Deep dives into outboard motors and fishing bait? The world’s largest penny? Halls of fame and museums dedicated to snowmobiles and Wisconsin hockey players may make your travel companion squint with doubt, but it’s a rare visitor who doesn’t come away surprised by the often-humble exhibits of the Northwoods.
Perhaps the finest example of that is the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. If the indoor display of lures and famous anglers doesn’t impress you, the four-story musky outside (and its obligatory photo op when you climb up to its mouth) is something to text home about.
Sometimes it’s a surprising, heartwarming bit of local history you never knew. Such is the case with the World’s Largest Penny (17,452 pounds) in Woodruff, which actually celebrates a 1953 fundraiser that helped build a hospital, the dream of Dr. Kate Newcomb, the “Angel on Snowshoes,” whose museum is nearby. Or thematically gathered artifacts of bygone days such as the 3,000-plus cars, pumps, signs, books and more at the Northwoods Petroleum Museum in Three Lakes. Local historical societies gather antiques, photos and stories of local characters, allowing us to imagine what life was like in a different time and world.
A popular roadside attraction in Phillips is the Wisconsin Concrete Park, a mostly outdoor collection of 237 folk art sculptures created by Fred Smith, a former lumberjack. Cable Natural History Museum introduces visitors to the wild world right outside the door. The lumber industry, which brought so many to these northern communities, comes to life at Pioneer Park Historical Complex in Rhinelander, Camp 5 Museum in Laona, and Sawyer County Historical Society Museum in Hayward. You can learn about local Native American culture and history at the George W. Brown Jr. Ojibwe Museum in Lac du Flambeau or Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center and Museum in Crandon. Most are free or charge only pocket change, and you’ll come away with a story or three from each.