Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 60 is one of Wisconsin’s “coast to coast” routes. It runs from just west of the Lake Michigan shore in the well-to-do northern suburbs of Milwaukee to the Iowa state line over the Mighty Mississippi at Prairie du Chien (French for “prairie of the dog”, which is not the same as “hair of the dog”). It’s a major connector highway from Grafton to Hartford and also serves as a very scenic route along the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Sac to Prairie du Chien as the Lower Wisconsin River Road. Interestingly enough, between these two towns it’s more hills and valleys than open prairie…
Wisconsin Highway 60 Road Trip
The Drive (East to West):
Highway 60 begins in Ozaukee County at some railroad tracks in Ulao. Never heard of it? Well, Ulao barely exists anymore and is the inland twin to an abandoned port town from the 1800s.
It’s easy to find, right off the I-43/Highway 32/57 interchange with Highway 60 at the edge of rapidly-growing Grafton. Old and new sit right next to each other: there’s a huge Colder’s Furniture showroom gallery, a shopping complex anchored by a Target with chain restaurants, and a freeway interchange right next to the old railroad and the junction it spawned. Highway 60 is the beginning of what was to be a turnpike from Port Ulao on Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin River, which eventually runs into Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. So this would have been major connection.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
|Port Ulao once hosted a 1,000-foot pier to supply Lake Michigan boats with wood; it’s also where the first Macadam road in the country was built.
You can buzz east real quick from Highway 60’s eastern end and follow County Road Q to the lakefront, where on foot you can discover the original piles that made the piers of Port Ulao, although watch for lots of private property owners in the area. Ulao itself was established along the railroad tracks when they were built through in 1873, where Highway 60 begins today. Ulao lives on with an original building from the time, which is now Juice’s Ghost Town Tavern (the “ghost town” being Ulao, of course) and this cool little Wisconsin tavern and restaurant is a State Trunk Tour favorite – try their prime rib bites! They’re also highly-rated for steaks and clever quips from both customers and servers during football games.
*** Brewery Alert ***
Grafton features a Water Street Brewery, which also has locations in Milwaukee and Delafield. Six beers are brewed on the premises that features an outdoor deck, full restaurant and plenty of beer memorabilia. It’s just south of Highway 60 – within sight of the Ghost Town Tavern, actually – along I-43/Highway 32/Highway 57. Not bad place to start or finish for the Highway 60 journey.
Heading west from Highway 60’s beginning in Ulao is the booming burg of Grafton (pop.11,459). Originally called “Hamburg” prior to its 1846 charter, Grafton flipped its name to “Manchester” from 1857 to 1862 before changing back. So far, it’s stayed “Grafton” ever since. Originally a lumber town, Grafton has hosted a series of industries ever since, including the famous Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. It was right here where 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation, allowing artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock ‘N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton at a make-shift studio that was formerly a chair factory; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called “race records” of the era.
Through Grafton, Highway 60 runs as Washington Street and then heads for an area known as “Five Corners”. From this intersection, Highway 181 will take you into Milwaukee; County Highway NN will bring you closer to West Bend; and Covered Bridge Road will take you to – you guessed it – a covered bridge. Built in 1876, this is the last remaining covered bridge in Wisconsin. The road jogs around it now, but pedestrians and bicyclists can still use it to cross Cedar Creek. In 2010, it was measured with scanning lasers to help document its history and structure, to help with any future repairs or reconstruction.
** Drive-In Alert ** Wayne’s Drive-In can be found just behind a bar at the intersection of Highways 60 and 181. Located in a former motorcycle repair shop, Wayne’s opened in 1998 and serves tasty burgers, fries, malts, ice cream, and more with real roller skating car hops. I know; I actually tried it one night while filming for Discover Wisconsin. It’s also one of our favorite drive-ins across the state.
Heading west on Highway 60 brings you from Ozaukee into Washington County, where as Main Street you run through Jackson (pop. 5,680), one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. U.S. 45 and I-41 cross Highway 60 within a few miles of each other; once past I-41, Highway 60 becomes a multilane highway going right past the southern end of Slinger (pop. 4,109), which was originally called “Schleisingerville”, fer cryin’ out loud. Once an outpost village perched at the edge of Kettle Moraine, Slinger today is booming like Jackson and Hartford, the next stop. To access Slinger’s downtown area, just head north at the intersection with Highway 175, which is the original U.S. 41.
