Where is “Up North”?

By Christina Lorey

January 11, 2023

It’s in our name, but we get it: it’s confusing.

While UpNorthNews covers all of Wisconsin, “Up North” is a specific geographic spot within our state. But where exactly? That’s up for debate…

OPTION 1: The Top Half of Wisconsin

According to the state cartographer’s office, the geographic center of Wisconsin is near Auburndale, along Highway 10, west of Stevens Point. So, geographically, everything north of Stevens Point is “Up North” by this definition.

OPTION 2: Everything North of Highway 8

In 2017, the Journal Sentinel asked readers which west-to-east highway defines the southern border of “Up North” territory. Highway 8, which runs from St. Croix Falls east through Rhinelander to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula border, won with 7,000 votes. But many people commented that Highway 29, which stretches from Chippewa Falls through Wausau to Green Bay, was omitted.

Where is "Up North"?

OPTION 3: Where the Northwoods Begin

Evergreens and lakes are two distinct features of Wisconsin’s Northwoods forests, which span the state’s 22 northernmost counties, including Barron, Rusk, Taylor, Lincoln, Langlade, Shawano, Oconto, and everything north of those. While only 44% of Wisconsin’s total land mass remains forested, 75% is forested in the Northwoods. 

OPTION 4: North of the “Tension Zone”

According to the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, the tension zone marks the boundary between the state’s two distinct regions: the southwest (filled with oak savanna, prairie, and deciduous forest) and the northeast (filled with a mixed deciduous-coniferous forest). This zone stretches from Burnett County to Portage, then east to Outagamie and south through Kettle Moraine to Racine County.

Where is "Up North"?

OPTION 5: Portage’s “Where the North Begins” Sign

Portage is the state’s southernmost city to market itself as a gateway to the north, greeting visitors with a sign that reads, “Historic Portage– Where the North Begins.” The city was a gateway to the north long ago, when travelers depended on waterways to travel. In northeastern Wisconsin, Crivitz has a similar slogan, billing itself as the “Gateway to the North.”

OPTION 6: The Officially-Branded “Northwoods of Wisconsin” Cities

If you’d rather be safe than sorry, five counties have branded themselves as the Northwoods of Wisconsin: Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, Oneida, and Vilas. With two of those towns bordering the Upper Peninsula, it’s hard to argue they’re not “Up North.” The group even has an official website, thenorthwoodsofwisconsin.com.

OPTION 7: Wherever You Decide!

“Up North” is a way of life, not a specific spot. Most Wisconsinites head “there,” wherever that may be, to escape and slow down.

Where is "Up North"?

WEIGH IN: Where is “Up North” to YOU?

Join the conversation on our Facebook page.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.



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