Nestled in west-central Wisconsin lies Jackson County, a hidden gem defined by its unique topography and glacial history. It sits at the edge of Wisconsin’s famous “driftless area,” which narrowly evaded the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the last Ice Age. While a great destination for many reasons, Jackson County received the honor of hosting my third annual Discover Wisconsin birthday trip for a more personal motivation; growing up, my family owned a cabin in Jackson County that sparked my love of the outdoors and of Wisconsin. Experiencing this place as an adult brought along with it a whole new wave of emotions, but my greatest joy is getting to share this special place with you. To find inspiration for your next trip to Jackson County (and to learn a little bit more about the property that holds so many memories for me), read on!
En Route to Jackson County
If you’re visiting from the south, there’s a stop you have to make on your way into Jackson County – not from. Rest Area #54 (when headed westbound) features a trail to the Black River Falls Lookout, which is the most scenic spot you’ll probably ever enjoy while stopping for a bathroom break. A ten-minute walk along the secluded trail is all it takes to achieve this view, which rivals some of Wisconsin’s highest peaks for its breathtaking beauty.
Rustic Lodging in Jackson County
As a self-proclaimed “cabin enthusiast,” finding a cozy place to stay on any vacation is essential. We found this cabin on Airbnb, but the website had lots of other cabin and farm house options, too. It was the perfect size – big enough not to feel cramped, but small enough to feel cozy. While Lake Arbutus was within walking distance, the cabin was tucked safely back into the woods.
Places to Eat in Jackson County
Any classic northwoods retreat would not be complete without a visit to one of Wisconsin’s iconic supper clubs. Vegetarians, be aware that you’ll most likely have to get a little creative with the menu, though, as nearly all listed dishes tend to have meat in them. We also visited some cozy and cute breakfast eateries!
Scenic Hikes in Jackson County
In the driftless region, there’s never a shortage of unique and breathtaking views to experience by foot. In addition to the Black River Falls Lookout noted earlier, we explored two places in Jackson County that you’ll definitely want to enjoy a hike at! Fun fact: Wazee Lake is Wisconsin’s clearest and deepest inland lake, reaching a maximum depth of 355 feet.
Heart & Soul
The heart and soul of this trip was the nostalgia for my childhood cabin that led me here. My dad had the cabin built in 1995 – the year I was born – and owned it until 2012. Despite its lack of water frontage, it remains my single-most favorite place in the world. The unique mix of big hills, forest, prairie, and pond made this hidden 80-acre lot a true oasis, especially as a kid. My siblings, cousins, and I had free range to roam the property and spent our days building forts, finding tadpoles, and exploring. It’s no wonder I identify so much with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her little house in the big woods (and on the prairie, of course)!
My passion for outdoor, northwoods sports was also born here. Every spring, summer, and fall trip to the cabin ended with an ATV ride with my dad, while a winter visit was spent on the snowmobile trails. I also learned to downhill ski at the nearby Bruce Mound Winter Sports Area and ice skate on our pond. This area lacks tourists, but is filled with kind-hearted locals who are welcoming to any visitors and help make their small towns feel like home. When my dad sold the cabin to one of our neighbors back at home, I was devastated, but am so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to say good-bye one last time.
It’s weird how much a place can affect you; it can shape your personality, morals, goals, and motivations. Just like a person, places hold shared memories, and when they are gone they leave you wishing you would’ve spent more time there. The cabin looks different now – less rustic and more majestic. The door is guarded by a looming pair of elk antlers, the driveway is paved, and there is a mansion of a pole barn where our small wooden garage used to be. The building is nearly the same, though, and the spaces where I slept, ate, piled on winter layers, played charades, and opened Christmas presents still hold those memories within its walls, even though they have made room for another family’s memories, too.
Thanks for your interest in and support of my annual #DiscoverWisconsin birthday trips! Click here to read about my 2018 birthday trip to Wausau. Have a suggestion for where I should visit next? I’d love for you to leave your recommendation in a comment below!