Highway 23 looking at the Wyoming Valley


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

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

Wisconsin Highway 23 Road Trip

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


Highway 23 & 81 in Darlington

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


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

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


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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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







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

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

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


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

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


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

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


The Infinity Room is quite a trip!

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

springgreen_taliesin01 springgreen_taliesin04

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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

wisdells_welcomesign01Wisconsin Dells Area

Ah, Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. Highway 23 comes into the area and immediately, the architecture changes. The vibe changes. And the amount of traffic changes. When people refer to “Wisconsin Dells”, they usually mean the whole area, including Lake Delton and the region up and down the Wisconsin River, whose gorgeous ‘dells’ and gorges give the area its name. Wisconsin Dells itself started out as Kilbourn City in 1857. It was named after founder Byron Kilbourn, who also played a major role in getting Milwaukee started as a city one decade earlier. Renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931, the city set the state’s high temperature record of 114 degrees Fahrenheit five years later. But indeed, it gets cold here, too, which explains why so many waterparks offer indoor facilities.It’s also chock full of foreign workers, many of whom are college age from Eastern Europe and South America. Time magazine actually named it one of the “Best Places for College Students to Work during the Summer” in 2004, proving there’s a list for nearly everything.


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

Highway 23 meets up with U.S. 12 and joins it heading northbound into a vast array of sights: the Crystal Grand Theater, roller coasters, mini golf courses, ferris wheels, waterparks, upside-down White Houses (a place called “Top Secret”), plastic pink flamingos, motels, hotels, ski jumps in bodies of water… it’s all along this stretch. The world’s largest Trojan Horse can’t be missed. I mean, it’s right there.


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



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

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


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

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


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

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

– There are 18 indoor waterpark/playground properties in the Dells, the highest concentration of such facilities in the world
– The first indoor waterpark in the nation, The Polynesian, opened here in 1989
– The largest indoor waterpark in the U.S. is the Kalahari Resort, with 125,000 square feet
– North America’s largest waterpark is Noah’s Ark, covering 70 acres, utilizing five million gallons of water and powering screaming people down three miles of waterslides
– The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort’s indoor and outdoor waterpark space combined covers the space equivalent to six football fieldsAnd if you want fudge shops, only Mackinac Island in Michigan can compete with the downtown strip along Highways 13/16/23. Mmmm… fudge. “The Strip” features t-shirt stores that seem to repeat every 100 feet or so. But there are also a ton of unique – or just not too common – things. Among them: Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not!” Museum, one of only two in the U.S. (the other is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming); the Rick Wilcox Theater; and waterparks a’plenty. Feel like going extreme? Extreme World features a 130-foot high bungee jump, a skycoaster and for those who prefer to stay on the ground the whole time, a big selection of go-karts and tracks.




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

wisdells-cyclesthru13-16-23Basically, Highway 23 goes through the Dells’ two main areas: through Lake Delton with U.S. 12 as Wisconsin Dells Parkway, and then with Highways 13 and 16 as Broadway on the main drag through Wisconsin Dells itself. This basically marks a change where Highway 23 stops bring a route through the Driftless Region on Wisconsin and becomes more of an east-west main road across east-central Wisconsin.


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


Muk Luks, baby!!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


STH-022“Seed Spitting, ATV’ing & Copper Culture”

WisMap22Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 22 is one of several state highways that meander a bit while changing direction. Running right up the center of Wisconsin at first, Highway 22 winds through a number of central and northeastern Wisconsin towns, providing access to lakes and rivers that offer some of the state’s best fishing, eventually providing access to the waters of Green Bay at Oconto.

** NOTE **
The stretch of Highway 22 between Oconto Falls and U.S. 141 will be closed for reconstruction until early August. Check this link from DOT for the latest detour and project information.

Wisconsin Highway 22 Road Trip

The Drive (South To North, then East): Highway 22 starts out at a rural crossroads where U.S. 51 veers away from its journey due north of Madison and cuts towards Portage; the east-west crossroad is the “coast-to-coast” Highway 60.


