STH-033“Coast to Coast covering Circuses, Canoes, Cow Pies, Coulees and more”

WisMap33Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 33 is a “coast-to-coast” state highway, connecting La Crosse on the Mississippi with Port Washington’s scenic harbor on Lake Michigan. From the big blue waters of the Great Lake to the beautiful coulees framing La Crosse, you encounter hairpin turns in what seems like a mountain range, Baraboo’s famous Circus Museum, ski slopes of Cascade Mountain, the natural wetlands of Horicon Marsh, and some of the best canoeing in the nation along the Kickapoo. It’s a terrific cross-section of southern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Highway 33 Road Trip

The Drive (East To West): Highway 33 begins along the main street leading into Port Washington (called Grand Avenue) at the intersection with Highway 32. From the eastern terminus, you can see the hill dropping into downtown and the beautiful harbor on Lake Michigan, which is postcard-worthy on a nice day. Port Washington Tourism notes a “New England fishing village charm”, and they’re not lying.

The Start: Port Washington

Port Washington (pop. 10,683) is a beautiful harbor town with the largest collection of pre-Civil War buildings in the state on the National Register of Historic Places; they can be easily navigated in walking tours downtown. While there, check out the lighthouse that marks the harbor entrance… and count the number of tourists taking its picture. Just north on Highway 32 is the headquarters of Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation and the “Shoe Bank”, where you can get discounts on the upscale men’s wear.

Port Washington’s bustling Lake Michigan harbor is well-known as a great place to keep your boat and get some good fishing in. The downtown area is adjacent to the harbor, with bars, restaurants, shops, hotels and condos. Highway 33’s eastern start is just west of here.


Port Washington’s beautiful, bustling harbor.


Looking to the east from Highway 33’s end at Highway 32, Lake Michigan provides a beautiful backdrop. The western end of Highway 33 comes within blocks of the Mississippi River, but can’t be seen from the road.


Above: Smith Bros. Fish Shanty was famous for freshly-caught fish dinners for decades in Port Washington. The original restaurant has since closed; the name is retained in the coffee shop occupying part of the building. The rest is a Duluth Trading Company retail store and offices. The landmark sign has been refurbished and towers over the view towards the lake from where Highway 33 begins heading westward and ends heading eastward. Highway 32 continues the ride east to the waterfront and Rotary Park. Below: Port Washington’s largest annual celebration is Fish Day, which takes place in July. Fireworks over the beautiful marina are just part of the event.

For biking enthusiasts, the Interurban Trail winds through town, and all of Ozaukee County, on a former rail line. For music enthusiasts, it’s good to know that Port Washington – along with neighboring Grafton – was an early hub for Blues, Gospel, even some Country music a century ago. Grafton, about five miles southwest of Port Washington, had a building that hosted the legendary Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. There, 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation, allowing artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock ‘N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton at a make-shift studio that was formerly a chair factory; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called “race records” of the era. Many of the musicians were African-American and came up from Milwaukee or Chicago (often originating in St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans) and would record in Grafton and then stay overnights in Port Washington, where the record company had its offices independent from the studios. Both towns embrace this grand era of music and celebrate it annually on Labor Day weekend with the Paramount Music Festival, a three-day outdoor live music salute to the music styles of early musicians and those who followed them.

From Port Washington’s charming downtown, Highway 33 heads west through residential neighborhoods before a roundabout with County LL, which was once the highway bypass of Port Washington as U.S. 141 before the freeway was completed about a mile away in the late 1960s. An old interchange built in 1957 lasted until the early 2010s.

Highway 33 is actually one of the oldest roads in Wisconsin, tracing its roots to the 17th century as a trail connecting Horicon Marsh with the harbor on Lake Michigan in today’s Port Washington.

Heading west from Port Washington and crossing I-43/Highway 57, you enter Saukville (pop. 4,068), which sits along the Milwaukee River and is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. A number of upscale golf courses lie nearby, including The Bog, whose entrance abuts the highway. Entering Washington County at Newburg (pop. 1,119), you encounter a mixture of farmland, forests, and some marshland.

West Bend

Before long, you hit West Bend (pop. 31,078), the second largest city on Highway 33 and the seat of Washington County. As Washington Street, Highway 33 dives right into town and shaves across the north end of West Bend’s beautiful downtown district, which can be accessed directly via Main Street. Featuring a wide variety of shops, the West Bend Theater and a slew of 19th century brick architecture – several holding notable jewelry stores – it’s a great place to spend a chunk of time shopping and just enjoying the day.

Art lovers will take note of the Museum of Wisconsin Art (300 S. 6th Ave., 262-334-9638), which holds a sizeable collection from Carl von Marr and a unbelieveable doll house – seriously. Walter Zinn, who had a malting company way back when, started building a doll house for his daughter Lenore in 1911 for her fifth birthday and just couldn’t stop. By 1957, he had developed a 27-room mansion of a doll house that contains over 1,200 miniature items, including artifacts brought back from overseas trips. On the next block, the Washington County Historical Society (320 S. 5th Ave., 262-335-4678) offers museum fun in their 19th century courthouse and a jailhouse. The Society also operates the St. Agnes Historical Site nearby, which features homestead sites built between 1856 and 1878 that are well-preserved.

Appliance lovers will love the Regal Ware Museum (18 E. Washington Street), located right on Highway 33. Since 1911, West Bend and “suburb” Kewaskum have been meccas for the manufacture of small cooking appliances and utensils. The name “West Bend” has peered out to users of blenders, mixers, and utensil users everywhere for decades. In 2002, Regal Ware (which started in Kewaskum in 1919) took West Bend over and, despite being worldwide conglomerate, continues to manufacture items in the area. So what can be exhibited at such a place? How about the world’s first whistling tea kettle? Or inventions that never quite made it to market, like the electric pizza cutter? Kitchenware products throughout the decades – reflecting everything from elegant styles to fashion eras some may wish to forget – are on display at this new and rather unique museum. Built inside a former credit union, the Regal Ware Museum is the only museum in the nation with an operable drive-thru window. Check out a YouTube video of the museum here, made by somebody we stumbled upon.

The west side of West Bend brings Highway 144 along for the ride and a freeway junction with U.S. Highway 45, which bypass the city. West Bend’s growth continues along Highway 33 to the west, approaching Highway 144’s turnoff southward toward Cedar Lake and Slinger, being part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive.

33divideOn the ridge right next to 144’s turnoff, you cross the Subcontinental Divide, designated with a marker along the south side of the highway. East of this marker, all water flows into Lake Michigan and out to the Atlantic Ocean; west of it, water flows to the Mississippi River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not quite the Continental Divide through the Rockies, but it’s still pretty major. At this point, you’ve climbed 600 feet in the 20 miles since the Port Washington harbor at Lake Michigan.

Further west, the junction with I-41 marks the entrance to Allenton; you swoop down into the (unincorporated) town, cross the Rock River and railroad line and head back up. On the climb, you have a nice view back east. Allenton is where former NASCAR driver and current General Manager of Roush Fenway Racing Robbie Reiser was born. His father John Reiser also raced throughout Wisconsin and the nation, founded Triton Trailers and managed the Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series race shops. He obviously lived there for a while too, so racing is tied in with Allenton’s history – and yet, the speed limit on Highway 33 is pretty strictly enforced.

The Yellowstone Trail Junction.
You may notice a small street sign saying “Yellowstone Tr.” on it. While today’s Highway 33 swoops left slightly, what you see marked as “Yellowstone Trail” is a small segment of the old Highway 33 that once crossed under Highway 175, which prior to 1954 was U.S. 41 and part of the nationwide Yellowstone Trail, the famous route “from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound.” A rather cool Art Deco-style bridge (below) was built back in 1933 to carry U.S. 41 over Highway 33 in what was an early attempt at bypassing a town – in this case, Allenton – and creating a safer intersection by using grade separation.


