"Wisconsin-Happy Festival State", by Eve Phillips. My husband and I love to travel in the state of Wisconsin where we live and get great pictures on the way. My name is Laurie Kutil and photography has become a great passion of mine since 2010. One thing I have learned in researching each town before visiting it is that, "Every town has it's story". When I do uncover those stories by connecting with local residents, our experience becomes so much richer. In turn, sharing the stories with you brings me joy :)
4-16-16, 5-27-17, 7-22-17, 12-22-17, 4-5-18 + other visits
Baraboo is the county seat of Sauk County with a population of over 12,000. A city with a rich history in the circus, the Ringling family’s influence is woven into the city’s fabric and has been for over a century. Also Delavan, where we also have visited. You can also fly into the Baraboo Airport.
Before you come into the city proper, be sure to stop at Man Mound Park on the outskirts of town.It was a little hard to find, the coordinates are N43°29.309’W089°40.278′ Man Mound Road. On YouTube a short video about the mound.
Legs and feet that are missing are marked with white paint on the road.
There is also a small playground and a picnic bench at the park.
There is so much to see and do here in all seasons of the year. Summer and fall are the busiest seasons. Come in April or May or after Labor Day for smaller crowds. However, some attractions are only open during the summer season. For example, Circus World Museum. The circus performances are from late May to late August. We enjoyed a visit there in late August 2013, they have a free admission day at the end of the season. We returned 5-27-17 for Military Service Appreciation Day, also free.
As charming as these places are, you should see the historic downtown, looking much like it did when the original Ringling family were alive. Downtown Baraboo has its own website to keep us informed of all the great happenings there all year round. The Courthouse Square and nearby has many great businesses to patronize for shopping and dining. The Courthouse is beautiful and it’s chime at 12:00 noon echoed around the square.
This plaque is on a rock outside of the Courthouse.
Baraboo also has its own radio station that we enjoy even in Madison, WRPQ. You can even download their app to listen to it anywhere.
2017-The station is now known as MAX FM.
The Corner Drug‘s distinctive red front makes it easy to find on the square.
Also on this street is the beautiful Al. Ringling Theatre which was restored and still a work in progress. We took the tour on 7-22-17, but it is not permitted to post my photos of the inside. You are allowed to take them during the tour only for your own enjoyment.
Here is what the theatre looks like in December at night.
On the corner of the square left of here is the Little Village Café, a historic building in journalism. You can just see the AL. Ringling mansion to the left down the street.
A block or so from the square is the AL. Ringling Mansion, a beautiful red stone building you can’t miss seeing! Also, we highly recommend taking their tour to see the inside. It’s open daily 11-4, tours every hour on the hour, the last tour starts at 3PM. Cost is $20 Adults
$5 for children 5-11
Free 4 & under
Group rates available.
Photos of the inside are permitted inside but not allowed to be posted on Facebook or other social media. The owners Joe and Carmen Colossa and family also live there and are working hard to transform this beautiful home into a Bed and Breakfast. They purchased the home only in 2013, it seems longer though! The Elks Lodge used to own the mansion, but now just lease out parts of the space.
Joe also gave us an additional tour around town in the afternoon, showing us the cemetery, houses members of the Ringling family owned, and other circus lore.
Meanwhile, the Charles Ringling mansion already is a Bed and Breakfast, called the Ringling House. Such a cheerful yellow in the spring sunshine!
Directly across the street from the AL. Ringling Mansion is another historic site, the first church in Baraboo, long gone.
Baraboo likes visitors and offers plenty of free parking. In this parking lot you can see a new set of mural panels painted by local citizens in 2015. Also another one across from WRPQ. Also an older one from 2013.
As you can imagine, Baraboo citizens have preserved a great many historic buildings and homes. We did our own tour to see them after lunch on our April visit. This city is one of the lucky ones, it has a Carnegie Library. We have seen those in some of the other places we have visited over the years. Visit the Baraboo Public Library to find books on Baraboo’s rich history.
Badgerland Financial sits on the historic site where the Ringling Brothers put on their very first circus show on May 19, 1884.
