29

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

13

STH-013“From The State’s Largest Vacation Spot To The World’s Largest Freshwater Lake”

Southern terminus: Sauk County, at I-90/94’s Exit 87 in Wisconsin Dells

Northern terminus: Douglas County, at the U.S. 2/53 freeway near Superior

Mileage: about 340 miles

Counties along the way: Sauk, Columbia, Adams, Portage, Wood, Marathon, Clark, Taylor, Price, Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas

Sample towns along the way: Wisconsin Dells, Adams/Friendship, Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Abbotsford, Medford, Phillips, Park Falls, Ashland, Bayfield

Bypass alternates at: Marshfield

WisMap13Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 13 connects the Dells with Wisconsin’s rugged Lake Superior shores. Along the way, you hit touristy areas like the Dells and Bayfield, run through mid-size Wisconsin cities like “da Rapids” and Marshfield, wind through the North Woods, scoot just to the west of Wisconsin’s highest point, and then hit the state’s northernmost areas along the lake Gordon Lightfoot sang about – for better or worse.

Wisconsin Highway 13 Road Trip

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Highway 13 begins as a ramp off I-90/94 going past the Dells; it runs right through the heart of downtown before making its way north through the state.

The Drive (South To North): Highway 13 begins along a busy interchange with I-90/94 (Exit 87) as it whizzes past Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. In fact, I caught the local “vacation station”, WDLS (AM 900, which since unfortunately flipped formats), playing “Holiday Road” by Lindsay Buckingham, which served as the opening theme to National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was the perfect accompaniment to rolling through the bustling main street strip filled with shoppers and tourists on a beautiful summer day.

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Almost immediately, Highway 13 intersects with all the main roads in the Dells area: Highways 16 and 23, and U.S. 12

Wisconsin Dells

Past roller coasters, mini golf courses, waterparks, and hopping over the Wisconsin River, you enter the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418), which actually is a city. However, when people refer to “Wisconsin Dells”, they usually mean the whole area, including Lake Delton and the region up and down the Wisconsin River, whose gorgeous ‘dells’ and gorges give the area its name. Wisconsin Dells started as Kilbourn City in 1857. It was named after founder Byron Kilbourn, who also played a major role in getting Milwaukee started as a city one decade earlier. Renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931, the city set the state’s high temperature record of 114 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius.) five years later. But yes, it gets cold here, too – hence a lot of indoor waterparks. In fact, it’s the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” It’s also chock full of foreign workers, many of whom are college age from Eastern Europe and South America. Time magazine actually named it one of the “Best Places for College Students to Work during the Summer” in 2004, proving there’s a list for nearly everything.

In addition to being home to the amphibious World War II vehicles known as the Wisconsin “Ducks” (which started in 1946) and Tommy Bartlett’s Water Ski & Jumping Boat Thrill Show (which made the Dells its permanent home after an amazingly successful temporary stop in 1952), Wisconsin Dells’ selection of waterparks is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

South of Highway 13 into Lake Delton via U.S. 12/Highway 13 reveals a vast array of sights: the Crystal Grand Theater, roller coasters, mini golf courses, ferris wheels, waterparks, upside-down White Houses (a place called “Top Secret”), plastic pink flamingos, motels, hotels, ski jumps in bodies of water… it’s all along this stretch. The world’s largest Trojan Horse can’t be missed. I mean, it’s right there.

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Motels, pedestrians and stray beach balls line the stretch south of Highway 13 in Lake Delton via U.S. 12 and Highway 23, with skywalks allowing pedestrians to avoid traffic and/or winter; and as you can see, traffic can get heavy on this stretch. Stop and go traffic much of the time on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer is not uncommon.

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It’s hard to miss the World’s Largest Trojan Horse along U.S 12/Highway 23, just south of Highway 13. A ride passes through it; no word on if anything else is hiding inside. It could be a trick!

Meanwhile, Highway 13 joins up with Highways 16 and 23, at the main intersection, continuing east to hop over the Wisconsin River and enter the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418).

In addition to being home to the amphibious World War II vehicles known as the Wisconsin “Ducks” (which started in 1946) and Tommy Bartlett’s Water Ski & Jumping Boat Thrill Show (which made the Dells its permanent home after an amazingly successful temporary stop in 1952), Wisconsin Dells’ selection of waterparks is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

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One of the Wisconsin Ducks in front of Ripley’s, believe it or not.

