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A Lonely Road Through The Woods

This is one of the straightest routes from Minnesota to the upper peninsula of Michigan. If you are just making miles it's a good choice, but for those that are in the 'tourism mode' it's a chore to find many diversions. Wild animals are plentiful and it's never a good idea along this route to go dashing through the night . . .  



& Est Time:
280 Miles
5.1 Hours
State Map
& Segments:
Link to Wisconsin DOT
Wisconsin DOT Map
Major Crossroads

Forest Lake, MN to Norway, MI

The route actually begins at exit 132 of I-35, and oddly is only available there as a northbound exit. The first mile or two from the exit gives a great clue as to what this road is all about - there's just not much there until you actually arrive in Forest Lark, and even then there's not much to describe on a postcard home. In fact, the most notable feature of this little town is that the roadway winds between and around some lakes, breaking up the commercial sections into quick opportunities to stop for fuel or a bite to eat before continuing the trek through the wilderness.

In a mile or two it's over, any pretense that this is a busy urban route is gone. Soon the St Croix river comes up to flow alongside briefly until the route crosses the river and enters Wisconsin for the majority of its distance. The next border crossing into Michigan will mark the close of the route at Norway.

Even though the route is generally straight as an arrow, it is possible to see many sections of a mile or more where the original roadway was abandoned in favor of a 'safer' design through the years. Riders that intend on making this five hour ride into an all day attempt to experience northern Wisconsin will find these sections are lake shore paths populated by little communities of cottages and the occasional convenience store patronized only by the locals. Conversations in these stores can lead to little known side trips and invitations to fish or pitch a tent. Most of these folks are cheese heads, so don't expect much hospitality if you have an Illinois plate on your ride and you are wearing any 'Bears' apparel. The longest of these sections is around Ladysmith, where Old US-8 offers a very quiet and traffic free alterantive - just watch out for the farmer's hay wagon.


The route takes a by-pass turn here, mostly to accommodate the commercial truck traffic. Until a few years ago there was a US-8 Business Route signed through town, but that's been de-commissioned. Casual travelers should take W Kemp St into town and stop for lunch and a look around. The town is the host of the Nicolet National Forest, a 33,000 acre reserve holding 1,200 lakes, over a thousand trout streams and most of all it's the home of the "Hodag", a ferocious north woods monster first discovered over a hundred years ago.

Ardent football fans will want to set aside a quiet moment to visit a grave that can be found in Forest Home Cemetery. John Heisman, the namesake of the Heisman Memorial Trophy, was a native of Rhinelander and he was returned here for burial after his death in 1936.

East of US-45 the route takes a sharp jog north and then begins a not so straight northeast line towards the Menominee River where it crosses into Kingsford and then ends at Norway. These two towns are part of the "Greater Iron Mountain" metropolitan area . . . a term I use to describe what is one of the few well populated areas in the western upper peninsula of Michigan. It is served by a Delta Airlines feeder flight, so if you have a problem in this area you can at least escape quickly by air - but you might only have one or two opportunities each day. Even bus routes up here are scarce.

If you have never traveled through the northwoods areas of the Great Lakes the experience isn't difficult to describe. It's miles and miles of nothing filled with opportunities to stop and find something wonderful! Enjoy your ride and watch out for those Hodags - they are mean.

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