STH-042“Sheboygan to the Tip”


Southern terminus: Sheboygan County, at the junction with Highways 23 & 28 in downtown Sheboygan

Northern terminus: Door County, at the Washington Island ferry pier in Northport

Mileage: about 138 miles

Counties along the way: Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Kewaunee, Door

Sample towns along the way: Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Kewaunee, Algoma, Sturgeon Bay, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay, Gills Rock

Bypass alternates at: Manitowoc/Two Rivers, Sturgeon Bay

WisMap42Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 42 is a popular route into Door County. From Sheboygan to Manitowoc, it’s a relatively minor route, but from Manitowoc on north it assumes a major role for vacationers looking to take advantage of Lake Michigan’s shores and Door County’s offerings. Highway 42 makes it all the way to the tip of the Door Peninsula, finishing with a mile of squiggles and a ferry dock to Washington Island. It used to go all the way south to Chicago too, but that’s a story for another time.

The Wisconsin Highway 42 Road Trip

The Drive (South To North): Highway 42 begins in Sheboygan at the western edge of its downtown, where Highway 23, which enters Sheboygan from the west, and Highway 28, which comes in from the southwest, come together at 14th Street, Erie and Kohler Memorial Drive. Highway 42 is the road extending northwest from Sheboygan, which it does as Calumet Avenue. But first, be sure to check out Sheboygan!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Highway 42 once continued south through Sheboygan County, through Port Washington and then along Milwaukee’s lakefront to and through Racine and Kenosha before meeting up with a corresponding Highway 42 in Illinois, which down Sheridan Road all the way into downtown Chicago. Yes, back in the 50’s Chicagoans could just follow 42 to come from the Windy City to Sheboygan or even the tip of Door County… even though it took much longer back then.)

The Start: Sheboygan

Sheboygan (pop. 50,792) is the Bratwurst Capital of the World. They make toilets too; it’s the circle of life. Large enough to have “suburbs” like Kohler and the Sheboygan Falls, the area is home to a number of major companies, including Kohler, Acuity Insurance, Johnsonville Sausage, and Bemis. Comedian Jackie Mason, basketball coach Rick Majerus, and the Chordettes (the ’50s group that sang “Lollipop”) all hail from Sheboygan. The city was referenced in the classic 1959 film Some Like It Hot when Daphne & Josephine (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) claimed they had studied music at the “Sheboygan Conservatory.” The movies Home Alone, A Kid in Aladdin’s Place, World Trade Center and Surf’s Up all reference the city. There was even a board game in 1979 called The Creature That Ate Sheboygan – who no doubt consumed a lot of bratwurst during that meal. Mattel even claims that the iconic Barbie, their signature doll’s character, hails from the fictitious Willows, Wisconsin – a city claimed by many to be based on Sheboygan. The city even had an NBA team called the Sheboygan Redskins back in the ’40s. It’s also consistently named one of the best places to raise a family and, interestingly enough, one of the best places to retire, in the U.S. That’s due in part to all the golf courses in the area, from Black Wolf Run to Whistling Straits.



Points of interest are quite plentiful considering the city’s size. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center (608 New York Avenue, 920-458-6144) hosts galleries chock full of innovative explorations in the arts. Rather than only showing historical artistic pieces, the center works to foster new concepts and forms of artistic creation. It’s definitely worth a stop.

Golfing and Surfing in Sheboygan

One of the reasons Sheboygan is considered a good place to retire is the plethora of golf courses. Incredible courses like Whistling Straits bring worldwide acclaim and establish Sheboygan as a premier place for golf. Nestled along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan north of the city along County LS, Whistling Straits reminds most golfers of the classic olde links in Scotland and Ireland. Whistling Straits hosted PGA Championships in 2004, 2010, and 2015, and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.

Surf’s Up! Sheboygan’s Lake Michigan “surf” is considered among the best in the country. The Dairyland Surf Classic helped give Sheboygan its reputation as the “Malibu of the Midwest” and yes, dudes from California even come in for it. From Kohler-Andrae State Park north past downtown to the Whistling Straits course area, Sheboygan makes good use of its lakefront.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Sheboygan’s Dairyland Surf Classic was the largest freshwater surfing competition in the world until it ceased in 2013.

Charter fishing, pleasure boating and, further out, freshwater surfing are all popular in Sheboygan. The Sheboygan River provides plenty of space for docking and the harbor area is brimming with shops, attractions and new condos.

A popular annual event is Brat Days, which takes place the first weekend in August. During its 2006 celebration, the city hosted the International Federation of Competitive Eating and Takeru Kobayashi broke the world bratwurst-eating record by downing 58 brats in 10 minutes against heavy competition, live on ESPN. Sales of antacids were massive in town that night.

One of the largest bars in Sheboygan and former home to the Port Washington Brewing Company, Hops Haven Brew Haus (920-457-HOPS) on Highway 42 – just blocks north of its start – is a good place to check out. Hops Haven was established in 2003 in a century-old building that houses a restaurant, the brewery and plenty of room to play games and watch sports while taking in some fresh Sheboygan-based brews. The rapidly-growing 3 Sheeps Brewing Company started in Hops Haven and since moved to a larger facility along North Avenue, about half a mile east of Highway 42.

From its southern origin, Highway 42 shoots out of Sheboygan, crossing I-43 in the midst of a sea of roundabouts and then beelining northwest to Howards Grove (pop. 2,973). At the main crossroads, Highway 32 meets up and takes over the northwestern direction; Highway 42 turns north on a lightly-traveled stretch, since most through traffic uses I-43. Eventually Highway 42 meets up with U.S. Highway 151 and I-43 again after its 19-mile inland march.


Highway 42 through Howards Grove after the junction with Highway 32. This starts a pretty quiet stretch all the way to Manitowoc, as most Sheboygan-Manty traffic uses I-43.


42thrumanty_bigHighway 42 approaches Manitowoc (pop. 34,053) and hops onto I-43 for three miles before joining U.S. Highway 10 and heading east into the city’s north side as Waldo Blvd. Traditionally, Highway 42 headed straight into town from the southwest; the original route is now Business 42, which is a more interesting route for exploring the city.

The map on the left shows where Highway 42 goes today (solid line) vs. its traditional route into the city (Business 42, dashed), which follows U.S. 151 downtown and then uses 8th Street northbound (which is also U.S. 10) back north to Waldo Blvd. Go into town, of course, so you can see all the cool stuff!

Manitowoc itself is world headquarters for the Lakeside Foods Company and the Manitowoc Company, a major manufacturer of cranes, ice machines and refrigeration equipment. It also constructs ships, and the city’s main high school nickname reflects it as the “Shipbuilders”, a rather unique high school name. The “Subs” would also be a fitting name, since 28 submarines were built here, the only inland shipyard to do so. The nautical theme continues with the fact that Manitowoc is the western terminal for the S.S. Badger, a car ferry ship that carries U.S. 10 across the lake to Ludington, Michigan, and that the city holds the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, one of the nation’s most extensive museums for Great Lakes maritime history and nautical archeology.



Great guns! The USS Cobia is in the water and on display at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in downtown Manitowoc.

If you go, check out the USS Cobia, a naval submarine permanently docked in the Manitowoc River at the museum, right before the Lake Michigan shoreline. All of this is in downtown Manitowoc, which lies just south of today’s Highway 42 but goes right along “Business” 42, which you should be following anyway. If you’re on Waldo Blvd, follow U.S. 10 south via 9th Street to access the museum and the rest of the city’s downtown.

While you’re going downtown, check out the Rahr-West Art Museum and the brass ring in front of it. At 610 N. 8th Street (the northbound side of U.S. 10 and Business 42), you can check out a variety of visual arts and exhibits, as well as a piece of Sputnik – yes, the Soviet satellite! A 20-pound piece of it, the only one surviving re-entry into the atmosphere, crashed to earth in 1962 and just happened to pick the middle stripe of 8th Street in Manitowoc for its landing.


Sputnik’s unintended landing site, on a Manitowoc street.

What some may simply assume is a manhole cover is actually a brass ring, marking the spot where the chunk of Russian craft, reportedly “still glowing” when police found it, landed. It’s right in front of the Rahr-West Art Museum. The original chunk was returned to the Soviets (one can only imagine… “um, here, this is what’s left of your satellite”), but a good replica is available for viewing in the museum. There’s also an annual Sputnik Fest now in Manitowoc, taking place every September.


The beautiful Rahr-West Art Museum, located in a former mansion. It not only holds great collections of artworks, but narrowly missed being hit by a chunk of falling Soviet spacecraft in 1962.


A sugary Manitowoc staple since 1932: Beerntsen’s.

If the chocolate monster within you needs satisfaction, check out Beerntsen’s Confectionary (108 N. 8th Street, 920-684-9616), a local favorite since 1932. Beerntsen’s maintains the ice cream parlor atmosphere in their original location; meanwhile, they ship their chocolates to other parts of the state, including the tony American Club in Kohler, which features Beerntsen’s in their gift shop.

Heading along Business 42 & U.S. 151 into downtown Manitowoc you’ll come across the huge Bud bottles, a mural that has in some form dominated the end of U.S. 151 and the big turn north for Highway (now Business) 42 for over a half a century. They’re there for a reason: this was a malting plant for Anheuser-Busch for decades. Today it’s owned by Chilton-based Briess Malt & Ingredients, North America’s leading supplier of specialty malts to the brewing industry.


Budweiser bottles and cans, in different variations, have dominated the drive downtown along Highway 42/U.S. 151 for over fifty years. A vinyl mural replaced the original bottle design for a while, as seen at left; the original, older, cooler looking view was restored in 2014. The silos are part of a massive malting facility – its origins date back to 1847!


