Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 47 is a key route through the North Woods from U.S. 51 (which it intersects twice, serving the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation, the Minocqua/Woodruff vacation towns, Hodag Country in Rhinelander, the Menomonee Reservation and Shawano before becoming the main north-south road into Appleton and its final destination, Menasha next to Lake Winnebago. For 76 of its 188 miles, Highway 47 is combined with other routes, including Highway 182, U.S. 8, U.S. 45, Highways 29 and 55.
The Wisconsin Highway 47 Road Trip
The Drive (North To South): Highway 47 begins in Manitowish along U.S. 51, the primary north-south highway in central Wisconsin, at a bar called the Ding-A-Ling (you can’t make this stuff up). It winds through the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation for most of its first 27 miles. Highway 182 also begins with 47 and branches off about 4 miles in, heading southwest to Park Falls. Just before 182 branches off, by the way, you cross the 90th meridian, also known as the halfway point between the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. We didn’t find a marker, but there should be one there…it’s a major line on the globe!
The Lac du Flambeau Reservation dominates a large piece of the Highway 47 drive between Woodruff and the end at U.S. 51. Their history can be viewed on this marker pictured above, as well as all over the town. In this area, Highway 47 winds around and along multiple lakes, including Lake Pokegama (below).
The Lac du Flambeau Reservation was created via treaties in 1837 and 1842 and has around 3,500 residents. Like the rest of this region, an extensive chain of interconnected lakes and rivers dominate the landscape (behind all the trees). The Lac du Flambeau Reservation area includes over 260 lakes, 65 miles of rivers and streams and over 24,000 acres of wetlands, so fishing and kayaking are popular local activities. Wild rice grows, well, wild, and has always been a local delicacy. Frybread is another, and they get creative with the toppings and fillings. There’s even a “downtown” Lac du Flambeau, where Highway 47 ducks in between Flambeau, Pokegama, Fence and Crawling Stone Lakes. The crossroad is County D, known for much of its length as Peace Pipe Road. For a good look at Ojibwa history and culture (also known as Anishinaabe), the George W. Brown, Jr. Ojibwe Museum & Cultural Center offers up exhibits that include a world-record sturgeon, a dugout canoe over 200 years old, artifacts and thousands of photos. If you feel more like slots or “doubling down” on 11, hit the Lake of the Torches Casino, which features 24-hour gaming including bingo and blackjack, dining and a variety of concerts and events. The phrase “Lake of the Torches” refers to the old practice of harvesting fish at night by torchlight.
The lakes here stay stocked with fish. Over the past three decades, the tribal fish hatchery here restocked the lakes with over 415 million walleye fry. That requires a lot of breading!
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|The World’s Largest Sturgon was speared in Pokegama Lake. Measuring over seven feet long, 40 inches around and weighing almost 200 pounds, this fish “sleeps with the museums” by being on display at the the George W. Brown, Jr. Ojibwe Museum & Cultural Center.|
Woodruff, Minocqua and Arbor Vitae.
One of Wisconsin’s most frequented vacation destinations is this stretch of towns surrounded by lakes, forest, and beauty. The presence of Illinois license plates gives you the proper impression that this area is filled with shops, restaurants, t-shirt stores and throngs of families looking to rent lake homes or hang out in the resorts that dot the lakes ringing the area. Highway 47 enters Woodruff (pop. 1,982) from the Lac du Flambeau area, just inside Vilas County. Woodruff features Jim Peck’s Wildwood Wildlife Park, the “Zoo of the Northwoods” with over 500 animals – some of whom are roaming. That’s located along Highway 70 on the west side of Woodruff.
In Woodruff itself, you’ll find shopping, plenty of gas stations and even some fast-food restaurants, as well as the first traffic light along Highway 47. Here, you intersect with the north-south backbone of Wisconsin, U.S. 51, which is the main drag through Minocqua and Woodruff – Highway 70 is along for the ride, too. Minocqua lies to the south along U.S. 51. This whole stretch can be bumper-to-bumper on warm summer days – and also some nights.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Within a short distance of Minocqua-Woodruff-Arbor Vitae are over 1,600 miles of professionally groomed snowmobile trails amidst 1,300 glacial lakes and 233,000 acres of public forest lands.|
Also in Woodruff, you’ll find the World’s Largest Penny. Located just west of Highway 70/U.S. 51 at 923 Second Avenue, it came about from a fund-raising effort by Dr. Kate Pelham Newcomb (a.k.a. the “Angel on Snowshoes” in these parts). In the early 1950s, Woodruff needed a hospital. Dr. Kate encouraged area children to save their pennies, a story that spread around the nation. Pennies poured in from all over the U.S., and eventually 1.7 million of them helped get the hospital built. Apparently health care was a lot less expensive back then. Ironically, the schoolkids from 1953 (the year stamped on the penny) will soon approach the age where some may enter the assisted living facility behind it.