This is truly a mecca of recreational vacation fun. Let’s take a look at some facts about the area around the Dells (thanks to the “Quick Facts” section of wisdells.com):

– There are 18 indoor waterpark/playground properties in the Dells, the highest concentration of such facilities in the world
– The first indoor waterpark in the nation, The Polynesian, opened here in 1989
– The largest indoor waterpark in the U.S. is the Kalahari Resort, with 125,000 square feet
– North America’s largest waterpark is Noah’s Ark, covering 70 acres, utilizing five million gallons of water and powering screaming people down three miles of waterslides
– The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort’s indoor and outdoor waterpark space combined covers the space equivalent to six football fields

And if you want fudge shops, only Mackinac Island in Michigan can compete with the downtown strip along Highways 13/16/23. Mmmm… fudge. “The Strip” features t-shirt stores that seem to repeat every 100 feet or so. But there are also a ton of unique – or just not too common – things. Among them: Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not!” Museum, one of only two in the U.S. (the other is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming); the Rick Wilcox Theater; and waterparks a’plenty. Feel like going extreme? Extreme World features a 130-foot high bungee jump, a skycoaster and for those who prefer to stay on the ground the whole time, a big selection of go-karts and tracks.

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Plenty of sights to see along Broadway, the stretch of Highway 13 where it goes through the heart of Wisconsin Dells. Highways 16 and 23 run with 23 here, too. Nig’s Bar, pictured at night just above, is one of those places advertising itself via t-shirts that people wear (“I had a swig at Nig’s”) all over the place… you’ve probably seem them.

wisdells-cyclesthru13-16-23Basically, Highway 13 goes through the heart of the Dells with Highways 16 and 23 in tow. Wisconsin Dells is a great starting – or ending – point for any trip. You could spend a whole summer here and not run out of things to do. Since this is a road trip, it’s also about the journey. At least ’til we come back to the Dells.

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This is part of the “dells” in Wisconsin Dells. A boat ride reveals all kinds of rock formations along this stretch of the Wisconsin River. These dells were formed about 15,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.

So, onward!

Onward from the Dells

After the intersection where Highway 16 breaks southeast toward Columbus and Milwaukee and Highway 23 continues east toward Green Lake and Sheboygan, Highway 13 turns north. Northward from the Dells, Highway 13 is a pretty straight shot through the tree cutaways, past smaller lodging camps and some access points that lead you back to the Wisconsin River. Beyond the junction with Highway 82 and over the interestingly-named Risk Creek lie the twin towns of Adams-Friendship.

fmound2Adams (pop. 1,914) is the larger of the two, due to the railroad’s new depot location in 1910; its twin city Friendship (pop. 698) remains the county seat and sits under Friendship Mound, which dominates the north view as you drive through the towns.

It gets quite mound-y here. Just on the other side of Friendship Mound is Roche-A-Cri State Park, which features a steep mound of its own… called, interestingly enough, Roche-A-Cri. The mound is 300 feet high and can be scaled via a 303-step wooden stairway that offers interpretive signs and two rest stops on your way to a gorgeous view from the top.

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The top of a long, steep 300-foot climb has its rewards on Roche-A-Cri Mound.

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The rock formations and views from above or below are great in Roche-A-Cri. Birds overhead only add to the enjoyment of a hike, a picnic, or – perhaps – bird watching.

While there, I saw a guy who made me think that Carrot Top and Owen Wilson had a kid. And by the way, this stairway provides quite a workout. Note that this climb is equivalent to scaling almost halfway up Milwaukee’s tallest building and you’ll know why the sounds of huffing and puffing are audible at the lookout point.

Back to ground level, we see that even the early Native Americans wanted to carve their initials in something – some left rock carvings in the rocks called petroglyphs. They’re deep carvings, considering they’ve survived the weather and elements for all these years. In fact, the earliest decipherable markings date back to about 100 A.D. More recent carvings from European settlers date to the 19th century.

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It’s 19th century – and before – graffiti, well before the invention of spray paint.

Buttes like Roche-A-Cri, and nearby Rabbit Rock, were islands in a glacial lake that once covered the area Highway 13 goes through today. Continuing north past Highway 21, which to the west crosses the Wisconsin River at man/dam-made Petenwell Lake (Wisconsin’s 2nd largest), you enter the town of Rome, where “Picket Fences” was set – alas, no Lauren Holly sightings. Motorcycle enthusiasts, however, can find the Dyracuse Motorcycle Recreation Area (yes, like “Syracuse”, but with a D.) Named after Dyracuse Mound, another major Adams County landmark, DMRA offers eight miles of trails for motorcycles, motocross, ATVs and an Enduro Loop. Full facilities are offered in the recreation area, which is operated by both the Town of Rome and the Rapid Angels Motorcycle Club. So get your motor runnin’/ head out on the highw… well, you know the rest.

In the Lake Arrowhead area, a newer golf resort with its eye on big national things has emerged. Sand Valley Golf Resort opened its first course in 2017 with more under construction. Sand Valley was established to take advantage of the natural sand hills and dunes in this area of Adams County, once the bottom of a glacial lake. The sprawling complex covers over 1,700 acres and looks to become of the premier destinations for golf in the nation and beyond – stay tuned!

Continuing north into Wood County, Highway 13 junctions with Highway 73, which goes west to Nekoosa; we’ll see 73 again before too long. Next up is the Rapids.

