It’s a land where windmills spin to deliver freshly pumped water, horses pull plows to work the rich soil, ice houses cool hand-pumped milk and black buggies roll by. Few electric wires mar the scenery here in Vernon County, home to some of the most beautiful farms in the state. They are the fruits of the labor of Wisconsin’s Old Order Amish and cycling through the “coulee region” is like going back in time.
The word coulee comes from the French word meaning “flowing.” In western Wisconsin, these small valleys, surrounded by hills, give a flowing feeling to the landscape. This geography is too hilly for modern farmers who need expansive fields to run their massive machinery. But it’s perfect for Amish farmers, who contour the land into wide strips of emerald green clover and golden wheat.
This is Wisconsin’s largest settlement of Old Order Amish, and there’s no finer way to soak in their unique and simple way of life than to move through it by bike. The flowing land is perfect for cycling, for one small roller-coaster hill often brings you most of the way up the next! And the scenery is unparalleled.
You’ll see animals everywhere—cows, sheep, goats, retired racehorses that pull buggies, massive draft horses that work the land, all munching peacefully in the lush fields. When you stop for a swig from your water bottle, curious animals come to the fence immediately. Barefooted boys dressed in suspendered pants, blue button-down shirts, and straw hats wave as you cycle by. Well-maintained roads curve, and flowers line walkways, farmhouses, and gardens.
Knapp Creek slices through this undulating land, and you can create many fine rides of varying lengths by incorporating the roads that follow the fingers of the creek and its tributaries.
When you’re ready for a break, there are bakeries, cheese “factories,” and fruit stands to nourish you and give you a chance to get to know the people. The Amish settlement of 3,000 south of Cashton is growing, and now also supports hardwood and bent hickory wood furniture shops, as well as shops selling woven rugs, baskets, maple syrup, and Amish crafts.
Before our ride, we visited Kathy Kuderer’s Down a Country Road business outside Cashton, to get a head start and an education. Kathy grew up with the Amish and is friends with many in the settlement. Her personal tour, led from your own vehicle, takes you to homes and farms where you can talk with Amish people on a much more open basis. As we drove, we learned about the history of the Amish and their intriguing way of life. Kathy helped us map out a good cycling loop, leaving and ending from her farm, where she also operates gift shops full of Amish hand-crafted treasures. Coming from out of town, it was a wise way to get the most out of our Amish coulee area experience.