So how’s this for cool? State Trunk Tour fan Agnes W. sent in this picture of her (she’s on the left) and her siblings the year the penny was dedicated in 1953. Thanks, Agnes!
Out of Woodruff, Highway 47 heads southeasterly again, winding around more lakes and wetlands past small hamlets like Lake Tomahawk, McNaughton and Newbold on the way into the next city, which is all about the Hodag…and more.
Of course, we’re talking about Rhinelander (pop. 8,135), the Oneida County seat and metropolitan center of everything north of Wausau. The two cities even split the television market up here, with WJFW-TV (Channel 12) serving as the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. Rhinelander is where NFL player Jason Doering, five-time PGA golf champion Dan Forsman, playwright Dan Wasserman, entertainment reporter Steve Kmetko and 2002 Miss Teen USA winner Vanessa Semrow, the only Wisconsinite to win the pageant, all came from. College coaching legend John Heisman, namesake of the Heisman Trophy, is buried in Rhinelander – because that’s where his wife was born.
Rhinelander was originally called Pelican Rapids, but changed the name when the city was chartered to salute Frederic Rhinelander, who was president of the main railroad at the time. By 1882, the railroad was extended to the city from Monico (which Highway 47 touches on later) and lumber mills went crazy, exporting wood and wood products. Lumber today still plays a big role in Rhinelander’s economy.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|WJFW-TV, Rhinelander’s Channel 12, is the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. When a plane crash took out its original tower in 1968, the rebuilt tower was the 7th tallest structure in the world and was the first in the U.S. built exclusively for color TV transmission. When it was sold in 1979 to Seaway Communications, it was the first VHF commercial TV station owned by minority interests.|
The city also became a brewery town back in 1882, when Rhinelander Beer was introduced. The brewery pioneered and patented the 7-ounce “shorty” bottle and grew to become one of the more influential local breweries in the country. They closed in 1967, but the brands continued to be brewed under contract in Monroe, where the Huber (now Minhas Brewery) kept cranking it out. In 2009, the brands were brought back to Rhinelander when Jyoti Auluck became president of the “new” Rhinelander Brewing Company. They are in the process of bringing back the original formulas and labels to their brands and plan to build a new brewery in Rhinelander. Some of the brands, including the original Rhinelander beer, are now available in various bar and store locations around Wisconsin and upper Michigan. We’ll definitely do more research on this!
As the Oneida County Seat, Rhinelander’s downtown includes the beautiful Oneida County Courthouse, with its Tiffany glass dome serving as a visible landmark through the town. A host of local shops, bars and restaurants and sporting goods stores are ready to serve the healthy numbers of tourists who hang out in Rhinelander; many use the city as a launching point for taking in the recreational opportunities that abound across all seasons.
Downtown Rhinelander is where the old Highway 17 (Stevens Street), U.S. 8 and Highway 47 all came together. The downtown area is still pretty vibrant, since Rhinelander is a major center for commerce and recreation in the North Woods. For shops, bars and restaurants, Brown Street is the main strip, one block west of Stevens in the downtown area. There’s even a 24-hour drive-through McDonald’s (rare for this part of the state) and plenty of sites to see, including:
– The Rhinelander Logging Museum (334 N. Pelham Street, 715-369-5004), a complex featuring a replica of an 1870s lumber camp, the original Soo Line Depot (built in 1892, in service until 1989), an extensive model railroad display in the basement and an outdoors display of early logging equipment, a narrow-gauge locomotive and steam-powered “snow snakes”. What’s a snow snake? Well, that’s why you have to road trip and discover stuff. For more, visit their website.
– ArtStart! (68 S. Stevens Street) an arts and cultural center that established itself in 2011 inside the historic Federal Building – which they bought for $1 from the feds (no wonder the government is broke!). As of our last trip, they were still getting things together, so check out their Facebook page to keep up with the latest developments.
– For outdoor adventurers, Mel’s Trading Post (105 S. Brown Street, 715-362-5800) has been outfitting residents and visitors alike since 1946.
– If you need to catch the game or imbibe in some bar food and sandwiches, Bucketheads Sports Bar & Grill (46 N. Brown Street, 715-369-5333) is a good stop. Check out the sweet potato fries and brewery equipment in the front.