Wisconsin Rapids

Wisconsin Rapids (pop. 18,435) isn’t a big city, but it is big enough to be its own “micropolitan” area, which has almost 50,000 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. Dams have since changed this – there are five from Stevens Point down 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 is a major hub for papermaking and also serves as the shipping point for a lot of cranberries you saw 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 – even though he’s technically from Rudolph, which we get to next!

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.

During the summer months, you can take in a baseball game at Witter Field, a nice old-school ballpark that hosts the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, a Northwoods League team that plays opponents from all over the Midwest. If you like BMX biking, check out the nearby Central Wisconsin BMX track (715-572-2075), which has competitive racing on a 1,075-foot sealed track surface built into a natural amphitheater. I’ve raced on it, and you’re off to a good start with the 10-foot start hill and some serious jumps you can make once you get going.

Highway 13 is clearly the main commercial strip as it heads into town at 8th Street South. At the junction with Highway 54, 13 jogs west and bypasses downtown to the south and west as the Riverview Expressway. If you’d like to head downtown, stay north on “Business” 13 (which is also today’s Highway 54) to Avon Street, then turn left. You’ll jog onto Jackson Street for the river crossing before re-joining Highway 13 and head north out of town.

On the west side of Wisconsin Rapids, Highway 73 breaks west; Highway 13 followed that route for decades but was recently re-routed north along Highway 34, which begins at the same intersection where 73 leaves. Around the north side of town, Highway 66 begins and heads towards Stevens Point; we continue north into little Rudolph (pop. 439), where thousands of holiday greetings are sent each year to the postmaster for a special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer postmark.

Rudolph is the actual town where racing legend Dick Trickle grew up, a huge part of Wisconsin’s legacy in racing. The state’s legacy in cheese is also well-represented in Rudolph: this is where Dairy State Cheese (715-435-3144) makes a variety of fantastic cheeses and curds, whey protein concentrates, and brings in ice cream so everyone has something to enjoy. It’s right along Highway 13/34 in town.

Grotto Alert.
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 Highway 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.

13caronsiloRight: Yep, you’ll never know what you’ll find on the State Trunk Tour. We found this near Marshfield along what WAS Highway 13 back in the day. Now it’s part of Highway 80. Not sure if it’s still there, but it sure was eye-catching when we went past!

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After the junction with U.S. Highway 10 freeway and heading west at expressway speeds for about 15 minutes, you reach Marshfield (pop. 19,201), which is perhaps best-known as a medical destination for patients from all over the world. That’s because it’s the headquarters of Marshfield Clinic, a sort of Wisconsin counterpart to Rochester, Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Founded in 1916, the clinic has expanded across the state and into upper Michigan with satellite centers and remains at the forefront of medical research, technology, development and treatment.

The medical research may come in handy, given what people will eat in Wisconsin at events like the Central Wisconsin State Fair, also held annually in Marshfield (deep-fried Twinkie on a stick, anyone??). Another Marshfield claim to fame is on these fairgrounds: the World’s Largest Round Barn. Recognized in places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, this huge red superlative at 513 East 17th Street is 150 feet in diameter and holds up to 1,000 people for a variety of events, many of them livestock-related. Built in 1916 without the use of scaffolding, it is 70 feet high.

Marshfield, World's Largest Round Barn near Highway 13

The World’s Largest Round Barn in Marshfield. Built in 1916, it anchors the grounds of the Central Wisconsin State Fair; you can’t get much more central in Wisconsin than Marshfield.

The annual Dairyfest is also held here, as is a 10K road race called the Cheese Chase. They also have Hub City Days, a fun festival saluting the city’s original nickname. Marshfield was a major hub of early railroads and its location very close to the geographic center of Wisconsin made it a hub of transportation long before it became a hub for medical care.

With a large medical anchor and associated businesses, Marshfield ably supports a local orchestra, the Foxfire Botanical Gardens and the Wildwood Zoo (608 W. 17th Street, 715-384-4642), a beautiful and free zoo covering 60 acres. The zoo features everything from cougars and lynx to bison and prairie dogs. Of particular interest are Kodiak bears, unique in a city this size and a harkening back to the zoo’s 1904 origins, when city utility workers started caring for two black bears in town. Another nice break from your road trip at Wildwood Zoo is the Sensory Gardens, featuring a wide variety of flowering and non-flowering plants designed to enhance your senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch amidst a tranquil setting.

Marshfield, like many Wisconsin cities, also supports locally-brewed beer. The Blue Heron Brew Pub (108 W. 9th Street, 715-389-1868) boasts over 16 varieties of beer and ales that are quaffed all over Central Wisconsin. They’re located in Parkin Place, an old dairy processing plant with a history all its own. Getting a parking place at Parkin Place usually isn’t too much trouble, so stop in!

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How wide is Central Avenue in Marshfield? Wide enough to accommodate crowds like this during Hub City Days. This is Business Highway 13 through the city.

