State Parks

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Village of Cassville
Photo Courtesy of Travel Wisconsin

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

By ANASTASIA PENCHI

Wisconsin was the first state to set aside land for a state park.

Granted, most of that land wasn’t owned by the state at the time, so the lumber barons who were profiting from those northern forests eventually got them back.

But by 1900, the state figured out how to create a park system, and since then it has grown to 139,000 acres featuring 93 state parks, forests, trails and recreation areas.

There’s always something new happening in Wisconsin’s state parks, whether it’s new trails to walk on, new programming being offered by volunteer groups or just a steady stream of new visitors.

Some of the best state land is located along Wisconsin’s Great River Road, 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 rivers, bluffs and valleys of Western Wisconsin provide some of most gorgeous scenery in the world, so why not take a minute to appreciate the majestic views the state chose to preserve and scout for the wildlife within.

Here are four places to start your journey:

Reach for the stars

Eagles aren’t the only thing you can see in the sky at Wyalusing State Park, a 2,628-acre state park located at the south end of Wisconsin’s Great River Road near Prairie du Chien. This site where the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers meet is not only a great place to spend the day outdoors with its many caves, hiking trails and kayaking spots, but it also offers plenty of nighttime appeal. The Starsplitters are a group of amateur astronomers who spread the wonders of astronomy from the Lawrence L. Huser Astronomy Center inside the park. Why not incorporate a visit to use their telescopes while you are camping? Visit Native American burial mounds by day and star constellations by night.

Something old is something new

The state park named after Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey, is located in Cassville and overlooks the Mississippi River. Dewey’s 2,000-acre estate, which he called “Stonefield,” was designated a historic site in 1954 and eventually became a place to honor Wisconsin’s agricultural heritage. Now featuring more than 30 buildings that show the historic perspective of farm life in rural Wisconsin, it also houses the state’s Agricultural Museum, which has the state’s largest collection of farm tools, models and machinery. In September 2019, there will be special events as part of the Great River Road Fall Festival that include an antique tractor pull, wagon rides, sorghum making and broom making. Learn how Wisconsin farm families made a clean sweep in this nation’s agricultural history.

No experimentation necessary

The Coulee Experimental State Forest, which is located just east of La Crosse, is not your typical state park, but it’s sometimes good to try something new. While this expanse of about 3,000 acres of state-owned public land does not allow traditional activities like biking or camping, it does allow hiking and horseback riding. In the wintertime, cross-country skiing is also a popular recreational use of this property, and volunteers traditionally groom 12 miles of trail for that purpose. While there are no official bathrooms, employees or buildings at this site, there are also no parking fees or other entry requirements to use it.

Take it to the top

Sheer beauty can be witnessed at a variety of altitudes for visitors of Perrot State Park in Trempealeau. Known for its bike trails that take riders to Onalaska and La Crosse, this more traditional state park also attracts many hikers who want to see the spectacular views from Brady’s Bluff. Up more than 500-foot-high, seasoned hikers recommend checking in at the park and following the path at the south end so you go up the switchbacks and come down the steep stairs. Programming at this park is always changing thanks to its active “Friends of Perrot State Park” group. Whether they are organizing group bike rides, teaching visitors about the animals that live in the park or crafting new trails, there is always something new to enjoy at Perrot.

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.