Highway 22 begins in a nondescript way as U.S. 51 veers westerly at Highway 60 about 20 minutes north of the Madison area.

The first ten miles of Highway 22 take you through wide-open spaces – for Wisconsin – and a series of “Ethanol YES!” signs, indicative of corn and politically active farmers in the area. Highway 22’s southern section traverses the Central Sand Hills, an ecological landscape influenced heavily by glaciers. Within close range of this area, you have the Dells are to the west and a close passing of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers nearby. Sandy soils, abundant small lakes and many streams created an environment favorable for good fishing and crop-raising.

Some good-sized hills emerge a few miles further north of where Highway 22 begins, including a pretty scenic one as you cross Rocky Run. The first town you enter is Wyocena (pop. 768), where Highway 16 crosses. They built an interchange for a “U.S. 16 bypass” decades ago, and the “old” 16 just north of it shows just how tiny some of the major routes used to be. Try following it; it’s a small side street that, prior to the 1950s, was the main route for Milwaukee-Minneapolis traffic. Makes one appreciate expanded bypasses sometimes!


Just north of where Highway 22 crosses Highway 16 today is the marker showing the origin of Wyocena, founded by Major Elbert Dickason in 1843. His wife was named Obedience, which has sort of fallen off the “popular baby names for girls” list over the last century or two.


For an area thought of as fairly flat, this part of central Wisconsin sports some sizable hills and nice views as you cruise. When the glaciers came down across the state many millennia ago, they formed ridges in this area that helped form lakes and rivers that provide great fishing today..


Three miles later lies Pardeeville (pop. 1,995) and yes, it’s pronounced “partyville”. Not that it’s known for parties… or is it? You’ll have to find that out on your own. In the middle of a Saturday, things were pretty calm. Pardeeville was named for John Pardee, a Milwaukee merchant who owned the land here and sent agents to develop it. And develop it they did – at least to an extent. The town’s location along the Fox River gave it strategic importance, especially back when the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway system was considered the possible main boat route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River – though that ended up not happening.

Highway 22 at Highway 44, Pardeeville

Where Highways 22 & 44 meet in Pardeeville. This is, technically, the downtown crossroads.

Pardeeville’s downtown strip runs for only a few blocks; Highway 44 begins its run towards Oshkosh at this point, and 22 jogs past Park Lake and over the Fox River, the first of many crossings over that river.

Highway 22 serves as Pardeeville’s main street. While looking for a pardee of some sort, I came across an Everbrite factory that caught my eye because gas prices were even more shocking than usual. This wasn’t as a gas station, however; Everbite makes some of those digital signs that show prices at gas stations, and the examples they had out there weren’t pretty. If you want to see what $6 gas looks like, just check out the picture:


Thankfully, those aren’t real prices (at least as of press time). Everbrite’s facility in Pardeeville makes some of the digital price signs gas stations use. It scared the heck out of me for a second.


When a business uses the road number in its name, we include a shot of it on the State Trunk Tour!

Watermelon Seed-Spitting and Curling. Pardeeville is big on watermelons in summer and curling in winter. Every year, Pardeeville hosts the U.S. Watermelon Eating and Seed-Spitting Competition. One edition was visited by the State Trunk Tour, and featured here is Colton Ketter of Lomira. Spitters from all over came to Pardeeville for the chance to take home glory – and a ribbon. Creative decorations with watermelons, like the flower basket and the one puking here to the left, are also potential contest-winners.Pardeeville also has a very active curling club that has been at it since 1875; they’re just off the intersection of Highway 22 and 44 downtown. Curling Olympian Debbie McCormick hails from Pardeeville and still serves as the organization’s vice president.



Watermelon art. Including one throwing up. Creative, if not appetizing.