In Marshfield, “Business 13” follows 13’s original route: Central Avenue. Downtown offers a wide variety of shops that cater more to the city itself than tourists. When increasingly busy roads through cities cause congestion, the solution is often to build a bypass way around the city; not Marshfield. They built a “through-pass”, essentially an upgraded version of Highway 13 (known also here as Veterans Parkway) that also cuts right through town but kind of juts in from a different angle. It stays multi-lane all the way through Marshfield.

Out of Marshfield, you follow the CN (Canadian National) train line, often witnessing long trains carrying loads of lumber. The next town is Spencer (pop. 1,932), which is somewhat of a suburb for Marshfield.

colbymarkerShortly before going through Unity (pop. 368), Highway 13 begins straddling the Clark-Marathon County line and continues as the divider into the small town of Colby (pop. 1,616), which is famous for – you guessed it – the birthplace of Colby cheese! Colby is similar to cheddar cheese, but is milder and softer because it is produced though a washed-curd process. In fact, it takes more than one gallon of milk to produce just one pound of Colby cheese (I’m dying to try producing it with chocolate milk!) The 1885 development put Colby on the map, where it remains as a little dot.

In Unity, by the way, I saw a bar so shacky it made the Boar’s Nest in “The Dukes of Hazzard” look like Tavern On The Green in Central Park. I almost stopped in for a Blatz. I will next time.

Just north of Colby and the junction with the new expressway bypass of Highway 29 lies Abbotsford (pop. 2,000). Holding claim as “Wisconsin’s First City”, it’s “first” in terms of the alphabet, not in population or age (those distinctions go to Milwaukee and Green Bay, respectively).

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hawkeyecone_225hiHighway 13 goes right through town and intersects with “Business” (read: Historical) Highway 29 at the main crossroads. This portion of 29 is also the old Yellowstone Trail, by the way.

Abbotsford features plenty of old-school businesses to check out, including Duke’s for Italian beef, antique shops and taverns. Right: Between Old 29 and Now 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!

Crossing the 45th parallel (halfway point between the equator and the North Pole) at Dorchester, you end up in Taylor County. Going through Stetsonville (pop. 563), I noticed no Stetson hats; then the next place you reach you find people curiously asking you what you want on your tombstone.

Don’t worry, it’s just Medford (pop. 4,350), home to Tombstone Pizza (now owned by Kraft) and Pep’s Pizza. Basically, it’s the frozen pizza capital of Wisconsin, indirectly serving thousands of college students at 3am every night. Astrologer/psychic Jeane Dixon was born in Medford before moving to California and becoming a famous for her syndicated astrology column, predicting the Kennedy assassination and advising President Reagan’s wife Nancy during his term.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Tombstone Pizza started in 1962 as the bar pizza served at Medford’s own Tombstone Tap, a tavern whose name was inspired by the graveyard across the street.

After Medford and the junction with Highway 64, increasing evidence of the North Woods comes into play. Chequamegon National Forest is accessible on either side; you climb higher and higher, too, as Timm’s Hill, the highest point in the state, lurks just off Highway 13 about five miles east of Ogema, along Highway 86 and County C.

Timm’s Hill (elevation 1,951 feet) is a fairly low “high point” for a U.S. state, but standing atop the lookout tower, over 2,000 feet above sea level, you can easily tell it’s the highest point around. Many nearby hills are visible; all are clearly below you. If you want to do the Leonardo DiCaprio/Jack Dawson/Titanic “I’m king of the world!” shout from the top of the tower, well, that’s up to you.

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The views from Timms Hill, the highest natural point in Wisconsin, is remarkably expansive. You can truly tell you’re at the top!

Near Prentice lies an expressway junction with U.S. Highway 8, and then you reach the town of Phillips (pop. 1,675). County seat of Price County, Phillips offers several in-town lakes, a Wildlife Museum featuring a variety of wildlife mounts by taxidermist Martin Ribnicker, and Wisconsin Concrete Park, a crazy array of sculptures and folk art figurines using concrete, broken glass, shells and other materials. Some of them reflect both the relative dullness of concrete and the sparkle of multicolored glass, especially if it’s a sunny day.

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Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips, chock full of stone-based works of art.

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Highway 13 blazes right through downtown Phillips, county seat of Price County.

On the north side of town in the parking lot of the R Store gas station, see if Lola’s Lunchbox – one of our favorite food trucks – is parked and cooking up stuff. They grill up phenomenal burgers, tacos, and sandwiches with a unique menu. They also make puffed corn in a dizzying array of flavors, including Oreo, caramel, and much more. It makes for incredible road food!

Fifield (“a little town in northern WI with more cars than people”) provides a junction with Highway 70, one of the last main east-west highways left in the state as you head north; shortly thereafter, you cross the Flambeau River and enter Park Falls (pop. 2,793) Park Falls was originally called Muskellunge Falls, but it turns out “Park” was much easier to spell.

Park Falls boasts two stoplights, which is significant only in that they’re in the only two in Price County; the next set of stoplights is about 40 miles away in any direction. So yes, I’d say you’re officially “away from it all” by this point.

