Quickie Summary: Wisconsin Highway 113 serves Baraboo (the “circus city”), Devil’s Lake State Park and the shores of the Wisconsin River around Merrimac before crossing the river on the state’s only free river ferry. From there, Lodi, Dane, and the only Waunakee in the world await before you hit the north side of Madison, Dane County Regional Airport, breweries and more ending at U.S. 151/East Washington Avenue, a major gateway to Wisconsin’s State Capitol. In only 40 miles or so, the scenery and variety makes for an enjoyable morning or afternoon jaunt. Yes, I used the word “jaunt.”
Wisconsin Highway 113 Road Trip
The Drive (North to South): Highway 113 begins at Highway 33 in the northern portion of the city of Baraboo (pop. 11,550), named as one of the 20 best small towns to visit in the U.S. in 2013 by Smithsonian.com. Just west of the junction with Highway 33, the Ochsner Park & Zoo offers the opportunity to view and learn about a variety of animals, from snow leopards to wolves and more. And this is a city that knows animals; Baraboo is home to the International Crane Foundation. Famed ecologist Aldo Leopold is a native son, and the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center at the Foundation is LEED-certified as perhaps the “greenest” building in the U.S. It’s carbon-neutral and uses locally-harvested wood products. But Baraboo is probably most known for the circus — the big one, for all practical purposes.
Baraboo and the Circus…and the College. In 1884, seven brothers named Ringling (Al, August, Otto, Alfred, Charles, John and Henry) founded the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo. Actually, it was called “Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers” but Yankee went away at some point. They traveled the country, wowing people with a show that for a while had a monstrous official title: “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals”. They eventually bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus and by 1919, they were merged into the name most people know them by: Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”The “Barnum” in question, by the way, is P.T. Barnum, who is credited with the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Barnum was all wet, by the way – there are hundreds of suckers born every minute.) There was a Ringling Clown College for a while. It started in Venice, Florida in 1968, moved to Baraboo in the early 90s and then relocated back to Florida before closing in 1997. Graduates and instructors from Ringling’s Clown College include Bill Irwin, Penn Jillette, Steven “Steve-O” Glover, and Philippe Petit (the guy who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974.) Honorary graduates of the school include Dick Van Dyke and weatherman/octogenarian greeter Willard Scott who, interestingly, was the first person to portray Ronald McDonald in a TV commercial. But we’re getting off track here.
Embedded in the concrete surrounding the Sauk County Courthouse are elephants, camels, everything short of cotton candy to help illustrate Baraboo’s circus connection. Not enough to convince you? Check the historical marker on the big rock across from the Ringling Theatre.
Highway 113 is part of the west side of Baraboo’s beautiful town square, which frames the Sauk County Courthouse. Encircling the square are shops a’plenty, along with bars, restaurants and the impressive Al Ringling Theatre. Built in 1915, it’s often known as “America’s Prettiest Playhouse.”
|From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on a State Trunk Tour” Dept:|
On the Sauk County Courthouse grounds, an impromptu oversize chess match.
Imagine getting a ticket for going 3 mph.
Okay, back to circus stuff: following Highway 113 past downtown, the road turns to parallel the Baraboo River and approach the Circus World Museum, a place where boys, girls and children of all ages can see how circuses have worked and entertained people for generations. As they say, “experience the thrill that never gets old,” featuring a Circus Museum, an area called Ringlingville, a wide variety of circus animals and the World’s Largest Circus Wagon Collection. History abounds along this stretch of Highway 113; a series of buildings in the Circus World Museum date back to the 19th century and plenty of plaques will tell you more.
As you leave Baraboo on Highway 113, the Baraboo Hills greet you and so does Devils Lake State Park. The most popular state park in Wisconsin (up to 1.4 million visitors annually), Devils Lake State Park offers 29 miles of hike and bike trails, a unit of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve and a segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Parking for part of that trail is available in a lot right off Highway 113. Access to Devil’s Lake State Park is best found via County DL (I’ll bet you can guess what “DL” stands for, right?) Devil’s Lake State Park is about 1.5 billion years old in geologic terms, though it didn’t become a state park until 1911. Heaven for soil scientists, geologists, hikers, bikers, campers, skiers and climbers, it’s without question one of the most topographically interesting areas of the state.
The picture illustrates how these rock formations look lining Devil’s Lake itself, giving Sconnies and visitors from other areas of the Midwest the impression that they’re approaching the mountains “out west.” Plenty of hikers head up to the top and enjoy the scenery along with a granola bar or two.
