Unwinding in Hayward

For guests, the comforts of this northwoods Wisconsin town belie its reputation.

Eating ice cream at West Dairy in Hayward.
Tourists and locals alike gravitate to West's Dairy for ice cream.

From the beginning, Hayward has been a rough town.

It sprang up in Wisconsin's north woods along with the logging camps, and its saloons and brothels gave it a reputation that was reflected in a rail conductor's call: "All aboard for Hayward, Hurley and Hell!"

After resorts replaced logging camps, muskie wranglers joined lumberjacks as mythic figures.

The fishing feats are enshrined at the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, home of a 143-foot fiberglass muskie, but the lumberjacks — many of them graduates of the Hayward Log Rolling School — still are chopping, sawing and birling for tourists at the Lumberjack Bowl.

Whether they're wrestling a 60-pound muskie out of the water or twirling a 12-inch log under their feet, these are tough folks.

Add the anglers and birlers to the skiers who pour in to race in the  51-kilometer American Birkebeiner and the mountain bikers who race 40 miles in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, and you see Hayward is a hub for the robust.

These robust types, however, are not rubes. These days, it's easier to find French roast around downtown Hayward than football and Miller Lite.

"It's changing; it's gone from being a blue-collar resort town to a really sophisticated place," says Molly Otis, a musician and artist who also raised a champion lumberjack.

Today, visitors to Hayward can hang out on the lakes and forests, as always. But now they also can browse in an impressive collection of shops, go to wine tastings and sample locally made microbrews.

For them, Hayward has gone from hell to heaven, in just one century.

Comforts of home

Otis is one of the people who have been spiffing up Hayward's downtown.

In 2000, after the breakup of her alt-country band, Molly and the Heymakers, she renovated a century-old brick building just off Main Street's covered boardwalk and opened a chic shop called the Pavilion.

Then she renovated the basement and opened the Wine Cave. We found her there one Saturday, wearing pearls and a long brocade coat, handing out samples of Belgian beer and desserts left over from a "club night" that had drawn 100 people.

The giant muskie at the Hayward Fishing Museum.
Everyone wants to see Hayward's giant muskie, whose toothy mouth is a favorite spot for weddings.

"That a wine cave is making it here in Hayward, that means a lot, and we've hardly advertised," she said. "There are a bunch of people making their own way here and doing it in their own style."

The many local painters, photographers, sculptors and potters sell their work at Art Beat and other local shops. Artists tend to gravitate to Hayward, but so do people from all walks of life.

Ray Bartlett was operating an RV park in Arizona when he first came to Hayward to visit some of his favorite customers.

"I wanted to get out of Arizona, and I thought, 'Wow, this is a neat area,' " he said.

He moved to Hayward and started selling prints of old Hayward out of a turn-of-the-century building on Main Street that has its original stamped-tin ceiling: framed newspaper clippings of muskie hunter Louis Spray, souvenir photos of Lindahl's Talking Indian and ads for cook-shanty meals at Historyland.

But his vintage photographs of logging and hunting camps sell like hot cakes, especially to the out-of-towners who are replacing Hayward's mom-and-pop resorts with million-dollar vacation homes.

"There are no mansions here, there are 'cabins,' " Bartlett says dryly. "They're mansion cabins."

Many of the old-timers who drop by, Bartlett says, bemoan the disappearance of old Hayward. But it's newcomers who have rescued and revitalized the town's oldest and best-known landmarks.

Trip Tips: Hayward, Wisconsin

Getting there: It's 2½ hours northeast of the Twin Cities and 4¾ hours north of Madison.

Annual events : Late June, Musky Festival. Mid-July, Honor the Earth Traditional Powwow. First weekend of August, Lumberjack World Championships. Mid-September, Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. Second to last weekend in September, Fall Festival.

For more about the Lumberjack Championships and logging era, see Hayward's lumberjacks.

Accommodations: In town, the Pavilion Guesthouse has three suites, all with kitchenettes. Two sleep four people.

Hayward's Moccasin Bar.
The Moccasin Bar is Hayward's de facto museum for taxidermy treasures.

The handsomely restored 1923 Spider Lake Lodge, half an hour east of town, has seven rooms, and rates include breakfast.

North of town in Seeley, the Lenroot Lodge has 10 attractive rooms and is next to Mooselips Java Joint.

Dining: The Angry Minnow on Florida Avenue serves its own beers as well as many sandwiches and such dishes as cedar plank mango salmon, grilled duck, pork tenderloin with black-bean salsa and rib-eye.

Backroads Coffee serves sandwiches, and Coop's Pizza is a longtime favorite.

In summer, Angler's Bar & Grill has a beer garden on Main Street downtown.

Shopping: In winter, most shops are closed Sunday.

Sightseeing: The Moccasin dive bar downtown is a hoot. See Cal Johnson's record muskie — it's about the size of a skinny sixth-grader — and dozens of stuffed bear cubs, beavers and posed chipmunks playing poker, drinking beer and singing barbershop ditties in glass cases along the walls. It's on U.S. 63 at Dakota Avenue.

Mountain biking: The forests between Hayward and Cable may be the best place in the Upper Midwest to ride singletrack.

For more about the CAMBA mountain-biking trails, see On a roll in Hayward and Cable.

Golfing: Hayward has a lot of great courses — Hayward Golf Club, Big Fish, Hayward National and Teal Wing.

For details, see Swinging through northern Wisconsin: Hayward.

Nightlife: In Seeley, Mooselips Java Joint sometimes has music.

Skiing: There are many kilometers of cross-country ski trails.

Sports rentals: New Moon, on U.S. 63 just north of town, rents and sells skis and mountain bikes. Downtown, Riverbrook Bike & Ski also rents mountain bikes, fat-tire bikes and skis.

Information: Hayward Lakes tourism, 800-724-2992.

Last updated on February 2, 2022

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