Prairie dogs showing affection – or something like that – at Manitowoc’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

Further up 8th Street on the other side of Highway 42/Waldo Blvd is the Lincoln Park Zoo (920-683-4537), rife with a variety of animals amidst a beautiful park setting. Over 200 animals are here, including black bears, snow leopards, eagles, and even little prairie dogs – although they may just have wandered in. The zoo is free but if you want to make a donation I’m pretty sure they’ll accept.

Upon reaching Lake Michigan, Waldo Boulevard carries Highway 42 along a stretch along the lakefront from Manitowoc to Two Rivers. Running within a few hundred feet of the water, a brilliant summer day makes for a beautiful ride along Lake Michigan. The Budweiser silos, perhaps the tallest signature buildings in downtown Manitowoc, are clearly visible down the shoreline, and don’t be surprised to see the SS Badger steaming its way across the lake for the 45-mile ride to Michigan. There’s also a nice walking and biking trail next to the road, right along the shoreline.

About five miles northeast of Manitowoc lies its sister city, Two Rivers (pop. 12,639), known locally as “Trivers”. It’s where the ice cream sundae was invented. Sure, Ithaca, New York makes the same claim, but what the heck do a bunch of New York upstaters know?


The historic Washington House (above), located one block off Highway 42 in downtown Two Rivers, where you can imbibe in a sundae just like this one at the place where they were invented. Right along Highway 42 is the marker (below) talking about George Hallauer, Edward Berner and a ten-year-old girl in search of a chocolate fix changed dessert history.


So, hop up to the historic Washington House and order a sundae. With its antique soda fountain, you’ll swear you’re in the throwback days when they only cost a nickel. But I’m sure they’ll remind you that it’s not the case anymore. The city’s official slogan is “Catch Our Friendly Waves”, which lap up on Lake Michigan and the East and West Twin Rivers, which are the two rivers the city is named after. Highway 42 bridges both in the downtown area and also offers access to the Point Beach State Forest, where you can hike or bike through the woods and dunes on your way to the Rawley Point Lighthouse. County Highway O also offers a drive along the forest’s boundary and will link you back up to Highway 42 and County V about five miles north of Two Rivers.

The two rivers in Two Rivers are the East Twin and West Twin (yeah, we know, why isn’t it called “Twin Rivers”?), which merge right before landing in Lake Michigan. Fishing has long been a staple of life here, evidenced by the Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village (2010 Rogers Street, 920-793-5905), located right along the East Twin River. Calling commercial fishing “America’s most dangerous profession”, the Rogers Street Fishing Village shows the history of Two Rivers and its fishing industry, boats and shipwrecks while offering a climb up the North Pier Lighthouse, built in 1886.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Two Rivers is recognized as having the longest commercial fishing history of any city on the Great Lakes, dating back over 170 years.

Highway 42 itself makes a beeline north out of Two Rivers, past the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant (clearly visible from the highway) and providing access to the Point Beach Energy Center (6600 Nuclear Road, 920-755-6400), which features displays and information about the history of electrical generation and how electricity is generated today – including nuclear, fossil fuels, and renewable, all big topics in our world today. Highway 42 continues north into Kewaunee County, where you pass the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant before heading into the plant’s – and county’s – namesake town.


North of Two Rivers, the bigger towns get fewer and further between for a while.


Kewaunee (pop. 2,806), like many towns along this stretch of Lake Michigan, features a beautiful lakefront area. 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. A nice view comes as you descend a steep hill into the downtown area, where you cross Highway 29, which ends here after a long trek across the state from Prescott, on the Mississippi River.


Highway 42 descends big hills from either direction to approach downtown Kewaunee, which is more level with Lake Michigan. At the bottom, Highway 29 marks the main crossroad.

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 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.

World's Largest Grandfather Clock, along Highway 42 in Kewaunee

The World’s Tallest Grandfather Clock helps mark the start of the Ahnapee State Trail.

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, watch for 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!


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. Picture source: Wikipedia, user Jjegers, here.

On one particular day we 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. Parts of downtown were closed for the parade, actually, so we detoured through town and happened upon this:


From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Stumble Across” Department: spotted two blocks west of Highway 42 in Kewaunee.


Kewaunee Trout Fest parade-watchers await the show at the end of Highway 29, at the corner with Highway 42. A classic gas station sits on the corner, which is now a Mobil.


…and after the parade crosses Highway 42, they marched on toward the Lake Michigan shore, visible in the background.

You know you’re getting further up north when you see a sign welcoming you to Alaska. In this case, it’s an unincorporated community noted on the highway for two lakes, a golf course, a supper club, and two sharp turns. From Alaska on north to Algoma, you’re hugging the lake shore.

Algoma (pop. 3,357) is the next stop and home to a large charter and commercial fishing fleet (once the largest on Lake Michigan) as well as a nice downtown. Algoma also has a nice beach (in clear view from Highway 42, since it hugs the lakeshore on the south side of town). Fish shantys used to dot the shoreline, and some remain, which leads to the biggest annual event in town, “Shanty Days”, which takes place every August. They have fish, music, and – if you ask nice – beer and wine. Algoma is known as a salmon and trout capital of the Midwest. They make stuff here, too: hammocks, doors, mops and labels among them. Algoma also has a heavy Belgian population (as in “numerous.”)

*** Winery & Brewery Alert! ***
algoma_vonstiehl1_800Algoma is home to the Von Stiehl Winery, the oldest licensed winery in Wisconsin. The winery offers tours in its building constructed in the 1860s, back when Algoma was called Ahnapee (they renamed it Algoma in 1879.) In 1967, when the building was about 100 years old, Dr. Charles Stiehl founded the winery, using Door County’s famous cherries to create Door County Montmorency Cherry Wine. Over 30 varieties are available now, including several produced just for special events. Tours are available for $3.50 from May through October; wine tasting is complimentary all year.

Next door you’ll find the Ahnapee Brewery, named for the river that runs through town – in fact, “Ahanpee” was Algoma’s original name. Ahnapee was a brewery in town from 1868 to 1886, and it was resurrected in 2013 with a brewery just outside of town that supplies in their in-town tap room with fresh craft beer. They’re open Wednesday-Sunday, always opening at noon while closing at 9pm Wednesday and Thursday, 10pm on Friday and Saturday, and 5pm on Sunday. You’ll find Von Stiehl Winery and Ahnapee Brewery’s Tap Room along County S in downtown Algoma, just east of Highway 42.


Along Highway 42 in Algoma, you’ll find this beach along Lake Michigan. We found it on a slightly foggy morning.


Highway 42 continues into downtown Algoma, clearly delineated by an archway.

At this point, travelers to Door County can use Highway 42 or County S, which runs through Algoma’s northeast side and serves as a “short cut” to Sturgeon Bay. If you follow Highway 42, you’ll go through downtown Algoma and then head along the Ahnapee River (they changed the name of the town, but not the name of the river) for several miles to Forestville.

Into Door County

Just south of Forestville, Highway 42 enters Door County, or as some people call it, “The Thumb.” Geologists note that the Door Peninsula is the western segment of the Niagara Escarpment, which runs along the north shores of Lakes Michigan and Huron, through Niagara Falls and along the southern shore of Lake Ontario to Rochester, New York. It’s a significant geographical feature through the Great Lakes and forms much of Door County’s landscape, as well as the cliffs lining the east coast of Lake Winnebago further south. Others may not care as much, so we’ll just move on…

Door County is divided into south and north regions; it used to be a full peninsula, but the 1882 completion of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal made northern Door essentially an island. French explorer Jean Nicolet, who now has a national forest, a brand of bottled water and a high school in suburban Milwaukee named after him, landed on Door County in 1634. According to Wisconsin lore, he was searching for a route to the Far East – as most explorers on the Great Lakes were in those days, though they refused to ask for directions – and happened upon Ho-Chunk Indians. Thinking they were Asian, he celebrated. He was teased quite a bit after that. The county itself is named after the passage between the peninsula’s tip and Washington Island, known then in French as Porte des Morts and more commonly to this day as “Death’s Door” (“Door County” sounded better than “Death’s County”, right?) The passage is the site of many shipwrecks over the years, and Highway 42 ends right at that passage, about 50 miles from the highway’s junction with Highway 57 just southwest of Sturgeon Bay. Once hooked up with Highway 57, it’s a four-lane ride for several miles. You reach County S, which comes in from Algoma as an occasional shortcut mentioned before, and a connection to the northern trailhead of the Ahnapee State Trail, a rail-to-trail biking and snowmobiling route that runs back towards Algoma.


A stone’s throw from the intersection with County S is where 42 and 57 split – you can take the bypass, a two-lane express route that winds around Sturgeon Bay, or follow the “Business District” exit, which is the former route of 42/57 and is still marked today as the “Business” route. If you’re not pressed for time, take the route through town. In the picture at left, that means following the “Business District” exit.

Entering Sturgeon Bay (pop. 9,437), you’re in the first of many tourism-heavy towns in Door County. Strugeon Bay is the county seat and the final place on the peninsula where chain stores exist, so if you need something at Target or Wal-Mart, better stock up. Sturgeon Bay has a history of massive shipbuilding and serves as a regional port city. Shipyard tours are available near the many cranes that abound to the north during the Ship Canal crossing. The original bridge downtown, officially called the Michigan Street Bridge and referred to by most as the “Steel Bridge”, opened in 1930 as the original path of Highways 42 & 57. Before the bypass opened in 1977, it was the source of massive traffic jams when the bridge opened to let boats pass. During a multi-year closure of the Steel Bridge, the Oregon Street Bridge opened a block south in 2008 and now serves as a modern downtown crossing as Business 42 & 57. The view of and from the bridge is quite nice, though, and a series of restaurants, hotels, resorts and shops surround the streets on either side. A number of bed and breakfasts in town also makes Sturgeon Bay a popular overnight stop for Door County travelers. Including today’s bypass that serves as the mainline Highways 42 and 57, there are now a total of three crossings between northern and southern Door County.


