Road Trip Ideas and Destinations
A fabulous adventure awaits you on the Great River Road, Wisconsin’s only national scenic byway.
Established in 1938, the entire trail extends 3,000 miles along the Mississippi River through 10 states. Locally, the road is part of Highway 35 on the Minnesota border and weaves 250 miles from Prescott to Potosi.
A road trip on the Great River Road takes you through 33 historic and unique Wisconsin towns. Here are some things you MUST do… but we guarantee you’ll want to do much more.
Take in the Beauty
Try sightseeing in a new way by hopping out of your car and onto a boat. From May through the end of October, the La Crosse Queen Cruises offers a variety of tours on one of the only authentic Mississippi River paddlewheel river boats still in operation.
You could also bike or walk the Great River State Trail, an old railroad line through Trempealeau and Onalaska that connects with the La Crosse River State Trail, Elroy-Sparta State Trail and the “400” State Trail.
Taste Original Creations
There are a variety of stops along the Great River Road that cater to every palate. Enjoy down home cookin' at Pier 4 Cafe and Smokehouse in Alma while taking in the views of the river and the trains zipping past. Try the German Potato Pancakes for breakfast or savor the pulled pork made in the on-site smoker. Need a break for a sweet treat? A stop for a slice of pie at the Stockholm Pie Company in Stockholm will have your taste buds rejoicing. The Freight House Restaurant in La Crosse was built in 1880 and serves top-quality steaks and seafood. On Friday and Saturday nights, grab a bar stool and listen to some local musicians.
Bike the Great River Road
The Mississippi River has often been described as the backbone of America. While in past centuries its waters carried native peoples, fur traders and settlers, today it invites bicyclists to ride along its banks. In Wisconsin, the Mississippi River winds its way through the beautiful "driftless" area of the state. Over the years, bicycling has become established as a popular activity in the valley. For more inforamtion and maps download the Great River Road Mississippi River Trail Map.
The Great River Road is jam packed with history and two state historic sites capture it best. Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien showcases the lifestyle of wealthy barons of the 19th century as costumed guides lead tours through the lavish dwelling and entertain visitors with stories of the Dousman family’s opulent lifestyle.
On the other end of the spectrum, Cassville’s Stonefield demonstrates Wisconsin’s early farming days with a recreated 1900s rural farming village. Visit a 1901 farmstead, see historic farming tools at the Agricultural Museum and tour the estate of Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Located on the Great River Road’s northern stretch between Maiden Rock and Pepin, Stockholm has been rated as one of the best of the Midwest small town getaways. Check out the Abode Gallery in Stockholm. It’s filled with beautiful items ranging from batik to glasswork to furnishings and accessories all made by local and regional artists.
Go Wild With Wildlife
From start to finish the Great River Road features sprawling parks, an abundance of wildlife and picturesque vistas overlooking the Mississippi River.
Just south of Prairie du Chien you’ll find Wyalusing State Park, a 2,700-acre Travel Green Wisconsin-certified state park and one of the state’s oldest. Located on the bluffs of southwest Wisconsin, Wyalusing offers hiking, camping and canoe rentals. Plus, it’s a spot where Native Americans built burial and effigy mounds still visible today.
Travelers on the Great River Road can rest their tired feet at a variety of inns, hotels and bed and breakfasts.
Further down the trail, The Trempealeau Hotel greets guests. Opened in 1871, the hotel offers luxurious suites, dining and live music. The hotel even offers historically decorated, European-style rooms with no television or phone. And don’t leave without trying the walnut burger.
Make A Toast
Whether you prefer a pint of beer or a glass of wine, the Great River Road offers both.
The Potosi Brewing Company, established in 1852, offers a seasonal glass of Potosi Gandy Dancer Porter and a Potosi Burger with bacon, BBQ sauce, mushrooms and Wisconsin cheddar cheese.
Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery is part of the Great River Road Wine Trail, a trail that connects wineries in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Along the same trail you'll find Vino in the Valley, where glasses of wine and Italian fare are served outdoors, overlooking the stunning vineyard and Rush River Valley.
Catch A Flick
Film buffs should flock to the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin. It’s your chance to experience more than 70 independent and international films over three days. Plus, the festival kicks off with food created by local chefs.
Looking for more ways to experience the Mississippi River life in Wisconsin? Check out 5 Mississippi River Towns to Explore in Southwest Wisconsin or find unique places to stay or set-up camp along your road trip.