Weekend Visit: Boulder Junction, WI

If you get on Wisconsin state highway 51 just east of Menominee and head north, you’re headed straight into cabin country. This is an area covered by vast patches of farmland – pig and turkey farms, and huge swaths of pine forest which hide lakes and the cabins to which long lines of Suburbans with TVs in the headrests and kayak-topped Subarus can be seen heading, side by side, on any given summer weekend.

The best lakes are remote and, therefore, a long drive from Saint Paul. This means you to drive past a seemingly endless series of exits containing a Hardees, a Citgo station, and a fireworks tent in a vacant lot.  Or a Culvers and a guy on the side of the road selling corn and Mutual Funds out of the back of his truck. You get the idea. It’s all a blur after the first hour.

Most people don’t seem to make it further east than Balsam Lake or further north than Minocqua and I’ll admit that five hours into a drive from St Paul makes the Thirsty Whale seem like a genuine oasis.

But give the Crocs and Coors Light crowd a miss. Persevere.  Forge ahead. Ignore the siren song of the many cold Leinenkugel’s on ice at the TW, and continue just a little way further north for your patient efforts will be rewarded. Branching off 51, north on county road M, and a little way beyond the Chequamegon National Forest lies the delightful little town of Boulder Junction.

True to its name, Boulder Junction sits at the intersection of county roads M and K and is the natural path interconnecting the various villages and resorts nearby. It’s here that the road turns sharply east/west for a quarter mile then resumes its north-south path through the woods.

And it’s this quarter mile that has one of almost everything – but just one:  the gas station, the hardware store, the outfitters, the motel. It’s sort of like Sesame Street for the north woods.

Thankfully, there isn’t only one of everything.  There are two restaurants on this stretch – if you don’t count the hot dogs on the heat rollers for sale at the gas station – and they are very different, which is why they can coexist in this microcosm.  The Outdoorsman is for the posh outing. At least it aspires to be and doesn’t do too badly. We had a very nice dinner there on a recent trip, of which I’ll write more some other time, but they could invest in some air conditioning and a door for the bathroom that latches.  After dinner, go to the imaginatively-named Boulder Beer Bar and Restaurant  for the cold Leinie you passed up earlier.

The town also has its fair share of antique stores and ‘northwoodsy’ craft stores.  It’s worth going in to one or two of them for the experience though I expect you’ll soon be visually and intellectually gorged on all things related to loons.  Chances are good, though, that on any given summer weekend there’ll be a yard sale that has real wood furniture, and if you’re lucky, maybe an old Hamm’s beer sign that will make it worth a stop.

Bring your bikes, too.  There are several miles of great bike paths that run south from town along county road M.

Below are a few details to help round out your trip.

Where to eat:
The Outdoorsman Restaurant
10383 Main Street
Boulder Junction, WI 54512
715-385-2826
www.outdoorsmanrestaurant.com

 

Where to Drink:
Like anyone needs any help finding a place to drink in Wisconsin. Just stay away from anything that looks like it doubles as an icefishing house in the winter or a place that’s a ’50’s rambler in a residential neighborhood and you’ll be OK. If you still want advice, try:

Boulder Beer Bar and Restaurant
5509 County Road M
Boulder Junction, WI 54512
715-385-2749
www.boulderbeerbar.com

 

Where to Stay:
Northern Highland Motor Lodge
PO Box 347
Boulder Junction, WI 54512
715-385-2150
www.northern-highland.com

 

Where to get gear:
Coontail Sports – also for bike, kayak, and canoe rentals
5466 Park Street
Boulder Junction, WI 54512
www.coontailsports.com

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