The Highway 33 underpass under the Yellowstone Trail, 1933-2005.


The story of an old bridge and the Yellowstone Trail along Highway 33 on the west side of Allenton.

The bridge was torn down in 2005 and now the two roads meet at a regular 4-way stop (that’s no fun, what the heck??) But you can still trace parts of the old route, and right next to where the bridge stood stands the Simon Weiss House. The house was built in 1896 and was the neighbor of the bridge for 72 years; the historic marker to the right tells the story.

33at67Approaching Highway 67, Highway 33 ducks under a major railroad line, one of many that connect the northern woods with the big cities that processed the trees and minerals that came down. Today, you’ll also notice between Allenton and Horicon that there are windmills everywhere – this area, like the ridge on the north end of Horicon Marsh, has a lot of wind and was designated as a good place for wind farms.


Horicon and the Horicon Marsh

Shortly after entering Dodge County and crossing Highway 67, you come upon Horicon (pop. 3,775), known as the “City On The Marsh”. The marsh, of course, being the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a pretty unmistakable feature; 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, just north of where it begins at Highway 33. 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 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.

As you go into Horicon’s downtown area, Highway 28 begins and heads back northeast, along the southern boundary of the Marsh. Meanwhile, Highway 33 heads right into downtown. John Deere has a large plant in the city that cranks out lawn and garden tractors, golf and turf reel mowers and utility vehicles. It’s been there a long time, and will hopefully continue for a long time. Horicon also 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.


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.

Highway 33 cuts right through Horicon after the junction with Highway 28 and then ducks southwest out of town, pushing west past the Wild Goose Trail, a great rail-to-trail path connecting Clyman Junction and Fond du Lac while skirting the west edge of Horicon Marsh. The intersection with Highway 26 is known as Minnesota Junction. Note, however, that it looks nothing like Minnesota. There was a noticeable lack of Vikings fans and lutefisk at the junction on this particular day.

Crystal Creek Cheese House along Highway 33

Crystal Creek Cheese House, where you can battle potential osteoporosis in a tasty way.

Shortly thereafter to the south you’ll see the Dodge County Fairgrounds (I happened to catch the Fair on my trip) right near the Crystal Creek Dairy House (920-887-2806), which not only has a nice selection of cheese but serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a specialty in burgers and homemade ice cream. But the “CHEESE” sign is what catches the eye as you drive by.

Just past the fairgrounds and the Beaver Dam Raceway, a 1/3-mile banked clay oval track, Highway 33 meets the U.S. 151 freeway, which is a bypass of Beaver Dam to the east.



Beaver Dam


Highway 33 runs through the heart of Beaver Dam, which features an extensive downtown strip and, apparently, access to dams and beavers.

Founded in 1841, Beaver Dam (pop. 15,169) is Dodge County’s largest city. Bobby Hatfield, one of the Righteous Brothers, was born here and actor Fred MacMurray of the classic TV show My Three Sons – and many movies – grew up here. Beaver Dam is home to Wayland Academy, a college preparatory high school that was established in 1855 as a Baptist university. Graduates of Wayland include pro wrestler Ric Flair; Jensen Buchanan, formerly of Another World and General Hospital fame, Olympic speed skater Maddie Horn, and a series of congressional representatives, reporters and columnists and even a NASA rocket scientist (Andrew Mulder), although apparently you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to go there. Highway 33 cuts right through the center of Wayland’s 55-acre campus.

Midwest Cream Cheese Competition, Beaver DamHey, this is Wisconsin, the cheese capital of the nation – and perhaps the world. Do you like cream cheese? If so, know that Beaver Dam is home to one of the largest processing plants for Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese. In fact, Beaver Dam hosts the annual Midwest Cream Cheese Competition in salute of this distinction, so bring your best cream cheese-related recipe.

The downtown stretch of Highway 33 follows Business US 151 for a while before angling north to run parallel to Beaver Dam Lake, upon which the city sits. There were no actual beaver sightings during the Tour, however…maybe it was an off day.

Highway 33’s northern jaunt leads to nearby Fox Lake (pop. 1,454). The Depot Museum on Cordelia Street (920-296-0254) sits in a building constructed in 1861 just off Highway 33, which is known as Spring Street through town. Along with information, it features about one block of no-longer-used railroad track and an adjacent walking trail that winds through and describes the native vegetation. Adjacent is an historical marker noting Fox Lake as the birthplace of noted jazz musician “Bunny” Berigan, who played with Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, and Bing Crosby. Louie Armstrong was a big fan, too, as the marker indicates.


Built in 1861, the Fox Lake Depot remains to give people information about the railroads and let people play on real railroad tracks without fear of getting run over.


Adorned with older Buick and Pontiac neon signs, this classic dealership facility is today home to Streich Motors, along Highway 33 in Fox Lake as you begin to head west again.

Fox Lake is about 62 miles from the starting point in Port Washington… or 100 kilometes for all you metric freaks. This is a longer trek across farmland and the approaching hills. You cross Highway 73 and see lots of rural things, like mailboxes with fish mouths for doors. Parts of “Old” Highway 33 are visible just west of the intersection with Highway 73, giving you an idea of what some of the roads were like way back when. Hints of landforms to come also become visible heading westbound, as some of the hills in the distance begin to show themselves and beckon.



Old sections of Highway 33 are still in use – or at least visible – in areas. This was grandpa’s route on 33, taking decades to deteriorate; to the right, you can see the new, current highway adjacent to the old one.



Highway 33 beelines across Columbia County past rolling farmland, with impending hills in the distance as you approach Portage.


Highway 33 entering Portage

After parading across some territory and crossing Highways 22 and 44, the next town in question is Portage (pop. 9,728), named for its location at the only traditional land break along the Fox-Wisconsin waterway, a 1.5 mile “portage” between the two rivers which connect the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Used as a land portage for centuries by Native Americans and then European settlers to cross between the two major basins of the country, it was eventually connected via the Portage Canal. The Canal was constructed between 1849 and 1876, the dream of investors to make the Fox-Wisconsin corridor one of the great water highways in the nation. However, the railroads took over in importance and the Canal couldn’t compete. It still exists, treated by pumps and an aeration flow system. Efforts are underway to restore the canal, the use of which by boats ended in 1951 when the dam and locks making its use possible were closed to protect the separate water basins. The Canal’s south bank is now part of the National Ice Age Trail, created in 2006, which also included cleaning up the canal.

Portage Canal

Above and Below: Portions of the original Portage Canal, connecting the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Portage Canal

It’s home to Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters Historic Site, part of former Fort Winnebago. It was built in 1828 between the rivers on the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway to help protect the portage. Decommissioned in 1845 and ravaged by fire in 1856, little remains today, but the old “Surgeon’s Quarters” stayed intact and is open for tours. Built in 1824, this log cabin started as a trading post at this strategic junction and later served as the Surgeon’s Quarters for Fort Winnebago (hence the name.) The Old Indian Agency House is another point of interest on the grounds.

Portage sign

Fort Winnebago site along Highway 33

Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters Historic Site, right along Highway 33.