Fishing enthusiasts, of which there are many here, note Park Falls as the home of St. Croix Rod, known worldwide for its equipment. Along with a Pamida sighting, I took note that Park Falls is the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World”. Alas, I did not see any ruffed grouses on my way through town.

From Park Falls, Highway 13 forges northward through towns like Butternut (pop. 407), home of the “Best Tasting Water In Wisconsin.” (Water is supposed to be tasteless, though, right?) The high school team name is the Butternut “Mighty Midgets”, evoking thoughts that their offensive line doesn’t need to crouch at the line. The players are probably regular-sized, though. Another town is Glidden (no relation to the paint), the “Black Bear Capital of the World,” meaning it’s the place where you least likely want to go camping and leave food out.

77greatdivideHighway 77 joins in for ride, fresh off its route as the Great Divide National Scenic Highway. You do indeed cross the “Great Divide” (I call it the “subcontinental divide”), where south of the divide water flows southward toward the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico; north of it, water flows north and east into the Great Lakes and to the Atlantic Ocean. At this point, you’re 950 ft above Lake Superior, 1,550 feet above sea level. That means from there to Ashland, you’re dropping about 950 feet.

Mellen (pop. 935), Highway 77 heads away and shoots northeast towards Hurley. Mellen itself sports a charming city hall building, constructed the same year the largest tannery in North America opened here (1896). It would be seven more years before the telephone would come to town. Mellen peaked in population around 1920 when it had almost 2,000 people, but in 1922 the tannery closed and since then it’s been a small, pleasant burg that considers itself the Gateway to Copper Falls. Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man was filmed here in 1962, when the town welcomed the likes of Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy. Today, it welcomes recreational seekers of all kinds… but you can also catch a movie here if you want.

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Mellen City Hall, featuring a charming bell tower on its corner. This at the intersection of Highways 13 and 77.

Copper Falls State Park is accessible north of Mellen right off Highway 13 via Highway 169. Considered one of the most scenic of all Wisconsin’s state parks – a tall order, indeed – Copper Falls features ancient lava flows, deep gorges, and some serious waterfalls. Brownstone Falls is one of the best in the state, as is its namesake, Copper Falls. Campers have their choice of 54 sites, with additional group camping and backpack campsites. You’re in the midst of “snow country” here, with over 100 inches annually being the norm, so it’s generally safe in the winter months to assume the 8 miles of cross-country ski trails are maintained and ready.

Beyond Mellen and Highway 169, Highway 13 climbs to vistas where you can sense the coming of Lake Superior (especially in winter, when the lake effect snows can be relentless.) Past small towns like Highbridge and Marengo, The Big Lake They Call Gitchigumee (sometimes it’s hard to get Gordon Lightfoot songs out of your head) finally comes into your view as you drop down into Ashland.

Home to a shipping port, Northland College and a beautiful view of Chequamegon Bay, Ashland (pop. 8.620) serves as a gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (more on this later). A great place to stop and stretch after your long trek northward is the Northern Great Lakes Center, which offers interactive exhibits, displays, a boardwalk, an observation tower, and information about everything from historical events to best places to stay. It’s located west of Ashland along U.S. 2, just after the Highway 13 turnoff northward.

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It’s been a while since Highway 13 had boulevards and traffic lights; the drive into Ashland as Lake Superior becomes visible in the distance.

ashlandchBack in town, Ashland hugs the Bay and buildings for several blocks heading back from the shore offer nice views of the water. Highway 13 couples with U.S. Highway 2 here, but another, parallel route is Main Street, one block south. You pass a J.C. Penney Department store – one of the few times you won’t see one as a mall anchor store, the beautiful Ashland City Hall, the city’s main downtown shopping district and the South Shore Brewery before Main becomes just another side street in the neighborhoods.

One of the cool things to check out in Ashland comes from the increasing plethora of artists residing in these parts. On the sides of a number of downtown buildings, formerly drab brick facades have given way to vibrant, colorful murals depicting everything from streetscapes to people to simple extensions of how each building looks on its more “detailed” sides. You’ll find one on the north-facing side of the building along Highway 13 and Main as you approach U.S. 2; others lie along Main and its side streets downtown. Check out 4th, 5th, and others for evidence of these murals.

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After that, check off another brewery tour and imbibe in a cold one at the South Shore Brewery. Makers of the popular South Shore Honey Pils, the South Shore Brewery also brews up a Nut Brown Ale, a Pale Ale, and the new Rhoades’ Scholar Stout, their first “named” beer. South Shore Brewery offers tours, some on a regular basis and some by appointment. Bo Belanger, the head brewer, will happily show you around and let you sample a variety of brews.

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It’s probably the most hoppin’ place in town, no pun intended. The brewery is connected to the Deep Waters Grille and a bar so you can enjoy their freshly-brewed products with a variety of food, sports, and conversation with locals and visitors; there’s also a view of Lake Superior out of the front window. What else do you need? You know it’s a small, interconnected world when fresh grilled mahi-mahi with mango-tomatillo sauce is the special in a restaurant in Ashland, Wisconsin. It’s not like they pull mahi-mahi out of Lake Superior.