Between Pardeeville and Montello, County F provides access to John Muir County Park, which boasts a broad array of diverse and rare plant species, lakes and wetlands. This area was the boyhood home of Sierra Club founder John Muir (hence the county park’s name) and also features a trail and boardwalk around 30-acre Ennis Lake.

Continuing along Highway 22, one notices many antique stores… and you gotta love the ones that, in addition to “classic” antiques, also sell a wide variety of live bait. The bait is popular, though, because there’s tons of good fishing in the area. Dotting Highway 22 are side roads to Fox River and area lake fishing and recreational trails. Marquette County alone has 60+ lakes and 15 trout streams, most of which have good public access.


From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” department: lawn jockeys in their Packer gear, lighting the way in for these Green-and-Gold-worshiping residents.

This area is also home to a significant Amish population. Use caution in case you share the road with them, since their horsepower amount is usually one or two.

When you reach Montello (pop. 1,495), you’re about 35 miles from the southern end of Highway 22. Montello’s downtown spreads along Highways 22 and 23, and the aforementioned Amish sell many a craft in stores along the route. At the intersection with Highway 23, beautiful, rocky waterfalls greet you, all part of a transformed former granite quarry. Montello claims Wisconsin’s largest tree in front of Le Maison Granit, a historic mansion (oui, a French one at that) on Underwood Avenue, which requires just a short jog on adjacent Highway 23. Wedged between Montello Lake and Buffalo Lake, the city of Montello is very water- and water sports-oriented.


Montello’s main crossroads at Highway 22 & 23 offer a nice waterfall.

The countryside meanders north of Montello; few towns or points of interest lie between in and Wautoma (pop. 1,998), which you reach about 56 miles north of Highway 22’s starting point. Wautoma features antique stores a’plenty and a nice shopping strip on the main street, which is along Highway 21 just after 22 turns back north to head out of town. Highway 73 also intersects here.

Once out of Wautoma, open spaces greet you for a while. You go through small burgs like Wild Rose, where you can sit atop the upper level balcony at the Duck Blind or enjoy coffee or tiramisu at Pumphouse on the Mill (430 Main St./Highway 22, 920-744-8499), a gastropub located in an old gas station along the mill pond in town. Just north of Wild Rose, Highway 22 enters Portage County and cuts the southeastern corner for literally about a mile and a half before heading into Waupaca County. At this point, you’re making a beeline for Waupaca itself; and yes, it sounds like Wautoma, but it’s Waupaca. You’d think they’d come up with a wider variety of name styles back in the 1800s when all these towns were founded (there’s a Waushara too, don’t get us started.)


Waupaca (pop. 5,750) is the central town in an area known as the Chain O’ Lakes. Waupaca’s name is also familar because of the former Waupaca Foundry – now known as ThyssenKrupp Waupaca – and its foundry locations in Waupaca and Marinette, with one each in Indiana and Tennessee. The Waupaca location melts over 9,500 tons of gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron castings. Actress Annie Burgstede, who played Willow Stark in Days of Our Lives and has also had roles in CSI, Smallville, Charmed, and Without A Trace, grew up in Waupaca.

Now, officially Highway 22 goes around Waupaca on the same bypass that carries the U.S. Highway 10 expressway. You can join it and go around town, but what’s the point in that?? It’s worth the trip on the “Old” 22, past the bypass interchange on County Highway K into town. A leisurely drive past South Park (not to be confused with the TV show) on a nice summer day reveals local residents enjoying the beach nearby on Shadow Lake. You can’t see this on the bypass:


Waupaca hosts a number of events throughout the year. One popular summertime treat is Strawberry Fest, which I could only assume celebrates strawberries. On a day when I visited, downtown was loaded up with berry, berry happy festival goers (sorry, I couldn’t resist), bands playing the park, and stores eager to serve the people visiting from other places. Being the county seat of Waupaca County and the largest town for about 20 miles, Waupaca bustles quite a bit for a city its size.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Clay Perry, the caver who first coined the term “spelunker”, was born in Waupaca.

