Life Along Wisconsin’s Great River Road And Why You Need To Go
By ANASTASIA PENCHI
They have been known to inspire creativity, and often motivate us to do our best work.
They force us to take pause. Appreciate life. Give thanks for the beauty around us.
Emotions get stirred up when you take in the majestic vistas found 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.
The bluffs and valleys of this area provide some of most beautiful scenery in the state (some might argue in the world), and much of it is protected from development. As a result, the scenic overlooks in Western Wisconsin not only inspire, but can be a great place to see bald eagles and other wildlife.
So hop in the car. Jump on that motorbike. Get ready for some jaw-dropping landscapes. Here are four of the most iconic views along Wisconsin’s Great River Road to get you started:
The granddaddy of them all
The biggest treasure in La Crosse has nothing to do with a pot of gold. Grandad Bluff Park opened in 1912 and provides breath-taking views of not only the La Crosse area, but parts of Minnesota and Iowa, too. There are hiking trails on Grandad Bluff, and a bathroom and picnic shelter, so plan to spend some time there. In recent years, the city added sidewalks to assist in getting visitors to the overlook, and this greatly enhances accessibility. Grandad Bluff is easy to find once you are in La Crosse – just head east on Main Street. And don’t forget La Crosse’s historic downtown has abundant boutique shopping, as well as many one-of-a-kind restaurants and taverns.
Camp where two rivers meet
Nature lovers take note: Wyalusing State Park is ahidden gem of a 2,628-acre state park located at the south end of Wisconsin’s Great River Road near Prairie du Chien, where the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers meet. This is the type of place that outdoorsy people go to spend a weekend in full-blown nature, in addition to seeing magnificent scenes. Rent a kayak and follow a water trail. Explore the caves here. Teach the kids about Native American mounds. Keep in mind that some of the hiking trails that lead to the most impressive overlooks are easier to use than others, so be aware of abilities. Everyone enjoys seeing eagles soar while standing at Lookout Point where the two rivers meet. The gorgeous scenes here inspire visitors, and Prairie du Chien is so close that you might stop to learn more about the area’s history at Villa Louis or Fort Crawford.
The Spanish speakers got it right
Buena Vista literally means “good view” in Spanish, and the natural limestone bluff balcony at Buena Vista Park in Alma provides a fabulous spot for those who love to watch the river traffic as it navigates up and down the Mississippi River. This superb viewing platform is located 500 feet above Alma’s Lock and Dam #4, and it provides a great education to anyone who has never seen a barge or pleasure boat lock through a dam. There are eagles. There are trains. And while there is no camping, you can drive up County Highway E from Wisconsin’s Great River Road to reach a handicap accessible area with picnic tables and grills, bathrooms and a small playground. It’s a great spot for those who brought a picnic lunch — simply walk to the overlook before you pull out the food. More adventurous hikers might prefer the one-mile Buena Vista Trail, which heads up the bluff near Wings Over Alma Nature and Art Center. And remember Alma is also historic. It’s especially unique because it is only two streets wide with 12 stair-step streets connecting the two main streets. Walk to visit its art galleries, boutiques and restaurants and fill up your day.
A park worthy of our first governor
It seems appropriate that the state park namedafter Wisconsin’s first governor is located in Cassville, a village Nelson Dewey once purchased himself in hopes that it would become the state’s capital. That never happened, but Dewey did build his dream home – and later a summer home – in Cassville at a spot that overlooks the Mississippi River. During Dewey’s two-term administration, this “friend of the poor,” was all about infrastructure and advocated for improvements to the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers. He died in poverty, but his legacy lives on through Nelson Dewey State Park, known for its picturesque Mississippi River views and large campsites that provide plenty of room for the kids to run. Some campers suggest taking hummingbird feeders to better observe the winged wildlife inhabiting the area. If you don’t camp, at minimum bring a thermos of coffee (iced or hot depending on the temperature) and relax on the benches that are at some of the park’s most inspirational views. Maybe visit Dewey’s summer home, Stonefield, a 2,000-acre country estate Wisconsin Historical Site, while you are there?
Meet the Writer
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.