© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
With so many unexpected adventures right here in Wisconsin, this series helps you discover great places to visit throughout the state.

Plan a scenic summer road trip on Wisconsin's Great River Road

Motorcycle ride on the Great River Road.
Rachel Hershberger
Travel Wisconsin
Motorcycle ride on the Great River Road.

Each month on Lake Effect we help you plan a trip right here in our home state in our series, Wandering Wisconsin. But this month, we’re doing things a little differently. Rather than help you plan a trip to one Wisconsin destination — we'll help you plan a road trip!

Wisconsin has a handful of scenic byways and today we’ll learn about the Great River Road that snakes along the Mississippi River on the western edge of the state. The portion of the road that runs through Wisconsin is 250 miles long. The southern most point of the route is where the state meets Illinois and Iowa and stretches up to the La Crosse area. There's lots to do and see along the way and Sherry Quamme, Chairperson of the Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission knows all the best places to stop. She says if you start in the south, you should begin in Potosi and visit their brewery.

"They rebuilt the Potosi Brewery into not only a functioning classic brewery but a brewery museum, it's the National Brewery Museum and when you go into the brewery museum you will see not only the relics of past brewing operations around the nation, but you will see how the beer was cooled in the caves. The actual real caves are there, and the underground river that flows under the building," Quamme explains.

She says your next stop is just 11 miles up the road in Cassville.

In the summer a ferry will take people across the Mississippi River from Cassville into Iowa. There's also the Stonefield Historic Site where there's an agricultural museum.

"You see the community as our towns existed back in the 1930s and you get the feel of being in rural America. Plus Governor Dewey State Park and Governor Dewey's home is there," Quamme says.

Next up is Prairie du Chien.

Prairie du Chien
Quamme recommends a visit to the Villa Louis, a national historic landmark. It's a victorian home that's been rebuilt and refurbished to its appearance in the late 19th century. Quamme says, "Your guides are in costume, period dress all very authentic."

She also suggest visiting an old army base now the Fort Crawford Museum. "If you're looking for something to do in Prairie du Chien on June 13th through the 16th this year, the Civil War reenactment happens," Quamme remarks.

She says to grab a splice of pizza at Muddy Waters or a burger from Pete's Hamburger Stand before moving on to Lynxville to see lock and dam No. 9.

View of the Mississippi River along the Great River Road.
Nick Collura
Travel Wisconsin
View of the Mississippi River along the Great River Road.

During the summer months, barges carry flour, coal, gravel and other products up the Mississippi River. But as Quamme explains, "In order to make it to their destination, they have to go through the lock system to get from one pool to the other because the locks control the level of the water."

"You've got a viewing area you could stand right there and the crews on the on the barge are going to be talking to you and explaining as you see them, we call it locking through. It takes a long while for this to happen, so there are picnic tables and there are benches for you to stop and see this, but it's really unique and it's something that you won't see elsewhere."

Quamme says to make your way to Ferryville, De Soto, Genoa, Stoddard and finally up to La Crosse.

"All along the way, you are parallel to the river. You will see eagles, you will see herons, you will see all kinds of wildlife, probably beaver lodges — things that you might not normally recognize or see. But have your binoculars along because that makes this trip really fun as well," Quamme remarks.

La Crosse
In La Crosse Quamme recommends hiking up the Granddad Bluff.

"It's a scenic overlook over 700 feet above the Mississippi River and it has a panoramic view of the Mississippi River valley. Looking across [you can see] the state of Minnesota and south to the state of Iowa on the other side. There are hiking trails and there are biking trails," Quamme explains.

She also recommends going to Riverside Park where they hold festivals in the summer.

"There is just something for everyone and it's an open door to such a variety of adventures. I mean, you have to ask yourself, are you a foodie? Are you a birder or do you want a wateradventure? Are you bringing your pet or your grandchildren? All of those things are possible and really just make memories — that's what this is about."

Becky is WUWM's executive producer of Lake Effect.
Related Content