To be a good Sconnie, I partook in the Walleye fish fry, which ironically enough was not beer-battered. It was really good, though, as was the interesting combination of “cream of wild rice, ham and mushroom soup.” For my beers, the Brewers’ Choice was the Blonde Bitter (which I’ve dated a few), and was terrific. Others in my sampler included the Golden Lager, Nut Brown Ale, Rhoades’ Scholar Stout, the Cream Ale and the South Shore Honey Pils, a personal favorite of mine back in Milwaukee. Since I spent the whole evening there, dessert consisted of pizza. Bar manager Merri, who originally hails from Colorado, was managing that night. Since I wasn’t hungry enough for a whole pizza, we split one – chorizo with four cheeses (five if you count the parmesan sprinkled on top.) Everyone there was fun and interesting to talk with, and I was hardly the only out-of-towner in the place. Lots of Northland College students work there, and they come from all over the country.

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Ashland’s waterfront features a marina and the railroad pier, once used for exporting lumber and iron ore at a breakneck pace. In 1899, Ashland was the second largest iron shipping port on the Great Lakes. The Soo Line Iron Ore dock, pictured here, was the largest in the world until it was demolished in 2011.

Ashland features an array of lodging, since it’s the largest city between Duluth-Superior and the Ironwood-Hurley “microplex”. Of the notables, Best Western The Hotel Chequamegon is the most gracious, and a recent addition to the Best Western family. Victorian-style rooms overlooking the city or the water beckon to the days of the classic 19th century hotels that once served cities coast to coast.

Just west of Ashland into Bayfield County, Highway 13 veers off U.S. 2 and begins its final push into Wisconsin’s northernmost territory.

Bayfield’s county seat of Washburn (pop. 2,285) is the first town that greets you. Located along the Bay, Ashland is visible across the water. Highway 13 is the main downtown street and shops line the road. Several places that specialize in quilting adorn Washburn, as does Chequamegon Books, a great bookstore featuring stacks upon stacks of new and used books – and wireless Internet. I had a nice chat in the bookstore with proprietor Carol Avol, who reminded me that “Chequamegon” is pronounced without the “Q”.

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The Washburn Historical Museum and Cultural Center. Which also offers quilting essentials; the obelisk to the right is a memorial to Washburn’s nickname, “The Monolith City.”

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Chequamegon Books, pronounced, please, without the “q”…

Proceeding north, Mount Ashwebay provides a tree-filled backdrop to your view while approaching Big Top Chautauqua, a 900-seat entertainment venue that manages to combine “state of the art” with “all canvas tent theater” in one sentence – and mean it. Located at the base of Mount Ashwabay between Washburn and Bayfield, artists including Willie Nelson, Keb’ Mo, John Hiatt, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Robert Cray have complimented the already bustling line-up of orchestras, singers and performance artists that cover over 60 dates every summer from mid-June through mid-September.

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Mount Ashwebay dominates the landscape between Washburn and Bayfield.

Popular Bayfield (pop. 611) is well-known to tony vacationers around North America. Its charming shops, picturesque, sweeping views of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands, access to the islands and interior recreation, and wide variety of B&B’s, hotels, motels and restaurants make this a popular destination for relaxers and adventurers alike. The Chicago Tribune called it the “Best Little Town in the Midwest” and numerous presidents and Hollywood stars have made Bayfield a regular stop on their “get away from it all” itineraries. It’s not rare to see autographed pictures of familiar people and historical figures adorn the walls of some shops and restaurants. Like Ashland and Washburn, Bayfield is a very popular place for artists to set up shop. whether just for the summer or all year ’round. Bayfield is noted as one of the “best 100 artist towns in the U.S.”, and you’ll find more galleries here than perhaps any other town with a population of 611 people. Bayfield is also the access point for cars wishing to visit Madeline Island and the Apostle Islands.

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Along Highway 13, a trio of flags wave in front of a hotel overlooking Chequamegon Bay, with Madeline Island in the distance.

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Highway 13 through downtown Bayfield.

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Boats and yachts a’plenty in the marina around Bayfield, prepping to navigate around the Apostle Islands.

