High-Energy Hayward: Northwoods Wisconsin Escape

By Laura Beausire
Special to TravelWisconsin.com

A man with a long braid lopes down the sidewalk in front of the wine bar, while a Jeep laden with kayaks turns the corner and a massive logging truck rumbles to a stop beyond the shop where I sip a latté. It’s just another day on Main Street in Hayward, and I’m glad to be here.

Thanks to some old friends who keep inviting me back, I’ve had a chance to sample some of Hayward’s offbeat pleasures, and every visit reveals something new and delightfully unexpected.

This community of 2,100 on Wisconsin’s heavily forested and lake-bejeweled northwest fringe takes its fun seriously. And the word has gotten out: thousands of visitors flock here each year for Hayward’s renowned festivals, including the grueling American Birkebeiner, which draws 9,000 cross country ski marathoners from 20 countries and finishes in a power sprint up Main Street to wild applause. The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival is a popular off-road bicycle event that unleashes 2,500 riders who race along autumn-tinged trails in the Chequamegon National Forest.

There are no packs of cyclists crowding Main Street today, though—just clusters of sunburned teenagers giggling outside Tremblay’s Sweet Shop, and summer visitors ambling through Hayward’s eclectic mix of stores. Outdoor Ventures is the place to go for adventure gear and clothes. Sophie’s Dog Bakery & Boutique offers the Chiot Chic Pet Spa across the street from The Pavilion’s Wine Cave, where humans can pamper themselves at a gourmet market and subterranean wine cave lined with more than 3,000 bottles. I decide to check out Art Beat of Hayward, a friendly gallery filled with a vibrant display of locally crafted pottery, paintings, photography, and wood and fiber art.

Old-style sports enthusiasts make pilgrimages to Hayward’s National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, the world’s largest fishing museum, with the added attraction of a gigantic 4½-story tall, ½-city-block long walk-through muskellunge, the “Shrine to Anglers,” whose gaping jaws create a toothy observation platform. Four other buildings house a mind-boggling display of lures, rods, reels, outboard motors, boats, and gear aplenty that kept me spellbound for an afternoon.

Visitors inspired to explore local waters will find fishing guides at Hayward Fly Fishing Co. downtown, and outfitters can arrange canoe and tubing trips down the beautiful Namekagon River.

Wisconsin’s logging heritage comes alive at Hayward’s rip-roaring lumberjack shows and the thrill-packed annual Lumberjack World Championships, which attract an international crowd of log-rolling, axe-wielding lumberjacks and jills each July.

When I need to tune out all the noise and excitement, I tune into WOJB, the local community radio station, licensed to the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, featuring native music and programming. Native Americans constitute approximately 8 percent of Hayward’s population. Their Honor The Earth Pow-Wow is one of America’s biggest, drawing nearly 10,000 participants and spectators each summer.

Hayward’s outdoor adventures tend to produce hearty appetites. The city boasts two brewpubs, including the laid-back Angry Minnow, where I tried a Minnow Burger served on a Hayward Bakery bun. Main Street’s Hook Stone Winery makes and sells varieties like Vacationland Viognier by the glass or bottle. West’s Hayward Dairy, a local institution since 1951, has new-fangled Wi-Fi hookup and lattes along with tempting concoctions like Campfire S’mores ice cream. 

Overnight accommodations in the Hayward area range from the posh McCormick House, located in an 1887 Victorian mansion decorated with designer furnishings, to the rustic log cabin comforts of Ross’ Teal Lake Lodge. The Telemark Condominiums in nearby Cable cater to the high-energy crowd, with on-site skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking, and more.

Hayward is a small city with a big personality, an evolving brew of flannel and fishing Northwoods tradition and café culture, with an invigorating shot of extreme sports thrown in. I’ll keep coming back for more.

Heading up to Hayward this winter? Don't miss the famed American Birkebeiner!