Attractive views abound in Sturgeon Bay approaching the shipping canal, which cuts the Door peninsula in half. A series of cranes to the north serves as evidence of the city’s continuing shipbuilding industry.


Once the only connection to the northern Door peninsula, Sturgeon Bay’s downtown bridge is flanked by a new bridge just south on Oregon Street, which currently serves as the main downtown crossing. The mainline 42/57 follow the bypass built in 1977, which crosses about a mile to the southeast.


Travelers on this bridge often hummed the opening theme to “Taxi” as they headed across this thing.


Yes, you can catch a rubber-tired trolley in Sturgeon Bay sometimes – and it’s fun to ride it across the steel bridge.

The eastern shore – technically “upper Door” – is where the main part of Sturgeon Bay lies.


Across the canal, Business 42 & 57 cut right through downtown Sturgeon Bay.


Sturgeon Bay has a healthy main street and even offers activities like carriage rides.


On the north side of Sturgeon Bay, “Business” 42/57 – the original road – is called Egg Harbor Road.


This is the bypass around Sturgeon Bay where 42 & 57 officially go now. It’s faster. but boringer. If that’s a word.


On the north side of the bypass as 42 & 57 begin at their turn, a remnant of the old road shoots straight ahead towards downtown Sturgeon Bay. The realigned Egg Harbor Road is just ahead and realigns with this segment a few hundred yards down.

A cool place to check out is Olde Stone Quarry County Park (also now called George K. Pinney County Park) accessible via County B from 42/57 just north of Sturgeon Bay. Once a quarry (no doy), this land was redeveloped to offer a harbor, boat launch, ship artifacts, and beautiful views of both rock walls and the shoreline.





The “Business” and mainline routes of Highways 42 and 57 reunite north of Sturgeon Bay and stay together for about two miles before Highway 57 breaks east. This is the northernmost traffic light in Door County – with about 40 miles of peninsula left! Highway 42 basically follows the Green Bay bay side of the peninsula while Highway 57 heads for the more dune-filled and serene Lake Michigan side, including Jacksonport, Whitefish Dunes State Park and Bailey’s Harbor. Since this is the Highway 42 tour, we’ll follow the Bay side. It’s the busier and more touristy side of the two, and don’t be surprised if you spot a ton of Illinois license plates – as well as more than a few Minnesota and Iowa as well as a bunch of other states – along the way.


Where 57 splits away from 42. Say bye-bye to traffic lights the rest of the way!

*** Winery/Distillery Alert ***

dcwine_sunsetsplash_v400wHeading north of Highway 42, you make a beeline for Carlsville and the well-known Door Peninsula Winery. Known far and wide for fruit wines, they’ve won plenty of awards for their Sweet Cherry, their Razzle Dazzle Raspberry and the State Trunk Tour recommendation, the Sunset Splash ($8.99/bottle). The tasting room is open 9am-6pm daily, where you can belly up and get free tastes of their huge variety of wines. You can also take a tour for $3; those are available on the hour from 10am-4pm. In 2011, they added the Door County Distillery, where you can try and buy a variety of gins and vodkas – including a cherry vodka – and more recently whiskey. Back to the road, Highway 42 abuts the eight acres of Door Peninsula Winery’s vineyards. They have about 5,500 vines in production during the season, including cherry, apple and a variety of grapes and grape hybrids designed to handle the climate.

Shortly past Carlsville, you cross a significant line: the 45th parallel, aka the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole. A geographical marker notes the spot. A few miles on the other side of that halfway point is the first of a string of communities lining Highway 42 along the north peninsula: Egg Harbor (pop. 250). The road skims the eastern edge, along a series of shops and Harborview Park.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Egg Harbor is named not for its egg-shaped harbor but for a legendary egg fight in 1825, written about by witness Elizabeth Baird, who apparently took a few stray eggs in the noggin.

Shipwrecked, the oldest of Door County’s emerging microbreweries.


Shipwrecked offers these facilities, too. Run for it!

*** Brewery Alert ***
At the curve where Highway 42 gets closest to the water in Egg Harbor, you’ll find Shipwrecked Brewpub, the oldest brewpub in Door County. Housed in a saloon originally built in 1882, Shipwrecked opened in 1997 and has been treating thirsty residents and visitors ever since. Their Door County Cherry Wheat is legendary, drawing from the peninsula’s extensive cherry orchards. They also make Peninsula Porter, Summer Wheat, Lighthouse Light, an IPA, and a seasonal Pumpkin Ale, among others. Their brewpub also offers a nice selection of food after your beer selections, since one can’t eat on an empty stomach.


Highway 42 curving through Egg Harbor, as viewed from Shipwrecked Brewpub.


Couldn’t resist this shot of a tractor. Made of straw. I don’t know what kind of mileage it gets, but I’m sure it’s relatively light. Taken along Highway 42 just south of Fish Creek.

Six miles up the road, just after a twisty, turny ride down a bluff toward the water level, is Fish Creek (locally called “Fish Crick”), one of the most charming Door County hamlets. Fish Creek’s first pier was built back in 1855 and its oldest remaining home, the Alexander Noble House (repotedly haunted and available for tours, 920-868-2091), was built in 1874. Most of the gift shops came much, much later, even though tourism was starting to replace commercial fishing as the local economic engine by 1890. Over 40 structures in Fish Creek have “historic” designations; that’s one historic structure for every five residents! The continuing charm, the views, access to fishing and camping, and notable shops and restaurants make Fish Creek a popular stop for Door County visitors. During World War II, Fish Creek hosted a German POW camp under an affiliation with Fort Sheridan in Illinois, about 250 miles down the Lake Michigan shore. The prisoners cut wood, engaged in construction projects, and picked cherries in the area. Restaurants amd shops abound in “downtown” Fish Creek.


Lots of boutique shopping choices await in Fish Creek.

The former C&C Supper Club, a longtime State Trunk Tour favorite, has now been transformed into a new place called Juniper’s Gin Joint (after a stint as “Cooper’s Corner”), which features a second level outdoor bar and restaurant and a wine cellar below. There’s also The Cookery (920-868-3634), and the historic 1910-era Summertime Restaurant (920-868-3738) on Spruce, adjacent to Highway 42. Gift shops, craft stores and boutiques also line the streets, offering up more than the standard tourist town fare. The area is, after all, a popular place for artists.


A bathtub full of taffy… who’s in??


It’s not all indoor stuff – Fish Creek has a small and popular beach offering swimming, sunbathing, and beautiful views of Fish Creek’s harbor and Peninsula State Park, to the right.

Speaking of art, the Peninsula Players Theatre performs a variety of Broadway-style plays and musicals in what some call the nation’s oldest summer theater. Not to be outdone, the American Folklore Theatre also performs here, sometimes adding a zanier edge to their performances. The Peninsula Music Festival takes place every August here. If sitting in your car watching a movie is more your style, yes, they have you covered there, too: the Skyway Drive-In is located right along Highway 42 and brings back that old-school feel of watching a movie and listening to the sound of a tiny speaker next to your window.

The phenomenal Peninsula State Park is the most popular in Wisconsin’s state park system, bordered by the waters of Green Bay and Highway 42 between Fish Creek and Ephraim. Covering 7 miles of shoreline, steep bluffs, abundant camping opportunities and terrific hiking and biking trails, Peninsula State Park offers 3,776 acres of adventure. Check out Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, with its 45-foot tall square tower and magnificent views; even the view from the stone wall overlooking the water at the lighthouse’s base is excellent, and a popular rest stop for bikers, hikers and cross-country skiers making their way through the park. Eagle Tower is a 75-foot high observation tower with 3 decks, perched on Eagle Bluff 180 feet above the water. From the top, you can see all the way up the peninsula, the island chain leading to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the twin cities of Menomonee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin on a clear day. Unfortunately, it was closed in 2015 pending engineer’s reports and we await either its reopening if they can fix it, or hopefully its reconstruction if they can’t.


This view of Ephraim from Peninsula State Park offers a New England-esque feel, giving creedence those who describe Door County as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”


As the sun drops toward the waters of Green Bay, the view of the harbor and Eagle Bluff from Ephraim can occupy you for hours.

On the other side of the park is adorable little Ephraim (pop. 353), founded as a Moravian religious community in 1853. Ephraim frames the eastern shore of Eagle Harbor and is home to abundant B&B’s and small motels. A stop at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor right along Highway 42 is a must. Ice cream sodas and other treats are the order of the day here. So are omelets and other treats, if you stop at Good Eggs (920-854-6621), right on Highway 42 at Brookside Lane, which whips up great breakfasts and – in some summer afternoons – custom sandwiches in something they call “the grilled cheese project.” Worth checking out. Meanwhile, the harbor view, parks and beaches across the street provide terrific views of the waters of Green Bay, Eagle Bluff and Horseshoe Island in the distance. Charging up the hills framing Ephraim will give you an even better view of it all – and will help you work off that ice cream. Up the hill, there are more places to check out, including the Blue Dolphin House, which features a wide variety of fine arts & crafts, furniture, decor accents, bed & bath items and even cookbooks. There are also some good resorts.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Ephraim was the only “dry” municipality in Wisconsin for decades, where the manufacture or sale of alcohol was prohibited. As recently as 1992, 74% of the village residents voted to keep it that way. In 2015, that all changed. Now there is no “dry” municipality in Wisconsin.

A must-stop in Ephraim is Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, a staple of Door County since 1906. With the old fashioned soda fountain feel and a gorgeous view of the harbor and Eagle Bluff across the street, it’s a great place to grab a burger, malt and (notice I didn’t say “or”) a cone.

