Wisconsin North Woods vacation

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Photo above: Stout’s Island Lodge (Kathy Gamble)

My son and I recently took a trip to Stout’s Island in Northern Wisconsin. Along the way we stopped briefly at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota which is right on the Mississippi River. It is an interpretive center where people can learn all about eagles. They have several rescued birds that can be viewed up close.

In 2007 the Bald Eagle was removed from the national endangered list. Today Minnesota and Wisconsin have the largest population of nesting bald eagles in the US outside of Alaska. The eagle was never endangered in Alaska. It is now common to see the birds along the upper Mississippi and it is coming back in western Minnesota as well.

Wapahasha II
Wapahasha II

Next to the center is a statue of Wapahasha II or La Feuille (the Leaf). He was leader of the Dakota Nation from the 1790’s to 1836. He joined with the British to fight in the war of 1812 against the Americans. Later, he signed a number of treaties and tried to adjust to the government’s intrusion into his nation. He worked closely with the Ojibway, Ho-Chunk, Sac and Fox tribes. He died of smallpox when he was in his 70’s. In 1843 the settlers in the area changed the name of their town to Wabasha to honor the chief. JoAnne Bird of Brookings, South Dakota created the impressive statue. She is a member of the Dakota Nation and a descendant of the Wapahasha chiefs.

From there we made our way to Chippewa Falls where we were looking forward to a tour of the Leinenkugel Brewery. Jacob Leinenkugel started the brewery in 1876, making it the seventh oldest brewery in the nation. It is now in its sixth generation of family leadership, although today it is a subsidiary of SABMiller. There are 47 employees working at the brewery and it produces 325,000 barrels of bear annually (that is over 10 million gallons). They make several different kinds of beer available only in Wisconsin and Minnesota but also have a popular Shandy version (beer and lemonade) produced in Milwaukee and available around the country. They survived the prohibition by making non-alcoholic beer, which apparently wasn’t very popular, and sodas.


The tour was five dollars and lasted about an hour. A wristband was fastened on my arm and I was told I could sample five different beers from the bar. The samples were pretty big and I think if I had tried all five I wouldn’t have been able to stumble through the tour on such a hot day. I did get to keep the glass, though.

We were meeting people on Stout Island so we had to move on. In 1903, a Chicago businessman named Frank Stout built his summer home on the Island of Happy Days in the middle of Red Cedar Lake. The lake itself is 1800 acres. Stout island is actually two islands joined with a bridge and together are 18 acres in total. The smaller island was left as it was and today has a nature trail going from one end to the other. The larger island holds the main lodge, a swim dock, a boathouse and several cottages.

The front lawn
The front lawn of the Stout’s Island Lodge

Frank Stout was one of the wealthiest men in the country in his time and he spent over $1.5 million creating his island home. That converts to about $35 million in today’s money. The original buildings were modeled after the Adirondack camps with carved beams imported from Germany. Stout left the bark on the logs to give it a more rustic look but in 1912 he realized this was a mistake since they had become bug infested. He burnt the place down and started over. This time he imported cedar logs from Idaho. He also built a farm on the mainland and the Tagalong Golf Course modeled after St Andrews in Scotland. Today it is the Tagalong Golf & Resort with a clubhouse, restaurant, and lodging.

The island is now home to Stout’s Island Lodge, an upscale resort listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ten of us stayed together in Wilson Cabin. It was comfortable and modern and the showers even included steam baths. We walked the nature trail, swam, went kayaking and canoeing, and played croquet. We also sat and did nothing a lot. Breakfast came with the room so we all made sure we got up in time to make it there by ten. We brought food for our pick-up lunches, which was easy since each room had a small kitchen. The Lodge has a good restaurant with reservations required and a dress code enforced. We had a lovely Fourth of July dinner with a live band on the lawn.

The Bear Tracks Bar and Grill
The Bear Tracks Bar and Grill

In Wisconsin it is a tradition to have Fish Fry on Friday night. All ten of us went out in search of Fish Fry but since it was a holiday weekend, we tried several places before we found one with enough room for us all. The Bear Tracks Bar and Grill on Main Street in Birchwood was formerly known as Big Sexy’s Bar and Grill (the old sign was still hanging outside). It was full of local residents enjoying a beer on a Friday night. Most of them were eating pizza. They did have a fish fry special at the buffet in the back room so we all opted for that. It actually wasn’t bad. They had cod, pollock and catfish as well as chicken wings, baked potato, mashed potato and gravy and green beans. There was one other item that I took because I didn’t know what it was. It turned out to be a pizza roll – it looked like deep fat fried ravioli and tasted of pepperoni. Everybody laughed at me for being so ignorant.

Back on the Island we had a lovely relaxing time and enjoyed endless fireworks on the Fourth. Vacations are never long enough.