Photo by Christina Dollhausen
Due to ongoing changes, please check ahead with organizations and events before traveling. For more information on safe travel visit the CDC travel page.
Nestled deep into the Driftless, Vernon County is full of quaint towns, meandering rivers and streams, dairy farms, and winding roads. Agriculture is the backbone of its economy and Vernon County has the highest concentration of organic farms than anywhere else in the Midwest. This says something about its people, who have great care for the environment and it shows through the immense opportunities to get outdoors.
The round barns of Vernon County were built between 1890 and 1930. At the time, agricultural colleges were promoting building round dairy barns as easy to build and efficient. Vernon County holds the largest concentration of these barns in the country and the county roads through the ridges and valleys of the Driftless make for a beautiful back roads tour. The winter is a good time to take a road trip to view these barns as they are all on private property, but there is better viewing for some, with the leaves off the trees. However, be sure to remember this is also Amish country, and watch for horse-drawn buggies sharing the road. You can find a map to the barns here.
Fat bike trails are becoming more and more popular as bicycle enthusiasts can then hit the trails all year round, whether there is snow on the ground or not. In Vernon County, a four-mile loop of groomed fat bike trail can be found at the Veteran’s Hills in Viroqua. Winter hiking and snowshoeing are popular in the region and there is a wealth of trails to check out. These trails are multi-use and mountain bikers are welcome. Trail conditions are reported year-round, and at Trail Forks, you can find out the condition of a trail before you go.
Other trails to check out are the Genoa Fish Hatchery and Great River Road Visitor Center which has a prairie boardwalk and walking trails through the fish ponds. The station rears more than 26 aquatic species equating to more than 40 million fish and mussels! They are also working to restore the rare Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly. While the Center is currently closed due to Covid, the trails are still worth a visit. Plus, Genoa is home to Lock and Dam 8 and its observation deck is open!
The Mississippi River Valley plays host to thousands of migratory birds. Bird watchers enjoy the cyclical nature of bird viewing from the spring warblers to the winter raptors. One of the best locations to do some birding is Old Settlers Lookout. This overlook is between Genoa and Stoddard and can be found off the River Road on Spring Coulee Rd. Snow may hinder your access to the park via car, but hiking in is always an option. A short trail leads to an overlook where bald eagles, American pelicans, egrets, herons, and so much more may be spied.
The artisans of Vernon County have made it easy to still find their unique goods, even in the time of Covid. You can shop safely online for curbside pick up or delivery. You will find some interesting and even one of a kind gift ideas for the Holiday season. Handcrafted and highly local. By shopping these sites you know you are supporting small businesses, which means it’s a family, not a corporation that thanks you.
Known for their award-winning cheese curds, Rocky’s Supper Club in Stoddard is a good choice. Supper clubs are a Wisconsin staple and a must stop when visiting the Great River Road. Their menu is pared down due to covid, but there are bonuses too. You can now take home a pint of their house blue-cheese dressing. Yum!