieke Gouda cow entrance

Between Thorp and Withee, Highway 29 crosses the Black River, which begins in the Chequamegon National Forest a little bit north of there and flows through Black River Falls on its way to the Mississippi.

On the Clark-Marathon County line at the junction with Highway 13 is Abbotsford (pop. 2,000), known as “Wisconsin’s First City”. That’s “first” in terms of the alphabet, by the way, not in population or how early it was founded (those distinctions go to Milwaukee and Green Bay, respectively). You can get off the expressway and follow “Business 29” through town, which is part of the original Yellowstone Trail, too. Trailblazer markers remind you.

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Hard to miss the big cone outside the Hawkeye Dairy.

Highway 29’s old route goes right through town as Business 29 (and on the State Trunk Tour, you should try and cut through every town you can when there’s otherwise a bypass), which features plenty of old-school businesses to check out, including Duke’s for Italian beef, antique shops and taverns. Between Old 29 and today’s 29 along Highway 13 is the Hawkeye Dairy, which features a wide variety of cheeses, sausages, and ice cream – it’s hard to miss the massive cone!

45×90: The Center of Two Hemispheres

geographicalmarker4590sign_500Think you’re the center of everything? Well, just off Highway 29 you can come close. From eastbound 29, turn north on County M (by mile marker 149), and head about five miles north; take a right on County U and then left onto Meridian Road. The meridian of which it speaks is the 90th Meridian (90°W), halfway between the Prime Meridian (which runs through London as 0°) and the International Date Line (180°).

But that’s not all.

About 1/4 mile north of County U, you’re also at the 45th Parallel (45°N), which is halfway between the Equator and the North Pole (theoretically, at least – the flattening of the earth’s sphere near the poles leaves room for debate.) But either way, a parking area in the middle of the cornfields is the starting point for a 300-yard walk that leads you to the center of both the Western and Northern Hemispheres – or the “Northwest Hemisphere” as the signs say.) Stand there and feel the self-absorption!

45x90 Marker at exact point, NW of Wausau

Yep, that dot is the exact point where 45N and 90W meet, a point you’ve seen on every globe, ever.

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The exact 45×90 location was marked and opened for visitors in 2017, carved out of a farmer’s field just off Meridian Road near Poniatowski.

Get more details on the 45×90 spot here!

Meanwhile, back to Highway 29 and continuing east, you can make quick time towards Wausau. Once you cross Highway 107 at Marathon City, a nice view of Rib Mountain guides you in. Rib Mountain (elevation: 1,924 feet) is an imposing ridge that dominates the surrounding landscape and provides area residents with great winter skiing right nearby. The hill is one billion years old, but doesn’t look a day over 600 million. It’s the third-highest peak in the state and has the highest “prominence,” its height compared to the average surrounding terrain. With the prominence being about a 760-foot difference between peak and surrounding average terrain, it’s obvious why it can be seen so well for miles and miles around. Rib Mountain is the site of Rib Mountain State Park and the Granite Peak Ski Area, which was one of the first ski areas in the nation when it opened in 1937. The tower towering on top of Rib Mountain rises an additional 400-plus feet and broadcasts 95.5 WIFC, one of the longest continuously-running Top 40 stations in country… which is one reason that signal booms over 100 miles in every direction.

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Rib Mountain comes into view well west of Wausau. At 1,924 feet, it’s the second highest point in Wisconsin and hosts both Rib Mountain State Park and a pretty cool ski area.

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Highway 29 now joins I-39/U.S. 51 at a relatively new freeway interchange. The old 29 continued east into the city via Stewart Street on what is now Highway 52; today’s 29 follows the freeway south and then east again south of Rib Mountain. The map at the lower right illustrates both options.

Wausau

Wausau (pop. 39,106) itself is the the dominant metro city in central Wisconsin, the center of a “primary statistical area” according to the U.S. Census that includes all of Marathon County and brings in nearby cities like Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and Merrill. It’s the 141st largest metro area in the country with about 308,000 people (by comparison, Milwaukee takes in most of SE Wisconsin and is ranked 33rd nationally with 2.07 million, while Madison is 69th with 844,000 people, taking in Janesville, Beloit, and Baraboo.)

