By Pat Dillon
Wisconsin’s Driftless Area is a motorcyclist’s dream with its landscape untouched by the glacier leaving things gorgeously rolling. The area lays claim to dense forests and restored prairies, rustic roadways intersected by grand waterways like the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. It has scores of wetlands and lakes that host hundreds of migrating birds and are home to even more wildlife species that stay four seasons. It’s also home to artisans whose inspiration is always in full view, a canvas that brings out awe-struck autumn riders—raw beauty rolling out with the wind at their face.
Wisconsin Scenic Byway 60 along the Wisconsin River from Sauk City ends at Wyalusing State Park where the two rivers meet. From there you can go north or south on Hwy 35, the Great River Road, and there’s no wrong choice. Most routes lead to irresistible stops, towns filled with local charm and natural areas. Spring Green along Hwy 60 is known for its artisan shops, like the Spring Green General Store, an indie boutique and cafe serving up local goods and home-cooked food for breakfast, lunch or weekend brunch. You can eat in or on the porch, or take it on the go.
Muscoda, a short jog off of Hwy 60, is where Kathy Malkasian’s Valley Ridge Art Studio offers slow-paced, creative workshops surrounded by the rich palette of autumn colors. Workshoppers can rent the farm’s American Foursquare farmhouse.
Mary McCanna is a Madison resident who says dining at Milkweed at the Spencer Family Farm in Muscoda is as unique as its location nestled in the hills 25 miles east of Valley Ridge. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere but the drive there is part of the experience,” she said. “Tables are set up throughout organic gardens, animals are all about, it’s just charming—something you’d expect to see in northern California.”
Heading back to Hwy 60 then west is Wyalusing State Park at Hwy 35, 2,638 acres including the beautiful Boscobel Bluffs overlooking the river. Then take 17 hilly miles down Hwy 35 to Potosi Brewing Company that boasts bubbling spring water underfoot, an ornate wood bar chiseled by Potosi native Gary David and a menu that incorporates Potosi beer and root beer into local ingredients. There’s also the brewery museum and the Rustic Road that heads up the Brewery Hollow Road hill then down to the river on Slazing Road at River Lane.
Motocyclists heading North on Hwy 35 will find Mississippi River jazz in downtown La Crosse at The Root Note. “There isn’t a lot of parking downtown,” says Dane Gonzoles, owner of this organic cafe that specializes in sweet and savory crepes. “Motorcyclists can fit in really small spaces to grab a quick beverage—cold beer, iced tea, coffee from Kickapoo Coffee, something refreshing.” Sunday afternoon bikers stop here for their Simple Roots series that features musicians from the Driftless Area.
There’s more music at The Historic Trempealeau Hotel, a Highway 35 delight just 22 miles outside La Crosse. Located near the Mississippi River and right next to Perrot State Park, it’s known for its live concert series, quaint historic rooms that are clean and inexpensive with authentic white-washed charm and its famous walnut burger. Farther north is Fountain City where wine aficionados go to sample wine from Driftless-grown grapes at the Seven Hawks Vineyard. Its tasting room is housed in a historic site set right across from the river.
As an alternative to these routes, head to the Rockton Bar in La Farge. The trip on Hwy 33 out of Baraboo leads right to Wildcat Mountain State Park which promises to be a splashy show of fall color and then goes through the Kickapoo Valley Reserve State Natural Area on Hwy 131, another promise of awesome autumn tones. According to Mark Frankel, a frequent Driftless biker, “Sundays the Rockton Tavern serves possibly 250 people, it’s very large and friendly, with bikes parked all over the place, the quintessential Wisconsin motorcycle culture."