Pike Lake State Park, dedicated in 1971, offers abundant recreation from fishing to wildlife viewing. Powder Hill offers a nice view of the Pike Lake and the kames, kettles and eskers around it (these are all terms for different landforms of one sort or another.)
Just past Pike Lake, you enter Hartford (pop. 13,700), of which Highway 60 is the east-west road, named Sumner Street. Hartford is a fast-growing city with a long history that includes being an automotive manufacturing center, the place where Libby’s (Libby’s Libby’s on the label label label…remember that ad?) processed most of its beets for the national market, and where Broan-NuTone LLC got its start in the home ventilation business. Today, it’s a global company with headquarters in Hartford. Health care has become a major business in the area too, serving has the headquarters for API Healthcare. Quad/Graphics also maintains a major facility in the area. For fun, Hartford hosts the Annual Hartford Balloon Rally, which includes evening events with glowing balloons and a fireworks show. It’s one of Wisconsin’s largest balloon events.
The Kissel and Hartford’s Auto History
Hartford holds the Wisconsin Automotive Museum, (147 N. Rural Street, 262-673-7999) the largest such museum in the state. Classic and vintage autos dating as far back as 1906 adorn the museum, which also sports a 250-ton locomotive, automobile artifacts, and a massive Lionel train set layout. It also showcases the Kissel, an automobile manufactured in Hartford from 1906 until 1931 (more on the Kissel in a moment.) The museum lies one block off Highway 83, just northwest of where you meets up with Highway 60 at the main downtown intersection.
The Kissel Kar Company was founded in Hartford in 1906 when George and William Kissel turned their hobby into a business. They built passenger cars, ambulances, fire trucks, taxicabs and more for 25 years. Among their most popular models were the Gold Bug Speedster (1925) and the White Eagle Speedster (1929), which became internationally famous and coveted by movie stars like Fatty Arbuckle at a time when the “talkies” were just debuting. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart also sported a Kissel, as did actress and stuntwoman Anita King, who became the first women to drive solo across the country in 1915 when she road tripped from California to New York in a Kissel, receiving a hero’s welcome upon her arrival. Kissel “kranked” out 4,000 units annually at their peak in 1922, but the Great Depression eventually led to their demise. Kissel shuttered its factory doors along the Rubicon River in 1931, leaving a legacy for Hartford and thousands of highly-prized collectors’ items to this day.
The Wisconsin Automotive Museum features an exhibition dedicated to the Kenosha-built Nash, and vintage treats like Studebakers, Reos, Pierce-Arrows and the Tucker. It also has automotive artifacts, a 250-ton locomotive and a display area for the Hudson Essex Terraplane.
The junction of Highways 83 & 60 is the epicenter of Hartford’s downtown, and at this epicenter is the largest restaurant in Wisconsin, The Mineshaft. Covering what seems like acres across 5 bars, room for 550 guests at once, a dance floor, a 5,000 square-foot game room area and a stage with performances by bands, The Mineshaft seems like it could have its own zip code. But it shares 53027 with most of the rest of the city.
Still within in Hartford, you enter Dodge County. West of town, it opens up as you graze Neosho, cross Highway 67, and brush past the town of Hustisford (pop. 1,141). Its downtown area lies just off the highway; you can detour into town and see the Rock River as it flows out of the 2,800-acre Lake Sinisssippi (rhymes with ?). A small dam in town at Riverside Park is one location where fish fight like the dickens to get back upstream – perhaps for spawning?
Continuing the journey across Dodge, you cross the Wild Goose State Trail, a 34-mile biking/hiking/snowmobiling/cross country skiing path linking Juneau (Dodge County’s county seat) and Fond du Lac. Shortly after that Highway 60 joins up with Highway 26, where you head south briefly before starting up west again, this time in conjunction with Highway 16 for the ride into Columbus.
Next up is Columbus (pop. 4,991); Wisconsin is one of 17 U.S. states that has a city with that name. Located on the Crawfish River and straddling Columbia and Dodge Counties, Columbus refers to itself as the “Red Bud City” and boasts largest antique mall in Wisconsin with the Columbus Antique Mall – 78,000 square feet filled with stuff across 444 booths under one roof. The Christopher Columbus Museum in the antique mall features souvenir memorabilia from the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago and as well as lithographs, china, tapestries, statues, and more. Columbus also has the closest Amtrak station to Madison, which is a fairly quick ride down U.S. 151 from here.
