Fall is here! The temps are gradually falling and the tree tops appear brighter, as their leaves transform the forests into colorful murals. So, again, I long for a drive to witness nature’s artistry from a rolling state highway. My destination, this time, is in the North Woods of Wisconsin, a summer vacation town known as Minocqua.
I wake up early, early for me at least, as it is 7:30 am and I’m raring to go. I’ve heard of Minocqua for years, as individuals familiar with the area would brag about the place, proclaiming it better than Door County. So, I’m excited, as I do love the little towns in the northern portion of my native Door County, as do many from Illinois. Minocqua, however, lies in the north central portion of the state, so I’m in a for a drive.
It strikes me, as I make my way from Wausau on my final leg of the trip, venturing into sparsely populated areas graced with an endless forest, sometimes it is a rather dismal oddity that sparks nostalgia. I think this pulling into a gas station, as I’m in dire need of a restroom. The atmosphere of the building’s musty old interior, with a mounted deer head adorning dingy walls accompanied by worn flooring , sparks the reminiscing of hunting and fishing trips in the North Woods with my father. I recall establishments like this when we would stop for gas or have breakfast in towns to the east of here. I’m delighted and would not change a single thing.
I leave the station and my fond memories behind, and set my course on 51 towards the north. When I arrive in Minocqua, I’m struck by how ordinary the town seems as I drive along the highway, besides the beautiful lake that envelopes the town.
If Minocqua is to be compared with Door County I would compare it to Stourgen Bay. however, its less than half the size of the shipbuilding/tourist town. There seems to be all matter of hotels and shops along this busy stretch of road. Unlike Sturgeon Bay, tourist businesses lean towards a rustic appeal, like a gift shop with Paul Bunyan in its name.
I find the Downtown portion of Minocqua and I’m not dissapointed. It’s very quaint as the architecture of many of the buildings are of Austrian or German themes. I find a resteraunt named Otto’s House of Beer and Brat’s, being lured by the appeal of the building and the promise of such concessions. However, call me cheap, I discover the price for a Bratwurst is $10.50, add a beer and, yeah, beyond my budget.
I leave the rustic atmosphere of Otto’s and find myself strolling the walks along with many other tourists. Apparently I’m not the only one treking to the northwoods for a little fall color, as the streets are lined with parked cars and are busy. The day is gorgeous, around 62 degrees, and I’m, quite frankly, charmed by this small down town setting.
There are many shops and restaraunts to choose from here. The highlight is a unique shopping mall filled with gift shops, known as the Gaslight Square Shops. I look around, but that is all. With lamps lighting a fairly dark corridor constructed to look like nineteenth century buildings and pumpkins set along the walk, accompanied with Frank Sinatra crooning a ballad, the atmosphere is great but the shops definitely target women.
I follow the road out of the downtown section and cross a bridge, spying some people fishing. I imagine, with lakes practically encompassing the town, water activities play a huge roll in the summer tourism business. Minocqua, in essence, is an Island, surrounded by Minocqua lake, a man made land bridge fuses the town to the mainland. I reach the edge of town and turn back.
I’m amused by other businesses set by the lake on my return walk through the very small down town. There is the Minocqua brewery and a small park and pavilion in close proximity to one another, hosting summer events here would definitely be a hit. In town, there is sportswear stores and clothing shops along with themed restaurants in this fun little village.
I reach my car and decide to drive further north on 51. As I do, I find all matter of business strung along the highway for quite some distance, as always, lakes loom in the background. I turn around and head back towards Minocqua, being determined to find a small backroad to enjoy some fall color.
My mission is fulfilled as I find a small jaunt right off the highway known as Northern Road. I follow the hills and curves of this dead end drive. It is fairly narrow and there really is no shoulder to the road, but I’m comfortable driving slow and taking in the landscape. Along the way I find resorts such as Knotty Pines and, waiting at the end of the path, Nitchke’s Northern resort. Finally, a small trek into a woodland, quenches my hunger for picturesque fall scenery I can only imagine this town in the peak summer months, there appears to be much to do. From camping to shopping and fishing to watching water ski shows the appeal of this North Woods getaway is definitely enticing.
Would I say it is better than Door County? Minocqua has lakes, wooded area and shops. Door County also has these, plus limestone bluffs and a bay and lake for serious sailing and sport fishing. So, I’m going to have to say its not better but its secluded spot makes it alluring, being pasted smack dab in the lake country. I regard it as being just as nice and if you’re bored with spots in Door County, this may be the change of pace you’re looking for. It’s definitely similar in many respects, but the geography and setting make it a different shade of getaway colour.