Wisconsin Day Trips
Road Touring through the Driftless Area In Spring
If you’ve never had a chance to experience the beauty of the Driftless Area in Wisconsin, then Spring is your perfect chance. When Spring has sprung, nature is once again coming to life: wildflowers are emerging, wild critters are scampering about, fish are returning to the streams, and outdoor enthusiasts are taking advantage of the warmer seasons to come. The Driftless Area, a land never touched by glaciers, is a picturesque land of beautifully sculpted forested hillsides and steep bluffs, contrasted with picturesque valleys criss-crossed by cold water streams. We think one of the best ways to see the expansive beauty of the entire Driftless Area is to pack up the car and head off for a day of road touring along the rustic roads and scenic byways of Wisconsin. Stay at our Driftless Area Vacation Rental, and from here hit the roads for a day of adventure throughout the stunning and unique landscapes of Driftless Wisconsin.
Day Trips Day #1: The Big River
See some of the finest vistas of Crawford County. Travel south from Lonesome Hollow along Hwy 131 into the cute little village of Gays Mills. Peppermint Springs Furniture has a wonderful showroom featuring beautiful locally made tables and chairs. Take Hwy 171 west and stop at Mt Sterling Cheese Factory, for some of the best goat cheese produced in the state.
Continue on Hwy 171 to the Mississippi River, then turn south on Hwy 35. Enjoy beautiful vistas of the big river, see Lynxville Dam and the fishing boats gathered on the downstream side. Look for soaring eagles all along the river. Stop at Cabelas on the north side of Prairie du Chien if you need anything for the outdoors: items for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and canoeing are all featured. In Prairie du Chien visit Villa Louis, a restored Italianate mansion owned by Wisconsin’s first millionaire.
Day Trips Day #2: The Amish and the Kickapoo Valley
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 Cashtonyou 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.
Day Trips Day #3: La Crosse and Coon Valley
Wisconsin is blessed by many wonderful small cities with populations of 50,000 to 100,000. Not really totally urban and surrounded by rural beauty, La Crosse is worth a full day of exploring.
Leaving Lonesome Hollow, follow Crawford County Hwy C west to Hwy 35. Then sit back in your car and take in the splendor of a forty mile drive along the upper Mississippi River. You will see areas of the river that are more than two miles wide, and other areas of the river that are choked with hundreds of small islands that form a maze of interconnected waterways.
La Crosse has something to offer everyone: antique malls, great restaurants, city parks along the river, Grandad’s Bluff (a park on a bluff 600 feet above the city), and plenty of shopping. Activities available in La Crosse include minor league baseball and river rides on paddle-wheel excursion boats.
When leaving the city, follow Hwy 14/61 south to the village of Coon Valley. Here you will find nice restaurants and scenic local drives. If you go east on County Hwy P you will find Norskedalen, a nature and Norwegian Heritage Center. Norskedalen offers a great photo history of the Coon Valley area and the Bekkum Pioneer Homestead featuring a dozen or so original log structures that compromised a late 1800’s homestead.
Continuing south Hwy 14/61 will take you through the larger villages of Westby and Viroqua. Both offer fine restaurants, antique shops, and very entertaining seasonal events. From Viroqua, just follow Hwy 61 south to Soldiers Grove. Stop for dinner at the Old Oak Inn in Soldiers Grove, a beautifully renovated Victorian restaurant.
Day Trips Day #4: Biking the Trails and the Roads
Southwest Wisconsin is a bikers paradise. Quiet rural roads, sleepy little towns, and some of the best scenery in the upper Midwest all combine to offer biking enthusiasts unparalleled recreational opportunities.
If you prefer bike trails, you can travel north from Lonesome Hollow one hour and bike the famous Elroy-Sparta Trail, or travel to the east for forty five minutes and bike the Pine River Recreation Trail near Richland Center.
Off-road biking enthusiasts can travel one half hour north to the Kickapoo Reserve and bike four separate sections of mountain bike trails and many miles of interconnecting multi-use trails.
Road biking enthusiasts have hundreds of miles of scenic rural roads to choose from. There is no better way to feel like a real part of the Driftless Area than to glide your bike along county highways that present a constantly changing rural panorama. The Crawford County Highway Department rates County Roads B, C, D, E, F, H, N, S, W, and X (about 120 miles in total) as having the best conditions for biking.
Day Trips Day #5: Stream Trout Fishing
The geology of the Driftless Area has created an abundance of cold water streams throughout Southwest Wisconsin. There are more than 50 trout streams within an hour drive of Lonesome Hollow; some of the best streams are only a few miles away. You can explore these streams by yourself, or hire experienced guides Matt Wagner (www.driftlessangler.com) or Dan Boggs (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get you familiar with a few of the best local streams and techniques. The local guides have taken many Lonesome Hollow guests and some of our personal friends on half or full day fishing trips that are memorable for the number of trout they catch and for the beauty of the scenery. Matt has a fly fishing shop in Viroqua. The famed Orvis fishing outfitter rates some of our local streams as some of the best in the Midwest.
Former trout fishing guide Len Harris now writes for many sporting and fishing magazines. His blog is a wealth of information and photos of local streams. Len’s blog can be found at http://lenharris.blogspot.com. Len has hosted several Midwest fishing show episodes on local streams.
Day Trips Day #6: Art in the Coulees
The local hills are often referred to either as the Ocooch Mountains or more simply as the Coulees. This area has long attracted very creative, free-spirited people to shuck hectic city life and to move here to enjoy the slower pace and the beauty of the landscape.
During the past 40 years artists have moved here in appreciable numbers. The Crawford County website has a listing of many local artists. To get a feel for some of the local talent, visit the websites of Denis Daniels, Liz Quebe, Janet Wissman. Many local artists will be participating in the Driftless Area Art Festival on September 15 and 16, 2007 in the lovely village park in Soldiers Grove. The Art Festival is a two day celebration of Driftless Area art and includes continuous live music and unique local foods and wines. This art festival is rapidly becoming a favorite of both artists and art enthusiasts. There is simply no more majestic setting for a Wisconsin art festival than the incredible Driftless Area.
Get in touch
15662 Vance Rd
Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin 54655
Our family stayed in mid-August. We had a very relaxing visit. The house is comfortable and the property is encircled by hills, making the experience a unique getaway. We enjoyed building bonfires each night, hanging out in the nice living room and taking the surprisingly lengthy hikes that are all on the property. Mornings started with coffee on the second story porch overlooking the meadow and hills, evenings ended with zero noise except that made by nature or our family. Each night there was a canopy of bright stars that weren't diluted by light pollution. We enjoyed hiking Wildcat Mountain, canoeing down the Kickapoo, roasting smores and hanging out. My son and I tried our luck at trout fishing in a nearby stream (Tainter?). It was an enjoyable, unique experience although we didn't catch anything. We'll be back.
- Dave, Eau Claire, WI