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Cars boarding the ferry to Madeline Island, the only island in the Apostles with roads.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, designated in 1970, is a series of islands dotting Lake Superior, as well as a 12-mile slice of the shoreline itself – most if along Highway 13 from Bayfield north and west. Only one of the Apostle Islands – Madeline Island – is accessible by car. In Bayfield’s downtown, the Madeline Island Ferry is located right off Highway 13 and heads 2 1/2 miles from the mainland to the island. In the winter when the ice is thick enough, you can simply drive across to Madeline Island and its sole town of La Pointe, which receives both the ferry and the ice road on the island side. Madeline Island is the only inhabited one of the twenty-two Apostles and therefore the only island not part of the official National Lakeshore. Others include Stockton Island, the largest one at over 10,000 acres; Oak Island, which has the tallest elevations (almost 500 above the water); Sand Island, furthest to the west and the only island other than Madeline to once have enough settlement to warrant a post office; Raspberry Island, with a popular lighthouse now undergoing restoration; Devils Island, the northernmost one and therefore the one giving ships in the busy Lake Superior shipping lanes the most trouble; and two of the islands, Eagle and North Twin, the only two completely off-limits to campers, hikers and the like, because they are proetcted areas designated for preservation and study. Other islands are available for non-motorized recreation and camping… if you can get to them.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Apostle Islands have the highest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the United States (take that, Maine!) and its largest island, Stockton, has the highest concentration of black bears in the U.S. (don’t leave your food uncovered if you’re camping there.)

madelineismarker_500Madeline Island’s original name? Moningwunakauning. Meaning “Home of the golden-breasted woodpecker”, the island was renamed for the daughter of an Ojibway chief who married a French settler. This marker right along Highway 13 tells the story. Had the original name been kept, Moningwunakauning would have replaced Oconomowoc for the trickiest name in Wisconsin to pronounce on the first try.

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This curve over Saxon Creek is the northernmost point on Highway 13; Lake Superior is just to the north and the next paved road to your north is in Canada.

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The vista as you head west in the Bayfield Peninsula approaching Cornucopia.

Cornucopia is “Wisconsin’s Northernmost Village”… also, not coincidentally, with Wisconsin’s Northernmost Post Office. From the Latin Cornu Copiae, Cornucopia means “horn of plenty” or “harvest cone”; it’s actually the town’s symbol, clearly visible on signs as you drive through. With two marina facilities on Lake Superior and a beach called Corny Beach (I was wondering what kind of jokes beachgoers were telling on the sand), Cornucopia sports a large array of boat-oriented seasonal visitors, many of whom visit Ehler’s General Store, right next to the state’s northernmost post office. Ehler’s has been around since 1915 and is still operated by descendents of one of the original founders. Squaw Bay, just northeast of Cornucopia, features a series of sea caves that are quite a sight, especially if you can kayak. If you have a kayak or can rent one, definitely check out the bay; it’s accessible off Highway 13 via a series of small side roads, including Squaw Bay Road, Meyers Road and Squaw Point Road.

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Ehler’s is a good stop in Corncopia for supplies; and it’s always fun to mail something from Wisconsin’s “Northernmost Post Office.”

Herbster (part of the Town if Clover, and perhaps the only place that didn’t entirely hate Burger King’s “I’m Not Herb” campaign from the ‘80s), Port Wing had “Wisconsin’s largest fish boil” going on when I passed through.

Somewhere along here in the depths of winter, you can check out the Bayfield Sea & Ice Caves when conditions are right. You can kind of see them from hiking trails in the non-frigid months on land, but when Lake Superior freezes over enough you can walk out directly to them and check out the crazy works of Mother Nature when she’s cold. When are conditions right? This link will tell you, or you can call (715) 779-3397.

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This is how cool the ice caves can look. In places they look even cooler. Thanks to State Trunk Tourer Erin Uselman for this shot!

Side note: Now here’s the wild thing about Bayfield County: it’s the largest in the state by area, covering 2,042 square miles – larger than Rhode Island and only a little smaller than Delaware. It has 962 lakes, varies by almost 1,100 feet in elevation, contains a number of tourist sites and offers a ferry service to nearby Madeline Island; and yet, there isn’t a single traffic light in the whole county. Not one. Which in a way is good, because there’s no way you can get a ticket for running a red light; just a stop sign here and there.

In the distance, Minnesota is visible, usually about 40-50 miles away. Interestingly, a majority of the cars heading eastbound sported Minnesota plates, reiterating how popular these reaches are as a vacation spot for out-of-staters. You see, in the “south” (of Wisconsin), out-of-staters are usually Illinois people – going about 90 mph.

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Along with U.S. 2, Highway 13 carries the Lake Superior Circle Tour route through Wisconsin. The ride through the Brule River region is hilly and filled with forest.

13lsctsignJust inside Douglas County, Highway 13 stops hugging Lake Superior and heads straight south for a few miles. At County H, 13 turns west again (you can access Highway 27 by heading about 9 miles south on County H to Brule), heads through a narrow swath of the Brule River State Forest, and makes a beeline for the final stretch, a straight shot towards the final terminus just south of Superior in the Town of Parkland.

Just inside Douglas County, Highway 13 stops hugging Lake Superior and heads straight south for a few miles. At County H, 13 turns west again (you can access Highway 27 by heading about 9 miles south on County H to Brule), heads through a narrow swath of the Brule River State Forest, and makes a beeline for the final stretch, a straight shot towards the final terminus just south of Superior in the Town of Parkland.