Portage is the county seat of Columbia County and considered by many where “up North” begins – including its Chamber. Its strategic location, once defined by a connecting waterway and Fort Winnebago, is now defined by the I-39 and I-90/94 split and junction of Highway 16, and U.S. Highway 51, while Highway 33 goes through the heart of town as Cook Street. Still, Portage boasts a sizeable downtown that overlooks the waterway area, filled with shops and businesses catering to both tourists and residents from miles around. Writer Zona Gale hailed from Portage and used the area as a setting for her Pulitzer prize-winning play Miss Lulu Bett in 1921. It’s a nice walking downtown, and this Walking Tour Guide can help you enjoy stretching your legs and discovering shops, restaurants, and other points of interest.

Highway 33 in Portage as Cook Street.

HIghway 33 at U.S. 51 & 16 in downtown Portage

Downtown Portage, a significant crossroads for a long time.

Downtown Portage is a bustling crossroads, where U.S. 51 and Highway 16 also meet.


Portage includes some nice parks, like the lovely Pierre Pawquette Park, named after an early French settler.

Just past downtown Portage, Highway 33 crosses the Wisconsin River and heads toward two major interstate junctions. The first is I-39 (and formerly Highway 78 until 1992), which heads north toward Wausau and south to Madison and Illinois. The I-90/94 interchange arrives about two miles later, which is the main route between Madison and the Twin Cities. Cascade Mountain, the well-known skiing area, lies just to the south of this interchange and hints at the topography to come; the Baraboo Range, which kicks off the western half of the Highway 33 Tour, undoubtedly the prettiest from a topography standpoint.

33baraboor baraboo_slopeup


Exposed rock formations along Highway 33 hint at what’s available for climbing and gazing upon in nearby Devil’s Lake State Park.

Between Portage and Baraboo, the Baraboo Range – and the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin – takes over the local topography. The glaciers that worked like massive irons, flattening out the land and leaving small lakes everywhere in the Midwest didn’t quite catch this part of Wisconsin. Lucky you: Highway 33 snakes around increasingly impressive landforms featuring bluffs, rock formations and deep valleys as a result. Check out the Lower Narrows historical marker, which outlines information on the Baraboo Range and ancient rock formations you’re driving through.

Man Mound

Just off Highway 33, get a little history by checking out the Man Mound National Historic Landmark. By following Man Mound Road, you can access what’s left of a Native American burial mound, originally built to look like a man from above. It remains significant as the only surviving anthropomorphic effigy mound in North America. Measuring 214 feet long by 48 feet wide (before construction of the road cut through the legs and shortened him by about 50 feet), this was one large man. Likely built sometime between 750AD and 1200AD, it was “re-discovered” in 1859, dedicated as a county park in 1908, and became a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Man Mound Park & Historic Marker

It’s not obvious from this shot, but the Man Mound does clearly show the outline of a man, made hundreds of years ago. The legs got chopped off by what is now called Man Mound Road; the feet end in a farmyard across the street.


Named after the Range, Baraboo (pop. 11,550) hosts a number of organizations and was named one of the 20 best small towns to visit in the U.S. in 2013 by Smithsonian.com. It, similar to Delavan, is a circus town: Baraboo is home to the Circus World Museum, once the headquarters and winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus. Today, the living museum hosts the largest library of circus information in the U.S. Crane lovers probably know that Baraboo is home to the International Crane Foundation, the world’s foremost organization dedicated to preserving and restoring crane species. Famed ecologist Aldo Leopold is a native son, and the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center at the Foundation is LEED-certified as perhaps the “greenest” building in the U.S. It’s carbon-neutral and uses locally-harvested wood products. But Baraboo is probably most known for the circus — the big one, for all practical purposes.

Early Ringling Bros. poster

An early Ringling Bros. poster. Apparently barrels were very popular at the time.

Baraboo and the Circus…and the College. In 1884, seven brothers named Ringling (Al, August, Otto, Alfred, Charles, John and Henry) founded the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo. Actually, it was called “Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers” but Yankee went away at some point. They traveled the country, wowing people with a show that for a while had a monstrous official title: “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals”. They eventually bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus and by 1919, they were merged into the name most people knew them by: Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The “Barnum” in question, by the way, is P.T. Barnum, who is credited with the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Barnum was all wet, by the way – there are hundreds of suckers born every minute.) There was a Ringling Clown College for a while. It started in Venice, Florida in 1968, moved to Baraboo in the early 90s and then relocated back to Florida before closing in 1997. Graduates and instructors from Ringling’s Clown College include Bill Irwin, Penn Jillette, Steven “Steve-O” Glover, and Philippe Petit (the guy who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974.) Honorary graduates of the school include Dick Van Dyke and weatherman/octogenarian greeter Willard Scott who, interestingly, was the first person to portray Ronald McDonald in a TV commercial. But we’re getting off track here.

Embedded in the concrete surrounding the Sauk County Courthouse are elephants, camels, everything short of cotton candy to help illustrate Baraboo’s circus connection. Not enough to convince you? Check the historical marker on the big rock across from the Al Ringling Theatre.


Just south of Highway 33 along Highway 113 is part of the west side of Baraboo’s beautiful town square, which frames the Sauk County Courthouse. Encircling the square are shops a’plenty, along with bars, restaurants and the impressive Al Ringling Theatre. Built in 1915, it’s often known as “America’s Prettiest Playhouse.”

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on a State Trunk Tour” Dept:

On the Sauk County Courthouse grounds, an impromptu oversize chess match.


Imagine getting a ticket for going 3 mph.

Okay, back to circus stuff: following Highway 113 south from 33 past downtown, the road turns to parallel the Baraboo River and approach the Circus World Museum, a place where boys, girls and children of all ages can see how circuses have worked and entertained people for generations. As they say, “experience the thrill that never gets old,” featuring a Circus Museum, an area called Ringlingville, a wide variety of circus animals and the World’s Largest Circus Wagon Collection. Many buildings in the Circus World Museum date back to the 19th century and plenty of plaques will tell you more.


The entrance to Circus World, right along Highway 113 on Baraboo’s south side.


The Circus World Museum offers plenty of history, animals and smells.

Devil’s Lake State Park, located south of Highway 33 as you enter Baraboo from the east, is Wisconsin’s most visited and, at over 10,000 acres, there’s plenty of room for nature lovers and adventurers of all kinds. Follow Highway 113 or U.S. 12 south to access the park.

Baraboo’s geography isn’t just a pleasant treat for State Trunk Tourers; it’s a hotbed for structural geology. University of Wisconsin researchers, including Charles Van Hise, used the area to advance the science and today the Baraboo Hills are designated one of the “Last Great Places” by Nature Conservancy due to the relatively unique plants, rocks and animals in the area.

Highway 33 skims the north side of Baraboo as 8th Street, where it intersects the northern end of Highway 113 (the route southward to the museum) and enters the village of West Baraboo (pop. 1,414) and passes the Ochsner Park & Zoo (903 Park Street, 608-355-2760), right by a bend in the Baraboo River. The Zoo dates back to 1926 and includes lynx, monkeys, llamas, tortoises, and more.

In West Baraboo, Highway 33 joins meets up with Highway 136, which was previously U.S. 12. Highway 136 continues west and heads towards North Freedom, Rock Springs, and Baraboo; as of 2017 now, it also heads south via the former U.S. 12 to Devil’s Lake State Park. To the north, Pine Street is also the former U.S. 12 and continues now as County BD. Plenty of hotels greet you here. Highway 33 technically follows the new U.S. 12 expressway bypass just west of the Pine Street intersection, but you can take Pine Street/County BD if you prefer the original road. One key stop a few miles north is just where Highway 33 leaves U.S. 12 and begins to head west again.

Cow Pie Alert!

