Jul 31, 2022 – Wisconsin Part 2: Places to See Before you Die

To help us plan our travels to each state, Vivian and I consult a book titled “1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before you Die”. Guess what? Wisconsin contains 18 places! Not bad given Iowa, our previously visited state has only half that many places to see before you die. However, if you take your enthusiasm for visiting a state to an unequaled level of quirky attractions, 18 is quite conservative when compared to Atlas Obscura’s guide to Wisconsin which describes 146 “cool, hidden and unusual things” to do in Wisconsin. If you choose to go down a rabbit hole of hidden gems (or lumps of coal), you could spend a lot of time in Wisconsin.

With our campground near Madison, it was a nice day’s drive to visit Monroe and New Glarus, both circled in red on the map.
Our home for five days, at the William G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park Campground, 5 miles from downtown Madison.
Our campground was 90% powered by solar. These are some of the panels, also serving as a pavilion cover. In the afternoon, the place was teaming with cyclists, walkers, and rollerbladders stopping at the facilities for water and a break.

Given that there are 50 states to visit before we die, we whittled the list down to a reasonable number. Following the driftless area, we went on a quest to see Wisconsin’s Cheese Country and the Dane County Farmers’ Market, among other things. We left our paradise campground in the driftless area to stay at another county park, William G. Lunney Lake Farm, only four miles from downtown Madison. Despite being so close to a city with a population over a quarter million, the natural surroundings we enjoyed at Esofea awaited us at this park, and we can owe all that to Dane County’s large and greatly numbered public spaces where people can recreate outside year round.

Along the 5-mile drive from our campground to the state capital. You can see a portion of one of the four lakes that are near the city.

Each morning, I walked the bike and hike/ski trails, enjoyed the view of Lake Waubesa from the trail that includes a recently built boardwalk bridge, and was greeted by pairs of sandhill cranes, more white-tailed rabbits than I can count, and deer partially hidden in fog-veiled fields of colorful wildflowers (see the slideshow below). Temperatures fluctuated – one morning I was layered up, the next in a t-shirt and shorts. True to its urban location, our campground park is a busy place, serving those recreating on the Capital City State Trail with a pavilion rest area, water bottle fill station and restroom facilities. From our RV, we watched runners, cyclists, Nordic ski rollerbladers and paddlers on the lake, young and old alike coming and going – an atmosphere of clean energy and outdoor recreation.

Most of Dane County is comprised of Madison, once referred to as “77 square miles surrounded by reality” by a Republican running for governor in 1978. Think what you will about Madison, but Vivian and I anticipated a perfect place to get our progressive urban fix while continuing to frolic through Wisconsin’s rural areas. Parked at a campground close to it, we anticipated at least a couple days in the downtown area, which is dominated by the University of Wisconsin campus as well as the state capitol complex.

Downtown Madison as seen from the capitol dome.

We’ve been having great luck lately parking our 21-ft truck in the city – Des Moines, Memphis, Montgomery, so I didn’t bother researching downtown parking in Madison. I would come to regret that. On the first day, we drove our 21-ft aluminum beast downtown to the Chazen Museum of Art which offered the following information on its website, “Located in the center of the UW campus, the Chazen is free and open to the public. Public parking lots are available nearby.” And within walking distance from the state capitol building, we were set for our first day in Madison. Being smitten with the thoughts of casual visits to a welcoming city, my disappointment rose to the top as Vivian and I drove up and down narrow one-way streets while detouring around road construction areas for 30 minutes passing one empty parking space after another with the following parking meter next to each:

Unless you are coming to downtown Madison to deliver something and then leave, you are very limited on where to park, especially if you are driving a large truck.

At last, we found a 2-hr parking spot, which was enough time to tour the state capitol building and make the 15 minute walk there and back. Oh well Madison, we really wanted to love you, but you did not want to love us. Enjoy the slideshow of this magnificent state capitol building, our third on this trip and well worth the parking frustration.

Meanwhile, we had rural areas to explore because there was cheese and beer to be had. Among the 18 places to see in Wisconsin before you die is Monroe, the cheese capital of the U.S. and where you’ll find the National Historic Cheesemaking Center that offers a history of the cheese country and can lead you to a cheese factory tour.

Everywhere you look, there are reminders that we are in the cheese capital state. This was the view from the Madison Campground where we stayed for 2 nights north of Madison.