The drive along this stretch is hilly, twisty-turny and quite fun. You make your way downward because you’re about to travel along the Wisconsin River.
Highway 113 joins Highway 78 for the ride east to Merrimac (pop. 416), home of the Merrimac Ferry – the last remaining ferry on the State Trunk Highway system. The Merrimac Ferry began as a toll ferry in 1924, becoming free in 1933. It has been ever since. The Colsac III, launched in 2003, is the third boat (hence the “III”) to serve this run and can accommodate 15 cars at a time. Expect a pretty hefty line during summer weekend days, especially in August. They’ll take care of you, though: vendors offer ice cream and other ways to enjoy the day, even when you have to sit and wait. The Merrimac Ferry generally runs from about April 15 through the end of November. – but weather can always be a factor. You can always call them at (608) 246-3871 to check availability and wait times.
Checking out the side of the road along Highway 113… it’s a little wet from the ferry. The railroad bridge frames your view to the east. It’s pretty cool to watch when a train is crossing, too.
Across the ferry, you enter Columbia County. Highway 188 begins there and heads southwest towards Prairie du Sac and the Wollersheim Winery & Distillery; Highway 113 begins a ride along the southern arm of Lake Wisconsin, a picturesque extension of the Wisconsin River with 57 miles of shorelines and bluffs towering above. Pine Bluff is particularly noticeable as you cruise within sight of the water for several miles, past the tiny settlement of Okee. Farmland begins to dominate again as you make your way to the next town – one that salutes a historic duck and produced a Duke.
That town would be Lodi (pop. 2,929), which founded in 1846 for its water power potential because of Spring Creek, which runs through the downtown area. About one hundred years later, the town adopted a mascot named “Susie the Duck” for a duck that returned to build a nest in the downtown area along Spring Creek year after year. While the original Susie is long gone, wild ducks continue to flock to this area. Lodi celebrates with an annual “Susie the Duck Day” – and the highlight is the rubber duck race.
Lodi’s downtown runs mainly along Highway 113, right at the crossing with Highway 60, which heads east to Grafton near Lake Michigan or west to Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi. At the Susie the Duck spot, you can buy handfuls of dried corn from vending machines to feed the ducks – one of whom just might be this year’s Susie. The annual “Susie the Duck Day” celebration features the plastic duck race, where you can buy a small duck that will, along with thousands of others, get dumped into Spring Creek for a “race” to the finish line. We’ll check into what the winner receives.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Lodi is one of three Wisconsin cities to have its own fair, the Lodi Agricultural Fair. It’s been running since 1865.|
South of downtown Lodi, Highway 113 runs along a portion of the Ice Age Trail and Ice Age Park. There’s also easy access to the Lodi Marsh State Wildlife Area, a large wetland complex filled with springs and cattail marshes, and it’s noted for a habitat popular with mamy varieties of moths, including several rare species. Who knew? Into Dane County, Highway 113 starts to do some zigzagging. You zig into tiny little Dane (pop. 799), then zag and zigzag again (this is a great excuse for typing “z”‘s) into the only town of its kind…
Yes, you hit the only Waunakee (pop. 8,995) “in the world”, as they like to point out. It was founded as Leicester in 1870; the following year, two early settlers persuaded the St. Paul Railroad, via cash and land, to relocate through their property instead of the original intended location two miles north. A post office and other buildings sprouted up, and the village incorporated as Waunakee (one Native American meaning: “the fair and pleasant valley”) in 1893. Just into town, Highway 113 hooks up with Highway 19. Together, they go through downtown and head east for a few miles.
Brewery Alert. Right in downtown Waunakee in a renovated building, the Lone Girl Brewing Company brews up a variety of craft beers right on site, with a full menu restaurant that includes fried muenster cheese curds and some other unique twists. The rooftop offers seating and movies in the summer. It’s a dynamic addition to downtown Waunakee, right where Highway 113 crosses the railroad tracks. The original train station, as well as the Chamber of Commerce office, are right next door.
Another Brewery Alert. Also, in the light industrial park shortly before Highway 19 heads east an 113 begins to head back south, you can connect to Octopi Brewery, a craft brewer that brews for others along with a nice line of their own brands under the name 3rd Sign Brewing. Opened in 2016, their Tap Room offers a wide variety of samples and makes a good stop.