Cow Pie store along Highway 33Ever enjoyed a Cow Pie? No, not the stuff in the grass, the delicious chocolate, caramel, and pecan concoction from Baraboo Candy Company. They invented and popularized the treat, shipping it all over the world. The original featured chocolate, and variations now include dark chocolate, peanut butter, and others. Baraboo Candy also makes chocolate bars, Mint Meltys, a variety of candy and other sources of deliciousness, many made right in-house. You can enjoy a Cow Pie right from source just off Highway 33; the store is located on old U.S. 12, which now County BD, about a mile north of where Highway 33 turns west from U.S. 12. So if you want to get your Cow Pie fix, just continue north one mile from where Highway 33 turns west. Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells and the Baraboo-Dells Flight Center are on the east side of the road, and you’ll see the Baraboo Candy Company store on the west side. It’s an easy stop (they have had fewer “walk-ins” since the bypass opened) and it’s a quick ride back to Highway 33 to continue west towards Reedburg.

The Baraboo Candy Company store is open 9am -5pm Mondays – Saturdays and 10am – 3pm Sundays. You can call ahead at (608) 356-7425.


After that short stint with U.S. 12 and the old vs. new road, Highway 33 breaks west again, soon picking up Highway 23 for the ride into Reedsburg (pop. 9.537). Prior to entering 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. 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 skiers 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 33 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.


Downtown Reedsburg, which Highway 33 goes right through as the main street along with Highway 23, 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,

After Highway 23 breaks away to head south, Highway 33 starts moving west and northwest, winding through and around the hills and valleys into places like La Valle (pop. 326 and, creatively enough, “La Valle” is French for “The Valley”) and – once you cross into Juneau County – Wonewoc.

In Wonewoc (pop. 834), Highway 33 is the main street and parallels the Baraboo River through downtown. Canoeing, a theme which will be visited again on this stretch of 33, is popular with both residents and tourists. The “400” Trail, which began back in Reedsburg, ends in Wonewoc where it finds new trails to hook up with. The downtown area is quiet and small, but features a number of bars for some food, a beer, or spirits. And speaking of, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center covets spirits of a different kind. Founded as the Joint Stock Spiritualist Association in 1874 as known for a long time as the Western Wisconsin Spiritualist Camp, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center hosts a sizeable number of members every summer, who enjoy the serenity of hills surrounding the town and the area.


Only a church steeple reveals itself above the trees in Wonewoc, tucked in a valley along the Baraboo River and the “400” Trail. And, of course, Highway 33.


Locals said this was the tallest building not just in Wonewoc, but in all of Juneau County. I’d probably have to confirm that… silos are taller than this thing!

Past Wonewoc by a few miles is Union Center, where you intersect with Highways 80 and 82 and head west to Hillsboro (pop. 1,302). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is the last town on Highway 33 with over 1,000 people until you get to La Crosse. It’s home to annual Czech festivals and counts among its native sons B.J. Schumacher, who rides regularly with Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (also known as “PBR”, but that gets confused with a different type of PBR in this state.) It’s also home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, which started up in 2012 and offers its brews in a former shoe store in the heart of downtown, where Highways 33, 80, and 82 converge.

Highway 33 and Highway 82 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing's Tap Room

Highway 33 and Highway 82 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing’s Pub.

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

A nice craft brew stop along Highway 82 in the heart of Hillsboro: the Hillsboro Brewing Company.

Hillsboro is home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, (608-489-7486), which launched in 2012. Home to notable craft brews like Joe’s Beer and the Leaping Lemur Cream Ale, Hillsboro offers cans and taps at their downtown pub location right at the main corner downtown. It’s a great old building that served as a shoe store and a slew of other businesses dating back to the 19th century, the last time Hillsboro had their own (legal) brewery. Due to growing demand, Hillsboro Brewing built a new facility called the 2E Brewery on the outskirts of town which is slated to open late fall 2018. Their newer brewery adds capacity and event space while keeping up with their growth.

HIllsboro Brewing at the corner of Highways 33, 80, and 82

The heart of downtown Hillsboro features the Hillsboro Brewing Company on its main corner, right along Highway 33.


The Amish population is significant between Wonewoc and Cashton on Highway 33, especially near this market parking area in Hillsboro. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds.


Above: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 33 (coupled with 80 and 82 here) is a large mouse holding groceries, which is better than a large mouse in your groceries, I suppose. Just a short distance later, another huge fiberglass mouse tells you about more available cheese. There should be no calcium deficiencies in this area.

In Hillsboro, Highways 80 breaks south; three miles later Highway 82 splits off to the southwest.

Hillsboro and the Cheyenne Valley… Diversity before diversity was cool

In the mid-1800s, a sizable group of African American settlers came to eastern Vernon County and established Wisconsin’s first integrated schools, churches and sports teams. Interestingly, a racially diverse and by all accounts harmonious community was more easily achieved in rural Wisconsin in the 19th century than some areas are able to have today. Although much of the old community is gone, landmarks remain… including many of the area’s famous “round barns”, many of which were designed and built by Algie Shivers, one of the settlers. About half the barns he supervised and participated in the construction of still stand, and some are seen along Highway 33. There is an official driving tour of the Cheyenne Valley exploring this, which can be download in .PDF format here. Highway 33 from Hillsboro to Wildcat Mountain State Park is part of the tour.


Terracing crops may be necessary for farmers out here, leading to interesting swaths of corn, soybeans and other growables that the cows can gaze upon and appreciate.


Part of the drive between Hillsboro and Ontario on Highway 33. As you can see, there’s a reason the lanes are marked for “no passing.”

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Driftless Area of Wisconsin, which you’re smack dab in the midst of at this point on Highway 33, is the only part of Wisconsin with no natural lakes.

Speaking of, the segment of Highway 33 resembles a twisty Colorado mountain road at times through the gorgeous Cheyenne Valley and approaching Wildcat Mountain State Park. Over 3,600 acres of scenery, trails and wildlife await in the park, which offers great views of the Kickapoo River Valley. Meanwhile, hairpin turns await you on Highway 33… seriously! You have to drop to about 20 mph to make it around some of these curves. Check out one of them in the pictures below, just east of Ontario…you might forget you’re in Wisconsin. (Click on any picture below for a larger version.)




This is all part of one big hairpin turn in Wildcat Mountain State Park along Highway 33. These are some tight curves!

Entering Ontario (pop. 476), you cross Highway 131 and the Kickapoo River, often called the “Crookedest River in the World.” This is major canoeing territory. Canoe rental places provide opportunities for taking a break from the drive and paddling your way up or down the Kickapoo and checking out the rock formations and (at times unusual) plant species lining the banks.


Canoes line the banks of the Kickapoo; you can rent them in Ontario and work your way through the twists and turns.


Past Ontario, Highway 33 enters Monroe County and works westerly across ridges and coulees, providing a twisty-turny drive (if you have a directional compass in your vehicle, it might be spinning like a top) and great views all around. You’ll go through Cashton (pop. 1,005), where you cross Highway 27. The cartoon strip Gasoline Alley, which has been around since 1918, was created by Frank King; he was born in Cashton and grew up in nearby Tomah.

Juusto Cheese at Pasture Pride along Highway 27 in Cashton, just south of Highway 33Cashton is also home to Pasture Pride Cheese (608-654-7444), just south 33 along Highway 27 – you can see it from the roundabout. They offer a variety of cheeses using milk from the nearby Amish farmers, going all grass-fed for their cows and goats. Pasture Pride is also home of that “Juusto” Cheese, the baked Finnish style of cheese that looks baked and is extra buttery in flavor – that’s what the judges who shower them with awards generally say.

Just past Portland you cross into La Crosse County, the second-most populated county on Highway 33 after Washington. Some of the best views have yet to come; at Middle Ridge, feel free to play the Who’s song “I Can See For Miles”… because you can.

