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Rhinelander: The Heart of Wisconsin’s Northwoods

In my last post I touched on my bucolic upbringing just outside Rhinelander. Now, let’s dive into the heart of Rhinelander itself, where the rural roads and small-town roots of my childhood intertwine.

Before dreams of living in big cities ever crossed my mind, it was the bustling streets of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, that captured my imagination. I pictured living in a little downtown apartment above an old bakery that now has long since closed. I envisioned mornings spent by the window, a newspaper in hand (picked up from the nearby bookstore), savoring a freshly brewed coffee and a warm pastry. I'm really very serious about this, town was the picaresque ideal you see in old timey movies and tv with everything you could want. Not to get all Stars Hollow on you, but kind of like that only bigger.
Most of my time spent in town was at my grandparents' home, which my grandfather built overlooking Hodag Park and Boom Lake. The area, once muddy and filled with logging remnants, was transformed into a beautiful park, baseball fields, and public boat landing, thanks to efforts from local leaders like my grandpa, who served as an alderman. My mom often talked about how her grandmother initially didn't like the location, yet it eventually became a source of family pride.
Many afternoons were spent at my grandparents' house, from watching musicals and Wheel of Fortune with my grandma to watching baseball games at the fields across the street, to playing in the park. We often did chores around my grandparent's house to earn money for the candy shops. My siblings, cousins and I would cut across the Rose Street wood trestle bridge a block or so from the house and weave our way down and around to Ruckert's grocery store and then on to an amazing candy store in a big yellow house, now called the Fun Factory Sweet Shoppe. Town was an incredibly important and magical part of my childhood.
As the world evolved, so did the opportunities beyond our small town, prompting many of us to leave in pursuit of careers that weren't available locally. Fast forward to a change in shopping behavior, hard-working small businesses rebuilding the downtown and surrounding areas, and the rise of remote and hybrid work models, Rhinelander is experiencing a renaissance, also drawing natives back home, like me and my husband.
If you find yourself in the Northwoods, Rhinelander is worth a trip. Yes, it's true, we have the big box stores, but we also still have loads of small-town charm. It's all a work in progress, but the blend of new developments along with our historical preservation makes it a worthy visit.
A great place to start is on our Chamber of Commerce website, Explore Rhinelander.
Here’s my quick guide to some things to do in and around Rhinelander, within a 30-mile radius:

Downtown Rhinelander

  • Historic Downtown: Stroll through Rhinelander’s charming downtown area, where you'll find unique shops, local eateries, and historic buildings. The downtown area is perfect for a leisurely afternoon of shopping and dining.
  • Rhinelander Historical Society: Learn about the town’s history at the Rhinelander Historical Society Museum. Housed in a historic building, the museum features exhibits on local history, including the famous Hodag legend. 9 S. Pelham Street
  • Rhinelander Brewing Company: For a taste of local craft beer, visit the Rhinelander Brewing Company. Enjoy a variety of brews in a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. 43 S. Brown Street
  • Oneida County Courthouse: This beautiful, historic building is an architectural gem in Rhinelander. Take a self-guided tour to admire the stunning interior and learn about the courthouse's history and significance in the community. 1 S. Oneida Avenue

Hikes and Trails:

  • Almon Park Hiking Trails: Explore the Pioneer Creek and Northwoods Trails for scenic hikes, birdwatching, and wildlife encounters. See the Almon Park entry for more information.
  • Bearskin State Trail: This 18-mile trail of crushed limestone offers serene biking, hiking, and snowmobiling experiences through picturesque forests and lakes.
  • Colombine Trail & Ancient Pines: Ideal for those seeking tranquil walks amidst old-growth forests.

Lakes and Water Activities

  • Boom Lake: One of the crown jewels of Rhinelander, Boom Lake offers ample opportunities for fishing, boating, and kayaking. With its clear waters and scenic surroundings, it's a perfect spot for a day on the water. See the Hodag Park entry below for public access information.
  • Buck Lake: Located a short drive from Rhinelander, Buck Lake is a small, quiet lake with a lovely sandy beach. It’s a great spot for a family day out, with clear water perfect for swimming and wading. Also see the Almon Park entry below.
  • Crescent Lake: A bit further out, Crescent Lake provides a more secluded experience with access via the public boat landing right off of hwy 8. It's a great spot for fishing, especially if you’re looking to catch walleye and musky.
  • Rhinelander Flowage: A haven for anglers and nature lovers, this expansive water body is home to diverse species like musky and walleye.