Columbus has done a great job preserving architecturally significant buildings, with the entire downtown district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Architectural and photography students come to check out Jaeger’s Mill on the Crawfish River, or the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank Building (known as the “Jewel Box”), which was one of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan. Students of history may revel in the Sunday morning toll of the steeple bell from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, partially made up of pieces of French canon captured during the Franco-Prussian War and presented as a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (no comments were solicited from any area French residents.)
Downtown Columbus features a wide variety of shops and draws a good number of visitors on a nice day. Highway 60 intersects with Highway 73/Business U.S. 151 right downtown. A short jaunt along 73 (aka Park Avenue) brings you past a nice part of town, to the original 1902 Kurth Brewery building (described and pictured below), and a connection with Highway 89.
One of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan, the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank (below) was built in 1919 in Columbus. It draws attention with its ornate facade and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. City Hall is kitty corner and the Cercis Brewery is just down the street.
Columbus, like many Wisconsin cities, has a brewing history. Started on Park Avenue (today Highway 73 at the intersection with Highway 89) in 1859, the Kurth Brewery quenched thirsty Columbusinians (or however you’d say it – Columbans, maybe?) for most of the ninety years that followed. Prohibition originally shut it down in 1920, but the Kurth Brewery managed to bounce back for 16 years after it was repealed, churning out items like Banner Beer and Blue Mound Beer throughout the 30s and 40s until it finally closed for good in 1949. The last tap room building still stands (pictured at right) just southwest of downtown along Park Avenue.
The resurgence of local and craft beers finally reached Columbus in 2018, when Cercis Brewing Company opened its doors right down from City Hall. Cercis wanted to name itself after the “Redbud City” miniker Columbus uses, but a certain large brewery took umbrage with part of that name, so they went with the name from the genus term for the redbud tree, cercis (they’ve had to explain that many a time.) Cercis offers a variety of local and guest brews and is popular for lunch and dinner too, with an extensive kitchen and increasing recognition for their pizzas. You’ll find Cercis Brewing one block off Highway 60 via Dickason Avenue, in a circa-1920 red brick building.
Highway 60, still combined with Highway 16, runs northwest from downtown Columbus through some neighborhoods and out to the U.S. 151 freeway, which has bypassed the downtown area since 1976. There are quite a few larger stores, gas stations, and restaurants here in case you want to fuel up before continuing.
Heading out of Columbus just past U.S. 151, Highway 60 branches off Highway 16 and makes a beeline westward. Past North Leeds, essentially just an intersection with Highway 22 and the junction with U.S. Highway 51 (which joins 60 for about two miles) and into Arlington (pop. 522), the hills of the Baraboo Range become visible. On the horizon is Highway 60’s western half, where the landscape changes.
Past I-39/90/94, Highway 60 begins curving around more and more hills as you approach Lodi (pop. 2,929). Lodi’s name means “Peaceful Valley” in one of the Native American languages and is one of only three cities in Wisconsin to host its own agricultural fair. A nice walkway right off the main street (Highway 113, a block or so off of 60) runs through downtown, and nice walkway right off the main street (Highway 113) lets you descend closer to the water and behind some of the downtown buildings to view the area. Lodi’s downtown runs mainly along Highway 113 (Main Street), which heads south to Madison and north to the Merrimac Ferry and Baraboo.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
|Lodi is one of three Wisconsin cities to have its own fair, the Lodi Agricultural Fair. It’s been running since 1865.
Lodi is the home of “Susie the Duck”, a famous waterfowl who returned to Lodi time and time again to raise clutches of eggs. At the Susie the Duck spot, you can buy handfuls of dried corn from vending machines to feed the ducks – one of whom just might be this year’s Susie. The annual “Susie the Duck Day” celebration features the plastic duck race, where you can buy a small duck that will, along with thousands of others, get dumped into Spring Creek for a “race” to the finish line. We’ll check into what the winner receives.
The Ice Age Trail runs through Lodi, and Ice Age Park provides a nice look at native vegetation – with pedestrian-oriented walkways with descriptions telling you about them – making it a nice stop. Highway 60 runs right along the Ice Age Park – and Trail – in Lodi and abuts Spring Creek, which flows into Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River, just a few miles to the north.
Just southwest of Lodi is the Lodi Marsh State Wildlife Area, where the Ice Age Trail runs and both hunters and mosquitoes run amok. Highway 60 provides access to the area as it heads west toward the Wisconsin River. And from this point on, Highway 60 earns the official designation of the Lower Wisconsin River Road.
