The Great River Road is a scenic route, but the destinations along the way are experiences in their own right.
Wisconsin’s portion of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway meanders for 250 miles along the Mississippi River through 33 historic towns and villages. Although you might be traveling the Great River Road to get to a final destination, the Great River Road is a destination in and of itself. Here are some of our favorite places to stop on Wisconsin’s Great River Road.
Valley Fish & Cheese Market, Prairie du Chien
304 S. Prairie St.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 6 p.m. on Fri. and Sat.
If you don’t think about food when you think about the Great River Road, you need to move it up on the list. The Mississippi River is full of tasty fish and wildlife. One of the best places to buy and taste river delicacies is at Valley Fish & Cheese Market in Prairie du Chien. It’s the perfect place to buy some turtle meat, catfish, sheepshead, blue gill, carp, and catfish jerky to pair with your favorite Wisconsin cheese. You can learn more about this stop on the River Road from their PBS Wisconsin Foodie episode.
Castlerock Museum, Alma
402 S. 2nd St.
Open Fri. and Sat. 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The Castlerock Museum is truly one of Wisconsin’s gems and it happens to be on the Great River Road. This niche museum shares historical narratives through the lens of arms and armor. You can see rare and authentic displays of weapons and armor from the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, used by Romans, Vikings, Crusaders, and more. The Castlerock Museum is small, but educational, showcasing the way arms and armor have adapted and changed over the centuries. Kids obsessed with knights in shining armor and adults who love history will find the Castlerock Museum a worthwhile stop.
Buena Vista Overlook, Alma
Buena Vista Park
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The picturesque views and beautiful scenery is a big part of the attraction of traveling the Great River Road. Buena Vista Overlook in Alma is one of the best places to take in those views. Located in Buena Vista Park, the overlook is the largest natural balcony overlooking the Mississippi River, offering panoramic views of the barges, riverboats, islands, backwaters, and Lock & Dam #4 from 500 feet above Alma. Buena Vista Overlook offers a great vantage point during spring and fall migrations to see bald eagles, herons, pelicans, and tundra swans.
Grandad Bluff, La Crosse
3020 Grandad Bluff Road
LaCrosse’s Grandad Bluff is another great place along the Great River Road to take in some views. The 600-foot bluff is the largest in LaCrosse and offers a view of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa from the park area—Iowa to the South and Minnesota to the West. Additionally, the visitor area, which opened in 1912, offers coin-operated binoculars for truly spectacular views and several picnic areas to relax and have some snacks when the weather is nice.
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, Onalaska
N 5727 County Road Z
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
If you want to learn more about the flora and fauna in the Upper Mississippi River area, stopping at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge in Onalaska is a must. Specifically, head to the LaCrosse District Visitor Center. The center offers a 10-minute video about sights and sounds on the refuge, several interactive wildlife exhibits, and two miles of trails to explore the prairie. Don’t miss the River Walk exhibit that allows you to “walk on water” and grab a free backpack with binoculars, field guides, and activities.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Pepin
306 3rd St.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed during the winter
People often associate Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie with Minnesota. However, young Laura’s story began in the Big Woods of Wisconsin in Pepin, where she was born. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum consists of the Wayside Cabin, a replica of the cabin where the Ingalls family lived. The museum is located on three acres of land where Laura was born. As you explore the grounds, you can almost hear Ma Ingalls ringing the dinner bell and Pa Ingalls working the land. Make sure to hit the gift shop and buy a souvenir to memorialize your visit.
Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery, Stockholm
W12266 King Lane
Open daily from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. or by appointment
On the far northern section of Wisconsin’s Great River Road, you will find Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery in Stockholm. The fertile land along the river makes apple orchards especially popular in this part of Wisconsin, but getting to sample apple cider and wines made with the best ingredients puts the ice cream on top of the apple pie. Maiden Rock has several popular ciders to sample including Bitter Love, Crabby Cider, and their sparkling Scrumpy. If you are in the area for a while, check out a cider-making class and other great events.