Coulees, coulees everywhere
Not to be confused with “cooties”, which I was accused of having back in second grade, “coulees” are ravines with deep, steep sides. They’re formed by erosion and often harbor little mini-worlds of plants that could otherwise not grow in the surrounding land. “Coulee” is derived from the French verb couler, meaning “to flow.” The things you learn on the State Trunk Tour…


Sample view near Middle Ridge, in La Crosse County. Coulees are the prime geographical feature in these here parts.


The Holy Family Grotto in the Town of St. Joseph was built in the late 1920s for the Franciscan Sisters at St. Joseph’s Ridge. It combines rocks, shells, glass, and mortar to form a beautiful monument to faith and patriotism.

La Crosse


The drop into La Crosse gives you good perspective on the terrain lining the eastern side of the city; Highway 33 descends from St. Joseph’s Ridge into town as State Road, then Jackson Street.

Highway 33 continues along St. Joseph’s Ridge for the ride into the final destination, La Crosse (pop. 51,818). Situated on a rare piece of flat land amidst beautiful coulees and hills, La Crosse emerged as a Native American trading post due to its position at the confluence of the Black and Mississippi Rivers. La Crosse holds a number of “quality of life” accolades, often involving low crime or livable small city status; I note USA Today also named La Crosse one of the “Top Ten Places Worldwide to Toast Oktoberfest” (more on that in a second.) Long known as a brewery town, La Crosse was home to G. Heileman Brewing Company for almost 140 years, cranking out a variety of brands, most notably Old Style. Today, the sprawling brewery complex lies right along the north of Highway 33, just south of downtown La Crosse, where it continues to run as the City Brewery.

6pack_500Once Heileman and the home of Old Style, the “World’s Largest Six Pack,” which holds enough beer to fill 7.3 million cans, lives on as the storage tanks for the City Brewery, founded in 1999. City Brewery brews about a dozen of its own beers as well as Mike’s Hard Lemonade and several flavors of Arizona Tea. This is one block north of Highway 33’s western end.

The World’s Largest Six Pack (obviously pictured above) is indicative of La Crosse’s fun style, and you can access it by following U.S. Highway 14/61’s northbound lanes for just a few blocks, then turning left one block and heading back south. Highway 33’s western end is one block south of the gigantic, John Blutarsky-pleasing sight.

La Crosse is Wisconsin’s largest city on the Mississippi River and holds the corporate headquarters of Kwik Trip, the Trane air conditioning company, and FirstLogic. This is where journalist Chris Bury got his start before moving on to Emmy Awards and little shows like Good Morning America, Nightline and World News Tonight. Model and actress Alexa Demara hails from La Crosse; FHM magazine called her “the hottest thing to come out of Wisconsin since Brett Favre’s spiral.” A century earlier, actress Minnie Dupree came out of La Crosse to a prominent career in New York theatre. Young actor Brandon Ratcliff also hails from the city.

It’s also a college town, home to Viterbo University, Western Wisconsin Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. In keeping with the spirit of the World’s Largest Six Pack, La Crosse also hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States and has been doing so every year since 1961.


One of La Crosse’s most notable landforms, Granddad Bluff made an appearance in Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, towers over 500 feet above the city and brilliantly reflects the afternoon sun. It makes the whole city prettier; this shot was taken from a K-mart parking lot.

Highway 33 descends into La Crosse as State Road, then as Jackson Street, to the point where you might find your ears popping. Just north of Highway 33 as you enter town is Grandad’s Bluff, the most notable landform in the area – next to the Mississippi River, of course. You basically enter the city on the south side of town, crossing Highway 35 and then ending at U.S. 14 & 61, right at the City Brewery, formerly the Heileman Brewing Company. It’s still a large complex!


Highway 33 comes to an end just a few blocks shy of the Mississippi River at U.S. Highways 14 and 61, less than a mile from where those two roads cross into Minnesota. Downtown La Crosse and City Brewery are visible to the north at the intersection ahead.

From the end of Highway 33, head north on U.S. 14/61 into downtown La Crosse, where you can enjoy Historic Pearl Street. It’s filled with Civil War-era buildings, specialty shops, a microbrewery, galleries, antique shops, coffee houses and, at night, college students doing what they do best when they’re not studying. The Pearl Street Brewery, once located on Pearl Street, now sits nearby on the north side of town in a former Rubber Mills Boot factory. On the east side of downtown along 9th Street, the Swarthout Museum features changing exhibits from prehistoric to Victorian; over on 5th Street, the Children’s Museum of La Crosse has exhibits for our future leaders on three floors, along with a climbing wall for all ages. All of this can be reached by your car, or you can hop the La Crosse Trolley in the warm weather months for a little “no need for the gas pedal” tour.

La Crosse is home to the La Crosse Loggers, one of the Northwoods League baseball teams. They play at Copeland Park (aka “The Lumber Yard”), which sits north of downtown just off U.S. 53. The Loggers play a 70-game season from June through August. This is a good baseball town; it’s where MLB players Damian Miller, Scott Servais, George Williams and Jarrod Washburn all hail from.

16_gdadbluffOne of La Crosse’s most notable landforms, Granddad Bluff made an appearance in Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, towers over 500 feet above the city and brilliantly reflects the afternoon sun.

Drive-In Watch:
Rudy’s Drive-In is one of the great ones in Wisconsin. Built in 1966, Rudy’s features roller-skating carhops and a sheltered carport where you can pull up and order your probably-unhealthy-but-delicious food from the menu sitting right out your window.

rudys800Car shows and “Cruise Nights” happen regularly throughout the summer. You can find Rudy’s two blocks west of Highway 35 along Highway 16 (La Crosse Street).Highway 35 basically bypasses downtown La Crosse, instead going right through neighborhoods. You have good access to downtown via U.S. 14/61 or Highway 16.


Along with I-90 to the north, the two main bridges spanning the Mississippi River and connecting La Crosse with La Crescent, Minnesota are collectively called, creatively enough, the “Mississippi River Bridge.” Yeah. Individually, the nearer one in the picture is the Cameron Avenue Bridge, which opened in 2004; the other is the Cass Street Bridge. Opened in 1940, the Cass Street Bridge originally carried both directions of traffic; today, each bridge carries one-way.


Downtown La Crosse, across from an island beach in the Mississippi. That’s the skyline right there – if you don’t count the bluffs in the backdrop.


Paddleboats ply the Mississippi in the summer and make stops in La Crosse at Riverside Park.

So there you have it! Highway 33, 200 miles from the Great Lake to the Great River, with some great towns and great scenery along the way. Enjoy!

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: Highway 57, about 2 miles west; Interstate 43, about 2 miles west; Highway 60, about 4 miles southwest

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 14, U.S. 61
Can connect nearby to: Highway 16, about 1/2 mile north; U.S. 53, about 1/2 mile north; Highway 35, about 3/4 mile east; Interstate 90, about 5 miles north


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


STH-026“O-town to J-ville”


WisMap26Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 26 is becoming an increasingly major feeder route between Oshkosh and Janesville. A primary route through and around towns like Waupun, Juneau, Watertown, Jefferson, Fort Atkinson and Milton, Highway 26 and its “Business” routes take you through a lot of “main streets,” lets you find the first kindergarten in the nation, brings you right past an actual Underground Railroad stop from the 1850s, offers dinner theatre of Broadway caliber, and access to burgers at old-fashioned drive-ins and amazingly tiny stands… all while providing access to outlet mall shopping, high-speed alternate routes and other major routes in the state.