The views become ever nicer, with Crystal Lake to the south (the lake straddles the Columbia-Dane County line and hosts a campground on a peninsula jutting into it) and more layers of hills to the north.
*** Winery & Distillery Alert ***
Just past Highway 188, you cross the Wisconsin River and head into Prairie du Sac (pop. 3,231), where you also you meet up with Highway 78 and begin to follow the river’s western bank. This is Eagle Country, where bald eagles – and maybe even some with hair – can be regularly spotted. From this point forward, Highway 60 more or less follows the Wisconsin River all the way to the Mississippi.
Prairie du Sac and Sauk City (pop. 3,019) are essentially twin cities and collectively the area is called Sauk Prairie. Sauk City itself is Wisconsin’s oldest incorporated village (1854) and is the site of the first Culver’s restaurant ever (1984). Culver’s headquarters, meanwhile, is in Prairie du Sac. Don’t ever question putting butter on a burger around here.
Sauk City’s downtown features several sports bars, including the Press Box – illustrated quite vividly on its facade.
Technically from Lodi but in earnest once it crosses the Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac, Highway 60 also becomes the Lower Wisconsin River Road. As they describe the upcoming stretch that awaits:
“From the Empire Prairie to the Mighty Mississippi, Wisconsin’s 100-mile Scenic Byway 60 follows the graceful curves of the Lower Wisconsin River. This patch of our planet sparkles, by sunny day or starry night, with the wild beauty of Nature left to its own devices for thousands and thousands of years. And nowhere is Heraclitus’s adage that you can’t step into the same river twice more apt. In constant flux, the “River of a Thousand Isles” continuously sculpts its sandbars, shifts its channels, varies its flows, and repaints its colors according to the whims of the weather gods.”
Okay, so they use prettier words than we often do. But that’s fine. Either way, it makes for a beautiful State Trunk Tour drive. Once Highway 60 leaves Highway 78 and joins U.S. Highway 12 briefly out of town, it branches off to the west to follow the Wisconsin River…although it stays a mile or two away for much of the ride through the rest of Sauk County. The scenery is great; areas of the road become narrow and twist around with tight curves amidst landforms like Ferry Bluff, portions of which come right up to the road. The majestic Baraboo Range is often visible to the north while the Lower Wisconsin Scenic Riverway lies to the south.
The first straightaway you encounter after a while happens when you approach U.S. Highway 14, Highway 23, and Spring Green (pop. 1,444). Home of American Players Theatre, offering Shakespeare in a natural amphitheater, Taliesin, summer home and school of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the ever-famous House On The Rock, Spring Green offers no shortage of things to see. Access to the sights are south on Highway 23, mostly south of the river.
U.S. Highway 14 and Highway 60 both careen westward in a straightaway fashion into Richland County and grazing the north edge of Lone Rock (pop. 949), accessible via Highways 130 and 133. West of Lone Rock, the Pine River Trail follows the highway to Gotham (pronounced “GO-tham”. not “Gaaath-um”, as I found out.) The Pine River is another one of Wisconsin’s great rail-to-trails and runs from Richland Center back towards Spring Green.
From Gotham west, Highway 60 is even more serene. You’re once again in the twisty, turny territory that rounds the hills and, on occasion, hugs the river’s northern coastline. Bogus Bluff, which actually seems pretty valid, is to your north. The road goes through the Lower Wisconsin Scenic Riverway along this stretch and on and off for much of the duration.
At the intersection with Highway 80, you can hop over the river and check out Muscoda (pop. 1,408), the “Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin.” In fact, Muscoda (once known as “English Prairie” in this historically French part of the state) hosts the Annual Morel Mushroom Festival in May, complete with a mushroom contest (biggest, smallest, most unique, most in cluster, things like that.) The Wisconsin River Canoe Race also takes place in July, where canoers race from as far away as Spring Green, about 21 miles upstream.
Past 80 and the junction with tiny Highway 193, which loops you back to 80, Highway 60 jogs away from the river for a few miles. This is where you’ll see a sign for Eagle Cave, the largest onyx cave in Wisconsin. It was discovered back in 1849; 89 years later it was finally open to the public. They’ve hosted a cave exploratory program since 1954 and are popular not only for tours, but overnight camping. Four main and four subterranean walking levels take you through over 3,000 feet of passages.
Shortly after Eagle Cave, there’s another bridge across the river at Port Andrew – called Tippisaukee at one time – where County T leapfrogs Coumbe Island to land on the other side in Blue River (pop. 429) with a connection to Highway 133.
