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Road trip: Where Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin meet

Road trip: Where Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin meet

Old Jun 10th, 2009, 08:05 AM
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Road trip: Where Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin meet

We are headed out for a road trip next weekend to the "Driftless" region where Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin meet. We have very limited time (most likely leaving from Chicago Thursday night just to get some ground covered, returning Sunday evening) and a limited budget, so would like to see the highlights of this area but are prepared to do a lot of it by way of scenic driving with short stops at different locations.

I am thinking we cross into Iowa at Dubuque, head north along the Mississippi, check out a couple parks and small towns in the southeasternmost corner of MN, then drive back through WI--possibly crossing the river at La Crosse and heading back to Chicago through Madison or points south.

A bit about us: We are in our early 30s, in decent shape but one of us is recovering from a knee injury so extensive hiking or biking are out. We do love to hike and a bit of uphill is okay, but would do best on mostly even ground this time around! Canoeing one day might be nice, too. We'll probably just look for the cheapest lodging available, but will have camping gear with us so that is an option if the weather cooperates.

Can anyone give advice on the highlights? Best small towns, parks/trails, places for good overlooks of the river? From the reading I've done so far, I've come up with the following list of possible stops. Any help narrowing them down to a few top choices would be much appreciated...

IA: Dubuque, Grant Wood National Scenic Byway, Bellevue State Park, Pikes Peak State Park, Yellow River State Forest, Effigy Mounds, Guttenberg, McGregor (cross into Prairie du Chien), Spook Cave, Postville, Decorah, Upper Iowa River

MN: John A. Latsch State Park, Root River & Harmony-Preston Valley State Trails, Lanesboro, Forestville & Mystery Cave State Park, Winona & Great River Bluffs State Park (may not be able to make it this far north)

WI: Prairie du Chien, La Crosse, Nelson Dewey State Park, Stonefield Village State Historic Site, Spring Green, Mineral Point, Monroe

moogrob is offline  
Old Jun 10th, 2009, 11:09 AM
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I'd definitely visit the Root River Valley in MN. Known as Little Switzerland (yea, a little exaggeration but a beautiful area). If you're going up the Miss through IA, cut over to Hwy 52 across MN border, then take 16 over to La Crosse. There's an old rr bed that's been converted to hike and bike trail for the whole distance. It's in the Valley so pretty level.

Would highly recommend Mrs B's Historic Inn in Lanesboro, MN, which includes a wonderful breakfast.
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Old Jun 10th, 2009, 11:28 AM
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We have visited all the ones below. All are worth your time and in the general area you will be travelining in..





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Old Jun 11th, 2009, 07:18 PM
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Oh! Now this area I know! I think it is one of the prettiest and most under-rated areas of the midwest.

If you are from the Chicago area then you problably already know all about the charming old town of Galena., Ill. There are many terrific small shops and wonderful restaurants too. If you are into history you can tour the home of President Grant or take on of the trolley tours.

Heading across the Mississippi into Dubuque we really enjoy the Mississippi River Museum with both indoor and outdoor exhibits. I believe it is affiliated with the Smithsonian. There are often boat rides available to take you on a scenic tour of the back waters of the Mississippi.

Next I would strongly suggest a stop at Wyalusing Park just south of Prairie du Chien, WI. You will have to pay small admission but there is a spectacular scenic overlook where the Mississippi River and the Wisconsin River join. Great place to picnic. Nelson Dewey is smaller, very pretty, and much quieter.

We always enjoy spending a few hours in Prairie du Chien. There is a good coffee shop in Marquette Rd that has good sandwiches. There is a nice park that stretches along the riverfront. On weekends there are often boat tours from the park conducted by the same company that does the tour in Dubuque. I’ve done both and prefer the one in Prairie. If you like history there is a great old mansion from the 1840’s called the Villa Louis. It is interesting to tour and learn about the history of the fur trading years. Outdoors people enjoy stopping at Cabela’s. I prefer a walk around a gift shop called the Cannery.

If you want the best river views I suggest driving up Hwy 35 on the Wisconsin side from Praire du Chien to La Crosse. The highway skirts the river most of the way. Take your binoculars because sometimes you’ll be treated to eagles, egrets and other wild life along the river.

Heading back from La Crosse we sometimes like to take Hwy 33 which is very windy and scenic. It goes through the Amish Community of Cashton. You will find canoeing companies near Wild Cat Mountain State Park.

Another option is to take Hwy 14 and stop in the Spring Green area. There are some small art galleries in the area. In addition they have a very popular outdoor theater called American Players Theater (APT) that mostly does Shakespeare but has other offerings as well. It is fun to picnic on the grounds before the play. This can be a bit pricey though if you are watching your budget.

I hope you enjoy your trip. I’d love to hear about your discoveries.
mdwest is offline  
Old Jun 15th, 2009, 07:11 AM
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Oh, wow... We ended up out of town last weekend as well so I am just seeing these responses now. Thank you so much--this is very helpful. We're looking forward to seeing a new area (with hills!) and will report back on what we end up finding. Sounds like it's hard to go wrong with a lot of the parks and towns along that part of the Mississippi. Thanks again for the recommendations!
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Old Jun 15th, 2009, 11:22 AM
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Pikes Peak is a MUST do for that area. You get a fantastic view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. My family has property back in the coulees just west of Wauzeka WI so I kow that area like the back of my hand. Spook cave, not so much to see there but Kickapoo caverns off 60 is well worth a trip. Try and work taking Hwy 60 in Wisconsin especially between PDC and as far as Gotham to the east. The road winds along the Wisconsin river and while it's slow going, you're at the foot of the bluffs on one side and the river just opposite.

If you're in the Fennimore area, Carr valley cheese is another must stop, at least for us cheese lovers!
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Old Jun 6th, 2019, 07:31 AM
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My sister and her family live across the street from Wyalusing. It is worth a visit, high on the bluffs and also right down at the river. You'll probably see an eagle or three.
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