Wausau has been known far and wide for insurance. The Employers Insurance of Wausau – which became Wausau Insurance Companies – ran many national ads that many recall today, especially with the music and focus on the “Wausau” name on an old Milwaukee Road railroad depot. (here’s a YouTube sample – the last 6-7 seconds are what people saw over and over again) before the company was taken over by Liberty Mutual in 1999; they retired the Wausau name ten years later. Grrrr. The city is also known for American ginseng; while Wisconsin cultivates close to 95% of the ginseng grown in the U.S., much of it is grown in Marathon County. You can see the artificial shade covers over ginseng fields all over the area. But with forests nearby and a big river providing power for sawmills, it was the lumber industry – and then paper production – that really got Wausau going early on; it’s still a big chunk of the economy here. Wausau is the largest city along the Wisconsin River, which runs right through the center and downtown areas. In general, the older part of the city is to the east of the river and newer areas are to the west.

Recreation abounds: the Wisconsin River splits the city and widens into a lake at times, providing great canoeing and kayaking; of course, Rib Mountain offers skiing, hiking and mountain biking; and numerous restaurants abound for both foodies and aspiring competitive eaters alike.

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Our high-tech map showing the main route of 29 (solid line) and the original city route (dashed). It’s more fun to go through town.

Today’s Highway 29 runs as a freeway in from the west and then follows U.S. 51 south for about seven miles before heading east again past Wausau, serving as a bypass to the heart of the city. But you’re best served seeing and experiencing Wausau, of course!

Go through the city itself on Business 29, which is also the start of Highway 52. To follow 29’s old route before the freeway bypass opened in 1963, follow Stewart Avenue (Highway 52) east instead of joining Highway 29, U.S. 51 & I-39. Stewart will bring you over the river and into downtown. The graphic at the right gives you a good eyeball view of how this works around Wausau. Much of the new growth is along the freeway west of the river, but the heart of the city and most of its points of interest lie to the east.

histmarker_1stteachersschoolOne of Wausau’s early names was “Big Bull Falls” due to the falls and rapids along the Wisconsin River. Around 1840, the area started to take the name Wausau, roughly meaning “a place which can be seen from far away” in the Ojibwe language. On your way downtown, you’ll see the campus for UW-Marathon County, which has its roots as the first teaching school in the state.

Stewart Street brings you into downtown Wausau, which thanks to the Dudley Tower has some level of skyline. At 241 feet tall, it’s the tallest office building in Wisconsin outside of the Milwaukee area (the State Capitol and Van Hise Hall in Madison are taller, but neither are office buildings.)

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Completed in 2007, the Dudley Tower is the tallest commercial building outside of Milwaukee in the state.

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A salute to kayaking marks the crossing of the Wisconsin River into downtown Wausau on Stewart Street, the original Highway 29 route (now part of 52.)

Part of downtown Wausau includes the River District and a beautiful set of downtown blocks with a mix of old and new. A mall opened in the 1980s on the south edge of downtown (which Highway 52 and “Business” U.S. 51 circles around) and offers indoor shopping. Adjacent are blocks of shops, restaurants, bars, offices, hotels, apartments, and condos that has dramatically increased the vibrancy of the city’s downtown. The lovely Grand Theater went up in 1927 to replace an earlier opera house; the Center for the Visual Arts features several free exhibits in gallery spaces and hosts events like ChalkFest, Exhbitour, and a series of kids’ events throughout the year. These cultural facilities and adjacent offices, coffee shops, and restaurants surround the 400 Block, an open green space in the heart of the city that hosts farmers’ markets, holiday celebrations, summer concerts, and more.

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Answers may vary depending on your attitude.

Just off the Block, the Wausau Visitor Center is located at 219 Jefferson Street and offers plenty of information about the area, plus this sign (right) that could be interpreted more than one way.

From downtown, follow 6th Street south to Grand through the city. This is also Business U.S. 51, the former route of U.S. 51 before the freeway on the west side opened in 1963.

