Can’t Miss Experiences

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Life Along Wisconsin’s Great River Road And Why You Need To Go

By ANASTASIA PENCHI

There are many sites you shouldn’t miss in Western Wisconsin.

We have tree-filled coulees and deeply-carved, lush river valleys that are home to numerous types of birds and wildlife. We are home to artisans with the talent to create tasty varieties of craft beer and cheeses. We have a river system that is crucial to the commodities trade and was made famous by the works of Mark Twain.

Plenty of these sites are along Wisconsin’s Great River Road, which is a 250-mile stretch of Highway 35 running adjacent to the Mississippi River from Kieler, Wis., in the south, to Prescott in northern Wisconsin.

For a “Can’t Miss” experience, start your tour at one of these locations:

Beauty in God’s Country

You don’t have to be Catholic to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but you can always convert if you want to. The Shrine started as a 70-acre donation from the Robert and Lucille Swing family of La Crosse and took $29 million to finish in 2008. It now encompasses about 100 acres and comes complete with a restaurant and gift shop. Those familiar with the loveliness of the hilly woodlands and meandering trout streams of La Crosse County can attest to the spiritual musings that come when you visit a place like this. And don’t worry about accessibility — they have a fleet of golf carts and will zip visitors around without delay. Go take the Rosary Walk and become inspired. Show how little or how much Spanish you retained in school by attending Spanish Mass at the Shrine Church. There is even a traditional Latin Mass for those who remember that era.

Drink local beer

Potosi likes to call itself “Beer’s Hometown,” and who are we to say otherwise? Founded in 1852, the Potosi Brewing Company became the fifth largest brewery in Wisconsin, and eventually distributed beer across the nation. The brewery survived prohibition, but closed in 1972. A non-profit reopened it in 2008 after a $7.5 million restoration. Nowadays it’s also home to the National Brewery Museum, which is a spot worthy of a visit from Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe from the “American Pickers” television show. Advertising signs, beer bottle collections and other brewery-related collectibles can be seen there. Who can complain about drinking beer when you are also supporting the local economy?

In Wisconsin, it’s all about the cheese

Nelson Cheese Factory no longer makes its own cheese, but it did for more than 100 years. Now this business sells a variety of cheeses made in Wisconsin, as well as cheese that’s made in other parts of the world. Is fresh Mozzarella your weakness? Or maybe it’s Apple Smoked Cheddar? Perhaps you just want to sit outside in the sunshine while you drink some wine and snack on a cheese and sausage plate? It’s possible to go there just to take home some German style sausages and tapenade from the deli. And I’m sure the kids won’t mind eating ice cream while you order gift boxes for family members living down south. You know Wisconsin cheese is what they really want from Midwesterners during the holidays.

The liquid staircase

Are you familiar with the way commodities are transported up and down the Mississippi River? Learn more about water navigation by watching towboats move giant barges filled with coal and other goods through Lock and Dam 6 near Trempealeau. This is one of 29 locks located on the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Louis. The locks are a sort of staircase for boats that want to head north or south. As a double bonus for all you transportation geeks out there, there is also an adjacent railroad so you can watch transportation via rail at the same time. All aboard for a trip to Trempealeau!

Meet the Writer

Anastasia Penchi

Anastasia Penchi is a self-employed writer who lives just off Wisconsin’s Great River Road. You can read more about Wisconsin’s Great River Road, and the festivals and people of Western Wisconsin, at the Web site: www.loislaneforhire.com.