The House of 7 Gables owners used to give a tour but doesn’t at the present time. They have lived they for 50 years, moved in as newlyweds. Owners Ralph and Pamela Krainik have put a lot of pride into restoring their home for the last 50 years. It was built in 1860. Read more about heir home here.
The Baraboo School Administration building.
All this exploring can make a person hungry, never fear though, there are a great many restaurants in Baraboo to choose from. Around the corner and to the left of the building above is the Broadway Diner. FANTASTIC food, they also are the official caterer to functions of the AL. Ringling Mansion.
The Farm Kitchen on the outskirts of town by Devil’s Lake has been a favorite place of ours since were dating in 1997 to 1999. We often ate there after scuba diving. We had our wedding rehearsal dinner there. This is how it looked in 2009, it has been under new ownership since 2015.
Baraboo offers a wide range of shopping, including the essentials. For groceries, the Viking Express Market has a lot of variety, great store! Even a red pig for the kids to ride!
Another favorite place we like shopping is at St. Vincent de Paul‘s, or Vinnies, just down the hill on 100 South Blvd. within sight of the Broadway Diner. They also have a food pantry. Our tour that Joe Colossa took us on included some Circus Museum train cars and the longest train car building in the USA. They are located BEHIND Vinnies.
If you are tired from walking around downtown, let someone else do the walking, er, pedaling. We spotted a rickshaw parked, make an appointment for a relaxing tour of downtown Baraboo, $20 for 20 minutes.
Climb the East Bluff Trail for beautiful fall color views of the Baraboo Hills below. This was October 9, 2010. Watch the turkey vultures soar above the lake, especially in summer. Sometimes we walked around the whole lake if we had an early start.
Enjoy Ochsner Park and Zoo near downtown. The zoo opened in 1926 and has a great many visitors. The adjacent park is alongside the Baraboo River and has two pavilions for large groups to gather. We found a plaque at the park by the pavilion closest to the zoo, the first home in Baraboo was built on this site.
We always have a great visit to Baraboo. There is always something new to see here and everyone is so friendly! Our parting shot is the swiftly running river going under the Manchester Street Bridge in this park.
Mackenzie Environmental Center in Poynette not only educates people of all ages, the place is just plain fun to visit! It had been 4 years since our last visit so it was time for some updates. The center includes wildlife rescues, trails and education classes. Also a game farm. They always need volunteers, see their website, Friends of MacKenzie Environmental Center. Our most recent visit was to attend their Maple Syrup Festival, that was a lot of fun!
Let’s begin our tour of Mackenzie! Here is a map of the grounds.
Located on the south end of the complex, the lodge is where classes are held and where the commercial kitchen is. We had a great pancake breakfast there at the Maple Syrup fest. There is a large dining/presentation room that easily accomodated the many hungry people that came for breakfast.
There are some exhibits in some of the other rooms in the lodge. Also a cut from a very large tree that was cut down in 1961, it may have been storm damaged.
In the room are also snowshoes and cross-country skis for groups to use on a winter outing.
The climb to the top was worth it, great view! The direction you are facing is labeled inside of the top enclosure. Even though it was very windy, I felt safe.
Next to the tower is a Smokey the Bear figure you can get a fun selfie with.
The “zoo” part of the park, there are animals here that you would typically see throughout Wisconsin. Many are animal rescues as well. The fire tower overlooks the Bison, or buffalo area. They are hard to see since they usually are not near the fence. An overview of the area. I will show you a few of the animals. It’s great they also show the footprint of the animal so you can identify it in the wild.
After visiting all the animals here, cross the street from the wildlife exhibit entrance to enjoy the Windbreak Walk. It looked pretty with snow on the tree branches and blue sky on our most recent visit.
Right across from the Windbreak Walk is the Badger Den, or conference building.
Lastly, we head down the hill to the little village where many outdoor education classes takes place. This is the Nelson Cabin, inside is a logging museum with many old photos and displays.
A Sawmill Diorama, very detailed!
We see the other out buildings, the Wallen Sugar House. A display was inside, also a sign telling you how to make your own syrup!