*** Brewery Alerts ***
Tucked inside a former factory south of downtown just blocks east of Business U.S. 51 (also the original Highway 29 through town) via Thomas and Genrich Streets, Bull Falls Brewery opened in 2007 and serves up a variety of brews – mostly in cans – that started with their popular Oktoberfest. They have a nice tasting room and offer tours at select times or by appointment for $5. Calling 715-842-2337 will get you details. Bull Falls is named after an actual falls on the Wisconsin River, which is close by. The brewery also hosts quite a few events throughout the year – several involving barbecue.

Wausau hosts a professional baseball team, the Wausau Woodchucks of the Northwoods League. Also worth a stop is the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (715-845-7010), featuring numerous works of nature-based art and sculpture, including its world-renowned “Birds In Art” exhibit.

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According to the tongue-twister, woodchucks can’t chuck wood. But the Wausau Woodchucks can knock balls out of this park.

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Considered a gem of a museum in Wausau, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum features some world-class art and exhibits.

“Old” 29 rejoins the current Highway 29 south of Wausau at Exit 171. From Wausau and its eastern suburbs of Rothschild, Weston and Ringle, Highway 29 is expressway all the way east to Green Bay. Bicycle enthusiasts may note that the Mountain-Bay Trail, a rail-to-trail conversion that runs the span between Wausau and Green Bay, parallels this stretch of 29 just a few miles north.

Shortly after crossing the subcontinential divide (the point where water starts draining to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean vs. the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico), you reach Highway 49, which begins at Highway 29 and heads south to Elderon, Waupaca and eventually the Horicon Marsh area. After crossing into Shawano County, Highway 29 (as the now-freeway bypass) snakes around little Wittenberg (pop. 1,177), where U.S. 45 joins for a few miles heading east before heading south toward Clintonville.

wittenberg_neuskessignBacon Alert. In the midst of this coupling with U.S. 45, Highway 29 passes Wittenberg’s most famous business: Neuske’s Applewood Smoked Meats. Neuske’s makes “the beluga of bacon”, according to the New York Times. Neuske’s was founded in 1887 by Prussian immigrants, drawn to Wisconsin because everybody was immigrating here at the time and Wittenberg appealed to them – in part because of the significance of the city’s German counterpart (apparently Wittenberg, Germany is where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church, touching off the Reformation. A little history note for ya.) Neuske’s began with a smokehouse and during the Great Depression R.C. Neuske sold smoked bacon, sausages, hams and turkeys to budding resorts across northern Wisconsin. Long story short, today Neuske’s sells through mail order and supermarkets across the nation and a few foreign markets. Their bacon (a State Trunk Tour favorite) is the preferred bacon for a plethora of famous, tony restauarants across the country, including Balthazar and An American Place in New York, Commander’s Place in New Orleans, The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, and Pinot in Los Angeles. But lucky you, you can buy Neuske’s right at the Wittenberg Retail Store, located on Grand Avenue between Exit 196 and 198, in full view of Highway 29. In fact, Grand Avenue was Highway 29 before the expressway was built. So there.

Further east, you reach Shawano (pop. 8.298), the main city between Green Bay and Wausau. Shawano is perched on Shawano Lake and offers the most amenities on this stretch. Highway 29 officially bypasses the city to the south on a freeway bypass – which is only fitting, since the name “Shawano” is Native American Menomonee for “to the south.” You can follow Business 29 into town and go through its center. Being the main city between Wausau and Green Bay, it’s also the main city along the Mountain-Bay Trail.

In the downtown area, Business Highway 29 follows a stretch of Green Bay Avenue for several miles, combining 29 with State Trunk Tour Highways 22, 47 and 55. Gas tends to be a little cheaper in Shawano than surrounding areas, so just note that for the trip.

