Fall is here, so it’s time to roll down the windows, feel the breeze, and soak in views of the vibrant trees as you take a family cruise through some of Wisconsin’s oldest towns. Buckle up because you’re in for an adventure along the Great River Road, one Wisconsin’s national scenic byways.
The entire road traverses 3,000 miles through 10 states, and our 250-mile stretch takes you through 33 historic Wisconsin towns. Each town has a storied history and unique features ranging from scenic overlooks to standout restaurants to meaningful activities for the entire family. Here are some stand-out spots along the way.
This lively college town is loved by more than just students for its breathtaking views of the Mississippi and foodie hotspots. For a bird’s-eye view of the city, drive or hike up to the popular Grandad Bluff Park and survey the fantastic fall colors from above.
After your outdoor adventures, split some tapas at the 4 Sisters Wine Bar & Tapas Restaurant. From grilled cheese dippers to Ahi Tuna bites, there’s plenty to share with your friends at this veteran and female-owned eatery with a riverside view.
For some small-town charm in the city visit The Pearl, an ice cream shop and confectionary in one of the oldest buildings in the city. Try one of their handmade flavors like Snappin’ Turtle or Banana Blondie.
If a modern night life is more your style, grab a latte or craft cocktail from The Root Note and catch some local performers on their intimate back stage.
Have you ever been to one of Wisconsin’s oldest state parks? Wyalusing State Park has breathtaking views and hikes that are great for the whole family — it’s an oldie but a goodie. There are plenty of picnic areas, so you can relax and enjoy the cool air as you have lunch with a view. We love to camp here and enjoy a cozy bonfire with the family after a day of exploring ancient effigy mounds.
Who wants to do a little antique shopping in one of the oldest towns in Wisconsin? Stockholm is known for its vintage treasure shops, so feel free to peruse through Antique Future for a mix of old gems and newer art from local artists.
Shopping isn’t the only thing that Stockholm is known for — this place calls for an adventure with Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area. This 400-foot tall limestone cliff overlooks expansive Pepin Lake and is one of only six bluffs on the Mississippi River where Peregrine Falcons successfully nest.
Not to mention, Stockholm has some tasty eats including Stockholm Pie and General Store, famous for both its sweet and savory pies for every tastebud.
It’s time for a photoshoot! Trempeauleau (French for “dip in the water”) is the perfect place to snap some profile-picture-worthy shots on historic main street or in front of a riverside view. If you’d prefer a more tranquil escape, head to Perrot State Park for some lovely glances of the Mississippi River.
Trempealeau is also home to the Elmaro Vineyard, where you can sip family-made wine, share a local cheese plate with friends, and even catch an outdoor movie with the whole family. And don’t forget to stop at Ecker’s Apple Farm, where you can pick fresh apples and enjoy a Hog's Back Brew at their beer garden in the middle of the orchard for a truly unforgettable fall experience.
History comes alive in the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series based on her pioneer childhood that started in Pepin, Wisconsin. Stop by the original site of the American writer’s birth and explore a replica of “The Little House in the Big Woods” that’s open all year long.
A short drive away in Alma is Buena Vista Park Overlook, a natural balcony that overlooks the Mississippi and is the perfect spot to relax and watch barges navigate around sandy islands and pass through Lock & Dam #4, as well as enjoy the wildlife that calls the river home. Bring a picnic along and end your road trip by enjoying the striking seasonal colors with people you love.
Looking for more ways to experience the Mississippi River life in Wisconsin? Check out these 5 Mississippi River Towns to Explore in Southwest Wisconsin.