Less than five minutes up U.S. 2 & 53 from Highway 13’s end is Superior (pop. 27,368), Wisconsin’s northwest corner and one of the Twin Port cities (the other, of course, being Duluth, Minnesota) that together have one of the busiest ports in the world. Superior basically runs along the western end of Lake Superior’s shore. The drive up U.S. 2 & 53 runs you right along Superior Bay, protected from the rough lake waters by Wisconsin Point and Minnesota Point. Native Americans settled here not only for its proxoimity to the lake, but portage access to the St. Croix River, just south of Superior near Solon Springs. Superior is the county seat of Douglas County (named for the Illinois senator famous for being the “D” side of the Lincoln-Douglas debates) and features the second largest municipal forest in the United States. The UW system has a Superior campus and counts bodybuilder, actor and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger among its alumni. The economy here has had its up and downs, as has the city itself; the population peaked at just over 46,000 back in the 1930s, more than currently live in all of Douglas County. Lately, though, things have been on the upswing; traffic at the Port is up, manufacturing and transportation business is growing again, and the city is drawing more tourists than ever before.

Superior offers a look at the “World’s Largest Whaleback” at the S.S. Meteor Museum. Originally named the Frank Rockefeller, it was one of only 44 whaleback ships ever built. It’s a 366-foot long vessel launched in 1896 as an iron ore carrier. In 1927, many many years before the TV show, it was renamed the South Park, where it carried automobiles and hauled sand and fill for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. During World War II it was sold and renamed the Meteor, where it continued service until running aground near Marquette, Michigan in 1969. It was retired and by 1973 became the museum it is today in Superior. Tours are available from mid-May to mid-October; admission prices vary: it’s free for kids under 6, $5 for students and seniors, and $6 for adults. The Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center (305 Harbor View Pkwy., 715-392-7151) salutes the United States’ highest-scoring air ace and Medal of Honor recipient. He’s the same Bong who has a Recreation Area in Racine County named after him – a place originally slated to be an Air Force base – as well as the namesake of one of the bridges from Superior to Duluth (the one carrying U.S. 2), a bridge in Townsville, Australia, an Air and Operations Center on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and even a theatre in Misawa, Japan. The Heritage Center celebrates all who dealt with World War II, from frontline fighters to those who kept things running at home. It’s located right along Superior Bay.

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Superior’s harbor, well protected from Lake Superior’s waves by Minnesota Point and Wisconsin Point, offers a popular marina and anchoring place for not only large ships, but plenty of pleasure craft. The hills towering above Duluth, Minnesota across the way form a nice backdrop.

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The northern end of Highway 13 at the edge of Superior, more than 340 adventurous miles from the start in Wisconsin Dells.

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Looking back at the start of southbound Highway 13. It’s just as fun the second time around!

Alas, after 340+ miles, Highway 13 comes to an end. Just as Highway 13 begins at a freeway junction with I-90/94 in Wisconsin Dells, it ends at a freeway junction with U.S. Highways 2 & 53 on the southern outskirts of Superior.

Big Manitou Falls and some of the spectacular rock formations near it.

Beautiful Big Manitou Falls and the splendor of Pattison State Park, not far from the end of Highway 13.

Just Beyond, State Parks Edition: At the end of Highway 13, you can also head straight west on County Z, then south on County A and right on Weinstein Road to hook up with Highway 35, where you can head south and check out Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park. At 165 feet, it’s the highest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains. The Park and waterfall is about 13 miles south of Superior and about 15 miles from the end of Highway 13.

Just Beyond, Food Edition: While Highway 13 ends at the U.S. 2/53 interchange, food lovers might want to head straight on County Z, hang a left on County E at Parkland, then right on County K a mile or so to Kounty Quarthouse (4119 S. County K, South Range, 715-398-5582), a self-proclaimed “Five-Star Dive Bar” which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Also, straight north from 13 on U.S. 2/53 in Superior you’ll find Gronk’s Grill (4909 E. 2nd Street/U.S. 2 & 53, 715-398-0333), a souped-up log cabin dishing up bar-b-que and some excellent burgers, including their soon-to-be-famous “Upside Down” Gronk’s Burger… which is exactly like it sounds. Finally, Shorty’s Pizza & Smoked Meat (1015 Tower Avenue/Highway 35, 715-718-0889) was also featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, where Montreal-style smoked meats and specialty pizzas and sandwiches are the norm. You drove a long way – EAT!

From the Dells to the southern outskirts of Superior, you encounter tourist towns, logging towns, paper- and cheese-producing villages, medical center cities, shoreline burgs, beachside hamlets and miles of forest. It’s a truly huge cross-section of Wisconsin and a great way to spend a few days road-tripping on one of the Wisconsin’s longest State Trunk Highways – a must route on the State Trunk Tour!

CONNECTIONS:
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 2, U.S. Highway 53
Can connect nearby to: Highway 35, about 4 miles west; Highway 105, about 5 miles west

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-90, I-94, Highway 16, Highway 23, U.S. Highway 12
Can connect nearby to: Highway 33, about 9 miles southwest via I-90/94 & Highway 23