The Great River Road Day Trip
Along the Upper Mississippi River runs the Great River Road, roughly defining the western boundary of the Wisconsin region affectionately known as Hidden Valleys. Weaving through backwater sloughs and sandbar archipelagos, past soaring limestone bluffs and quaint river towns, the river is a wide blue thread in the fabric of Wisconsin. Travelers wanting to use the Road for their basis of exploring this corner of southwest Wisconsin will find a great map at the Wisconsin Great River Road website.
Exploring Prairie du Chien
A great base for exploring many of the attractions on the southern stretches of the River Road is the historic city of Prairie du Chien. Dubbed “Wisconsin’s second oldest community,” Prairie du Chien has roots tied to Native American history and well as the earliest European settlement on the Upper Mississippi River. Located at the northern shore of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, Prairie du Chien lets its visitors explore birding, boating, biking, historic sites and a revitalized downtown. Besides the great dining and shopping (Cabelas has its distribution center here with a awesome retail store), Prairie du Chien is home to two historic sites—Villa Louis and Fort Crawford. A jewel box on the shore of the Mississippi, the Villa Louis is the Victorian era country estate of the H. Louis Dousman family. Restoration efforts over the past ten years have created one of the finest house museums in the United States.
The Fort Crawford Museum tells the story of Prairie du Chien with emphasis on Fort Crawford, especially the amazing story of Dr. William Beaumont.
Exploring Outdoors: Birds, Boats and Burial Mounds
For travelers whose interests focus more on nature and the environment, another couple of destinations will be on your must see list. Wyalusing State Park features Indian burial mounds, a canoe trail, and bird watching. It's a place to go for fishing, boating, bicycling, picnicking, and enjoying nature. There are an interpretive center and four historical markers within the park.
A short trip across the Louis Joliet Bridge will lead visitors to Effigy Mounds National Monument. Part of the National Park Service, the 2,526 acre Monument includes 206 American Indian mounds situated in a natural setting, and located within the one of the most picturesque sections along the Great River Road.
The south end of the Wisconsin Great River Road can be easily accessed by the Neumann House B&B in Prairie du Chien.
Traveling north on the Great River Road, between Prairie du Chien and the City of La Crosse, travelers will encounter numerous small villages and hamlets, along with two set of locks and dams. To maintain a 9-foot-deep channel on the Upper Mississippi, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a series of locks and dams on the river in the 1930s. Ten such locks and dams control water flow along Wisconsin’s border on the River. It’s fun to stop and watch the engineering feat as an 18 barge tug “locks through”. During winter months this stretch of the highway is a prime spot of eagle-watching. The water below each dam does not freeze (because of the strong movement of water) so eagles can continue to fish in the coldest of weather. These masterful birds are seen soaring from the bluff-tops to the chilly waters below.
The City of La Crosse is home to a number of attractions that can keep the visitor’s day planner full. Along the shores of the River in Downtown La Crosse is the beautiful Riverfront Park. A stopping place for the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and Julia Belle Swain riverboats, this park is also home to the local Rotary Clubs’ International Garden. While standing along the seawall, turn back and enjoy the city’s skyline and the impressive peak of Granddad’s Bluff—the highest point in the city. New Year’s Eve and July 4th are just two of the occasion when the La Crosse Skyrockers ignite their fireworks display from the top of Granddad’s. Another attraction for area visitors is the minor league baseball team the LaCrosse Loggers.
La Crosse is another great city for shopping and dining while traveling along the Great River Road. The city’s downtown district has assortment of retailers to tempt you with souvenirs of your visit or emergency items needed during your time on the road. La Crosse also is home to a full-service shopping mall, Valley View—anchored by stores including Macy’s, JC Penney’s, Sears, Herbergers and Barnes and Noble Books. Dining choices in LaCrosse are across the board, including some long time favorites, Piggys, the Freighthouse, Kate’s on State and Fayzes. Links to both shopping and dining choices can be found on the Explore La Crosse website.
The north end of the Wisconsin Great River Road can be easily accessed by these Wisconsin-Inns B&Bs