Wisconsin Highway 26 Road Trip

The Drive (North To South):


Highway 26 starts just outside of Oshkosh at I-41. Start by checking out Oshkosh (pop. 66,083) itself, Wisconsin’s eighth largest city (it’s about the same size as Janesville, Eau Claire, and Waukesha.) Oshkosh is still probably best known for it’s OshKosh B’Gosh overalls, which started getting manufactured in the city in 1895. Today they’re made elsewhere, but the corporate offices remain. Other major companies in the area include Oshkosh Truck, Bemis, and some chocolate makers like Hughes and Oaks. UW-Oshkosh is the third largest campus in the UW system with over 13,000 students, and their presence is felt through the downtown area (especially on Friday and Saturday nights.) UW-Oshkosh has some interesting accolades: it was recognized as the first “Fair Trade” university in the country in 2008, and in 2011 it was ranked “Best for Vets” in Wisconsin by Military Times EDGE Magazine (36th in the nation) and 35th nationally in Sierra magazine’s “Cool Schools” survey.

Oshkosh lies along Lake Winnebago, right where the Fox River empties into it from the west. Roughly 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, Lake Winnebago is the largest lake in the nation that lies entirely within one state. Most days from Oshkosh, you can see across the lake to the bluffs that form part of the Niagara Escarpment on the eastern shore. Rather shallow (average depth is about 15 feet), the lake is very popular for swimming and boating, and definitely for fishing at all times of the year. Shallow waters make for fast ice freezes in winter; the city and surrounding towns on the lake often plow roads on the surface; among the most popular fishing times is February, during spearfishing season for sturgon. On the northwest side of Oshkosh is Lake Butte des Morts, an 8,800 acre lake that was largely created by damming the Fox River near Menasha in the 19th century. Like Winnebago, Butte des Morts is shallow and very popular for fishing. The size of the lake necessitated a causeway for U.S. 41 to cross it in the 1950s; a newer, higher bridge opened in 2013 to accommodate heavier traffic flow as U.S. 41 became I-41 while also freeing up water flow that the old causeway had been interrupting for decades. “Butte des Morts” itself means “Hill of the Dead” in French; early explorers gave the name in reference to a nearby Native American burial mound.


Downtown Oshkosh, featuring the Civil War Monument. And yes, this is as high as the skyline gets.


Downtown Oshkosh features a number of interesting buildings and landmarks, including the Grand Opera House (100 High Avenue, 920-424-2350). The first fat lady sang there in 1883 and it was an early addition (1974) to the National Register of Historic Places. A refurbishment was completed in 2010 and today the Grand Opera House seats 600 and hosts a variety of events. Other notables include the Paine Art Center & Gardens (1410 Algoma Blvd., 920-235-6903), which has a beautiful botanical garden area and features events all year; the Oshkosh Public Museum (1331 Algoma Blvd., 920-236-5799) features exhibitions and permanent attractions like the 8-foot-tall Apostles’ Clock from 1895, an interactive exhibit called Grandma’s Attic, and more, all housed in a Tiffany Studios-designed home built in 1908. The Military Veterans Museum (4300 Poberezny Road, 920-426-8615) sits just north of where Highway 26 begins at I-41 and houses an impressive collection of military vehicles, artifacts, and more.

Heading southwest out of the city, you approach Highway 26 by taking Highway 44 south to I-41, and then 41 south to where 26 begins (a little over two miles south). Along the way, you pass Wittman Regional Airport, which opened in 1927. Wittman is normally fairly quiet but becomes the world’s busiest airport for one week during the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Fly-In every July.

From I-41 right by Wittman Field, Highway 26 heads southwest out of the Oshkosh area, barreling through farmland into Fond du Lac County and Rosendale (pop. 923), noted mainly for its intersection with Highway 23 and the local police enthusiasm for writing speeding tickets – so watch your speed going through town!

Further south, Highway 26 hooks up with U.S. Highway 151, where it becomes a freeway for just over a mile before breaking off and heading into the first major town past Oshkosh, Waupun (pop. 10,718). Long known for holding Wisconsin’s primary state prison, Waupun is also billed the “City of Sculptures”, being the home of famous sculptor Clarence Shaler and a series of his works. Sculptures like End of the Trail, Who Sows Believes In God, Dawn of Day, and Morning of Life grace the city in various parks and streetsides. Waupun also serves as a northwestern gateway to the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. The Marsh Haven Center, just east on Highway 49, is a nature education center offering hiking paths and an observation tower at the edge of the Marsh itself.


Highway 49 cuts through the heart of Waupun as the main street, still cutting the county line; Dodge County is to the south, Fond du Lac County is to the north. Highway 26 is the main north-south crossroad.


Throughout the city, the sculptures show up to greet you. This one above is called The Citadel.

Waupun has held Wisconsin’s primary state prison site since 1851, when it was selected due to its “proximity to transportation and readily available building materials in the area”, according to the Department of Corrections’ historical site. Back in the day, Wisconsin’s justice system was considered so efficient, a popular chant in Milwaukee was once “crime on Sunday, Waupun on Monday”, indicating that infractions would be met with swift action. This was before a lot more lawyers showed up. The Wisconsin Historical Society page on the Waupun Correctional Facility reports that in 1878, sales of the goods manufactured by the prisoners produced enough revenue to run the prison without drawing from the state’s treasury. Wouldn’t that be nice now? You can find the State Prison south of Highway 49 along Madison Street, also known as County M.


South Cell Hall was originally built in the 1850s; its walls still stand today.


These are the walls in the question, built in the 1850s, that still stand today.


The prison’s history makes it an easy candidate for the State Register of Historic Places.


Another civic building in Waupun, featuring yet another statue in its front yard – this one is west along 49 a bit from 26 (click to enlarge).

Highway 26 runs through Waupun, just west of the U.S. 151 bypass before crossing it again and making a beeline south into the heart of Dodge County. The Wild Goose State Trail, a 34-mile rail-to-trail right-of-way from Fond du Lac to Clyman Junction, runs just to the east and there are many access points along the way. Minnesota Junction (which, ironically, doesn’t look that much like Minnesota at all) provides a junction with Highway 33 and, shortly thereafter, Dodge County Airport. From there, it’s a short hop into Dodge’s county seat, Juneau (pop. 2,485). Juneau the city has nothing to do, ironically, with Juneau County… that lies about 60 miles to the west. It’s not named after Milwaukee’s first mayor Solomon Juneau either, but rather his son Paul, whose mother (and Solomon’s wife) Josette was the daughter of a local Indian chief. Juneau itself hosts the Dodge County Courthouse and several nice parks. Highway 26 goes through the heart of town and has a brief jog west before heading south again out of town.

After a brief junction with Highway 60, which joins Highway 26 for about one mile, Highway 16 joins Highway 26 for the ride past Clyman (pop. 388) towards Watertown. It’s pretty much open land for this section, but it’s worth checking out Dickie Lee’s Whacky Shack (920-696-3563) for a bite or beverage and some good immature humor.


Methinks there’s a double entendre in this business establishment’s name along Highway 26 near Clyman, but maybe it’s just me.


Perhaps part of an old gas station, this charming little sight is just north of Watertown along Highway 26 while it’s joined with Highway 16 in Dodge County. It may have been moved since the expansion to four lanes, we’re checking.

Highway 16 breaks off as a bypass to the southeast and Highway 26’s mainline begins a bend around western Watertown (pop. 21,598), which is actually the largest city along Highway 26 between its two terminal cities of Oshkosh and Janesville. We follow the traditional city route, so use “Business” 26 into the heart of town. Otherwise, there’s not much to experience!

