Wisconsin is home to 250 miles of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, the oldest of its kind in America. The road unspools 3,000 miles along the Mississippi River, from its headwaters in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. While many people enjoy the journey via car, the best way to fully experience its beauty and wonder is by immersing yourself in nautre. So gather your favorite friends and family members and explore this state treasure in one (or more!) of the following ways.
Most of the Great River Road follows Highway 35 south from the town of Prescott, winding through numerous charming small towns. When cycling through this northern section, a stop for ice cream at Nelson Cheese Factory is a must.
If you and your buddies are more into mountain biking, you can tackle the exciting trails in Wyalusing State Park. Its Mississippi River Trail features a beautiful river overlook perfect for catching your breath and snapping a photo. Two state trails – the Great River and La Crosse River – also lead you along the river and past wetlands, lush valleys and other scenic landscapes.
Grab a pair of binoculars and a friend or two for some birding along the Great River Road. Wisconsin's section of the scenic byway passes through the Mississippi River Flyway, an important migratory path for birds, so there's a good chance you'll spot some interesting songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors.
A handy bird checklist is available on the Wisconsin Great River Road website, so print off a copy to aid you in your adventure. The checklist notes you're almost certain to spot Great Blue Heron, mourning doves and other common visitors, while it will be a victory if you see rare species such as the stilt sandpiper and common loon. And be sure to stop in Bay City for a chance to see Bald Eagles.
One of the best ways to explore the Great River Road is to get off of it and onto the river itself. Visitors can do so in any number of ways, whether that's canoeing or kayaking (find tips for this here), renting a houseboat (like from Great River Houseboats or Fun ‘N the Sun) or signing up for a cruise on the La Crosse Queen, an impressive replica of an old Mississippi River paddlewheel boat.
Most communities on the Great River Road have boat launches onto the Mississippi. So if your group loves trying to snag walleye, catfish, bass and more, pick your town and cast your lines. FYI: Alma, Genoa and Trempealeau all offer fishing floats – barges anchored in the water – that will help you access some of the best fishing spots on the river.
Geocaching is a sport where players use a handheld GPS device to find hidden items, or caches. There are dozens of caches hidden along the Great River Road that you and your friends can try to find. In addition to being a fun activity, the caches are typically hidden in historic or scenic spots you may have otherwise overlooked.
Head to the park of your choice, then hit the trails to find their most scenic overlooks. If your crew is looking for hidden gem parks along the way, explore this list to find even more secluded beauty to enjoy with your crew.
Keep enjoying the outdoors with these 3 fall getaways also on the Great River Road!