Beyond Ephraim lies Sister Bay (pop. 886). Along Highway 42 is a multitude of things to do, including Johnson’s Go-Kart Track (always a lot of fun and, ironically, a good break from driving) and Pirate’s Cover Adventure Golf. Sister Bay offers more restaurants, bars, boutiques, and lodging than any place beyond it on the peninsula, so note that! A good beer selection can be found too, at Bier Zot (10677 N. Bay Shore Drive, 920-854-5070). They have an extensive list of Belgian beers – in keeping with the area’s heritage – and other craft brews along with a gastropub menu. They’re a sister business of Wild Tomato back in Fish Creek.


Here’s the intersection where Highway 57 ends at Highway 42, looking down towards the heart of Sister Bay.

A “can’t miss” – and it’s hard to when goats are grazing on the grass roof – is Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik (800-241-9914). Al Johnson’s whips up a ton of great Swedish fare, including pickled herring, pytt i panna, and the ever-popular Swedish meatballs. And it’s probably the only restaurant in the country where the roof needs to be mowed. However, the job is often done by 4-6 goats that use the ramp in the back. They much away from about 8:30am to 5pm during nice weather days while guests munch inside all year ’round.



Yup, you’re seeing goats grazing on what is undoubtedly the original “green roof”, part of the charm in Sister Bay at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik (that, apparently, is how they spell “boutique” in Sweden.) It’s just down Highway 42 a few blocks past the northern end of Highway 57.


The grass doesn’t always distract the goats; a zoom lens may catch their attention.

Sister Bay has plenty of shops, restaurants and a nice marina with a view of the Sister Islands not too far offshore.


Walking around Sister Bay lets you explore a nice variety of places and walk along the water. HIghways 42 and 57 come back together here; and then it’s just 42 to the tip.


The Sister Islands as viewed from Sister Bay. Good thing the trees are there!

Highway 57 arrives in Sister Bay and meets up with Highway 42 just before Al Johnson’s. From this point forward, Highway 42 is the last main road to the tip of the peninsula. Beyond Sister Bay, things get more sparse; much of the tourism development simply hasn’t reached critical mass here (yet) and you can almost feel the peninsula getting narrower as you continue. Foggy weather is much more prevalant from here to the tip; it’s not uncommon for this area to be shrouded in fog and 10 degrees cooler than Fish Creek or Sturgeon Bay.


From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” Department: King Kong clutches the Empire State Building in one hand and a modern doll posing as Fay Wray along Highway 42 near Ellison Bay… for whatever reason.


As you get into Ellison Bay heading north, two lobes of land are visible: the first out there is where Gills Rock and the tip of the Door Peninsula sits; the one behind it is Washington Island.

For an incredible view, head west on Porcupine Bay Road and then north on Ellison Bay Road. It leads you to the Ellison Bluff State Natural Area, which provides an overlook of the Green Bay waters that can be worth the drive to Door County alone!

ellisonbay_800 42ellisonbayoverlook_800

Just past Ellison Bay, Highway 42 cuts into the center of what’s left of the peninsula; Europe Bay Road will lead you to Newport State Park, which hugs the peninsula’s edge. The road then heads north to Gills Rock (once known as Hedgehog Harbor), home of the Door County Maritime Museum and a passenger ferry to Washington Island.


One of two ferry access points to Washington Island, Gills Rock is at the northern end of the peninsula’s edge. The views of both the water and coast make it a place you want to stare at for a while.



Technically, “Spur” Highway 42 takes you to the ferry at Gills Rock; it runs about 500 yards.



Gills Rock is the northernmost point of the Door Peninsula, but Highway 42 manages 2 more miles, pushing east to the very tip via a crazy, slalom-esque path. Back and forth, back and forth you’ll go, zigzagging until you see the water once more – and you’ve reached the end.


Road trip slalom! Few roads zig and zag like Highway 42 as it approaches the Northport pier.



The only to keep going when you hit the end of Highway 42 is to take the ferry to Washington Island – which on a beautiful day is an awesome thing to do!


From the Washington Island Ferry, here’s how the end of Highway 42 looks toward the tip of the Door Peninsula. The land goes left, right, and back – you can tell you’re at the tip!


This is Northport, home of the Washington Island Ferry and one restaurant. It’s truly the point where you’re at the tip of the Door Peninsula and the only way to go further is to walk the pier for a few hundred feet. At the edge, just past the “End Highway 42” sign, look back and you’ll see the land goes left and right, but not behind you. ‘Cause you’re at the tip. Look in any other direction and you’re looking at Porte de Morts, or “Death’s Door”, home of swirling waters and a multitude of shipwrecks. Plum, Washington, Detroit and Pilot Islands are all in view. Stop in the restaurant, take the ferry to Washington Island, camp out in Newport State Park… or just relax and marvel for a bit. Then, since going back on Highway 42 is your only option, prepare to zig and zag for the first mile as you make your way back.

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 23; Highway 28
Can connect nearby to: I-43, about 3 miles west

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: The Washington Island Ferry… that’s about it
Can connect nearby to: Highway 57, about 19 miles south


STH-028“From Birds in the Marsh to Brats and Surfing on the Lake”


WisMap28Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 28 begins in Horicon and passes by Horicon Marsh, a National Wildlife Refuge and a huge haven for all kinds of migrating birds. From there, it meanders generally northeast, heading through towns like Mayville, Theresa (home to Widmer’s Cheese) and Kewaskum before ducking through Kettle Moraine. Highway 28 offers access to Sheboygan Falls, Kohler, and even the nation’s tallest flagpole before heading into Sheboygan. In Sheboygan, you can enjoy breweries, brats served the traditional way, a vibrant downtown with museums, shops, and events at City Green, and the beautiful harbor and beaches along the city surfers call the “Malibu of the Midwest.” Along the way, Highway 28 crosses a number of major State Trunk Tour routes and allows one to see a lot of eastern Wisconsin in a relatively short trip.


How it all begins: Highway 28 starts off Highway 33 on Horicon’s east side.

The Wisconsin Highway 28 Road Trip

The Drive (West To East): Highway 28 begins at Highway 33 on the east side of Horicon (pop. 3,775), known as the “City On The Marsh”. The marsh, of course, being Horicon Marsh, which we’ll cover in a minute.


An old war relic sits in a park in Horicon, overlooking the Rock River and the John Deere plant behind it. Horicon cranks out a LOT of tractors, snow blowers and other sundry, handy machinery. Meanwhile, Highway 28 starts on the east side of Horicon, right off Highway 33. After a cruise through some neighborhoods, Horicon Marsh is just around the corner.

Horicon has access to the Wild Goose State Trail and naturally draws on the scenic beauty of the marsh and also maintains a nice park system, particularly along the Rock River, whose headwaters come out of the marsh. Oh, and the high school team nickname? The Marshmen.

Horicon Marsh
Highway 28 skims the southeastern corner of the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a pretty unmistakeable feature as you drive by: it’s a vast expanse of flat land that looks like a lake had been drained there. And that’s pretty close to how things got to be this way. When the glaciers that once covered this part of the state retreated, a moraine was formed that worked like a dam and created a large lake. The Rock River, which uses the Marsh as its source, gradually drained the natural lake and turned it, well, marshy. People tried manipulating it again twice: from 1846 to 1896, a dam re-created the glacial lake; after it became a marsh again, there was an attempt to drain it from 1910 to 1914 and use the area for farmland. That didn’t quite work either, and today the Marsh is preserved and protected to serve as one of the world’s largest “rest stops” for migrating birds.


The view stretches far and wide along Horicon Marsh, which sprawls to the north from Horicon and Highway 28. This is a prime spot for bird watching, and several areas along the road have turn-outs and side roads where you can set up with some binoculars and plant yourself.


The Horicon Marsh International Education Center (N7725 Highway 28, 920-387-7860) has a temporary display right now featuring a rare passenger pigeon and will soon add more songbirds and waterfowl. Get details from this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here. The Horicon Marsh International Education Center can be found right along Highway 28 just outside of Horicon.

The Horicon Marsh covers about 50 square miles – equivalent to about half of the City of Milwaukee. The southern third of the marsh, around Horicon, is managed mostly by the state; the northern two-thirds (up by Highway 49) is under Federal control by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Over 290 species of our winged friends have been documented in the Marsh, making it a top birding area. It’s a favorite layover for over 200,000 migrating Canada geese as they make their way back and forth in spring and fall – think of it as a rest area on the bird migration highway. (Find out more about birding here.) Horicon Marsh draws nature lovers, bird watchers, hunters, scout groups and naturalists. It can draw mosquitoes too, so bring some repellent.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S., and the area around Horicon Marsh has the highest concentration of drumlins in the world.

Highway 28 skims along the southeastern edge of the Horicon Marsh for a few miles. On the east edge of the Marsh is a ridge that recently became a huge wind farm. The windier the day, the more action you’ll see on over 80 windmills that stretch north towards Brownsville.

Next up on Highway 28 is Mayville (pop. 4,902). Mayville started early; it incorporated as a city in 1845, three years before Wisconsin became a state. Big on manufacturing, Mayville is home to a number of industrial facilities and maintains a pretty steady employment base. One of the old manufacturing buildings, the former Hollenstein Wagon & Carriage Factory, is maintained by the local historical society and offers wagons on display in what is now a museum-like setting. Mayville also sports a very nice “Main Street” downtown; Highway 28 meets up with Highway 67 for the ride through it, past a variety of handsome old structures offering everything from antiques to food to collections of rural pictures in the White Limestone School, right on Main Street. Mayville has produced three members of Congress (all pre-1920), one Major League Baseball player (Bert Husting, who played from 1900 to 1902) and, more recently, actor, writer, producer, comic book creator and Primetime Emmy winner Rob Schrab.


