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So why is it called
 a State “Trunk” Highway?

"Lead Mines. Water Parks. Houses on Rocks. Brats. Championship Golf. Let's Go!"

 Enlarged map overview

Western terminus: Lafayette County, at Highway 11 between Shullsburg and Gratiot

Eastern terminus: Sheboygan County, at Highways 42 & 28 in downtown Sheboygan

Mileage: about 212 miles

Counties along the way: Lafayette, Iowa, Sauk, Columbia, Adams, Marquette, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan

Sample towns along the way: Darlington, Mineral Point, Dodgeville, Spring Green, Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells, Montello, Ripon, Fond du Lac, Plymouth, Kohler, Sheboygan

Bypass alternates at: Wisconsin Dells, Fond du Lac

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 23 connects a veritable plethora of sights in Wisconsin. From the beautiful hills and history of the Lead Mining Region to the Frank Lloyd Wright 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.

The Drive (North To East): You start in a relatively remote area: at the intersection with Highway 11 near Shullsburg. So, a good start is in Shullsburg (pop. 1,246) 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, is in the middle of not a whole lot. Ah, but a lot awaits you on this tour...

Once on Highway 23, you make your way through Lafayette County to 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", harkening 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.

Some notable animals in Darlington along Highway 23: a cardinal on the south end of town and a shark emerging from a gas station both catch your attention. Darlington's school mascot is the "Redbirds"; not sure why the shark is there.
Highway 23 through downtown Darlington, a nice 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 23 is 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 - is lined with historic buildings and it's worth a stop just to explore.

Left: 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. Right: This house was spotted just past old Fort Defiance north of Darlington... it just kind of screamed "Amityville Horror"...
Between Darlington and Mineral Point is the former site of Fort Defiance, built in 1832 in the wake of the Black Hawk War. 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 1840s.

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 attested 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.

The first Wisconsin city to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 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. Currently undergoing renovations, it will reopen this spring.

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.

Upper Left: The entrance to Pendarvis, right along Highway 23; Upper Right: Pendarvis House; Middle Left: The Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts offers plenty of artistic endeavors amidst its beautiful setting; Middle Right: How cool are some of Mineral Point's buildings? This cool, with plenty more to look at. Lower Left: Downtown Mineral Point in summer. Lower Left: From pretty much the same spot, only in winter.

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.

Just 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. 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.

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.

This area is a haven for architects, and it certainly was for Frank Lloyd Wright. Born in Spring Green, Wright started building his summer house, called Taliesin (named 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.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin is located right along Highway 23 near Spring Green, just south the Wisconsin River crossing.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center is located just off Highway 23 on County C, across the Wisconsin River's southern bank. 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.

Highway 23 crosses the Wisconsin River into Sauk County after Taliesin but before Spring Green; north of town (right), Highway 23 heads up into rolling hills past Plain on the way to Reedsburg.

On the north side of Spring Green, Highway 23 hooks up briefly with U.S. Highway 14 and even more briefly with Highway 60, before heading north again into the hills that line the Wisconsin River valley. 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.

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), although I missed it somehow on the drive. (If you spot it, e-mail me a close-up picture! 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.

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 Interstate, you immediately come upon Lake Delton (pop. 1,982, and the lake is back!), which pairs with the city of Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418) makes the up the gargantuan land o'tourism known at the Dells.

Wisconsin Dells Area

Ah, Wisconsin Dells, the "Water Park Capital of the World" and Wisconsinís 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 stateís 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.

Itís 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 thereís a list for nearly everything.

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, 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; neither can Meanwhile, Highway 16 joins up with Highways 13 and 23, breaking east to hop over the Wisconsin River and enter the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418).

Left: Highway 23, coupled with U.S. 12, goes right past a number of access points to Lake Delton, where water skiing and recreation rule. Center: The Crystal Theatre, home to a number of musical acts - especially country ones. Right: Highway 23 meets up with Highways 13 & 16 for the ride right before you head through the heart of Wisconsin Dells.

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

The Wisconsin Ducks, capable of riding or floating, in front of Ripley's Museum; the upside down White House is Top Secret, quite unmistakeable along Highway 23.

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.

This is truly a mecca of recreational vacation fun. Letís 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 Americaís largest waterpark is Noahís Ark, covering 70 acres, utilizing five million gallons of water and powering screaming people down three miles of waterslides
- The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resortís indoor and outdoor waterpark space combined covers the space equivalent to six football fields

Left: The World's Largest Trojan Horse dominates the scenery along Highway 23, although the roller coasters and waterpark slides will draw your attention, too.
Below Left: A "Hands-On Experience"... the Dells have a ton of interactive exhibits, displays, games and more to keep visitors busy.
Below Right: 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.

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

Above: 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 on the right, 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.

Highway 23 goes through the heart of the Dells twice: once with U.S. 12 as Wisconsin Dells Parkway, and once with Highways 13 and 16 as Broadway.

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 into the heart of central Wisconsin. At this point, Highway 23 is considered an "east-west route" which makes sense, since you're now going 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.

Right: "Club 23", east of Wisconsin Dells, Yes, we found another bar/restaurant named after a State Trunk Tour-ed highway!

Eventually, Highway 23 joins the "backbone" of Wisconsin, the I-39 & U.S. 51 freeway. The highway heads north on it for about six miles, past the little burg of Packwaukee, which lies on Buffalo Lake, an elongated stertch along the Fox River as it heads up to Lake Winnebago. This is prime fishing and hunting country. From Exit 100 to 106, Highway 23 is part of the I-39/US 51 freeway before exiting. Highway 82 begins to the west and goes all the way to DeSoto and the Mississippi River; meanwhile, Highway 23 continues east for the next leg, now as a more major artery across the eastern half of the state.

Montello, Princeton, Green Lake, Ripon, 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, about 6 miles west; I-43, about 3 miles west

Upcoming events in places along Highway 23:
Rubber Chicken Fling, May 24, 2015
Spring Green, BobFest, May 24, 2015
Kohler, Kohler Festival of Beer, May 29-30, 2015

<< Back to main page

Points of Interest Quick Links:

Old Fort Defiance
Mineral Point
Governor Dodge State Park
House on the Rock
Spring Green
American Players Theatre
Wisconsin Dells area
(Much more is coming soon!)


Best Western
Quiet House & Suites

1130 N. Johns St.
Dodgeville, WI 53533
(608) 935-7739
Link to hotel and reservations

Wisconsin Dells Map

View Larger Map

Best Western
Ambassador Inn & Suites

610 S. Frontage Rd.
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
(608) 254-4477
Link to hotel and reservations