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

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

If you follow the Highway 29 freeway bypass – which saves probably 10-15 minutes – check out the view as you cross the tree-lined Wolf River. Especially on the eastbound run, the view of the trees framing the river makes for a great picture. If only I’d had my camera ready at the time…

East of Shawano, Highway 47 combines with 29 to Bonduel and Highway 55 sticks around until Angelica. At Bonduel, check out Doc’s Zoo & Muscle Car Museum (715-758-9080), which features a variety of 60’s muscle cars, motorcycles, a classic 1930’s Standard gas station, and a whole line of unique autos, including one of the 1958 Plymouth Fury cars used in the Stephen King classic “Christine”. It’s hard to miss; part of Doc’s Harley-Davidson, Inc. of Shawano County, you’ll notice Bo & Luke Duke’s General Lee looking like it just leaped the building (yes, it’s one of the actual General Lee cars used in filming “The Dukes of Hazzard.”)

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The General Lee just after “leaping” over Doc’s Zoo & Muscle Car Museum. At right, I never thought I’d see this…but if you click on the picture to enlarge it, yes…it’s apparently a walrus penis windchime. Ouch.

Just northwest of Green Bay, Highway 29 ducks into Brown County and then Outagamie County for such a short time, you can see the Brown County sign ahead of you again. The signs themselves are small, but you literally cut the northeast corner of Outagamie within a few blocks. Highway 32 joins in too, fresh from the North Woods and Gillett. The two head together towards Titletown.

On the west edge of Green Bay itself lies Pamperin Park. Not be confused with the medicine Pamprin, Pamperin Park is the largest park in Brown County and the Green Bay Metro Area. The park offers a huge wooden children’s playground area, a stone pavilion, fireplace, gardens and a picturesque suspension bridge. Pamperin serves as a nice recreational stop for relaxation or letting kids get their energy spent before resuming the journey.

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Pamperin Park is quite the playland.

GREEN BAY

Entering Green Bay (pop. 104,057, a.k.a. “Titletown U.S.A.”), Highway 29 finishes being an expressway at a huge interchange with I-41 and simply becomes Shawano Avenue, cutting through the heart of downtown. Green Bay is Wisconsin’s oldest city and – not sure if you heard about this or not – are the smallest city to host a National Football League team. They’re called the “Packers” and…what, you’ve already heard about them? Okay.

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

** Multiple Breweries and One Distillery Alert! **

titletown_front_lgGreen Bay calls itself “Titletown”, so when some guys decided to start up a brewery there, it only made sense to call it the Titletown Brewing Company. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – Titletown Brewing started in December of 1996, right before the Packers’ first Super Bowl victory in nearly three decades. Located on Dousman Street/U.S. 141 just west of downtown and the Fox River, Titletown occupies a classic old railroad station built in 1899, as well as a newer brewery and tap room across the parking lot with the Titletown smokestack on top. Titletown brews Packer-backer beverages such as the Johnny “Blood” Red and Canadeo Gold as well as a great root beer called Sno-Cap, which uses Clyde the Penguin as its mascot. Trains, football, beer, food… definitely a good stop on the State Trunk Tour. Meanwhile, across the street Copper State Brewing Company opened in 2017 where Hinterland Brewing was before they moved to the Titletown District (more on that in a moment) in a building that was originally a meat-packing warehouse (yes, how the “Packers” got their name.)

Meanwhile, in the Titletown District, just west of Lambeau Field the aforementioned Hinterland Brewing opened in 2017, having relocated from its original brewery that dated back to 1995. Juts southeast of Lambeau in the same district you’ll find Badger State Brewing Company, a relative newcomer with a great selection of in-house craft brews and others from across Wisconsin. Leatherhead Brewing Company is a few doors down along Lombardi Avenue, and just over on Mike McCarthy Way, you’ll find the Green Bay Distillery. It opened in 2011 with a classic vodka and a cherry vodka (handy for Green Bay winters) and expanded to gin and whiskey in subsequent years. Their restaurant has a full menu – including a full menu of macro- and craft-brewed beers if spirits aren’t your thing. Either way, they are all easy walking distance to Lambeau Field, the Resch Center, Ray Nitschke Field, the Brown County Arena, the famous Stadium View bar, the famous Andouzzi’s, Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, and much more.

