Wisconsin’s Great River Road is just part of America’s oldest National Byway, the more broadly named Great River Road, a fabulously scenic roadway that travels more than 2,000 miles across 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, through National Wildlife Refuges and 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.
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 in one of the best small communities in the entire Midwest, most of Stockholm’s shops are along a few blocks of Wisconsin State Highway 35, the longest in the state. But each of the charming shops have something unique to offer, like 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. Visitors should also take some time to visit the Swedish History Museum, Stockholm Village Hall and Stockholm Village Campground overlooking the Mississippi River. Lastly, not far from Stockholm but highly recommended is the popular Maiden Rock Apples, Winery & Cidery, well known for its premium hard ciders and fine wines.
A very charming community of just 580 residents, the Town of Pepin is acclaimed for its breathtaking vistas along its namesake Lake Pepin, premium wines and charming bed and breakfasts like Harbor Hill Inn. But this historic town is also very well-known as the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of The Little House Books children’s series, including the beloved “Little House on the Prairie”, the 1935 inspiration for the very popular American television series which aired several decades later.
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.
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 tributary of the Mississippi River, Alma has a population of under 800 and like Stockholm upriver, was 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 its main street (Highway 35).
Visitors to downtown Alma should make sightseeing stops at Alma General Store, Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center, Big River Theatre and Fire & Ice Coffee & Ice Cream Shop, which also serves as the lobby for the historic Hotel de Ville. Other nearby attractions include Castlerock Museum, Alma’s Buena Vista Overlook and the award-winning Danzinger Winery, once named Wisconsin’s Winery of the Year.
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, Prairie Moon Sculpture Gardens and Kinstone megalithic garden – the largest privately owned stone circle in the world.
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
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. Just opened last June, the admission-free Great River Road Interpretive Center at the National Fish Hatchery features several educational exhibits on two levels that focus on the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River, as well as public restrooms and plenty of free parking spaces.
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.