Many trees are tapped here to collect sap, more information on this sign.
The Syrup Finishing House
Behind these buildings is the sawmill building.
Mackenzie also has a Crab Apple Orchard, an important food source for the wildlife in this area.
We had two enjoyable visits here, give yourself several hours to see everything and have good walking shoes. Be sure to donate at least $1 when you visit to keep this great facility open. You can donate online as well. We hope to be back for another one of their seasonal events later in the year.
It was time to come back to the Henry Vilas Zoo, and this time explore the ENTIRE zoo. My previous visit was on October 4, 2011 and I didn’t go through the entire zoo on that day. Also, Al was with me this time, he didn’t remember the last time he came here.
If you plan on coming, remember that its free to visit, donations are accepted though and there are donation boxes scattered throughout the zoo. Most days the zoo is open 9:30 to 5, more specifics on hours here. Inside exhibits open at 10:00. Wear comfortable shoes, it took almost four hours to see the entire zoo in one visit. It helps to have a map with you too to check off each exhibit as you see it. Lets begin our tour!
We began at the main entrance where we find the gift shop and ice cream shop. Also two concrete lions that the kids love to take their picture with.
Now for a real lion, today he was sunning himself in full view, looking regal.
Next to the lion is the Primate House, the outdoor exhibits are also viewable from the inside.
After the Primate house we head along the path east and see the Anna Vilas Hall building, where many events take place.
From the balcony of Anne Vilas Hall you could see the penguin’s home. They were not out that morning so here they are from my 2011 visit.
Our next stop was the Tropical Rain Forest Aviary, with bird, reptiles and even rodents that live in the rain forest.
The Capybara is here too, the largest rodent.
Now for the new exhibit we all have been waiting for, the new Arctic Passage!
In 2011 they were fundraising, now its a reality it just opened May 23, 2015. Here is an overview of the new mega-exhibit.
Many kids were there, and they were really enjoying it. We also had lunch at the new Glacier Grill inside, which offers a view of the Polar Bears while you eat! Eating here also supports the zoo.
The Sea Lions were really aping the crowd, and knew how to get claps and cheers.
There are many great photo-ops to take with your kids too. Not to mention numerous animal cut-outs the can put their faces in.
This is really fun, outside of the Arctic Passage exhibit is an actual Tundra Buggy, used to transport scientists across the arctic and Antarctic icy terrain. You can go inside and kids can pretend to drive it, inside it sounds like its rolling along.
It’s not just for scientists anymore! In Churchill, Canada you can also have a buggy tour. Cool!
Across from the Arctic Passage exhibit is the North American Prairie exhibit. In it are Prairie Dogs, Badgers and Bison.
The viewing platform’s scenery has changed since 2011. on the left is 2011, on the right is 2015. Wow, what a change!
Next to here is the new Jack Lussier Conservation Pavilion, also just a sign on my visit in 2011. A docent was teaching a large group of children here.
Next is the Herpetarium, or reptile house. Outside are two tortoises and an alligator. I probably saw those same tortoises when I was a kid, or even my Mom since they live over 100 in many cases.
And now for the best Children’s Zoo I can remember ever seeing.
It wasn’t this big when I was a kid. It has a petting zoo, train ride and carousel for both kids and adults to enjoy. It’s a $1.50 to ride them each. Lets watch them in action! The carousel is customized for Madison, see the panels above with the Capitol and Bascom Hill.
The animals at the petting zoo area were so funny and all vying for attention.
There also is a large play structure for the kids here. This is a zoo in itself.
Pink Flamingos are also in this part of the zoo.
Also here is the Red Panda, not for petting.
The last area of the zoo to see is at the east-central area, with the giraffes, hippo, tapir, plus the tiger (not seen) and lion.
Lots of tables under pavilions (new) near the central building that has been there since my childhood. Access to the Children’s Zoo used to be through the central area of this building.
What a great time both of us had, you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this zoo. Thanks also Vilas Family for bestowing this gift to Madison, your legacy begins its 2nd century!