Side Trip to Lambeau.
For Lambeau Field seekers on this route, the “frozen tundra” lies about 3 miles south of Highway 29; you can cut south to it via I-41, Oneida Street, or Military Avenue. Trust me, you WILL be able to find Lambeau, the home of the Green Bay Packers…the cross street is Lombardi Avenue, after all.

Okay, back to Highway 29…

As Highway 29 enters downtown, it crosses the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America. Here, bridges are lit up at night with condos, bars and shops springing up. At the intersection with Broadway, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. Highway 29 is also Walnut Street here, and just north along Dousman Street (U.S. 141) is the Neville Public Museum, which focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is also a Children’s Museum, currently undergoing redevelopment.

East of the Fox River, blocks adjacent to Highway 29 feature an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner’s Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar – yes, think about it.) Green Bay’s party crowd hangs out in this area, and it’s not uncommon for Packers players to be seen…and perhaps you can see their Super Bowl ring!

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

For train enthusiasts, Green Bay is the site of the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway, south of Highway 29 via Highway 32), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars, including the world’s largest steam locomotive, known as “Big Boy.” Also, just across the river off Highway 172 (Green Bay’s southern freeway bypass), you’ll find the lovely Heritage Hill State Historical Park. Technically located in Allouez, this 48-acre outdoor museum lives up to its name. Over 30 historic structures and endangered buildings are perched on a hill overlooking the Fox River in an area that once served as a prison farm. Log cabins from the fur trade era, original stores and public buildings, even buildings from the original Fort Howard are all located here and available for exploration. Populating the grounds in summer are live historic interpreters – many in period attire – to help illustrate what these buildings are all about. More and more fun events take place throughout the year here, too.

We’ve already mentioned much of the downtown attractions that tend to be just west of the Fox River, but one is coming up on the east side of the river at the bay if you detour north via Highways 54/57 and under I-43 a bit. That’s Bay Beach Amusement Park, which offers everything from roller coasters to carousels and water rides from May through September. The biggest coaster is Zippin’ Pippin, a 2,800-foot long wooden coaster with nearly hundred-year-old origins in Memphis, Tennessee. It was moved to Green Bay and re-opened in 2011 and has remained quite popular.

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

Back to Highway 29, heading through eastern Green Bay a strip known as “Olde Main Street” offers a variety of shops. Around these points, Highway 29 meets up with US Highway 141; this was the main road out of Green Bay towards Milwaukee before I-43 was constructed.

Leaving Green Bay, Highway 29 turns southeast heading out of town, crossing over I-43 on the way to Bellevue (pop. 14,570), a fast-growing village that incorporated in 2003. About two miles later, U.S. 141 turns to I-43 and ends; Highway 29 becomes a two-lane road again and makes a beeline east along the remaining 22 miles to Lake Michigan.

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The bustling burg of Poland. So what kind of jokes do they tell here?

Along the way, it’s mostly farmland. But you do go through Poland, in this case not the country but an unincorporated burg named after the nation that is indeed the source of approximately 60% of all lightbulb-changing jokes. It might be best to skip telling them here. However, if you want to share your theories about aliens from other planets, well, the UFO landing port (slogan: “We’re not the only ones”) in Poland is a good place to do it. Featured in RoadsideAmerica.Com, the port is owned by Bob Tohak and he maintains it in anticipation of aliens landing someday. And you thought immigration was a wild subject now!

Into Kewaunee County, you also hit little unincorporated Pilsen, named after Czech town where Pilsener beer was invented, so I think you know how to salute the place. In wine is more your thing, the Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery can be found a few miles south of Highway 29 along Sleepy Hollow Road, just east of Pilsen. Parallel 44 is named for its geographical location along not only Kewaunee County but also the Bordeaux region of France and the Tuscany region of Italy – two of the finest areas in the world for winemaking. While the climate in Kewaunee isn’t quite the same as Tuscany’s (shame, isn’t it?), owners & winemakers Steve Johnson and Maria Milano manage to grow a variety of French hybrid grapes that have led to award-winning wines. Their first harvest was in September, 2007 and things have only grown since then. They offer tours and complimentary tastings – within reasonable limits! Weekly tours are available Saturdays at 3pm, and you can call them at (920) 362-1550. They also host a series of events and concerts in the summer, and their “Frozen Tundra Wine Fest” in February.