From Highway 19, Highway 113 heads south into Madison (pop.243,344), Wisconsin’s second largest city, of course the state’s capital, and – as some have famously claimed – “77 square miles surrounded by reality.”
From flying to fly balls, the next attraction along Highway 113 – now called Sherman Avenue – is Warner Park, home to Madison’s Northwoods League baseball team, the Madison Mallards. Often referred to as the “Duck Pond”, the stadium holds 7,500 plus standing room for baseball games and offers up a dozen closed-circuit TVs so fans can monitor the game when they’re not in their seats. A popular “B” (or “C” or “D” or so) List Celebrity Friday Nights promotion hosts everyone from Emmanuel Lewis (Webster from “Webster”), to Sonny Shroyer (Enos from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and, amazingly, an eponymous TV show spinoff for about 3 episodes) and William “The Refrigerator” Perry of the NFL Team That Shall Remain Nameless from South of the Border.
Just north of all this is Madison’s airport, Truax Field/Dane County Regional. With an airport code of MSN, it fortunately came before Microsoft’s attempts at duplicating AOL, so they couldn’t sue. An airport since 1937, it was activated as an army base in 1942 and deactivated in 1968, though it still holds the 115th Fighter Wing, flying F-16’s. The commercial portion of the airport is expanding rapidly, with a new parking garage, terminal expansions and adjacent business parks spouting up. Highway 113 is the main “gateway” to the airport; you’ll pass it just north of Aberg Avenue.
Right where you can turn into Madison’s airport, you’ll spot the Ale Asylum Brewery. Originally located just west of here, Ale Asylum brews up several popular beers including Ambergeddon and Hopalicious. They brew on-site and have a full restaurant; tours are available on Sunday afternoons.
This is THE route from Madison’s downtown to the airport. On the way, you pass the world headquarters of Oscar Meyer Foods, home of a variety of meats and the ever-popular Weinermobile. Direct access to the interstates east of Madison (I-39, 90 & 94) can also be had via Aberg Avenue, which also leads to Highway 30, a key route out of Madison that was also the key road to Milwaukee prior to the I-system taking over.
Highway 113 ends at U.S. 151 (East Washington Avenue, a.k.a.”East Wash”) in Madison, in view of the state capitol just down the road. (map)
Can connect immediately to: Highway 30, U.S. Highway 151
Can connect nearby to: Interstate 39/90/94, about 3 miles east; U.S. 51, about 2 miles east
Can connect immediately to: Highway 33
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 12, about 1 mile west
Events on this Tour
It happens over Labor Day weekend every year, and it's a lot of tasty fun! Taste of Madison features over 80 local restaurants, 20 beverage stands and three entertainment stages. The participating restaurants sell a vast variety of both unique and traditional dishes to the estimated 225,000 attendees over the two-day period - you should be one of them. Most food items are in the $1 to $4 range! Best of all, admission – which includes hours and hours of live entertainment – is free and open to the public. Taste of Madison happens on the Capitol Square, one of the most dynamic and beautiful places in Wisconsin with the shops, restaurants, bars, museums, and more surrounding our gorgeous State Capitol. U.S. 151/Washington Avenue brings you closest, although U.S. 12, U.S. 14, U.S. 18, U.S. 51, and Highways 30 and 113 all bring you to Madison.
