Driving on Hwy 41 between Green Bay and Appleton it’s hard to miss the big blue Kaukauna watertower. For many that is all they see or know about the town. But if you are Planning on moving to Kaukauna, will probably want some more info – I’ve you you covered.
A local to the Fox River Valley has authored these articles Incorporating day-to-day activities, insider spots that only the locals know about, and sharing tips about the city is the goal of this website. I hope you find it as informative and fun reading it as I do writing it
Located just north of Appleton, it’s almost a suburb, really, is the smaller town of Kaukauna Wisconsin. Incorporated in 1885 it now has around 17,000 residents.
Much like the other areas of this part of the Fox River Valley it was “discovered” by Jean Nicolet in 1634 The first missionary in the area, Father Claude Allouez, also mentions it in his writings. For a more detailed history, be sure to click over to the Kaukauna Public Library’s history of the city. It’s a quick read, I promise.
Speaking of the Kaukauna Library, it’s located in an old mill building that is totally worth visiting. Just go down by the river off of Catherine St onto the little island separating the north and south sides of the city. You can’t miss it! Did you know that the first Kaukauna Library was located in the prison which was adjacent to the current site? And that the librarian was given a revolver for protection – True Wisconsin Story!
Things to do and eat in Kaukauna
There are some hidden gems within this Wisconsin town. One of my favorite places to visit is Hilltop Bakery. It’s worth going early to this donut shop because they can quickly sell out of my favorites, the Persian Donuts & the Cherry Chip cookies.
For something more substantial, visit Landreman’s Family Restaurant on Main St in Kaukauna. This 2017 Best of Wisconsin Restaurateurs of the Year award winner has great breakfast and Dinner Menus, but I go for their “Grown-up Grilled Cheese” sandwiches. Wisconsin Cheese is truly a step above, and when melted between buttered bread on a griddle, it simply becomes magical. Add a few high-end fixin’s and you’ve got a grilled cheese worth coming back for.
We all know that Supper Clubs are the insider places to dine in Wisconsin. In Kaukauna, my go-to is the Out O’ Town Supper Club off Hwy 41. 14 oz steaks finished the way you like, A different special each night of the week, Fish Fry on Fridays (of course), and all the sides you would expect. Start the evening with the requisite Brandy Old Fashioned – they make one of the best.
As with most of the restaurants in the Fox River Valley, they don’t have a website. Some are on Facebook, but even then they don’t update that often. Just show up around dinnertime with an appetite, and you won’t be disappointed.
If you are going to visit someone, Be sure to pick up a sweet treat at Ashton’s Confections as a gift. From handmade fudge and truffles to specialty sodas and more, this candy store has a great mix of treats to satisfy any sweet tooth.
We all know that just about every respectable Wisconsin house has a bar in the basement. But if yours is running dry, stop by 313 Dodge for fresh on-tap selections or a handcrafted cocktail. Right across the street from Hydro Park this old brick building has seating indoors or outdoors. You can even rent the space for a special event!
What is Kaukauna Known For?
One simply turns to the water tower to discover what Kaukauna is all about. Nicknamed the “Electric City” because of its ability to produce electricity from the Fox River. Did you know the old nickname was “The Lion on the Fox”? That happened in the 1880s and is another story.
You might hear some of the old-timers refer to Kaukauna as the Ghost city. In fact, there used to be a ghost painted on the water tower. I’ve heard it was removed because of a questionable racist history This comes from the high school mascot the “galloping ghost”. Be sure to check out the statue at the front of the high school if you are in the area which is still there – you can decide for yourself.
Hydroelectric dams along the Fox River power over 5,000 homes to this day and the much larger gas-fired Fox Energy center which serves 100,000 homes and businesses is visible from the freeway, too.
By the way, What does the name Kaukauna mean?
Kaukauna is a unique word. According to the experts, it comes from the Menomonie Indian word meaning the place of the pike (fish) “Ogaq-kane”. This is probably based on the section of the river in Kaukauna near the 1000 Islands rapids where the fishing would be incredible.
Living in Kaukauna
Overall the lifestyle in Kaukauna leans more suburban/rural. Unemployment is low because of all the factory jobs available in the area. For the most part, it is similar to almost every other area in the Fox Valley.
Some nearby bigger cities are Appleton & Menasha, Neenah, and the smaller ones are Kimberly or Darboy
Little Chute, Combined Locks, and Sherwood. Green Bay to the North and Oshkosh to the south round out the larger metro areas.
There aren’t really named neighborhoods per see in Kaukauna. With just over 17,000 residents (as of 2023) this town is really only divided north to south (by the river).
As a whole, the people in the area are genuinely nice people, but like anywhere, you’ll have your d-bags and judgemental parent cliques.
Parks and outdoor recreation in Kaukauna
There are lots of parks and trails to walk on, but usually, you have to drive a few minutes to get there. For the most up to date visit the Kaukana Rec Department website.
One of my favorites is the CE trail, a nice, relatively flat 5.8 mile out and back paved walkway. I park at the Debruin Road and East College Avenue intersection where the trail starts. It’s called the CE trail because it follows the CE highway.
Another nice area is the 1000s Islands preserve. They have over 7 miles of looping trails on 350 acres right in the middle of the town on the river. Start at the nature center across from Bayorgeon Field. There are observation areas, and overlooks along the Fox that are good for all ages.
The Dog Park is probably the best within a 50-mile radius (according to many). Pen from 5 am to 11 at night, this 13-acre dog park has fenced and grassed sections for both large and small dogs, separately or together. There’s a pond Fido can jump in during the summer, and people even show up in the winter to let the dogs play in the snow.
What about the Kaukauna Smell?
Yes, this city can have an odor. Especially when the wind blows just the right way.
The Kaukauna smell comes from the active papermills that are all over the area. Specifically, it comes from the pulp, and more specifically the lignin. Lignin is what comes out of cooking out of pulp, and creates a by-product called black liquor.
Plus there is the landfill right off 441. But then again, every town has its own dump nearby if you look closely enough.
So how exactly is life in Kaukauna?
Overall, Life in Kaukauan is suburban/rural. It’s a small town, and comes with all the things a small town has – You get your groceries at the Pig (Piggly Wiggly). There are only a handful of gas stations in town. You aren’t a local until your kids have kids.
But Kaukauna can also be friendly. People will help you fix your flat tire when you are stuck on the side of the road. Neighbors actually talk to each other with sincerity. It is genuine and authentic.
For “fun” things you will need to go into Appleton, or up to Green Bay. Sure, there’s the summertime Kaukauna Farmer’s market from June to October in the 2nd Street parking lot. There are usually 20-30 different vendors, and you can get some great local produce (and cheese).
There is also the summer concert series. But other than that there aren’t a lot of activities.
So should you move to Kaukauna?
Obviously, that’s a choice you need to make, and hopefully, this short article can help you decide. Personally, I think it is a great city to buy your first home in. Prices are affordable, it’s close to some larger areas, and there are lots of outdoor things to do year-round.
Most home buyers I know always want to live in popular cities – but that’s not how I started. I sacrificed and lived in a suburban neighborhood in a small city. Over time I gained equity and “leveled-up” my housing. Now I live exactly where I want to (just outside Green Bay). But It took a while for me to get here.
You too can be a homeowner. Just pick a place like Kaukauna and live in a house you can fix up, or at least maintain until you are ready for the next stage in your life.