The Audubon Inn is one of Mayville’s attractive downtown landmarks, right along Highway 28 on the push through town.


Downtown Mayville features numerous storefronts featuring unique retail shops, restaurants, cafes and even some art galleries.


As far back as 1849, Mayville’s been cranking out products via heavy manufacturing. The state’s first iron smelter, a facility which took iron ore and extracted metals from it (such as iron), opened in Mayville in that year and cranked out up to 800 tons of iron every day. It lasted until 1928 and sprawled across the northern part of Mayville along the Rock River.

Highway 28 joins 67 for the ride east into the village of Theresa (pop. 1,252). Theresa holds the distinction of being named after the mother of Solomon Juneau, who’d founded this other place called Milwaukee years earlier, moved out, established Theresa, and therefore was the first European settler to begin urban sprawl in Wisconsin.


Solomon Juneau first founded in Milwaukee, then fled in later years to establish Theresa, named after his mother. His final homestead, built in 1848, is along Highway 175 in town, close to where Highway 28 comes in.


The section of Highway 28 combined with Highway 175 is part of the historic Yellowstone Trail, a trailblazing path through the early days of American driving.



Not as early as the Yellowstone Trail but still becoming a slice of old Americana are the old logos on signs, such as the one for 7Up on this store in Theresa.

*** Cheese Factory Alert ***

Theresa is home to Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, which has been making brick, cheddar, and colby varieties in this location since 1922. They still use many of the original cheese vats and you can stop in and buy their cheese in their store, right from the source.

In Theresa, Highway 28 – as well as 67 – hooks up with Highway 175 and heads north out of town. Prior to 1954, this was also part of U.S. 41 before the four-lane variety was constructed nearby; it’s also part of the historic Yellowstone Trail, the “Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound” road that spent over 300 miles of its existence in Wisconsin, from Kenosha to Hudson. About one mile north of Theresa, Highway 28 breaks east; 67 & 175 stay together a few more miles northward to Lomira. Meanwhile, Highway 28 spans the Theresa State Wildlife Area and then has an interchange with I-41 before heading into Washington County.




West of I-41, you cross marshland along Highway 28. East of I-41, you climb higher and suddenly some nice views come into play, revealing the rolling hills that characterize the approaching Kettle Moraine region.


Highway 28 meets up with U.S. 45 after a few miles and joins it southward briefly for the ride into Kewaskum (pop. 3,274). Like many communities in the Kettle Moraine vicinity, Kewaskum considers itself the “Gateway to the Kettle Moraine” – at least the Northern Unit – and this is indeed a great launching point for exploring everything from Sunburst Ski Hill (on the south end of town, along U.S. 45) to the multitude of hiking, biking, camping, fishing and more that the rolling hills of Kettle Moraine offer.

kewaskum_28-45jctHighway 28 enters Kewaskum’s downtown and then leaves U.S. 45 to head east as Main Street. This is a great spot to take a break and do some for antique shopping, or grab a beer at John’s On Main (143 Main Street) or maybe even a hearty meal at Victoria’s Cornerstone Inn (109 Main Street, 262-626-2222). You can work it off walking, biking, or even snowmobiling on the new Eisenbahn State Trail, which runs from West Bend northward through downtown Kewaskum and up into Fond du Lac County before ending at Eden.


Kewaskum lies along the Milwaukee River, which gets considerably bigger as it flows to the state’s largest city. Here’s it pretty tiny and mainly used as a drinking fountain for farm animals in the area.


Kewaskum’s former railroad link to the world is now the Eisenbahn Recreation Trail… a fairly new and popular line for bicyclists, snowmobilers, walkers, runners and the occasional deer.


The “Spirit of ’76” still shines – albeit with some rust on the support – along Highway 28 in St. Michaels. 76 gas is now part of the Chevron Corporation, and while the ’76’ balls were widely seen around the country in the 1960s through the 80s (and are still popular in California), they are rarely seen in Wisconsin today. There isn’t a gas station this property, but all evidence indicates there was one at some point.

East from Kewaskum, Highway 28 goes right through Kettle Moraine – hey, the town says it’s the gateway to it – crossing the Ice Age Trail and eventually hooking up with Highway 144. At that point, Highway 28 breaks northeast with 144. The archaeologist in you might like a side jaunt, south on Highway 144 to Lizard Mound County Park. It’s a prime example of remaining effigy mounds in Wisconsin, built by Native Americans over 1,000 years ago… some date back about 10,000 years. Effigy mounds were typically built over burial pits and often shaped like mammals, birds or reptiles. Considered one of the best preservations of such ancient mounds – there are about 28 of them – Lizard Mound County Park can be accessed via County A, less than one mile east of Highway 144 and about four miles south of its junction with Highway 28.


Part of this stretch skims Kettle Moraine, which features plenty of rolling hills, making for a nice drive.


Left: Strange but interesting mailbox along Highway 28 just north of Batavia. Apparently, the bird is the word. Right: A three-letter county highway in Sheboygan County apparently inspired by the sound a snake makes.

The two highways together go through Boltonville (no, it’s not named after Michael Bolton, it’s just a coincidence. Boltonville was named after Harlow Bolton, their first settler) and into Sheboygan County, where Highway 144 heads east toward Random Lake. Highway 28 continues through the countryside, along the eastern side of the Kettle Moraine area through tiny settlements like Batavia and Cascade.


Yup. It’s right here.

Eventually you literally find Waldo (pop. 450), a small town that Highway 28 rolls through before hitting Highway 57. You follow 57 for less than half a mile, hopping over the Onion River, before Highway 28 heads northeast again toward the Sheboygan ‘burbs.

First up in the “Sheboygan ‘burbs” is Sheboygan Falls (pop. 6,772), which lies where the Onion and Mullet Rivers merge into the Sheboygan – a few small “falls” in the area helped the founders figure out a name. The downtown area is awesome for shopping, walking and marveling at the restored 19th century buildings, most of which are light colors of brick. Highway 28 skims the southern edge of Sheboygan Falls today, but you can access downtown by following the “old” route, which today is County Highway PPP on the west side and County EE on the east side. You can also run right up into town from the south via Highway 32, which intersects with Highway 28 at a roundabout.


Just some of the storefronts in Sheboygan Falls, a hub of activity for shops, galleries, cafes and bars. The preservation of old buildings here is impressive.


A nice little watering hole in Sheboygan Falls is the Osthelder Saloon, which opened in 1853 or 1878, depending on who you ask and which sign you believe. Either way, the old-school materials are fully present and the beers are priced right.

Sheboygan Falls began as the Town of Rochester when the first sawmill went up in 1836. The name change came in 1850, and by then Sheboygan Falls had three sawmills, a tannery, flour mills and an iron foundry. Some of the original buildings housing these industries from that time have been beautifully restored and contribute to the character that makes this downtown very much worth a visit. Sheboygan Falls hosts some significant industries, too: it’s home to Bemis Manufacturing Company, furniture builder and yacht interior outfitter Richardson’s Lumber, and the famous, tasty Johnsonville Sausages. Events are plentiful too, including the “Ducktona 500”. It takes place every July, which includes 4,500 plastic ducks racing down the Sheboygan River. They don’t paddle or quack much, but they’re still fun to watch.

kohler_golfcartxingWith Kohler next door and Whistling Straits within the county, Sheboygan Falls is part of this golf mecca. Between Sheboygan Falls and Sheboygan itself is Black Wolf Run, a Pete Dye-designed course which Highway 28 skims…and yes, watch for golf carts crossing.

Just on the other side of all the golf, you hit I-43 and a bevy of shops and chain restaurants. Bikers will like a stop at Route 43 Harley-Davidson, where you can get gear, relax, do whatever.

A quick drive up Taylor Drive will also give you a close-up look at the headquarters of Acuity Insurance, which hosts the nation’s tallest flagpole. The building itself is interesting, including the lobby.


Clearly visible from I-43 just north of the interchange with Highway 28, a State Trunk Tour favorite is the Acuity Insurance headquarters and the cat toy-like ornaments dangling from their ceiling. They’re especially noticeable at night.



Sheboygan (pop. 50,792) is the Bratwurst Capital of the World. They make toilets too; it’s the circle of life. Large enough to have “suburbs” like aforementioned Kohler and the Sheboygan Falls, the area is home to a number of major companies, including Kohler, Acuity Insurance and the aforementioned Johnsonville Sausage and Bemis. Comedian Jackie Mason, basketball coach Rick Majerus, and the Chordettes (the ’50s group that sang “Lollipop”) all hail from Sheboygan. The city was referenced in the classic 1959 film Some Like It Hot when Daphne & Josephine (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) claimed to Marilyn Monroe they had studied music at the “Sheboygan Conservatory.” The movies Home Alone, A Kid in Aladdin’s Place, World Trade Center and Surf’s Up all reference the city. There was even a board game in 1979 called The Creature That Ate Sheboygan – who no doubt consumed a lot of bratwurst during that meal. Mattel even claims that the iconic Barbie, their signature doll’s character, hails from the fictitious Willows, Wisconsin – a city claimed by many to be based on Sheboygan. The city even had an NBA team called the Sheboygan Redskins back in the ’40s. It’s also consistently named one of the best places to raise a family and, interestingly enough, one of the best places to retire, in the U.S.



Points of interest are quite plentiful considering the city’s size. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center (608 New York Avenue, 920-458-6144) hosts galleries chock full of innovative explorations in the arts. Rather than only showing historical artistic pieces, the center works to foster new concepts and forms of artistic creation. It’s definitely worth a stop.

