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Road Trips

Wisconsin’s Great River Road is a Recreational Wonderland

(ARA) - Wisconsin’s Great River Road gives travelers not only a window to picturesque Mississippi River scenery but also a door to a recreational wonderland. Beginning in Prescott, along the state’s northwestern border, and ending in Kieler, in its southwestern corner, Wisconsin’s Great River Road winds through 250 miles of magnificent Mississippi River country. En route, travelers find soaring bluffs, bucolic fields, quaint towns and charming shops around every bend.
The southward journey along Wisconsin’s Great River Road begins in Prescott. Here, a modest Mississippi River merges with the St. Croix River and becomes the commanding waterway that has long been integral to life and commerce along its banks.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Prescott’s Welcome and Heritage Center dates back to 1885. Here, visitors can find information about local boat tours and bike trails/routes, including the Great River Road-North Bicycle Tour. Following this route south from Prescott, cyclists can ride alongside the Mississippi as it winds through limestone gorges and verdant forested valleys.

Just south of Stockholm is Pepin. The small farming village is best known as the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the classic Little House series of children’s books. The Little House Wayside, located north of Pepin, is home to a replica of the cabin featured in “Little House in the Big Woods.” Back in town, the Pepin Historical Museum houses some of Wilder’s possessions from her days in Wisconsin’s woods.

Visitors to Pepin find more than the Little House legacy. The town’s original train depot houses the Pepin Depot Museum, which has exhibits on local railroading, logging and steam-boating history. The restored, century-old ticket office features period railroad tools and other memorabilia.

The first stop in Buffalo County is Nelson, a village at the foot of soaring, rugged bluffs. Hang-gliders launch from the 500-foot craggy promontories overlooking the town, while nature lovers head north of Nelson along Highway 35 to Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife Area. Cheese connoisseurs won’t want to miss the Nelson Cheese Factory. The five-generation family business includes a complete deli with an expansive cheese and wine selection.

Farther south is Alma. Built by Swiss settlers in 1848, the entire city spans only two streets wide yet stretches along the Mississippi for seven miles. Nearly every house in Alma has a view of the river, and much of the downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Alma’s Lock and Dam Number 4 is one of the best spots along Wisconsin’s Great River Road to observe barges, tows and other boats as they move through a lock. Bird watching is another popular pastime in Alma. Eagles are year-round residents, although winter is the best season for viewing the raptors as they hunt for fish in the river.

Named after Trempealeau Mountain, a nearby bluff completely surrounded by the Mississippi, Trempealeau’s business district was destroyed in an 1888 fire. Afterwards, the five surviving buildings, including the historic Trempealeau Hotel, were moved to form the nucleus of the present Main Street District. Today, the district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Trempealeau Lakes chain, a grouping of seven small, spring-fed lakes, is also popular among anglers and paddlers. Situated at the junction of the Mississippi and Trempealeau rivers, Perrot State Park features soaring bluffs with stunning views of the river valley.

Nature lovers can’t miss the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The 6,200-acre refuge is a major resting, breeding and feeding grounds for migratory waterfowl, including ducks, geese, herons and egrets. At the entrance to the refuge, visitors find parking for the Great River Bicycle Trail, which connects to more than 100 miles of other state bike trails.

The city of La Crosse is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River and on the east by 600-foot-tall bluffs. This unique topography provides many recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, hiking, biking and downhill and Nordic skiing, all within a few minutes of a historic downtown center. Travelers can hop aboard historic Mississippi River Boats including the Julia Belle Swain, one of five paddle-wheel boats still running on the Mississippi; the sternwheeler La Crosse Queen; and the Island Girl Cruiseliner. For a great view, hikers can head to Grandad Bluff, which offers breathtaking views of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

An Indian village that became a fur-trading center, Prairie du Chien is the second-oldest community in Wisconsin. Fur warehouses built in the 19th century by the American Fur Trading Co. are still standing on historic St. Feriole Island. Also on the island is the elegant Villa Louis, an Italianate-style brick mansion built in 1870 by the son of fur trader Hercules Dousman.

Paddlers love Crawford County’s Wisconsin and Kickapoo rivers, the latter of which has been called “the crookedest river in the world.” Kickapoo Caverns lure outdoor enthusiasts to venture into the largest underground caverns in the state.

In Bagley, Wyalusing State Park offers spectacular views of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers confluence. Straddling the bluffs where the two rivers join, the park is one of the most popular in the state park system and features 23 miles of spectacular hiking trails.

In nearby Cassville, the Cassville Car Ferry shuttles visitors back and forth across the mighty river. Cassville’s Stonefield Village offers visitors the chance to step back in time and explore a confectionery, saloon, livery stable, newspaper office and shops that were common to rural farming communities in the 1900s. At Nelson Dewey State Park, visitors can camp, picnic and enjoy stunning views of “Old Man River.”

For more information on Wisconsin’s Great River Road the public can call the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s 24-hour, live-operated toll-free number at (800) 432-TRIP or visit Visitors can also obtain guides and information at the Wisconsin Travel Information Centers, located in select state-border cities.
Courtesy of ARA Content

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