If you're looking for small town charm and big city amenities in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, add Wausau to your list.
Located about 150 miles due north of Madison and 185 miles directly east of Minneapolis, Wausau, WI, is the largest city in the northern part of Wisconsin. This town split down the middle by the Wisconsin River had an important part in the state’s history, from fur-trading to logging. Today, it has a reputation as a four-season playground. Combining the comforts of a city with the hospitality of a small town, Wausau has the feel of the Wisconsin Northwoods with the ease of city life. Here are nine reasons why Wausau is an awesome – and totally underrated – place to live.
1. Location, location, location.
It might be odd to recommend a place by telling you how easy it is to get out of that place, but one of Wausau’s best assets is its proximity to pretty much anything you could ever want. There are three major cities within 275 miles. Milwaukee and Minneapolis are about three hours away and Chicago is about five hours away. You can also get to Madison, Green Bay, the Lake Superior shoreline, La Crosse and pretty much everywhere in the state in less than three hours. From city adventures to country getaways, the weekend trip possibilities are endless.
2. The great outdoors.
There are 37 city parks, 18 county parks and 10 county forest units in greater Wausau – more than 32 acres of gorgeous public space. And that doesn’t even account for Rib Mountain State Park. Estimated to be 1.7 billion years old and one of the oldest geological formations in the country, this park tops out near 2,000 feet. In addition, there’s a 60 foot tall observation tower that gives you 360 views for miles. Home to Granite Peak Ski area, there are 13 miles of hiking trails here. Wausau really is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
3. A bustling downtown.
Folks that haven’t been to Wausau recently will be surprised by the transformation. The center of downtown is known as the 400 Block and it’s a gorgeous, wide-open space that’s home to numerous events and festivals. It’s an awesome gathering place and the available space continues to inspire new events. Just off the main square, Janke Bookstore is Wisconsin’s oldest bookseller. Located on this same block since 1919, this family-owned location will celebrate a century of serving this community in 2019. Shop locally and sample local food, all within walking distance.
4. A sporty side.
Home of the Badger State Games in both winter and summer, Wausau also has one of the largest and oldest curling clubs in the country. Their state-of-the-art facility is the only one in the world to hold eight Olympic size curling sheets. Whitewater Water Park right in downtown Wausau has hosted international competitions and is a great place to learn how to handle a kayak in whitewater conditions. The Wisconsin River, the state’s longest river and a tributary of the Mississippi River, runs right through the center of the city and just a few miles east of town, the Dells of the Eau Claire River provide one of the most unique areas you’ve ever seen as titling of the bedrock here has created spectacular falling water and gorges. Both are havens life in and on the water. In the summer, root for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods Baseball League.
5. A thriving arts scene.
The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum was recently named a National Medal winner, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community. The only full-service art museum in northern Wisconsin, the Woodson Museum is amazingly accessible, with a full calendar of events, programs and workshops for community members of all ages and abilities. The majestic Grand Theater, built in 1927, is now the cornerstone of a revitalized ArtsBlock visual and performing arts center. This stunning theater hosts 300 events a year, from touring Broadway shows and concerts to the local Wausau Dance Theater, Wausau Symphony and Band, and Wausau Community Theater.
6. Festivals galore!
The aforementioned 400 Block Downtown is the absolute perfect place to hold a festival and Wausau doesn’t hold back. The list spans the calendar, from Winterfest and Winter Brewfest in the cold months to the Balloon and Ribfest and Beer and Bacon Fest in warmer months. In between, head to the 400 Block for Concerts on the Square, Harvest Fest, Chalkfest, the International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival, and more.
Elsewhere in the city, check out the Big Bull Falls Blues Fest, Marathon Valley Fair, Kayak/Canoe Midwest Freestyle Championships, Art in the Park/Festival of the Arts, Jazz on the River, and Summer Celebration Kick-Off Weekend, just name a few.
7. A charming mix of dining options.
It’s definitely an up-and-coming food scene, but there’s something to be said for proximity to local farms that grow so much of what ends up on the plate. In Wausau there’s this wonderful mix of old-school, tried and true supper clubs and newer, locally-sourced and locally-owned cafes. Michael’s Supper Club, Wagon Wheel Supper Club and The Palms Supper Club are the places of Wisconsin dining legend while spots like Sixth Street Filling Station, Mint Cafe, Basil and Thrive Foodery are the newer spots drawing locals like crazy.
8. Wausau embraces winter.
Here, winter isn’t something to endure, it’s something to celebrate. With all the gorgeous scenery around to get out and explore, winter in Wausau is a blast. Sylvan Hill Park is home to the longest tubing hill in the state at 1,200 feet. It offers six runs for a great ride down and two tow lines to pull you back up. Marathon Park has indoor and outdoor ice skating and a rink is put up in the 400 Block, as well. Granite Peak at Rib Mountain has the tallest vertical ski drop in Wisconsin (third steepest in the Midwest) and its 75 runs are split evenly by difficulty level, with one-third each dedicated to beginner, more difficult and most difficult runs. It’s really a ski destination. There are miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails and there are nearly 900 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in Marathon County maintained by 29 clubs deploying 49 pieces of grooming equipment.
9. Small town charm, big city amenities.
Wausau really is the best of both worlds. It has a lot of the things you could want from city living without all the hassles. You won’t be stuck in traffic, or have long commutes, but you will have great restaurants and quality entertainment. Wausau is a wonderful mix of city conveniences combined with small-town allure. Most everything you could ever want or need is right at your fingertips in this city of 40,000 people and the walkability of the city tends to lend itself to a feeling of closeness. The lower cost of living and slower pace of life here combine with the ease of living in a full-size city to make Wausau a very attractive place to set down roots. And when you start itching for a bit more, all those big cities are just a short drive away.