The Rosa Theater and part of Main Street in downtown Waupaca, which features a lot of places to shop, eat and yes, drink.

Following Highway 54 and/or Highway 49 east through the rest of Waupaca will bring you back to Highway 22 for the trip on northeastward – if that’s a word. Highways 22 and 54 combine for a while before 54 heads east toward New London. At this point, Highway 22 joins Highway 110 and heads for rodeo country in the form of Manawa.

Yes, it’s east-central Wisconsin, and I said rodeo country! Manawa (pop. 1,330) is home to the annual Manawa Midwestern Rodeo, which has been active for over 55 years – bring your boots. In winter, you can use the rodeo grounds to access the network of snowmobile trails, of which there are 165 miles in Waupaca County. There are 21 snowmobile clubs in just the county maintaining these trails.

After departing Manawa and the combo with Highway 110, Highway 22 heads east again. Dropping into a nice little valley over the Wolf River and through the town of Symco, I knew I was away from it all when the dominant station on my radio was called “Moose Country” – it’s AM 960, for all you country buffs.

Highway 22 reaches U.S. Highway 45 at a junction with Highway 76, which continues east. We head north with U.S. 45 for several miles into Clintonville (pop. 4,559), which is named after first settler Norman Clinton as opposed to the former president. This small city is home to Seagrave Fire Apparatus, the longest-running fire apparatus manufacturer in the nation. Its airport, Clintonville Municipal (CLI), is historically recognized as the birthplace of Wisconsin Central Airlines, which eventually became North Central and then Republic Airlines, which in 1986 was purchased by Northwest Orient Airlines. Today, it’s all part of Delta Air Lines. Clintonville is also a water city: along with recreation and fishing on Pigeon Lake and along the Pigeon River, Clintonville won the “Best Tasting Water in Wisconsin” contest in 2005, as sponsored by the WWA.

22embras_smShortly after Clintonville is a town many have heard of when commercials or shows are pointing out interesting American place names: Embarrass, Wisconsin. Embarrass (pop. 487) is a small village, named after the river that flows through it. And they’re not ashamed to say it!

Shawano (pop. 8,298) is the county seat of Shawano County and is the largest town on Highway 22. Abutting Shawano Lake, it’s also the largest town between Green Bay and Wausau along Highway 29 and is a major point along the Mountain-Bay Trail, a great 83-mile rail-to-trail bike route that connects Rib Mountain in Wausau with the shore of Green Bay.

Highway 22 doesn’t exactly traverse tons of major cities, so Shawano seemed like a metropolis compared to most towns on the route. The cheapest gas on the route is here, as well as restaurants and hotels. The stretch of Green Bay Avenue lasts for several miles and combines State Trunk Tour Highways 22, 47, 55 and the old – now Business – 29. The mainline Highway 29 now runs south of town on a freeway bypass. At the junction of these highways downtown, this attractive statue illustrates the farming history – and hard work put in – of the area surrounding the city.


This statue marks the downtown crossroads in Shawano.


Four State Trunk Highways converge and go through Shawano’s main drag: 22, 47, 55, and “Business” 29, which was the mainline 29 until they built the bypass.


From the “You Never Know What You’ll See on a State Trunk Tour” Dept: a camel grazes in the front yard of a home along the main drag downtown. The Shawano County Fair was in town at the moment – we can only assume there was a connection there.

shawanolk_lgShawano is considered by many to be “up north”, but its Native American name is actually “to the south.” At 6,100 acres, Shawano Lake was big enough to mark the southern border of Chippewa tribal territory. Highway 22 runs for over seven miles along the lake’s southern shore, passing a historical marker (pictured below) that tells you more. Meanwhile, you run into Cecil (perhaps a Shawano suburb? Maybe?) and make your way towards the highway’s final easterly push.

