Some of Wisconsin's most scenic views can only be enjoyed by reaching the top of the state's majestic bluffs. Soaring hundreds of feet skyward, these rocky ridges often tower over lakes and rivers, and are typically accessible by hiking trail.
Bring along an encouraging companion or two; some trails can be challenging. You're climbing up a bluff, after all! But your efforts will be rewarded with incredible vistas and new memories. Here are four prime bluff trails to check out.
Grandad Bluff – La Crosse
Grandad Bluff soars 600 feet over the city of La Crosse, offering expansive views of the Mississippi River Valley, including neighboring Minnesota and Iowa. Drive to the top by following Main Street east, which eventually turns into Bliss Road. Once at the summit, which is a city park, savor the views from both a main overlook and a smaller, extended outlook. Bring quarters for the coin-operated binoculars to get the full experience.
If you're a serious hiker, start your journey at any number of trails in Hixon Forest. At some point you'll need to segue onto the Oak Trail, which will deposit you onto Bliss Road. From here, it's another mile's hike along the paved road to the summit.
After soaking in the bluff views, enjoy a meal at the family-favorite hangout Schmidty’s nearby. Or order carryout to savor at the picnic facilities on top of Granddad — everyone loves a tasty dinner with a view.
Brady's Bluff – Trempealeau
Rising 520 feet above the confluence of the Mississippi and Trempealeau Rivers, Brady's Bluff in Perrot State Park offers the best views in the area, hands down. The .7-mile Brady's Bluff Trail East is narrow and steep, but leads you through a rare dry bluff prairie, home to more than 100 species of native Wisconsin plants. You may even spot the unusual wing snaggletooth land snail.
The .5-mile Brady's Bluff Trail West winds past rock walls and steps created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It also features a wooden staircase.
Once atop the bluff, drink in the incredible view of the river valley below and, across the water, the state of Minnesota.
If you're visiting during the spring or fall, watch and listen for migrating birds such as warblers, thrushes and tundra swans. More than 200 species may pass through annually, pausing to rest in Trempealeau Bay.
Time your Brady's Bluff adventure for a post-hike lunch at the family-owned River Cafe. Owners Rob (a native Wisconsinite) and Maggie (who immigrated from England) fuse the café's menu with American and British favorites.
Cactus Bluff – Sauk City
Cactus Bluff, five miles west of Sauk City, looms more than 300 feet above the confluence of the Wisconsin River and Honey Creek. Be aware that while the switchback path is less than a half-mile long, it pitches skyward at a 20 percent grade.
Once you've conquered the climb, revel in the vista from the sandstone overlook: striking views of a wide swatch of the Wisconsin River Valley, plus the ability to see for miles.
Cactus Bluff and neighboring Ferry Bluff are part of the Ferry Bluff State Natural Area, which closes in the winter months to protect roosting bald eagles.
Nothing hits the spot after a hike like a craft beer. Head into town for a meal and drinks at Vintage Brewing in Sauk City. Bring the family, even the four-legged family members — they offer a dog menu with $5 salmon pate, chicken cakes and more Friday – Sunday.
Falls Bluff – Osceola
Please note: The Cascade Falls Trail Head is currently closed, but there are other posted routes around the closure to enjoy the Cascade Falls, Eagle Bluff and Simenstad Trails.
Osceola is a small village snugged against the St. Croix River. Its popular Falls Bluff Loop Trail begins downtown near the statue of Chief Osceola. A mile-plus trek, it incorporates portions of the Cascade Falls, Eagle Bluff and Simenstad Trails.
You'll start out heading down 135 steps to the base of thundering Cascade Falls, tucked into Wilkie Glen. Dipping your toes into the cool waters is encouraged. Next, prepare to climb!
Hike to the end of the Cascade Falls Trail at the edge of the St. Croix River, then tackle a series of switchbacks winding to the top of Eagle Bluff. The climb is just a quarter-mile long, but tough. Thankfully, the extensive views of the St. Croix River Valley are worth it.
Finish your hike by following the Simenstad Trail, which loops around the top of Eagle Bluff. You'll enjoy more panoramic views of the river valley, including glimpses into Minnesota.
Your bluff conquest reward: a refreshing meal at the Watershed Cafe. You’ll feel good about eating here — dishes are crafted with sustainability in mind from locally-sourced ingredients.
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