There's no better way to celebrate fall than with a good, old-fashioned road trip. The Great River Road Scenic Byway is not only one of Wisconsin's finest road trips, it's one of the best routes in the country. The Badger State's section of road boasts small town charm, quirky folk art, cozy wineries, parks and preserves galore, and endless river scenery. Hop on Highway 35 and let the meandering course along the riverbank take you through Wisconsin.
Willow River State Park offers over 3,000 acres of forests and river scenery, making it the perfect escape for a day (or weekend). With waterfall views that will leave you breathless and several quality hiking trails, there's plenty to see and do here. Many of the trails are intermediate level, so they're perfect for the whole family. Be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet, because splashing around the falls is just plain fun!
Located in Prescott, Wisconsin, the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center is a fantastic place to learn more about the area and the route you're taking. With a playground for the little ones and a small museum filled with the history of the surrounding area, you’ll leave with an impressive knowledge of Wisconsin's relationship with the Mississippi. Beyond the history, you’ll have access to some incredible views overlooking the river. Be sure to give your surroundings another look and visit the gift shop before you head back out on the road.
Whether you're looking to sip on wine while soaking up the last few days of summer, or you're ready for fall and cider season, Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery is the perfect stop. A hobby for husband and wife team Herdie and Carol became a career when they purchased an 80-acre farm just outside the village of Stockholm, Wisconsin. In addition to being a fantastic winery, Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery has an award-winning orchard that offers apple picking, hay rides, orchard tours, and some of the best hard cider in all of Wisconsin. Whether you like your cider sweet or dry, still or sparkling, they have something for every taste. Enjoy your beverage of choice while learning the rich history behind the farm.
With over a dozen delicious pies to satisfy your sweet tooth and an atmosphere that oozes charm, The Stockholm Pie and General store is sure to be a highlight of your trip. And, it's all served by some of the most friendly waitstaff around. If you’re looking for lunch, Stockholm Pie and General Store also offers a few delicious savory pies. The general store has a wide variety of snacks and local specialties that you can purchase to bring a taste of your trip back home... if you don't polish it all off as a road snack first! The Double Lemon and Caramel Apple Crunch flavors are must-tries. And, gluten-free pie crusts for most pies can be ordered, just call 48 hours in advance.
Built by Herman Rusch in 1959 at the ripe old age of 74, the Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden and Museum consists of nearly forty majestic concrete, stone, and rock mosaic sculptures that will have your jaw hitting the floor. A self-taught artist, Herman painstakingly spent hundreds of hours creating some of the most memorable folk art in all of Wisconsin, from ornate arches to statues of people and animals. There’s a folk art tour and beautiful garden to explore as well. Hours vary by the season, so it’s wise to call ahead.
Le Chateau is a can’t-miss fine dining experience. The restaurant offers an elegant European-style atmosphere, and French-inspired dishes that will leave you wanting to try everything on the menu. Whether you’re looking for escargot, moules frites, duck or quail, Le Chateau has you covered. In addition to authentic cuisine, Le Chateau serves beverages exclusively from Europe, so you can sample some of the world’s most sought-after wines. Be sure to check out the La Cave lounge, which offers a wide variety of specialty cocktails and delicious food — no reservations needed.
Located in La Crosse, Grandad Bluff gives way to some of the most beautiful views in all of Wisconsin. It's pretty hard to miss; the bluffs can be seen from most vantage points in La Crosse. The views are amazing; on a clear day, you might even be able to see across the river to the Minnesota side from the top. The sights are just a short walk from the parking area, making them accessible for the entire family. Clean, quiet, and well kept, Grandad Bluff is the perfect place to stop and immerse yourself in nature. If you can, time your visit for a sunset. You won’t be sorry.
Famous for its tasty Sicilian-style pizza, the Great River Roadhouse can satisfy even the hungriest horde of travelers. Staff make the crust and sausage in-house daily, so you know this is the real deal. If pizza isn’t your thing, the menu includes an incredible broasted chicken and a popular bomber sandwich for you to try. In addition to the pizza, Great River features a friendly atmosphere and attentive service.
The 2,628-acre Wyalusing State Park is a perfect spot for outdoor adventure along the river. Located at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, it features fishing, biking, and boating, along with dozens of other outdoor activities. The park has caves to explore, Indian burial mounds to discover, a canoe trail to paddle, and an interpretive center where you can learn the history of the area. Wyalusing State Park is one of the oldest in all of Wisconsin. The park is kept incredibly clean and is constantly being renovated, leaving you with a modern campground feel.
There’s no better place to wrap up your trip along Wisconsin's Great River Road than Nelson Dewey State Park. Peaceful, clean, and quiet, it’s the perfect place to take in the natural beauty of the river before you head home. Located on the bluffs above the Mississippi, it offers sweeping views, campsites, and 2 miles of trails to hike. It's located right next to Stonefield, the mansion once owned by Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin's first state governor. It's also the site of the Wisconsin State Agriculture Museum and a living history village that features authentic historic structures and recreated buildings, along with costumed interpreters to tell the story of life in 1900s Wisconsin.
Incredible scenery, bittersweet art you won’t find anywhere else, apple orchards filled with ripe fruit, and the best pizza of your life... these are just a few reasons the Great River Road will have you falling madly in love with Wisconsin. You never know what special little gem or stunning view you'll find around each bend in the river, so roll down your windows, breathe in that fresh air, and take your time enjoying the ride during Wisconsin's fall season.
Header image via Jay Olson-Goude.
Let us share the real Wisconsin with you--where generations of families travel to make memories and locals share hidden gems. In Wisconsin, you're always welcome, because when you’re having fun we’re having fun.