  • Hodag Park: Nestled along the serene shores of Boom Lake in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, Hodag Park Beach is a picturesque destination that offers a perfect blend of relaxation, recreation, and natural beauty. Ideal for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone looking to enjoy a day by the water, Hodag Park Beach is a gem in the heart of Northern Wisconsin.
    • Swimming Area: A sandy swimming beach and a stone house changing area. The Kiwanis Club is currently raising funds to build a super cool splash pad and a new playground, they are still raising funds but hope to break ground in the Spring of 2025.
    • Numerous picnic tables and shaded areas perfect for family gatherings and picnics. A well-maintained playground for children, featuring swings, slides, and climbing structures.
    • Opportunities abound for kayaking, paddleboarding, and other water sports (equipment rentals available at Mel's Trading Post, 105 Brown St. in downtown Rhinelander).
    • Enjoy leisurely strolls along the lakeside paths, offering stunning views of the water and surrounding nature. The Rhinelander District Library’s Story Stroll is a fun and interactive experience for families. Now a permanent feature at the park, the Story Stroll consists of 18 pedestals installed at child-height, each with a page of a story book. The story can be read by following the paved walking path from near the baseball fields to the beach.
    • The Hodag Park Concert Series features free live music performances from local and regional bands from June - September, every other Tuesday from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Genres range from folk and rock to jazz and blues, ensuring there's something for everyone. The concerts are held at the picturesque Hodag Park Amphitheater, located on the scenic shores of Boom Lake. A selection of food trucks are available, offering a variety of delicious options. From classic festival fare to local specialties, there’s something to satisfy every palate.
  • Pioneer Park: Featuring stately tall pine trees and the Pioneer Park Historical Complex, Pioneer Park offers a glimpse into the history of Rhinelander. Explore the logging museum, old-time railroad depot, the Civilian Conservation Corps museum, and more.
    • Picnic areas, a playground with woodchip ground cover (my personal preference), and pickleball courts. The ease of access and roomy layout of this park make it a family favorite and the current home of the Oneida County Fair and Hodag Heritage Festival.
  • Almon Park: Almon Park is located approximately 5 miles south of Rhinelander on Buck Lake.  This 160-acre park consists of a swimming beach, picnic areas and shelters, nature trails (open to hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing), and an 18-hole disc golf course. Restrooms and changing rooms are located near the beach and at the Rudolph Shelter.

Other Activities:

  • Hodag Sightings: Embark on a whimsical hunt for hodags, mythical creatures of local lore, with a map from the Chamber of Commerce.
  • The Hodag Store: Not just a place to shop; it’s an experience, a spectacle, a tribute to the legendary Hodag (and you can get Happy there 😉)
  • Forest Home Cemetery: A peaceful and historic cemetery, Forest Home Cemetery is the final resting place of many of Rhinelander’s early settlers. The well-maintained grounds offer a quiet place for reflection.
  • Hodag Country Festival: Don’t miss this four-day country music festival held every July
  • Rondelle Ranch Community Events 8959 Co Hwy K, Harshaw, WI 54529

Exploring Beyond Rhinelander

  • Nicolet National Forest: Just a short drive from Rhinelander, Nicolet National Forest offers endless outdoor adventures, including hiking, camping, and wildlife watching. The forest is a haven for nature lovers, with miles of trails and stunning scenery.
  • Minocqua, about 20 miles northwest of Rhinelander, Minocqua is a popular destination known for its beautiful lakes, water sports, and vibrant downtown area. It’s worth a day trip for additional exploration and activities. Wildwood Wildlife Park, in Minocqua, is home to a wide range of animals from around the world in a natural setting and is an immersing family-friendly day trip.
  • Tomahawk, 22 miles southwest of Rhinelander, is a charming city in northern Wisconsin, is known for its picturesque landscapes and friendly community. Nestled along the Wisconsin River, it offers a variety of outdoor activities including boating, fishing, and hiking. The city is also famous for the annual Tomahawk Fall Ride, a major motorcycle event that attracts thousands of enthusiasts. With its small-town charm and beautiful natural surroundings, Tomahawk is a great destination for those seeking a peaceful retreat. Don't forget to stop at the famous Windmill for ice cream!
  • Lake Tomahawk, 23 miles northwest of Rhinelander, is a quaint town in the heart of Wisconsin's Northwoods, is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The town is situated on the shores of its namesake lake, which provides excellent opportunities for fishing, boating, and swimming. In winter, the area transforms into a snowy wonderland, perfect for snowmobiling and ice fishing. Known for its friendly atmosphere and stunning natural beauty, Lake Tomahawk is an ideal spot for a relaxing getaway.
  • Eagle River, 23 miles northeast of Rhinelander, often referred to as the "Snowmobile Capital of the World," is a vibrant city in northern Wisconsin. It's renowned for its extensive network of snowmobile trails and the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby. In addition to winter sports, Eagle River offers fantastic fishing, boating, and hiking opportunities in the warmer months. The city's charming downtown area features unique shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions, making it a popular year-round destination.
  • Three Lakes, 22 miles northeast of Rhinelander, is a charming little town located in Oneida County, Wisconsin, known for its chain of 28 interconnected lakes, offering endless water-based activities. Visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, kayaking, and swimming in the pristine waters. The town also boasts beautiful hiking and biking trails, and in winter, it becomes a hub for snowmobiling and ice fishing. With its tranquil setting and outdoor recreation options, Three Lakes is perfect for those looking to connect with nature.
  • Crandon, 27 miles east of Rhinelander, is a small city in Forest County, Wisconsin, surrounded by lush forests and numerous lakes, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The area is known for its excellent fishing, hunting, and ATV trails. Crandon is also home to the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway, hosting thrilling off-road racing events that draw large crowds. With its rich natural resources and vibrant community events, Crandon offers a unique blend of adventure and relaxation.
I hope we see you soon!
xo Jill

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