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Parallel 44 is off Sleepy Hollow Road and County J, a few miles south of Highway 29. The “Ledge” refers to the Niagara Escarpment, a unique geological feature that results in things like fertile soil and the existence of both the Door County peninsula and Niagara Falls. The Climate sign (lower left) illustrates how the combination of temperatures, sunlight and precipitation results in this area actually being a great one for growing certain varieties of wine grapes.

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A February sunset viewed from the Parallel 44 Winery; the church on the horizon is the center of nearby Stengelville.

Kewaunee

The final stop on Highway 29 is Kewaunee (pop. 2,833). With an attractive harbor, Kewaunee was a popular Native American settlement for centuries; the French followed suit in 1634, when Jean Nicolet landed here. In 1674, Father Marquette celebrated a Holy Sacrifice of Mass here. But it wouldn’t be until 1836 when permanent European settlement took place – largely on rumors of a “gold rush” led speculators to believe Kewaunee could become a Chicago-esque, booming city someday. They laid out wide avenues and bought up lots in preparation, but things ended up falling a little short. No matter. The city thrived as a lumber town and trading center, finally becoming a city in 1893.

Like nearby Manitowoc and Sturgeon Bay, Kewaunee became a shipbuilding city. A number of vessels, including the U.S.S. Pueblo, were built and launched in Kewaunee. Car ferry service lasted for many decades, although it is no longer available today. The maritime heritage of the city is well-reflected across the city. The harbor area and marina hosts a lot of pleasure craft and the Tug Ludington (detailed below) offers tours. It’s also a very popular fishing spot, with two piers and plenty of boat and charter rental opportunities.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Kewaunee was the site of the first car ferry service across Lake Michigan, with a line established across to Frankfort, Michigan and back in 1892 (at the time, the cars were pretty much railroad cars.)

Attractions include the Tug Ludington, a U.S. Army tug built in 1943. Made to help with World War II efforts, the tug participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and assisted with harbor operations in France and Virginia before being transferred to Kewaunee in 1947, where it lives a much calmer life. It rests in Harbor Park in downtown Kewaunee and is available for tours. Kewaunee Historical Jail Museum (613 Dodge Street), is an 1876 structure featuring a six-celled jail, the sheriff’s living quarters and a lot of the original materials and arrangements to show you what incarceration was like for the outlaws of the day. Also downtown, check out the World’s Tallest Grandfather Clock, which was up the hill previously but reassembled downtown in 2015. It’s so new we have to get a new picture of it!

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The Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse has been looking over Kewaunee’s Lake Michigan harbor since 1931. It makes use of a fresnel lens, using some of the original materials from the first lighthouse built here in 1891.

On this particular day I happened upon Troutfest, an annual event saluting – yes – trout! An Art Fair, motorcycle run, Venetian boat parade, fireworks, music, and a parade are all part of the festival. The final few blocks of Highway 29 in downtown were closed for the parade, actually, so I detoured through town and happened upon this:

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From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Stumble Across” Department: spotted two blocks south of Highway 29 in Kewaunee.

Yes, you never know what you’ll find on the State Trunk Tour. Near Lake Michigan, Kewaunee is a hilly town and as I stood at the eastern end of Highway 29, at its downtown intersection with Highway 42, listening to a marching band playing Blink 182’s “All The Small Things”, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fun the 300-mile trek across the state was, from the Mississippi River all the way to Lake Michigan.

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Kewaunee Trout Fest parade-watchers await the show at the end of Highway 29, at the corner with Highway 42…

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…and when the parade passes by the end of Highway 29, they march on toward the Lake Michigan shore, visible in the background.

 

CONNECTIONS:
West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 10, Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: Highway 65, about 13 miles northeast

Eastern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 42
Can connect nearby to: Highway 54, about 12 miles notth