Golfing and Surfing in Sheboygan

One of the reasons Sheboygan is considered a good place to retire is the plethora of golf courses. Incredible courses like Whistling Straits bring worldwide acclaim and establish Sheboygan as a premier place for golf. Nestled along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan north of the city along County LS, Whistling Straits reminds most golfers of the classic olde links in Scotland and Ireland. Whistling Straits hosted PGA Championships in 2004, 2010, and 2015, and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.

Surf’s Up! Sheboygan’s Lake Michigan “surf” is considered among the best in the country. The Dairyland Surf Classic ran for many years and helped established Sheboygan as the “Malibu of the Midwest.” Yes, dudes from California even come in for it. From Kohler-Andrae State Park north past downtown to the Whistling Straits course area, Sheboygan makes good use of its lakefront.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Sheboygan’s Dairyland Surf Classic was the largest freshwater surfing competition in the world until it ceased in 2013.

Charter fishing, pleasure boating and, further out, freshwater surfing are all popular in Sheboygan. The Sheboygan River provides plenty of space for docking and the harbor area is brimming with shops, attractions and new condos.

A popular annual event is Brat Days, which takes place the first weekend in August. During its 2006 celebration, the city hosted the International Federation of Competitive Eating and Takeru Kobayashi broke the world bratwurst-eating record by downing 58 brats in 10 minutes against heavy competition, live on ESPN. Sales of antacids were massive in town that night.

Highway 28 enters the south side of Sheboygan as Washington Avenue. Ahead are the dominant chimney stacks of the Edgewater Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that was commissioned back in 1931. Eventually, Highway 28 heads north along Business Drive into the city; this stretch, which is County Highway OK leading south, was part of the old U.S. 141, which was the main route between Milwaukee and Green Bay prior to I-43. This was also the main north-south route through Sheboygan until the U.S. 141 bypass – which is where I-43 is today – was constructed in the late 1960s.


Today’s Highway 28 in southern Sheboygan runs on the original Sauk Trail.

Highway 28 comes to an end just west of downtown Sheboygan as Business Drive becomes 14th Street. It’s actually where three State Trunks come together and end: Highway 23, which runs west from here to Kohler and Fond du Lac and eventually all the way to southwestern Wisconsin near Shullsburg, and Highway 42, which runs north to the tip of Door County. And of course we have the route you just took, Highway 28, which started back in Mayville. Stop and enjoy Sheboygan, or to get moving on Highway 23 or 42 for more fun ‘n adventure!

Just past the end of Highway 28… literally a few blocks further north via Highway 42, lies the Hops Haven Brew Haus (1327 N. 14th Street, 920-457-HOPS). Once home to the Port Washington Brewing Company and also the 3 Sheeps Brewing Company, you’re sure to find good brews and food here. The new HQ for 3 Sheeps Brewing Company is just a little further north; follow Highway 42 to North Avenue, and then head east a few blocks to their new Tap Room. Heck, you’re done with the drive. Might as well stop in!

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 33
Can connect nearby to: Highway 26, about 4 miles west via 33; Highway 67, about 4 miles east; Highway 60, about 7 miles south

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 23; Highway 42
Can connect nearby to: Highway 32, about 7 miles west; Interstate 43, about 4 miles west

Highway 23 looking at the Wyoming Valley


STH-023“Lead Mines. Water Parks. Houses on Rocks. Dells. Waterfalls. Brats & Cheese. Championship Golf. Let’s Go!”

WisMap23Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 23 connects a veritable plethora of sights in Wisconsin. From the beautiful hills and history of the Lead Mining Region and the Driftless Area to Frank Lloyd Wright (and Frank Lloyd Wright revenge-inspired) architectural sites; from the Dells and lakes of central Wisconsin to the booming golf and resort areas of Sheboygan, Highway 23 provides plenty of things to see and do along its route.

Wisconsin Highway 23 Road Trip

The Drive (North To East): You start in a relatively remote area: at the intersection with Highway 11 near Shullsburg in southwestern Wisconsin. This is an area of rich minig history and incredible beauty. A good start is actually just west of Highway 23: check out Shullsburg (pop. 1,226) itself, an old lead mining town that has preserved its older buildings well. The Badger Mine and Museum (279 W. Estey Street, 608-965-4860) features exhibits on lead mining, cheesemaking and lets you tour a more recent mine. The Brewster Hotel sign is an interesting artifact: check out the bullet holes from a 1927 robbery by Chicago mobsters. Plenty of food, stores, scenery, history and quaintness await in Shullsburg.


Looking down Water Street in Shullsburg, now a National Historic Landmark. Filled with antique shops, boutiques, historic guest rooms and places to imbibe in food and beverage, this is a good place to start before heading east on Highway 11 for about six miles and hitting Highway 23.


The beginning of Highway 23, looking north from Highway 11. A lot awaits you on this tour…

Once on Highway 23, you can begin with a stop at Roelli Cheese Haus, a longtime staple of the area (100 years +) that has moved deftly into the artisan cheese world over the past decade and has been walking away with plenty of national and international awards as a result. They have a retail store attached to their cheese plant, and you can pick up some serious specialties on the road with you.

Northward on Highway 23, you make your way north through Lafayette County toward its county seat. After hooking up for a spell with Highway 81, Highway 23 enters Darlington (pop. 2,418), which calls itself the “Pearl of the Pecatonica River.” The “pearl” part harkens back to the time when people harvested clams out of the river, apparently to produce pearl button blanks. The whole area is drained by the Pecatonica River and its many tributaries, which carve out the beautiful hills and valleys characteristic of Lafayette County. Author Sylvan Muldoon, who was big on writing about out-of-body experiences, hailed from Darlington.

Cardinal in Darlington along Highway 23Shark in Darlington along Highway 23

Some notable animals in Darlington: a cardinal on the south end of town along Highway 23/81 and a shark emerging from a gas station both catch your attention right in the downtown area. Darlington’s school mascot is the “Redbirds”; not sure why the shark is there.


Highway 23 & 81 in Darlington

Highways 23 & 81 through downtown Darlington; the main street is a pleasant little boulevard with plenty of parking, good architecture and shops to see on both sides. Highway 81 joins briefly through town..


The Barber Shop Hotel, apparently in a former barber shop, is an example of Darlington’s small, inviting buildings that are being refurbished with historical touches.

Darlington’s restored downtown is a great place to stop and just walk around. Highway 81 hooks up with 23 briefly and proceeds as a little boulevard going through town, crossing the Cheese Country Trail – watch for plenty of ATVers and bikers – and providing plenty of parking for the boutiques, taverns and other points of interest in town. Pecatonica River Trails Park offers riverside camping. Downtown Darlington’s Main Street – which is Highway 23 & 81 – is lined with historic buildings and it’s worth a stop just to explore.


Being the county seat of Lafayette County, Darlington sports a beautiful courthouse with a Tiffany glass rotunda on the hill above downtown along Highway 23, just north of Highway 81 and Darlington’s downtown.


This house was spotted just past old Fort Defiance north of Darlington… it just kind of screamed “Amityville Horror”…

Highway 81 hooks up with Highway 23 for the ride south out of Darlington; it’s hilly and beautiful and filled with old haunts. Between Darlington and Mineral Point is the former site of Fort Defiance, built in 1832 in the wake of the Black Hawk War. It was one of the last garrisoned stockade forts built in Wisconsin, measuring 80 feet wide, 120 feet long, and 18 feet high with two blockhouses – and yet no trace of it remains, other than a marker.



Weaving through the terrain further north brings you to Mineral Point (pop. 2,617), another town chock full of history. In fact, it’s the first town in Wisconsin to be named to the National Register of Historic Places. As gold was to California and gambling is to Nevada, lead made the Mineral Point area of Wisconsin a sought-after destination in the ’30s and ’40s… and we’re talking 1830s and 40s.

Lead and zinc mining was grueling work, and those who endured the brutal winters became known as “badgers” because they burrowed into the ground like the furry creatures. Their influence lives on as the state’s nickname and, of course, the UW-Madison mascot. Mining was so important to the state that in 1848 when the state seal was established, one of the four images on the seal was that of a miner’s ax.

Mineral Point claims the title “where Wisconsin began,” and the handsome buildings along High Street attest to the new wealth and impressive designs of the day. The city lost by one vote to Madison when the state’s capital was selected. While he waited for the capitol building to be established in Madison, Wisconsin’s first governor, Henry Dodge (who also has a county named after him), maintained an office in Mineral Point’s courthouse.

Mineral Point has many small shops offering antiques, galleries and artisan crafts. Highway 23 goes right past the downtown area, which is best accessed via High Street. The handsome Mineral Point Opera House (139 High Street, 608-987-2516) was built in 1914. It started as a vaudeville and performing arts house and continues to feature live performances from theater groups and world cinema brought by the Mineral Point Film Society.

A big attraction in Mineral Point is Pendarvis (114 Shake Rag St). Owned and operated by the State Historical Society, it’s a complex that shows visitors what life was like during the 1830s, including the day-to-day tasks of miners and their families as well as superstitions and traditions that influenced them. The Mineral Point Depot (13 Commerce St.) is the oldest surviving railroad depot in the state. Originally built in 1856 and restored in 2004 by the Mineral Point Restoration Society, it now hosts a museum.







The Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts & Crafts (18 Shake Rag Street, 608-987-3292) features displays, workshops and classes on a 2.5 acre campus featuring gardens, trees and brick pathways. Shake Rag Alley was the original business district of Mineral Point and contains log cabins and other buildings dating back to 1828. Local lore says “Shake Rag” got its name because women would “shake rags” to let the men know it was time to eat. They were quieter than dinner bells, I guess.

