With a population of just over 39 thousand, Wausau is the 17th largest city (by population) in the state of Wisconsin. For city folk, the small-town feel may even be a little reminiscent of the film Pleasantville. Still, like any other city, the residents share pride for their roots and their future. With that in mind, here are the top sites to not miss when in Wausau.
Rib Mountain State Park
Rib Mountain is the third highest point in Wisconsin at 1,942 feet (592 meters) above sea level and the tallest hill in the state at 741 feet (226 meters) above the surrounding area. One of the oldest geological formations on Earth, the park offers trails, an observation tower, summer concerts, and a load of history interacting with Wausau.
The State Park Speedway, located just outside of Wausau, is a quarter-mile racing oval offering late-model and stock car racing. Individuals such as Dick Trickle and Bobby Allison have raced there over the past 35 years. With weekly Thursday night races from May through September, the track record of 13.336 seconds is held by Chris Wimmer.
This 27.2-acre park offers a lot of typical park amenities: tables and benches, grill pits, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a boat landing with a dock. What sets it apart is the bridge to Fern Islands, providing access to hiking trails, open play areas, and a popular location for wedding ceremonies.
Locals tell how the 400 Block was leveled back in the day for construction. However, the development was stalled, and eventually, neighbors began to gather in the big, open lot. From this, the city changed their plans and designed a gathering space that the citizens had inspired. Now, the 400 Block, with an outdoor stage and overhead canopy right in the middle of downtown Wausau, hosts Concerts on the Square, Market Thursdays, the Beer & Bacon Festival, and pretty much any other event that the city organizes.
Nine Mile Forest offers cross-country skiing (one of the best in Wisconsin) and snowshoeing. There are 29.6 kilometers (18.3 miles) of cross-country skiing trails, including a Cookie Trail Loop for young skiers: the 2.7-kilometer (1.6-mile) loop has six mailboxes filled with cookies to encourage skiers at various points. There are also 6.3 kilometers (3.9 miles) of looped snowshoeing trails at varying lengths: 4k, 6k, 8k, and 10k. This area is open seasonally.
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (LYWAM) is an admission-free institution that opened in 1976. Offering permanent as well as rotating exhibits, classes, and a sculpture garden, LYWAM is best known for its “internationally acclaimed Birds in Art exhibition.” Over the past two years, it has won awards including the 2016 Wisconsin Governor’s Arts, Culture, and Heritage Tourism Award and the 2017 National Medal (the highest community service honor for museums in the U.S.).
The Grand Theater | Courtesy of Jacklyn E. Grambush
Located across the street from the 400 Block, The Grand Theater exists to “enrich lives through diverse cultural experiences.” Opening in 1927 to take the place of the recently destroyed Grand Opera House, The Grand has grown to serve 17 counties in Northern Wisconsin, with over 300 events per year. The Performing Arts Foundation, established in 1972, currently manages the drama, dance, and music featured there.
Dennis and Peggy Griffin are the founders of Willow Springs Garden, a space to preserve history and provide for the community. Two historical buildings were moved here: a round barn built in 1895 by Carl Christian and the Town of Maine’s old Town Hall. They now house local educational festivities.
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Mountain-Bay State Trail
The Mountain-Bay State Trail is an old abandoned railroad track that is now a walking and cycling trail. Extending from Rib Mountain to Green Bay (hence the name), it is one of the longest rail trails in Wisconsin, stretching 83 miles (133.5 kilometers) through three counties and ending right outside of Wausau.
Duey and Julia Wright House
While not technically an attraction, this privately owned home is a must-see; Frank Lloyd Wright designed it. From above, it looks like a quarter note, as Duey and Julia were music teachers.
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Sylvan Hill Park
As Wisconsin’s longest tubing hill at 1,200 feet (365.7 meters), Sylvan Hill Park rents tubes to ride down their six runs during the snowy season. The park additionally offers three miles (4.8 kilometers) of cross-country skiing.
The house of Cyrus and Alice Yawkey, built in 1900–1901, was the most expensive home in Wausau at the time of its construction. After both Cyrus and Alice died, their child, Leigh Yawkey Woodson (see the art museum above), presented the house to the Marathon County Historical Society in 1954. The structure, designed in the classical revival style, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places 20 years later.
Specifically for kayakers and paddlers, Wausau Whitewater Park is about a third of a mile long. The course, which opened in 1974, is ideal for instructional classes at all levels, recreational paddling, as well as local, national, and international Freestyle and Slalom competitions.
The Yawkeys (see Yawkey House Museum) had a house built next door for their only child and son-in-law, the Woodsons. In 1954, the same year that Leigh Yawkey Woodson donated her parent’s house to the Marathon County Historical Society (MCHS), the Woodsons sold their house to the Immanuel Baptist Church. The MCHS then bought it in 1995, and it currently holds their offices, a research library, and a place for further exhibits.
Near downtown, Marathon Park is a green oasis stretching over 78 acres. Offering campsites, walking trails, tennis courts, ball fields, and a mini train for kids, the park also hosts the Wisconsin Valley Fair, the second largest fair in the state.
The Center for Visual Arts, located next to The Grand Theater, offers free exhibits, art classes, and art to purchase while collaborating with local companies. The center aims to “engage people in the visual arts and add to the livability of the Wausau regional community.”
In 2014, the community gathered with a desire to update Alexander Park. Since then, significant collaborative efforts have worked to bring the ideas to life. Located next to the Wausau Downtown Airport, the park is almost complete, offering an aviation-themed playground, a mounted Corsair jet, as well as education and fitness opportunities.