That sounded perfect; a visit there and later to a brewery would fulfill our mission to see cheese and beer making all in one day. To get there, we again drove through idyllic farm country, river valley scenes running through a green patchwork of corn fields and cattle pastures interrupted by barns and silos. According to Google Maps, our search for the National Historic Cheesemaking Center brought us to a modest building known as Green County Visitor Center. Expecting to get a tour of a cheese factory, we were instead greeted by the visitor center volunteer who explained that cheese tours were terminated due to – you guessed it – covid. Instead of an extravagant tour of cheeses being created by licensed professional cheesemakers and receiving samples along the way, we were given a brochure or two and recommended a cheese store.

European immigrants came to Wisconsin and began dairy farming. As dairy farms increased in number, farmers began producing cheese to preserve excess milk.
Some cheese facts from the Alp and Dell cheese store.
In 1841, Anne Pickett established Wisconsin’s first commercial cheese factory, using milk from neighbors’ cows. A century later, Wisconsin was home to more than 1,500 cheese factories, which produced more than 500 million pounds of cheese per year.
If you want to make cheese commercially in Wisconsin, you need to be a licensed cheesemaker. Lucky for you, Wisconsin offers a master cheesemaker program, which meets the rigorous standards of European cheesemakers.
Cheese curds are the freshest form of cheese. Still not a fan of them, but Vivian loves them!

After getting our fill of Wisconsin cheese, it was time for some afternoon beer tasting, brought to us by the New Glarus Brewery. Cold beer sounded delicious as the daytime temperatures had reached the upper-80s, shocking us after enjoying cool temperatures for the past couple weeks. New Glarus Brewery is named after the Swiss town near which it stands. On the sharply graded road leading to the brewery, you can see a field of hops, which lends itself to Wisconsin’s self-sustaining farm communities.

What’s that – another cow statue? This is in front of the New Glarus Brewery, a building designed like a Bavarian Village.

The New Glarus Brewery’s website describes itself as a “quaint little brewery”. Compared to Miller’s Milwaukee operation, it is small with 90 employees. But it is impressive and has a fine story attached to it. Founded in 1993 by Deborah Carey, New Glarus Brewery was a gift to her husband Daniel, an experienced master brewer.

New Glarus Brewery employs 90 people and provides them healthcare benefits. They allow self tours to all visitors.
Daniel Carey acquired these copper kettles from a German brewery before it was demolished.

Brewing began in an abandoned warehouse, and in 2006 ground was broke for a new $21 million facility on a hilltop near New Glarus. It has since become a popular tourist destination and a very popular Wisconsin beer including its most famous Spotted Cow.

I never realized how complicated beer making could be!
Beer making is both a science and an art.
“Some people paint, some sing, others write … I brew.”
—Daniel Carey
“Only in Wisconsin”.

Our last day in Madison was a Saturday when the famous Dane County Farmers’ Market is held each week in downtown Madison. Believing Madison to be unfriendly to visitors in large diesel-guzzling vehicles, we dreaded the thought of returning to its downtown where parking a truck for longer periods than it takes to deliver an Amazon package is discouraged at best. “If you want to go to the Farmer’s Market”, said our camp host, “you need to arrive at a specific parking lot near the capitol building no later than 6:30 am”. Most would gasp hearing such an unreasonable suggestion, but instead we smiled and nodded our heads in agreement because arriving insanely early to anything worth visiting is precedent on our trips. Consequently, we checked off another place to see in Wisconsin (see the slideshow below) before we die and brought home some beautiful produce. Thank you Wisconsin.

Interested in reading more about Wisconsin? Check out our previous blogs:

The driftless area

Door County


Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

2 thoughts on “Jul 31, 2022 – Wisconsin Part 2: Places to See Before you Die

  1. We loved Wisconsin, and Madison in particular. At the time of our visit (it was a Saturday), we didn’t have a problem finding parking. Maybe those meters are only for M-F? We didn’t have the chance to visit Monroe but it sounds like a great little town. How did you like the New Glarus beer?


  2. Wow, amazing places to see and wonderful photographs of those areas. Our next door neighbor retired here from Wisconsin. She regularly gives me Spotted Cow beer from New Glarus Brewing Co. Such a wonderful neighbor!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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