Heading out of Mineral Point, Highway 23 heads north along what was also the “old” U.S. 151 highway for about two miles until it meets up with the “new” U.S. 151, an expressway that now runs complete from Dubuque, Iowa to Madison. This is the first of several segments where Highway 23 is four lanes and/or part of a freeway. This stretch multiplexed with U.S. 151 is quick, though: it only lasts about four miles. There are some cool rock cuts along the way, along with a mass of windmills to the west, part of a massive wind power generating farm.

U.S. 151 breaks off toward Madison and Highway 23 continues north into Dodgeville (pop. 4,220), the county seat of Iowa County and home to Lands’ End. In local lore, Dodgeville and Mineral Point went to “war” over which town should be the county seat, and supposedly some Mineral Point residents actually fired a canon toward Dodgeville. Either way, Dodgeville won the county seat and today has the oldest active county courthouse in Wisconsin; its cornerstone was laid in 1859. The Military Ridge State Trail, a popular recreational trail following an old military road dating back to 1855, starts in Dodgeville and runs 40 miles east to Fitchburg.


Along Highway 23 in downtown Dodgeville is the Iowa County Courthouse, the oldest in the state of Wisconsin. Started in 1859, dedicated in 1861 and expanded or renovated four times since, the Galena limestone used in its construction was quarried just north of town.

Highway 23 runs through the heart of Dodgeville before crossing U.S. Highway 18 and approaching Governor Dodge State Park, one of the largest in the state at 5,270 acres (just to give you a sense of the size, one square mile is 640 acres). The whole area has many scenic bluffs, but Governor Dodge State Park is a great place to see quite a few of them. The Park also features two lakes, a waterfall, abundant wildlife, original spring houses built by early settlers, 267 campsites, 77 electric sites, winter camping, boat and canoe rental, programs, marked beaches, 2 miles of nature trails, 26.6 miles of hiking trails, 24.7 miles of horseback trails, 10.3 miles of off-road bicycle trails, 15 miles of snowmobile trails and 18.1 miles of cross-country ski trails. But that’s all.


Above: This marker notes a former military crossing of the river during the Black Hawk War; the crew dismantled parts of a town to get the wood for raft-making. At right, a side road approaching Highway 23 tells you it’s U.S. 23 – which is wrong, because that road runs from Michigan to Florida.

springgreen_houseontherock01Just north of Governor Dodge State Park is the weird, quirky, legendary House On The Rock. What exactly is it? It’s a 200-acre complex with architectural wonders, eclectic art collections, gardens and yes, a Japanese-style house perched on what’s called Deer Shelter Rock, overlooking the Wyoming Valley. Its inspiration came from a feud between creator Alex Jordan Jr.’s father and the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright that dated back to the 1920s. Apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright has some less-than-flattering comments about Jordan Sr.’s architectural talents. In 1945, Jordan Jr. began construction of the house on his favorite rock and by 1959, a stone marker placed along Highway 23 announced to travelers that The House On The Rock was open for viewing.


The Infinity Room is quite a trip!

Financed by tour fees, a series of additions since then include 1968’s “Mill House”, which holds one of the world’s largest fireplaces; a “Streets of Yesterday” exhibit, introduced in 1971 and inspired by a similar exhibit in the Milwaukee Public Museum. The “World’s Largest Carousel” opened in 1981 and the “Infinity Room”, perhaps the most dramatic, came along in 1985. The Infinity Room literally projects 218 feet out over the valley; the walls are made of glass with reinforcements (3,264 windows in all), so visitors can walk out above the forest floor, which beckons 156 feet below. Quite visible from the surrounding area, it’s probably one of the more unique rooms in the world.


House on the Rock includes several other buildings, centered around gardens, ponds, bridges, and walkways.


Incredible art? Haunting vision? Psychedelic dream? The House of the Rock lets you view and interpret as you wish.


The World’s Largest Carousel sits inside House on the Rock. It’s almost mesmerizing to watch.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The House of the Rock’s “World’s Largest Carousel” features over 20,000 lights, 269 animals, and – interestingly – 182 chandeliers. It’s 80 feet in diameter and weighs 36 tons.

The presence of House On The Rock adds to a very cool Scenic Overlook area along Highway 23 just north of the attraction’s entrance. Each direction of the highway has its own side access to an overlook, which connects via a pedestrian bridge over the road. The view of the House’s Infinity Room, the Wyoming Valley and all the surrounding terrain makes for a great stop.


A view of Wyoming Valley, behind the ridge where Highway 23 runs. House on the Rock is just to the left in this picture; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin is a few miles ahead.

This area is a haven for artists and architects; it certainly was for Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born in Spring Green in 1867. He started building his summer house, called Taliesin after a Welsh bard, in 1911. It took decades to develop, including recovery from a devastating attack in 1914 where a chamber boy set fire to the house and murdered seven people with an ax while the fire burned. Wright himself was in Chicago on a project at the time, but his lover (a former wife of one of his clients), her two children, a foreman, a draftsman, a landscape gardener and the son of a carpenter were all victims. The living quarters were rebuilt, yet destroyed again by fire in 1925. The third incarnation of Taliesin was survived intact since. Taliesin is where many of Wright’s most famous structures, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum, were designed. In a nod to snowbirds everywhere, Wright also established a Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. But since that’s nowhere near State Trunk Highway 23, it’s not part of the Tour.

springgreen_taliesinvisitorcenterThe Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center is located just off Highway 23 on County C, across the Wisconsin River’s southern bank. Taliesin itself is on the other side of 23, about half a mile south. You take a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center to access Taliesin’s property. Tours are available May 1 through October 31 seven days a week, and Friday through Sunday in April and November.


The beauty of Taliesin and the surrounding landscape is definitely worth the price of admission.

springgreen_taliesin01 springgreen_taliesin04

Crossing the river on Highway 23 brings you into Sauk County and Spring Green (pop. 1,444) itself. Along with the architectural wonders and natural scenic beauty, you can get Shakespearean in Spring Green at American Players Theatre, one of the most popular outdoor classical theaters in the U.S. Set in a natural amphitheater in the woods near the Wisconsin River, APT entertains audiences with rotating plays while working to educate students on theater in general. If you’re getting a way early start on a weekend jaunt, try hitting APT for “Skippeth-Out-Of-Work-Early” Thursday nights.


A one-time gas station in Spring Green is indicative of the native stone and beautiful architecture of the area. This is right along Highway 23, just south of U.S. 14 and Highway 60.


Wright’s influence in Spring Green is unmistakable. This is a bank in town.

Highway 23 comes to a junction with U.S. 14 and Highway 60 and hooks up with them briefly before, alas, the quickie is over and Highway 23 heads north by its lonesome again.


North of Spring Green, it’s more of the Driftless Area’s beautiful bluffs and rolling hills. This is through Plain, on the way to Reedsburg.

The views are great as you zoom up and down hills and wind through valleys, past hamlets like Plain (pop. 792) and Loganville (pop. 276). Plain, interestingly, has been considering a name change since 1915, when a reader to the local newspaper wrote a letter to the editor. No rush, though.



Further north, Highway 23 heads into Reedsburg (pop. 8,704), where it hooks up with Highway 33 for the ride through downtown. The Museum of Norman Rockwell Art (227 S. Park St.) features almost 4,000 of the famous artist’s works. Speaking of artists, famous comic artist and cartoonist Clare Briggs hailed from Reedsburg. It’s also the starting point for the “400” State Trail, which runs to Elroy as part of the state’s increasingly-extensive rail-trail system for bicycles, hikers, cross-country skiiers and snowmobilers.


This marker almost marks the exact spot of the 90th meridian, the halfway point between the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. The actual spot is within a few hundred yards – but why don’t they just put it right at that spot??

Reedsburg sits on the 90th Meridian, which marks the halfway point between the Prime Meridian (which runs through Greenwich and London, England) and the International Date Line, marking the exact center of the Western Hemisphere. A marker in the median of Highway 23 notes the meridian’s location – actually, for some reason, it sits 325 feet west of it. The city once hosted a World War II POW camp and pioneered both the first Ford dealership and the first sanctioned Little League in Wisconsin. On the way out just east of the city, the Pioneer Log Village and Museum provides a first-hand look at log buildings, antique furnishings and a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th century frontier days. Tours are available from 1-4pm on weekends during the summer. Also in summer, Reedsburg holds its annual Butter Fest.


Downtown Reedsburg, which Highway 23 goes right through as the main street along with Highway 33, extends for a while with storefronts on either side. It’s a wide street compared to most smaller towns’ main streets, and the views – especially of the Baraboo Bluffs – show the beautiful topography that beckons.


Built in 1906, the Reedsburg Train Depot served passenger traffic until 1963. Today, it’s a popular stop along the “400” Bicycle Trail, which runs on the railbed of the former train between St. Paul and Chicago.


We spotted this on a trailer sitting by itself in Reedsburg. What’s it about? We don’t know, but being sign geeks we liked it!


Colorful sunflowers added to the beauty of the drive along Highways 23 & 33 just east of Reedsburg,

For several miles east of Reedsburg, Highways 23 and 33 hang together until 23 breaks to the northeast for a weaving 6-mile jaunt through portions of Mirror Lake State Park and a junction with I-90/94. And right away, you enter it: the Dells.

Taking Highway 23 past the I-90/94 interchange and you immediately come upon Lake Delton (pop. 1,982), which pairs with the city of Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418) to make up the gargantuan land o’tourism known at the Dells.

wisdells_welcomesign01Wisconsin Dells Area

Ah, Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. Highway 23 comes into the area and immediately, the architecture changes. The vibe changes. And the amount of traffic changes. 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 itself started out 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 five years later. But indeed, it gets cold here, too, which explains why so many waterparks offer indoor facilities.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.


Highway 23 crosses over Spring Creek, giving a peek towards Lake Delton.

Highway 23 meets up with U.S. 12 and joins it heading northbound into 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.