Taste of Madison Hours:Saturday, August 31st: 2pm - 8:30pm Sunday, September 1st: 11am - 7pm Get the full list of participating restaurants (with address and phone where available) below or from the Taste of Madison website! All Star Catering 2685 Maple Dr., McFarland 608-338-8899 Auntie Jill's LLC 608-770-5050 Babcock Ice Cream by UW Food Science Club 1605 Linden Dr., Madison 608-358-0296 Bandung Indonesian Restaurant 600 Williamson St., Madison 608-205-6910 Banzo 2105 Sherman Ave., Madison 608-441-2002 Ben’s Soft Pretzels 134 West Towne Mall, Madison 608-833-3119 Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano 601 Junction Rd., Madison 608-664-9288 Bob's BBQ Emporium 8164 US Hwy 14, Arena 608-807-8287 Bonnie's Balls Boulder Brewpub 950 Kimball Lane, Verona 608-845-3323 Buck & Badger Northwoods Lodge 115 State Street, Madison 608-230-7999 Bulgogi Korean Taco Library Mall Food Court, Madison Buraka East African Cuisine 1210 Williamson St, Madison 608-286-1448 Cafe Costa Rica - Mango Man Cooks 1133 Williamson St., Madison 608-256-9830 Capriotti's 902 Regent Street, Madison 608-255-2227 Caracas Arepas/Caracas Empenadas Food Cart 608-279-0835 Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Company 468 State St., Madison 608-441-5248 Common Pasta Food Truck, 1 E. Main, Madison Curd Girl Capitol Square, Madison 608-228-6658 Daddy Rocks 902 Eagle Crest Dr., Madison 608-770-6270 David’s Jamaican Cuisine 5734 Monona Dr., Monona 608-222-8109 El Sabor de Puebla 1113 Williamson St., Madison 608-422-5264 Ernie’s Kettle Korn Capitol Square, Madison 608-957-9239 Flix Brewhouse 85 East Towne Mall, Madison 608-665-2070 Gigi’s Cupcakes 554 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison 608-661-7465 Gooseberry on the Square 1 S. Pinckney St. #104, Madison 608-467-6552 Grace Cheesecakes N4664 Co Rd. V, Poynette 608-516-9888 Gyros Express 122 West Towne Mall, Madison 608-833-2330 Hibachi Hut Library Mall, Madison 608-338-5660 HMI Southern Catering 3735 Monona Dr., Monona 608-230-6254 Hong Kong Cafe 2 S. Mills St., Madison 608-259-1668 Jakarta Cafe 700 Block of State St., Madison 920-747-0646 Jamerica Restaurant 1236 Williamson St., Madison 608-251-6234 JDs 608-444-1590 Just Bakery/Madison Area Urban Ministry 608-843-9975 Just Veggiez Catering/Food Cart, Madison 608-209-5070 Kehr Fatou Food Cart/Catering 608-217-2138 La Kitchenette 805 Williamson St., Madison 608-283-4266 La Taguara 3502 E. Washington Ave., Madison 608-721-9100 Lao Laan-Xang 12098 Atwood Ave., Madison 608-280-0104 Little Tibet 827 E. Johnson, Madison 608-630-8232 LT's Aloha Wagon Food Truck, Madison 608-807-4414 The Looking Glass Bakery 2817 East Washington Ave., Madison 920-297-3539 Macaholics Macarons Catering, Madison Melting Pot 6816 Odana Rd., Madison 608-833-5676 Milano Ice 6816 Odana Rd., Madison 608-572-5543 Mirch Masala 449 State St., Madison 608-665-3667 Monona Bakery & Eatery 4544 Monona Drive, Madison 608-720-1133 Native Food Network - Mobile Farmers Market 7 N. Pickney, Suite 235, Madison 608-280-1267 Natural Juice 7 N. Pinckney, Suite 235, Madison 608-628-9280 North & South Seafood & Smokehouse 6604 Mineral Point Rd., Madison 608-829-0093 The Old Fashioned 23 N. Pinckney, Madison 608-310-4545 Pagoda Smoothie Food Cart People's Bakery 2810 E. Washington Ave., Madison 608-245-0404 The Post 24 S. Carroll St., Madison 608-327-1101 Poke Poke 600 Williamson St., Madison 608-665-3306 RibMasters WI Food Truck, Madison 608-669-0955 The Rigby Pub and Grill 119 E Main St, Madison 608-442-1112 The Rodeo Wagon Food Cart Roll Play The Roman Candle 1054 Williamson St., Madison 608-258-2000 Sabor Queretano 4512 E. Washington Ave., Madison 608-209-0643 Savi Cafe & Catering 215 S. Hamilton, Madison 608-283-4903 Schultz's Sugar River Kettle Corn N9560 Hwy. 92, Belleville 608-217-9137 Smokin' Cantina Madison Food Cart 608-438-9643 Smokin' Dragons Soho Gourmet Cuisines 2990 Cahill Main #106, Madison 608-960-4011 Steak Escape 212 East Towne Mall, Madison 608-333-1103 Surco Peruvian 515 Cottage Grove Rd., Madison 608-957-1716 Tavernakaya 27 E. Main St., Madison 608-286-1548 Teriyaki Samurai Food Cart, Madison 608-338-5660 The Globe 309 N. Henry St., Madison 608-640-4435 TnT's Coffee & Cafe 729 N High Point Rd, Madison 608-831-2298 Toast 728 State Street, Madison 608-692-4549 Toppers 1368 Regent St., Madison Ugly Apple Food Cart 608-352-8459