Watertown was the second-largest city in the state back in 1855 and launched the first kindergarten in 1856. It can be found – and toured – on the grounds of the Octagon House, an 1854 structure built by one of the city’s founders, John Richards, to fulfill a promise to his sweetheart (he promised to built her the finest house in Wisconsin Territory if she would marry him. This was before the days of just using a stadium message board to ask.) The “water” in Watertown comes from the Rock River, which winds through the city.

Heading into downtown Watertown, crossing into Jefferson County, you reach an intersection with Highway 19. Downtown is to the east a few blocks on Highway 19 (aka Main Street) and is fairly extensive, featuring a number of shops and late 1800s-era buildings. A nice stop is Mullen’s Dairy Bar, a throwback malt shop-type place that opened in 1931. An aggressive Main Street program is paying off and walking around, back and forth over the Rock River, is a great way to stretch your legs as you check out everything from clothing stores to taverns and historic bank buildings. The “water” in Watertown indeed comes from the Rock River, which winds through the city. Twice.



Amid a typical Wisconsin middle-class neighborhood on the southeast side of Watertown lies the historic Octagon House, built in 1854 to fulfill a whipped guy’s promise.


In case you want detail on the historic marker…

A left from 26 onto Highway 19/Business 16 brings you to the Main Street in Watertown. The city’s downtown is fairly extensive and features a number of shops, along with Mullen’s Dairy Bar, a great throwback malt shop-type place that opened in 1931. An aggressive Main Street program is paying off and walking around, back and forth over the Rock River, is a great way to stretch your legs as you check out everything from clothing stores to taverns and historic bank buildings.


Up for a malt, ice cream or other sweet concoction from an old-fashioned, authentic soda fountain place? Mullen’s Dairy Bar in downtown Watertown offers items for your taste buds and cool items to look at from the store’s early days.


The main drag in Watertown, which is Highway 19 – and was U.S. 16 until 1962. Today, this section is also “Business” Highway 16. Highway 26’s original route cuts right through on the west edge of the downtown strip; the bypass today is a little over a mile further west.

Heading south from Watertown, Highway 26’s mainline meets the original road again at speeds southward seven miles to a major crossroads in the form of I-94. At the junction with the Interstate, which will only get more congested in the future, is a sprawling complex of development: the Johnson Creek Outlet Mall, truck stops, an array of restaurants, big-box stores and a multiplex movie theater are all rapidly making this a focal point for shoppers in Jefferson County and beyond.

The apex is part of rapidly-growing Johnson Creek (pop. 2,012), which calls itself “Crossroads With A Future… and a Past.” Johnson Creek’s (called “JC” by the hip and trendy… sorta) focus used to be along present-day County B and County Y, which were the old highways 30 and 26, respectively. The old downtown is still there, west of Highway 26 along County B, about one mile southwest as the crow flies from the current I-94/Highway 26 interchange. It’s rather quiet and pleasant amid the booming development taking place all around it, especially to the north and east. One piece of Johnson Creek history is The Gobbler, which you can learn about in this great piece from the Capitol Times, from this note from HotelChatter and in our “salute” to the right. Groovy, baby!

State Trunk Tour Salute:
The Gobbler

Just west Highway 26 and south of I-94 lies a well-recognized old supper club, restaurant and motel called The Gobbler. It opened in 1967 and looks like something The Jetsons would have appreciated due to its completely round design for the supper club; the adjacent motel (featuring round beds, hot tubs, etc.) was burned down by the JCFD in 2001. You can read a non-glowing – yet hilarious – review of the old Gobbler here. A bigger, extensive salute to the Gobbler can be found on this blog, featuring tons of links and pictures.

gobbleroldThe Gobbler was hip when it opened in 1967; “groovy” hadn’t quite gone into the mass use yet.. This page from their original pamphlet (left) indicates the era; below is how the main building looked in 2014 after it had been closed for years. It has since reopened as the Gobbler Theater, and we’ll get updated info posted soon!


26maltaway_500South of Johnson Creek, Highway 26 returns to a busy 2-lane over farm fields and railroads, passing a large malting plant once owned by Ladish, now owned by Cargill. From I-94 or the hilltops by Johnson Creek Outlet Mall or the nearby Days’ Inn, they almost look like a city skyline of old office buildings; from up close, not quite.

Bypass Alert: Jefferson

Not too far south of Johnson Creek, a bypass of Jefferson opened up in 2011 to connect with an existing “Super-2” bypass of Fort Atkinson that opened in the early 2000’s. The bypass around Fort Atkinson is now four lanes also. Use the bypass if you’re in a hurry to get to Milton or Janesville; however, for the full State Trunk Tour experience, we’ll follow the traditional path through the towns! These are called “Business 26”.

26byp_jefferson01_800 26byp_jefferson02_800

Left: Highway 26 zooms around Jefferson and Fort Atkinson on a 4-lane freeway bypass, so you can save time if you want. But the full experience comes with going through town! Right: On the north end of the Highway 26 bypass, “Business” 26, the traditional route, branches off near the huge Cargill plant. Follow Business 26 south to go through the heart of Jefferson and then Fort Atkinson.

“Old”/Business 26 heads into Jefferson (pop. 7,338), the namesake county seat that calls itself “the Gemuetlichkeit City”, referring to the friendliest of German heritage; ironically, Jefferson also hosted a German POW camp during World War II. Rosemary Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s sister, spent much of her adult life in Jefferson at the St. Coletta School, which provides care for children and adults with learning disabilities. Her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver (mother of Maria Shriver and mother-in-law of Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose Wisconsin connection involves graduating from UW-Superior), created the Special Olympics in 1968 in Rosemary’s honor.

The city is located where the Rock and Crawfish Rivers meet; the Rock runs just west of downtown and parallels Highway 26 until finally ducking under it south of town. At the downtown crossroads, Highway 26 crosses U.S. Highway 18. A short jog to the west on U.S. Highway 18 lets access Jefferson Speedway, a quarter-mile track that bills itself as “Wisconsin’s Action Track”. Most of the racing action happens on Saturday nights, and during racing season hosts the Jefferson Bargain Fair every Sunday. Over 100 vendors come out to the track with various items for sale, as the smell of fuel and tires has usually dissipated by then. It’s just west of the new Highway 26 bypass.

In downtown Jefferson, meanwhile, a line of stores, taverns and several banks built with beautiful stonework line the street. To the west just south of U.S. 18 is a park that holds Jefferson Depot, the old railroad station, and newly refurbished bridge spanning the Rock River past the tracks.


The handsome Jefferson Depot lies along the Union Pacific tracks by the Rock River in downtown Jefferson.


This cool twin arch wood bridge spans the Rock River, connecting Jefferson’s east and west sides.

Have you checked out Wedl’s? It’s a hamburger stand and ice cream parlor – with an emphasis on the burgers. Wedl’s burgers are cooked – in lard – on a cast iron skillet over a century old. Which makes them delicious, of course. In summer, the burgers are made in an 8’x 8′ stand next to the main building – making it the smallest burger shop in America. The burgers are small – they weigh in at 1/8 pound – but they pack in a lot of great flavor, enough to have caught the attention of the Travel Channel! You’ll find Wedl’s one block east of Business Highway 26, right along U.S. 18/Racine Street in downtown Jefferson.


Wedl’s stand – the burgers are cooked in the little shack to the right. The burgers are “smashed”, a cooking technique that turns them from round, ice cream scoop-size balls of meat into flat patties that cook quickly and thoroughly. And deliciously. If that’s not a word, it is now.