Motels, pedestrians and stray beach balls line this stretch, 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.



It’s hard to miss the World’s Largest Trojan Horse along Highway 23. A ride passes through it; no word on if tons of soldiers – or anything else – are hiding inside.

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


At the intersection coming up, U.S. 12 and Highways 13, 16, and 23 all converge. I-90/94 is less than a mile to the west via Highway 13.

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.


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

Along the main strip in the Dells (where Highway 23 is joined by 13 and 16), you’ll find Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, fudge and t-shirt shops, restaurants and bars, Wizard Quest, a Carr Valley Cheese Shop, and even the historic H.H. Bennett Studio, a photography museum named for the man whose pictures helped popularize the natural beauty and appeal of the Dells area.

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; 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.




Plenty of sights to see along Broadway, the stretch of Highway 23 where it goes through the heart of Wisconsin Dells. Highways 13 and 16 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 23 goes through the Dells’ two main areas: through Lake Delton with U.S. 12 as Wisconsin Dells Parkway, and then with Highways 13 and 16 as Broadway on the main drag through Wisconsin Dells itself. This basically marks a change where Highway 23 stops bring a route through the Driftless Region on Wisconsin and becomes more of an east-west main road across east-central Wisconsin.


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.


Club 23 along Highway 23 just east of the Dells – we love places named after our highways!

At the east end of Wisconsin Dells, you’re suddenly in the countryside again. Highway 16 breaks off southeast towards Columbus and Milwaukee; Highway 13 heads north toward Wisconsin Rapids and Ashland; and Highway 23 meanders east. This stretch deals with a lot of county corners; in about a 14-mile stretch, you go from Sauk County back in the Dells, to Columbia County on its east side, to a southeastern sliver of Adams County to the far southwestern corner of Marquette County. There, you reach the little town of Briggsville which, while unincorporated, is still the largest settlement between the Dells area and the freeway that lies ahead.


Highway 23, going gently through the quiet town of Briggsville.

23at39-51Eventually, Highway 23 joins the “backbone” of Wisconsin, the I-39/U.S. 51 freeway. The highway heads north on it for about six miles. One exit brings to you little Packwaukee, which lies on Buffalo Lake, an elongated stretch of the Fox River as it heads up to Lake Winnebago. This is prime fishing and hunting country in the heart of Marquette County. At Exit 106 from I-39/US 51, Highway 82 begins to the west and goes all the way to DeSoto and the Mississippi River; meanwhile, Highway 23 continues east away from the freeway for the next leg, now as a more major artery across the eastern half of the state.


Remember the Buffalo Lake we just mentioned? It parallels Highway 23 to the south; both end up in Montello (pop. 1,397), a very water recreation-oriented town considering its Fox River location wedged between Buffalo Lake and Montello Lake. There’s even a nice waterfall right at the main intersection downtown where Highway 23 meets up with Highway 22; it’s part of a larger park with exposed stone and multiple waterfalls developed from a granite quarry


Highways 23 and 22 come together in downtown Montello, with rock formations and waterfalls making things much more interesting.

Speaking of granite, La Maison Granite (“Granite Mansion” in English) is an historic mansion at 55 Underwood Street just off Highway 23, built in 1912 from locally-quarried granite – the quarry where the waterfall-adorned park now sits. In the home’s front yard is Wisconsin’s largest tree, a cottonwood towering 140 feet with a 23-foot circumference… we shall dub it the “Cottonwood on Underwood.” Both are seen here:

Montello’s downtown area, which runs along Highway 23 (and 22, since for about a half mile they’re combined) offers crafts from local artists and the numerous Amish communities in close vicinity of the town.


Highway 22 breaks north for Waupaca, and we continue east on Highway 23 for the short ride to another shopping and antique destination, Princeton (pop. 1,214). Highway 73 joins in for the ride through town, where Highway 23 serves as Main Street. Much of the shopping action is a block south along Water Street, east of the Fox River crossing in a district called the Shops of Water Street. Both along Water Street and throughout town in “off-the-beaten path” areas, you’ll find boutiques and – amidst such a rural region – a number of urban flair shops with offerings from clever coffees to hand-blown glass, vintage arts, accessories, and antiques. Two larger antique malls are also in town – there’s likely something to find for everyone, no matter their taste. The Princeton Flea Market is the largest weekly outdoor flea market in Wisconsin, held April through October on Saturdays in City Park. Admission and parking is free and not only are the items for sale a lesson in interesting variety, so is the food offered by vendors – it goes beyond the typical fare.


Muk Luks, baby!!

Along the Shops of Water Street, fans of comfy footwear might want to check out the Muk Luks Museum, an homage to the famous brand that originated in Princeton. A variety of the styles, artifacts, tools, shipping materials, and more from back in the day can be found. It’s open Saturdays, the peak shopping day in town.

While named after a town in Massachusetts as opposed to the prestigious university, don’t forget you can always come here, do some unique shopping, and then tell people you “went to Princeton.”

A few miles east of Princeton, Highway 73 breaks away and heads south through a gap between Puckaway Lake to the west and Green Lake to the east. Green Lake is Wisconsin’s deepest inland natural lake; it averages 100 feet deep (compared with 15 feet for Lake Winnebago, for example) and a maximum depth of 237 feet. Green Lake isn’t only deep, it’s pretty big… 11.5 square miles. It’s one of the last lakes around to freeze in water and thaw in spring but it’s one of the best in the state for fishing. Joe Gotz pulled a 35-pound trout out this in lake in 1957 and everything from northern pike and walleye to crappier and perch can be found here. The lake has featured numerous resorts and hotels since the 1800s, although many of the early ones burned down – as hotels often did in the late 19th century. Golf courses have remained and thrived, with Tuscumbia dating back to 1896 and nationally-ranked Golf Courses of Lawsonia offering its Links and Woodlands courses that include lakeshore panoramic views.

The epicenter of the area’s vacation and recreation activities focus on the city of Green Lake (pop. 960), the seat of Green Lake County. Highway 23 skims the northern edge of town today but “Business” 23 brings you towards the center of town, and it’s worth exploring. Green Lake was for decades home to the iconic Heidel House Resort & Spa along the eastern banks of the lake southeast of the town center. The original Heidel House opened in 1890 and it became a resort in 1945; alas, it closed in 2019 and we’re still waiting to see if it gets resurrected at some point. Green Lake remains a popular meeting place with the Green Lake Conference Center, which was founded in 1943 by American Baptists. Its Judson Tower carillon provides some chimes for golfers on the Lawsonia courses, since they’re located on the same large grounds just west of town. Downtown Green Lake offers shops, bars, and restaurants, and lakeside parks that cater to vacationers and recreational visitors. Also downtown on Mill Street, the historic Thrasher Opera House opened in 1910 and hosted everything from vaudeville performances to (very) early movies into the mid-20th century before – as most performance venues did back in the day – close and fall into disrepair. A restoration brought Thrasher back to life, and today it’s once again a hub for activity in Green Lake. Many theatrical, comedy, and musical performers come through here now, including many national acts – not much opera, though. But in our minds, that’s perfectly fine; we’d be thinking about Adam Sandler as “Opera Man” on SNL anyway.


At Green Lake, Highway 49 joins in from the north and Berlin (pronounced BER-lin) for the ride with Highway 23 east six miles into Ripon (pop. 7,733), a college town with a history of debate and cookies. Ripon was named after the English cathedral city of Ripon, North Yorkshire, in 1849 when it was first settled. The 1850s were busy for Ripon; in 1851 city founder David Mapes founded Brockway College, which evolved into Ripon College. Three years later, the Republican Party was founded in Ripon’s “Little White Schoolhouse” – which happens to be located right along today’s Highway 23/49. It’s all part of Ripon’s downtown, where Highway 23/49 wraps around the northeast side of the downtown square.


The “Little White Schoolhouse”, where the Republican Party was founded on an anti-slavery platform in 1854.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Ripon influenced the Golden State when former Ripon, Wisconsin resident Amplias B. Crooks (names were rather interesting back then) moved to Stanislaus City, California and started a store. Unhappy with the town’s name, he had it changed to Ripon, California in 1874.

Ripon was also home of the NFL for many decades. Really! We’re talking the National Forensic League, an organization dedicated to training students in communication and debate skills. Founded in 1925, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest debate and speech honor society. Alums of this NFL include President Lyndon Johnson, Senators Russ Feingold and Bill Frist, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, Kelsey Grammar, Shelley Long, Jane Pauley, CSPAN founder Brian Lamb, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and more. They changed their name to the National Speech & Debate Association (less cool, but easier to interpret) in 2013. Either way, if you stop in town and get into a debate with someone, be prepared. There could be a speech and debate expert that’ll mop up on any topic.

Cookies & College in Ripon
Ripon College counts among its graduates and students people like actors Spencer Tracy and Harrison Ford, singer Al Jarreau and more recently Brittany “McKey” Sullivan, a recent winner on America’s Next Top Model. Ripon College students, like other area residents, generally revel in the fact that the town is home to Rippin’ Good cookies (now owned by ConAgra Foods, which is reducing production ) Ever had the Mint Creme Cookies? If not, you have yet to live to the fullest extent. The Rippin’ Good Cookie Outlet can be found just north and east of downtown Ripon, at 420 E. Oshkosh Street, which is also Highway 44 (920-748-0293 if you want to call ahead). It is generally open Monday-Friday 8am-4:30pm and Saturday from 8am to 1pm. Prepare for sugar and goodness.

Fond du Lac, Plymouth, Kohler, Sheboygan and everything in between has been toured and will be posted shortly!


South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 11
Can connect nearby to: Highway 78, about 6 miles east

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 28, Highway 42
Can connect nearby to: Highway 32, about 6 miles west; I-43, about 3 miles west