Wisconsin’s Great River Road is just part of America’s oldest National Byway. The Great River Road is a scenic roadway extending 2,000 miles into 10 U.S. states from Minnesota to Louisiana. But Wisconsin’s 250-mile stretch deserves a closer look. After all, it connects 33 historic towns and villages along the Mississippi and through National Wildlife Refuges.  Of course, there are  also several extraordinary points of interest. If you’re looking for a new great American road trip, here are suggested stops  along the Badger State’s scenic byway.

Great River Road (credit: Randy Yagi)

Great River Road Wisconsin

Where Does The Great River Road Begin and End in Wisconsin?

The Great River Road actually begins in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, the northern headwater of the Mississippi River. After winding its way through Grand Rapids and St. Paul, the first major stop in Wisconsin is in Prescott. The Great River Road proceeds to pass through Stockholm, La Crosse and Prarie du Chien. The last stop in Wisconsin is Kieler, with Dubuque, Iowa just across the state border. The Scenic Byway then continues through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi. The southern end of the Great River Road is in Venice, Louisiana, where the Mississippi River filters into the Gulf of Mexico.

What Highway Does It Travel Along In Wisconsin?

The Great River Road primarily travels along State Highway 35 and State Highway 53. However, it’s worth noting that portions of these highways are the main streets of several small towns.

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Stockholm

Founded in 1854 by Swedish immigrants, Stockholm has a tiny population of just 75 residents. But it’s the residents, its boutique shops and gourmet dining that make this a highly recommended stop along Wisconsin’s Great River Road. As one would expect, most Stockholm shops are along Wisconsin State Highway 35. But each of the charming shops have something unique to offer you. For instance you can purchase handcrafted yarns, Scandinavian gift and crafted Amish furniture.

Dining In Stockholm

For dining, travelers will not go away hungry or disappointed at outstanding spots like Bogus Creek Café and Bakery, Lena’s Lucky Star and Stockholm Pie and General Store, known for its world-famous, Best in Wisconsin fruit and nut pies. You should visit the Swedish History Museum, Stockholm Village Hall and Stockholm Village Campground. Lastly, you might enjoy Maiden Rock Apples, Winery & Cidery, well known for premium hard ciders and fine wines.

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Harbor Hill Inn (credit: Randy Yagi)

Pepin

A very charming community of just 580 residents, the Town of Pepin is acclaimed for its breathtaking vistas along its namesake Lake Pepin. But there are also premium wines and charming bed and breakfasts like Harbor Hill Inn. What’s more, this historic town is the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of The Little House Books children’s series. This includes her beloved “Little House on the Prairie”,  the inspiration for the very popular television series.

Pepin Attractions

In addition to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, visitors have a few other exceptional sightseeing options to consider, like Five-Mile Bluff Prairie State Natural Area and Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area along the Chippewa River, and Villa Bellezza winery, a marvelously picturesque spot reminiscent of a Tuscan farm and heralded for both its award-winning wines and one of the finest wedding and special events venues in Wisconsin. In addition to the winery, Pepin is home to many more excellent dining options, like Harbor View Café and Pickle Factory Waterfront Grill.

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Alma

Alma is yet another tiny community along the Mississippi River that seems to have more things to do than its total number of residents. The county seat of Buffalo County situated near the Buffalo River, Alma has a population of under 800. In That’s not to mention it was also founded by Swiss immigrants in the mid-19th century. And just like Stockholm, has a vibrant downtown area, with fascinating lodging, dining, entertainment and shopping options along main street.

Alma Attractions

Visitors to downtown Alma should make a few sightseeing stops. For example, Alma General Store, Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center and Big River Theatre. That’s also not to mention Fire & Ice Coffee & Ice Cream Shop, in the lobby for historic Hotel de Ville. Other nearby attractions are Castlerock Museum, Alma’s Buena Vista Overlook and Danzinger Winery, once named Wisconsin’s Winery of the Year.

Fountain City

Bounded by the Mississippi River to the west and Merrick State Park to the north, Fountain City is the oldest settlement in Buffalo County. Despite its population of 983 residents, this charming community offers several noteworthy attractions that visitors might want to enjoy beyond just a brief rest stop. Top attractions include Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum and Prairie Moon Sculpture Gardens. If that’s not enough, you should visit Kinstone megalithic garden – the largest privately owned stone circle in the world.

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La Crosse

With a population of more than 50,000, La Crosse is by far the largest city along Wisconsin’s Great River Road. Home to three colleges, most notably the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as well as a flagship campus of the Mayo Clinic, La Crosse has a lot to offer. Suggestions include La Crosse Queen Cruises, kayaking with Island Outdoors and Grandad Bluff Park. There’s also the World’s Largest Six Pack roadside attraction, with six enormous beer can-shaped barrels.

Dining & Lodging In La Crosse

Dining and lodging recommendations include Fayze’s Restaurant and Bakery, Pearl Street Brewery, Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern, Charmant Hotel, Stoney Creek Hotel and Prairie Inn and Suites.

Genoa

Travelers looking for another rest stop along Highway 35 might want to pull over at the Great River Road Interpretive Center, a part of the National Fish Hatchery three miles south of Genoa and one of a network of informational centers along the Great River Road.  The admission-free Great River Road Interpretive Center at the National Fish Hatchery features several educational exhibits on two levels. Each of these exhibits have a special focus on the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River. Additionally on site are public restaurants and free parking.

Where To Stay In Genoa, Wisconsin

In Genoa, travelers can either stay for just a few hours to visit places like Old Tool Shed Antiques and Clements Fishing Barge or stay at suggested spots like the Big River Inn or Genoa Motel.

Prairie Du Chien

The last stop might be the most important stop along this suggested trip along Wisconsin’s Great River Road. Established as a French European settlement Prairie du Chien (Prairie of the Dog) is Wisconsin’s second oldest city. It’s also the oldest on the Upper Mississippi River, strategically located near the confluence of the Wisconsin River. With a population of about 6,000 Prairie du Chien among the larger communities Scenic the setting for several points of interest. Of these, five of which are National Historic Landmarks and many more on the National Register of Historic Places.

Prarie Du Chien Attractions

Among the most notable are the restored 19th century Dousman House Hotel on St. Feriole Island, Villa Louis, an extravagant 19th century Victorian estate and Fort Crawford Museum, located on a former U.S. Army military installation and also serves as a Great River Road Interpretive Center. Other suggested activities include a boat ride with Mississippi Explorer Cruises and possibly a stop to the quirky Valley Fish Shop.

Prarie Du Chien Lodging

For lodging and dining, there are several popular places that may be of interest, such as River District Hotel, Country Inn and Suites by Radisson, Jones’ Black Angus, Fort Mulligan’s Grill Pub and the famous Pete’s Hamburger Stand, where there always seems to be a line of customers and where many more say serve the best burgers in the State of Wisconsin.

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About The Author

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com.

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