Past Cecil, you begin to weave over and past the Oconto River, a key stretch of running water that 22 will follow towards its terminus. Rolling hills line sections along the river, and evidence of the “old” 22 abounds:


Rolling hills make the ride fun as Highway 22 crosses, and then parallels, the Oconto River…


…and paralleling much of the way is the Old Highway 22, making us thankful for modern engineering.

Into Gillett (pop. 1,303), you meet up briefly with Highway 32. The town was named after Rodney Gillett, an early settler in the 1860s. Gillett is home of the Earthaven Museum, an earth sciences museum a few miles north of town up Highway 32 just down Valley Line Road. The Earthaven Museum features thousands of rocks, minerals and fossils with extensive collections of early human tools and artifacts. It’s a rockin’ time. Get it? Okay, we’ll move on…

Gillett ATV Capital along Highway 22

ATV Capital of the World

Gillett bills itself as the “ATV Capital of the World,” owning the trademark and everything. While a tall order to claim, Gillett backs it up with over 18 miles of maintained ATV trails just within their small city limits and the adjoining towns of Underhill and Maple Valley. A popular starting point is at Zippel Park, which is also home to the Oconto County Fair every summer.

From Gillett – via car, truck, motorcycle, or ATV – Highway 22 more or less follows the Oconto River into Oconto Falls (pop. 2,843), a lovely town where a dam expands the river into a more lake-like recreation setting. The dam, of course, replaced the “falls” part of Oconto Falls in 1883, but they chose to keep the original name. Built on sawmills and solidified on papermaking, Oconto Falls continues to be a source for tissue and other paper products that get shipped all over the world, some of which have to perform very unenviable tasks.


Rising like a wooden dinner fork, this tree provided a nice foreground subject with the dammed (not damned, dammed) Oconto River in the background.


A nice day at the riverside beach in Oconto Falls.


Built in 1885, the Caldwell House hosted new workers and visitors to the pulping operations of the time. They came often by railroad, which came to Oconto Falls two years earlier.

Highway 22 dips into Oconto Falls’ downtown area and then heads back out, pushing east to the railroad – and now highway – stop at Stiles (not named after Julia, although I think of her every time I drive past), you cross U.S. Highway 141, a four-lane expressway letting travelers speed ever faster go get “up north.”

From Oconto Falls to Oconto – the end of the line
The last eight or so miles of Highway 22 is a pleasant, peaceful drive on the way to its eastern end. Right before it ends, though, you approach the outskirts of Oconto and some fascinating history at Copper Culture State Park. This park contains artifacts over 5,000 years old, is a former Native American burial ground – the oldest cemetery site in Wisconsin – and one of the oldest metal use archeological sites in North America. The park is free to visit, although you are encouraged to make a donation at the Werrenbroeck Museum, which takes care of the area and also chronicles the area’s extensive Belgian history. No, they do not make waffles.

Highway 22 comes to an end at the western edge of Oconto (pop. 4,513), which is now bypassed to the west by an expressway upgrade of U.S. 41. Highway 22 technically ends at the highway, but used to continue east to the “old” 41, where more of the activity is. Oconto is the seat of Oconto County and shares a similar history with Oconto Falls in that lumber, sawmills, and papermaking were all important industries.



Old-school beer drinkers may recall Oconto Beer, and signs sporting the brand are still up in various parts of town.

Oconto borders the waters of Green Bay, however, as serves as a port city between Green Bay and Marinette. Consequently, it’s where they build Cruisers Yachts, a luxury pleasure boat manufacturer established here in 1953. Oconto also has a long history of producing gloves – not surprisingly, considering the winter climate – and during the 1930s Oconto’s Holt Company was the largest producer of maple flooring in the United States. The city is the main town between Green Bay and Marinette, has a view of Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula across the bay, and it’s where we reach the eastern end of Highway 22 on the State Trunk Tour.


For those who imbibe too much, the lovely Oconto County Courthouse is not far away.


South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 60, U.S. Highway 51

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 41
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 141, about 7 miles west