Just south of Jefferson is Fort Atkinson (pop. 11,621), or “Fort”, as all the locals call it. A bustling town (Money Magazine recently named it “One of America’s Hottest Little Boomtowns”) set along the banks of the Rock River shortly before it widens into Lake Koshkonong, Fort Atkinson was originally Fort Koshkonong but renamed Atkinson after Henry Atkinson, the fort’s general.

Business 26, the original 26 route, goes into the heart of Fort Atkinson along the Rock River through a series of residential neighborhoods. A few jogs west and south, and you cut through Fort’s extensive downtown and head over the Rock River – just like you did in Jefferson and Watertown – past a wide variety of shops, restaurants and even some nice artwork along the waterway. You also cross U.S. 12 and Highway 89 downtown, with easy access to nearby towns.

Just off Business 26, south along the turnoff via U.S. 12 and Highway 89, is the Hoard Historical Museum, which features history of the area including Sauk warrior Black Hawk, Abraham Lincoln’s early days in the area, the “father of American dairying” (for whom the museum is named) and, next door, the National Dairy Shrine Museum, which offers plenty of interactive exhibits, displays, and artifacts covering the fine art of bovine lactation, which of course leads to milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream… so this is important.


Real children actually play quite a bit in the yards in Fort, but even in the harshest weather these kids are always outside. Check this out after sundown... they're holding "fireflies" that have fiber optic lights so they look like real fireflies at night.

Real children actually play quite a bit in the yards in Fort, but even in the harshest weather these kids are always outside. Check this out after sundown… they’re holding “fireflies” that have fiber optic lights so they look like real fireflies at night.

The Fireside Dinner Theatre is located in Fort Atkinson, even though most of their auditions are held in New York. Drawing people from far and wide, the Fireside combines dining with stage entertainment, celebrating 50 years of Klopcic Family hospitality and more than 35 seasons of professional theatre. This year’s shows include Disney’s “High School Musical”, “The Witnesses” and “The Sound of Music.” The place is huge inside, and that’s just the gift shop. The Fireside is along Business Highway 26, just south of town.



Chief Black Hawk’s legacy is well-documented across south central and southwestern Wisconsin. In some communities, he has a park or monument named after him. In Fort, it’s a tavern.

South of da Fort, Business 26 reunites with the mainline Highway 26 and it continues as a four-lane expressway traversing some rolling hills and skimming Lake Koshkonong, one of the largest lakes in Wisconsin. Koshkonong was actually man-made, created from a wide marshland the Rock River ran through. Many of us have heard about Lake Winnebago’s shallowness; Koshkonong’s rivals it, averaging only about six feet deep. A Milwaukee Bucks player could practically walk through it without having to swim or snorkel (standard disclaimer: kids, don’t try it.) A variety of access roads lead to the lake; supper clubs and restaurants also dot the roadside as you cross into Rock County, the final one for this road.

A few miles later lies Milton (pop. 5,090), where Highway 59 joins in for a few blocks as you pass the Milton House Museum, the most famous local landmark… and now a National Historic Landmark. The Milton House itself is a hexagonal stagecoach inn constructed in 1844. It has three claims to fame: it was the first poured grout building in the United States, it’s the oldest concrete building still standing in the U.S., and it’s one of 14 officially recognized stations on the Underground Railroad from the pre-Civil War days. Joseph Goodrich, Milton’s founder and a staunch abolitionist, provided the Milton House for runaway slaves on their way to Canada or points north. Goodrich was a busy guy: the same year he founded the Milton House, he founded the Milton Academy, which evolved into Milton College, which lasted until 1982. It was the oldest college in Wisconsin until it closed. Football fans know the college for its most famous alumnus, Dave Krieg, who played in the NFL for a whole lot of seasons, including some notable ones for the Seattle Seahawks.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Milton’s original name was Prairie du Lac. When settlers applied to get a post office in 1839, the name was dismissed because it sounded too similar to “Prairie du Sac”. It was renamed for Paradise Lost author John Milton, familiarized to people everywhere via Professor Jennings’ (Donald Sutherland) lecture in National Lampoon’s Animal House. Interestingly enough, two major stars from the movie (John Belushi and Thomas Hulce) either went to college or grew up in nearby Whitewater. Karma? Perhaps.

Many of Milton’s older buildings are seeing new uses as shops or even wineries. The Northleaf Winery opened in 2009 in a former wheat warehouse and blacksmith shop made primarily of lime mortar, an early form of concrete. Northleaf features two dozen wines, most bottled on-site; they specialize in pairings that include locally-made chocolates. It’s definitely worth a stop, right along the original Highway 26 through Milton. Bypass-takers can access it via the Highway 59 exit.

From Milton, Highway 26 heads a fast five miles south to Janesville (pop. 60,483), the “City of Parks”. Highway 26 enters Janesville at about the same time it crosses I-39/90 and intersects with U.S. Highway 14, which has ducked around the north and east sides of Janesville since 1952. Here, you’ll find a massive, sprawling array of stores, restaurants and travel services, since so many major highways come together here. Continuing south on Highway 26 (as Milton Avenue) brings you past the Janesville Mall, a regional shopping center, through a long commercial strip and then into some of the city’s older neighborhoods. Major companies founded in Janesville include Parker Pen and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, neither of which are headquartered in the city anymore. Janesville does host playground equipment maker Swing N Slide, now a subsidiary of Playcore, Inc., Blain’s Farm & Fleet (a store you see many times on the State Trunk Tour), and Gray’s Brewing Company, of which more will be divulged shortly.


Perched high above the Rock River is Janesville’s memorial to fallen Civil War soldiers.

Janesville is the home of former Senator Russ Feingold, Representative and now Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (not exactly two peas in a pod), race car driver Stan Fox, even WNBA Houston Comets player Mistie Williams, daughter of Chubby Checker. Janesville hosted Wisconsin’s first state fair in 1851 on a site just south of downtown, which still holds a series of impressive, expansive older homes. Janesville is the county seat of Rock County and the largest on the Rock River, with the exception of Rockford, Illinois. Janesville’s a bit of a brewing town, too: on the west side lies Gray’s Brewing (2424 W. Court Street, still along old Highway 11, about 2 miles west of where Highway 26 ends), crafter of numerous award-winning brews. They’ve even been making cream sodas since 1856.


Gray’s has been crafting beer and a variety of cream sodas in Janesville since 1856.


Janesville hosted the first Wisconsin State Fair in 1851. No word on how much cream puffs cost back then.

Highway 26 angles over on a few other streets entering downtown Janesville and ends at U.S. 51, just before one final jump over the Rock River. The city’s “skyline” – to put it fairly loosely – looms along the river to the south and a series of city streets lined with historic buildings await, especially in the Courthouse District. Homes like Lovejoy Mansion (pictured below) and the Merrill-Nowlan House are registered historic places; the Lovejoy Mansion held the local YMCA’s offices for a while.


Nearby St. Lawrence Avenue, which parallels the river and runs through the Courthouse District, overlooks downtown; lovely old mansions line the street for a good distance.

Highway 26 is a good slice of eastern and southern Wisconsin, passing right by or close to a number of historic sites and giving you a bunch of good selections for shopping, entertainment or just finding nice places to stretch out and relax. Enjoy this one! Other great routes and places to see are all around.

Highway 26 ends at it hits U.S. 51 in downtown Janesville.

Highway 26 ends at it hits U.S. 51 in downtown Janesville.

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 41
Can connect nearby to: Highway 44, about 2.5 miles north; Highway 91, about 2.5 miles north; Highway 21 about 5 miles north; U.S. 45, about 3 miles east

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 51, Highway 11 (the city portion)
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 14, about 4 miles northeast; I-39/90, about 4.5 miles northeast