Yes, you’ve probably heard, Rhinelander is Hodag Country. So what is a Hodag? According to folklore, the Hodag was first seen in 1893 and had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” Advanced by Eugene Shepard, who was known for pranks, the beast became something of legend when the “remains” of one was released to area newspapers. Later, he claimed to have overpowered a live Hodag using chloroform and brought it with him to the 1896 Oneida County Fair. Curious onlookers came from all over to examine the animal, which Shepard worked up and attached wires to, for the occasional tugging to make the creature move…sending audiences running. Apparently, it seemed pretty real: scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. announced they would be coming to Rhinelander to examine this Hodag creature…essentially forcing Shepard to admit it was a hoax.
Nevertheless, the Hodag came an indelible part of Rhinelander’s local lore. The Hodag is the high school mascot, the city’s official symbol, is commemorated with sculptures around town and even lends its name to the local country music festival, which draws some pretty big names (Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, Kellie Pickler and, in its inception in 1978, good ol’ Freddy Fender. Anybody up for a round of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights“?)
You can find the biggest Hodag statue right next to the Rhinelander Visitors’ Center, along Kemp Street (the traditional U.S. 8) on the southwest side of town, just off the bypass. Here he is in winter.
Highway 47 technically goes around Rhinelander in combination with U.S. 8 and Highway 17, which swoop around the southwest and eastern sides of town. For full Rhinelander flavor, go INTO the place.
From Rhinelander, Highway 47 stays with U.S. 8 to Monico, where it follows U.S. 45 south. At Pelican Lake, you can detour east and check out the Mecikalski Stovewood Building & Museum, along County B about five miles down the road. A National Historic Site, it’s the only known commercial example of the “stovewood” building method in the U.S. It’s open during the summer months.
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.
Highways 45 & 47 continue south, eventually meeting up with Highways 52 and 64 as you enter 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.
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.
Highway 64 heads west as a newer bypass of Antigo, while U.S. 45 and Highways 47/52 make the ride downtown.
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.
South of Antigo, Highway 52 breaks away to head towards Wausau while Highway 47 leaves U.S. 45 a few miles later to head east. Check out the interesting designs on a few lawns passing the unincorporated settlement of Phlox, then be ready to leave Langlade County and head into Menominee County, the newest county in Wisconsin. It was carved out in 1961 specifically to replace the Menominee Indian Reservation, although the reservation status was restored in 1973 and now the two are co-terminus. There are only two counties in Wisconsin without any incorporated communities; Menominee is one of them. The other? Florence County, which is so far up north people here consider it “up north”.
As seen above, entering Menominee County also means entering the Menominee Indian Reservation. This a very rural, heavily forested stretch – Menominee County actually has the largest single tract of virgin timberland in Wisconsin. Just after a crossing of the beautiful Wolf River, Highway 55 joins in for the ride into Keshena (pop. 1,262), the county seat. Keshena – not to be confused with Kenosha – is home to the local college and the Menominee Casino Resort, which was the first Vegas-style resort casino in Wisconsin when it opened in 1987.
Just south of Keshena, Highways 47/55 enter Shawano County. The county seat, Shawano (pop. 8,298) is just down the road. Abutting Shawano Lake, the town is a major point along the Mountain-Bay Trail, a great 83-mile rail-to-trail bike route that connects Rib Mountain in Wausau with the shore of Green Bay. Being the largest city between Wausau and Green Bay, Shawano is a signficant center for shopping and other necessities for towns for miles around. Gas tends to be a little cheaper here, too.
Highway 47 brings Highway 55 with it coming into Shawano, and in town, it also hooks up with Highway 22 and the “City” route of Highway 29, which now is officially south of town on a freeway bypass. All four highways get together for the easterly push through the heart of town. At the junction of these highways downtown, this attractive statue illustrates the farming history – and hard work put in – of the area surrounding the city.
Heading south from Shawano, Highways 47/55 hook up with the expressway bypass on the city’s southeast side, today’s mainline Highway 29. Together, they run southeast for a few miles into Bonduel (pop. 1,478), where there’s a very interesting stop – especially for motorcycles – that also happens to be a State Trunk Tour favorite.
It’s Doc’s Harley-Davidson and Muscle Car Museum, a can’t-miss fixture along the highway that features the General Lee from the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show suspended in mid-air… because the sheriff (presumably Roscoe P. Coltraine) is also suspended in mid-air, just a little ways back, in hot pursuit. If you like motorcycles (particularly Harleys), muscle cars, old school gas station memorabilia, and even a variety of animals from pigs to birds to mini-crocodiles, Doc’s is worth carving out plenty of time for.
More about Doc’s, along with the rest of the route to Appleton and Neenah is coming up soon!
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 51
Can connect nearby to: Highway 70, about 15 miles south
Can connect immediately to: Highway 114
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 10, about 2 miles north; Highway 441, about 2 miles north; I-41, about 3 miles west from the terminus; Highway 96, about 6 miles north