Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 181 runs along western portions of Milwaukee and Ozaukee County communities, serving as a major artery for the Wisconsin State Fair, the city of Wauwatosa, northwest Milwaukee, Mequon, and the “Five Corners” area in Cedarburg, just south of where Wisconsin’s last covered bridge can be found. Along this route is a mix of big city neighborhoods, rural farmland, growing towns, suburban villages, and of course the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair and the Milwaukee Mile. All in a 22-mile drive.
Wisconsin Highway 181 Road Trip
The Drive (South to North): Highway 181 begins at Highway 59/Greenfield Avenue in West Allis (pop. 60,411), which was called North Greenfield early on. The establishment of a huge Allis-Chalmers factory in 1902 led to the town changing its name and incorporating as West Allis in 1906; that company dominated manufacturing in the area – and the nation – for decades before closing in 1987. For nearly eighty years, tens of thousands of workers descended on the West Allis plant, as well as other manufacturers in town – some of which are still cranking out products. Hundreds of thousands head to State Fair Park in early August for the Wisconsin State Fair, one of the nation’s leading state fairs. After starting in Janesville in 1851, the Wisconsin State Fair made West Allis its permanent home in 1892. The grounds includes the Milwaukee Mile, the oldest operating motor speedway in the world; it’s hosted most of racing’s legendary drivers at one time or another, from Barney Oldfield and A.J. Foyt to Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick. The Milwaukee Mile continues to host NASCAR and Indy events, including IndyFest, on its legendary oval. And during the State Fair, you can park on it!
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|The Green Bay Packers made the infield of the Milwaukee Mile at State Fair Park their home field for Milwaukee games between 1934 and 1951, even playing the 1939 NFL Championship Game there: a 27-0 defeat of the New York Giants – the first shutout in NFL playoff history.|
Highway 181 runs along 84th Street in West Allis, and intersects with I-94 just north of State Fair Park. The Pettit National Ice Center is at the junction with the freeway; it’s one of the few Olympic-qualifying speedskating rinks in the world! After all, this area has sprouted the likes of gold medalists Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen – it’s obviously a haven for champions. The Pettit National Ice Center features two full-size hockey rinks and a quarter-mile speedskating rink, among other features that make it a center for Olympians, athletes in training, hockey players, and just people who love to skate. The oval is open to the public for skating, and there’s even a .28 mile running track along the outside of the oval.
Just north of I-94, Highway 181 ducks into a brief silver of the city of Milwaukee and intersects with U.S. 18/Blue Mound Road into Wauwatosa (pop. 47,000). This area was originally settled by Charles Hart in 1835 and was named “Hart’s Mills” for a mill he built along the Menomonee River. The railroad came through shortly thereafter, as did the Watertown Plank Road, an early toll road (seriously built with planks) that connected Milwaukee and Watertown by 1849. The town – then village, then city – was renamed Wauwatosa, the Potawatomi word for “firefly.” Wauwatosa mixes tree-lined residential neighborhoods, a world-class medical center with the Medical College of Wisconsin as an anchor, a downtown village brimming with shops, restaurants, and historic crossroads, industrial parks, factories, a major regional shopping mall… basically, Wauwatosa has a bit of everything.
Highway 181 enters Wauwatosa as 84th Street and becomes Glenview Avenue until it reaches the historic Watertown Plank Road. You literally jog over a few blocks on the road before turning left on a tight bridge that leapfrogs the Menomonee River Valley and lands in the “downtown” – Wauwatosa’s village. The old road continues downhill to a railroad crossing and a bridge over the Menomonee River; that’s the original Watertown Plank Road and Highway 181 until the bridge was built in the 1970s to ease congestion.
(More on Highway 181 to come!)
Events on this Tour
One of the nation's greats, the Wisconsin State Fair next runs August 5-15, 2021. Everything from the animals to rides, concerts, exhibits, and tasty food and beverages (like flavored milks, only 50 cents each with more new flavors this year) are yours for the taking!
Potawatomi Hotel & Casino Main Stage headliners at Wisconsin State Fair include:TBA, Thursday, August 5th TBA, Friday, August 6th TBA, Saturday, August 7th TBA, Sunday, August 8th TBA, Monday, August 9th TBA, Tuesday, August 10th TBA, Wednesday, August 11th TBA, Thursday, August 12th TBA, Friday, August 13th TBA, Saturday, August 14th TBA, Sunday, August 15th As always, the State Fair will feature a huge variety of animals from farms all across the state, letting you learn more about and even interact with some - from cows to chickens and rabbits to llamas, ostrich, goats, and more! [caption id="attachment_10650" align="alignnone" width="350"] The Wisconsin State Fair Milk House, with all kinds of great flavored milks for 50 cents.[/caption] You will not go hungry: favorite foods at the Fair include the roasted corn, corn dogs, flavored milks, all kinds of creative deep-fried foods, sausages, as much as you can imagine on a stick, and the legendary Wisconsin cream puffs that become a "must have" for attendees needing their true dairy (and carb) fix! They get more eclectic with things like deep-fried bull testicles (listed as "Rocky Mountain Oysters" on the menu at Big Sky Country Bar & Grill), ants on a stick (literally), and earthworm and cricket jerky. But hey, it's up to you. FOODS at State Fair include an Apple Crunch Cheesecake Quesadilla from the Mexican Grill, BBQ Mac Tater Tots from Jayme's Chipstix, the Caramel Turtle Pretzel at Gertrude's Fresh Pretzels, Loaded Baked Potato with Bacon Pizza from Pistol Pete's, Prime Rib Sliders at Leadfoots Race Bar & Grill, the Unicorn Beer Float at Slim McGinn's Irish Pub, and about 60 other choices! [caption id="attachment_12478" align="alignnone" width="400"] The Loaded German Pretzel, one of over 65 new foods at Wisconsin State Fair this year.[/caption] The Milwaukee Mile race track, which hosts races, auto testing, and more throughout the year is just one of the places you can park - which is cool, since you can walk on and check out this legendary oval, the oldest continuously operating raceway in the world. Get more details here. This is definitely one of the best State Fairs in the nation! Check out this map of Wisconsin State Fair... you can enlarge it by clicking on it or get a printable .pdf HERE. Wisconsin State Fair Park is in West Allis, less than ten minutes from downtown Milwaukee. Bordered on the south by Highway 59/Greenfield Ave., on the west by Highway 181/84th Street, on the north by I-94, and on the east by 76th Street. U.S. 18/Bluemound Road comes close to the north, I-41/U.S. 45 and then Highway 100 skim by 2 miles to the west, and Highway 175 is about 2 miles east as it passes Miller Park. There are a lot of great ways to get to the Park!
Wisconsin State Fair Address:Wisconsin State Fair Park 640 S. 84th Street (Highway 181 at Highway 59) West Allis, WI 53214 (414) 266-7000 Website