The drive continues into Crawford County, where Highway 60 follows the Wisconsin as it bends southwest towards the Mississippi. Shortly after crossing the county line, you hook up with U.S. Highway 61, which joins for just under two miles. At Easter Rock, U.S. 61 breaks south over the river into Grant County and Boscobel (pop. 3,047). Boscobel is “Wisconsin’s Wild Turkey Hunting Capital”, so if you feel like hunting wild turkeys, you’re in luck. Boscobel is also the birthplace of the Gideon Bible and the Gideon Society… so the people who got the idea for placing Bibles in hotels and motels all over the country came from here.
Boscobel offers up a beautiful downtown lined with a number of well-preserved – or adapted – 19th century buildings; fans of architecture should check it out, several blocks east of U.S. 61. The Rock School (207 Buchanan Street) is another stunner, once shockingly designated for demolition. Boscobel Station, built in 1857, has historically served as a “nerve center” of town and includes a new museum.
From U.S. 61 and access to Boscobel, Highway 60 continues southwest, wedged between bluffs and the river. About eight miles past Boscobel near the mouth of the Kickapoo River, Highway 131 begins at 60 and will take you north along the “crookedest river in the world” and some of the best canoeing in the Midwest. The Kickapoo River State Wildlife Area lies to the northwest as you enter Wauzeka (pop. 768). The next stop – and a brief one, at that – is at Bridgeport (pop. 946). Here, Highway 60 hooks up with U.S. Highway 18, Highway 35, and the Great River Road for the ride into the PDC.
And “the PDC” on the State Trunk Tour is Prairie du Chien (pop. 6,018), Wisconsin’s second oldest city (Green Bay is the oldest, in case you were wondering.) The Fox and Sauk tribes were here for hundreds of years prior to French explorers arriving and saying “voila!” Early establishment began in 1673, with the first trading posts developed in 1685 by French explorer Nicholas Perrot. Fur trade, along with Prairie du Chien’s natural location near the Wisconsin River and Mississippi River confluence, guaranteed the small settlement would prosper for years to come. Prairie du Chien’s history spans five centuries, including the only significant Wisconsin battle in the War of 1812. PDC’s first fort, Fort Shelby, was built by Americans built captured by the British in the War. By 1816, it had been replaced with Fort Crawford. The Black Hawk War, which took place in 1832, featured a commanding officer in the form of Colonel Zachary Taylor, who later became 12th President of the United States. A lieutenant during the same time named Jefferson Davis not only married Zachary Taylor’s daughter (named Sarah “Knoxie” Taylor, proving cutesy nicknames existed in the 19th century), he later became President of the Confederate States of America. Neither worked out well; the future President Taylor didn’t approve and poor Sarah passed away from pneumonia only months after their 1835 marriage; his new country in the 1860s didn’t last very long, either.
A 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.
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 Bearssss Superfan Bill Swerski; sportscaster George Blaha; former Wisconsin governor Patrick Lucey; and politician and prankster Dick Tuck (yes, his real name.) As long as we’re name dropping, Pat Bowlen, longtime owner of the Denver Broncos, was born in Prairie du Chien – one of the few Wisconsin natives who liked Super Bowl XXXII.
A carp-droppin’ tradition. A relatively new tradition in Prairie du Chien happens on New Years’ Eve. In 2001, they started lowering a carp via crane to coincide with the ringing in of the new year. Similar to the apple in New York City or the peach in Georgia, residents count down the last minute or two of the year while the carp – a 30-pound female named “Lucky” – gets lowered via crane from about 110 feet high. Now called the “Droppin’ of the Carp”, it’s certainly one-of-a-kind.
Prairie du Chien contains five National Historic Landmarks and nine sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Wyalusing State Park lies just to the south of the Wisconsin River via the Great River Road.
Highway 60 technically ends at the Iowa state line, in conjunction with U.S. 18. Of course, being a federal highway, U.S. 18 continues west, eventually ending in Wyoming. While still on land, the western end of Highway 60 features an official Wisconsin Welcome Center and Prairie du Chien’s own Visitor Centr. Stock up on information packets and admire the statue of Father Marquette towering above with a beautiful view of the town.
Overall, Highway 60 is a terrific State Trunk Tour route. Lots of connections, a broad cross-section of the state, a good mixture of towns and scenery makes for a pleasant “Great to Great Drive”, as in a Great Lake to the Great River. Watch for related video in the coming months!