Two of the most unique things about our area are the Amish settlements and the rural beauty of the Kickapoo Valley. A nice day trip can be planned so that you may enjoy both. Don’t do this trip on a Sunday, however, as the Amish shops are all closed. For an overview of the Kickapoo Valley, including great photos and a great map, visit www.kickapoovalley.org, the website of the Kickapoo Valley Association.
Begin this trip by driving south on Hwy 61, then west on Hwy 60. Near the village of Wauzeka the Kickapoo River flows into the Wisconsin River. Take Hwy 131 north and begin a leisurely ramble through the Driftless Area following one of the oldest rivers in the upper Midwest. Native Americans named this river the “one who wanders” in their native language. Normally a quiet, lazy river, the Kickapoo River can become a raging torrent during heavy rains and the history of the Kickapoo Valley is full of flood stories. As you follow Hwy 131 along the river you travel through a truly rural area and will never drive through a village with more than 1000 residents. Steuben, Barnum, and Bell Center, are no more than wide spots on the road. Gays Mills offers a couple of restaurants and a large area of apple orchards. The orchards are definitely worth a visit from late August through November when various types of apples are being harvested and sold.
Continuing north on Hwy 131, Soldiers Grove offers two war memorials, several nice restaurants, and one of the most unique village commercial areas in the country — Solar Village. This small commercial area was created in the late 1970′s with state and federal funds. The commercial buildings were moved away from the flood prone banks of the Kickapoo, and were all designed to utilize at least 50% solar heating, creating “America’s First Solar Village”.
Continue north through Readstown, Viola, and LaFarge and you will come to a small piece of paradise, The Kickapoo Valley Reserve. The Reserve contains more than 8500 acres of public land that straddles a fourteen mile section of the Kickapoo River. Hiking, biking, and equestrian trails traverse the Reserve. A new Visitor’s Center describes a thwarted attempt by the Corps of Engineers to dam the Kickapoo River and tells the stories of 140 displaced families. No place in the Kickapoo Valley shows the rural landscape and the rich culture of the valley as well as the Kickapoo Reserve.
Hwy 131 will then bring you to Rockton and Ontario; both of these villages have canoe outfitters who rent canoes and offer livery service. At Ontario, take Hwy 33 west and from Ontario to Cashton you can enjoy many fine Amish crafts shops. The Cashton settlement has become famous for the fine furniture and quilts produced by many local Amish artisans. Return to Lonesome Hollow by heading south from Cashton on Hwy 27, then Hwy 61.