11 iconic places to stop along Wisconsin’s Great River Road

11 Places To Stop During Your Trip Along The Gorgeous Great River Road

Photo courtesy of Travel Wisconsin


By Erin Yarnall

February 16, 2024

There are few vacations as freeing and exciting as a road trip. But you don’t need to travel cross-country to have a memorable time: just hit Wisconsin’s Great River Road!

The Great River Road, which spans 234 miles, follows along the border of the state from Prescott to Kieler. The lengthy drive hugs the coastline along the Mississippi River throughout its duration, offering picturesque views of the river, and delightful places to stop along the way. From cute, and historic downtowns, to hiking trails to stretch your legs a bit, to unbeatable places to grab a bite, here are some of the best places to stop during your trip along the Great River Road.

1. Prescott’s Freedom Park

200 Monroe St., Prescott

On the south side of Prescott, Wisc., Freedom Park, which was first founded in 1918, sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. The three-acre bluff is now home to gardens, a playground, and terrific views of the surrounding rivers.

Another perk of visiting the park is that it serves as the Great River Road Visitor Center. As the kickoff point for the 234-mile-long route, the visitor center offers information on the Great River Road, as well as exhibits and even a recently-remodeled gift shop to pick up some road trip-inspired souvenirs.

Photo courtesy of Freedom Park via Facebook

2. Smiling Pelican Bakeshop

W 3556 WI-35, Maiden Rock

While driving along a 234-mile-long route, it’s a given that eventually you and your passengers will get hungry for some snacks, and the granola bars that have been sitting in the car for hours can only take you so far. Instead, try one of the bakeries along the route, like Maiden Rock’s Smiling Pelican Bakeshop.

The small bakery has been serving up freshly baked goods for more than two decades and bakes its breads and cookies from scratch every day, but customers are also encouraged to call in advance to place an order. Smiling Pelican Bakeshop does close for the winter, so if you’re planning a visit, make sure it’s open.

Photo courtesy of Smiling Pelican Bakeshop via Facebook

3. Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery

W 12266 King Lane, Stockholm

Since 2008, Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery, in Stockholm, Wisc., has been serving up freshly picked apples as well as wines and ciders made from fruit sourced from its own orchards. The family-owned business also sells other products that are perfect to bring home, like jams, jellies, and preserves.

Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery is open every weekend from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. If you can’t make it during that time, the winery and cidery’s products are available at several restaurants and bars along the Great River Road.

Photo courtesy of Maiden Rock Winery Cidery via Facebook

4. Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum & Birthplace

306 Third St., Pepin

The author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories might have most prominently taken place in Midwestern prairie states, like South Dakota and Kansas, but Ingalls got her start in Wisconsin. Her birthplace, in Pepin, situated along the Great River Road, has since become a museum, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum & Birthplace, exploring the life and legacy of the “Little House on the Prairie” author.

The museum, which is open seasonally, operates from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every day of the week. The museum offers an in-depth look at what life was like for families in the area, like the Ingalls, in the 19th century. Visitors to the museum can also explore the Wayside Cabin, a log cabin built on the plot where the author was born in 1867. Fans of Wilder’s series can also stop at the gift shop to pick up souvenirs like t-shirts, Christmas ornaments, and of course, books written by the author.

Photo courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum via Facebook

5. Jump Start Adventure Park

3939 County Road B, La Crosse

A family road trip might sound like a fun time, but kids can grow restless and bored fairly easily. That’s why it’s important to break up a road trip with interesting stops — and while museums and hiking trails are great, Jump Start Adventure Park, an indoor trampoline park in La Crosse, is an exciting stop for both kids and adults.

The park, which costs $18 for 90 minutes, is an ideal way to break up a road trip and get some pent-up energy out after sitting in a car for hours with its several unique trampoline courses. Inspired by the television show, the park features a strength-testing Ninja Warrior course, as well as a parkour course, where participants can run, flip, and tumble into a large foam pit.

Photo courtesy of Jump Start Adventure Park via Facebook

6. Grandad Bluff

3020 Grandad Bluff Road, La Crosse

Road trips are a lot of fun, but it can also be tiring, and a little boring, to sit in a car all day. That’s why it’s important to get out and stretch your legs every once in a while, and there are few places better suited to doing that along the Great River Road than La Crosse’s Grandad Bluff.

The 600-foot-tall bluff looms over the city and offers views of the Mississippi River valley from the top, as well as three different states: Minnesota, Iowa, and of course, Wisconsin. Grandad Bluff Park has more than five miles of hiking trails, as well as coin-operated binoculars to help focus in on the impressive views, and picnic areas.

Photo courtesy of Explore La Crosse via Instagram

7. The Driftless Cafe

118 W Court St., Viroqua

A stop at The Driftless Cafe, in Viroqua, Wisc., takes you a bit off course of the Great River Road, but it’s well worth the detour. The New American restaurant, which was opened by chef and James Beard award nominee Luke Zahm, truly gives visitors a bite of Wisconsin with each dish. Zahm, a native of Vernon County, Wisc., where his restaurant is located, only utilizes food produced within 100 miles of The Driftless Cafe at the organic restaurant.

The restaurant sources all of its products from the more than 200 farms within Vernon County and is able to come up with some creative dishes on its constantly shifting menu. While its menu changes every day, some things are always set — there’s always casual fare like soup, pizza, and sandwiches, but what’s in them changes based on the ingredients that the restaurant receives.

Photo courtesy of The Driftless Cafe via Instagram

8. Prairie du Chien’s historic downtown

Nearly 200 years before Wisconsin became a state, Prairie du Chien was established as a community by French voyageurs. It only makes sense that such a historic city would also have a historic and fun-filled downtown that’s worth a stop while driving along the Great River Road.

Explore some local history at the Old Crawford County Jail, as well as the Fort Crawford Museum, which houses exhibits on the history of Prairie du Chien and the city’s 19th-century military hospital. If you’re hungry after, stop by The Local Oven, a bakery and food store that specializes in bacon maple donuts.

Photo courtesy of Prairie du Chien via Facebook

9. Villa Louis

521 N Villa Louis Rd, Prairie du Chien

Prairie du Chien is one of the most historic cities throughout the state, so it makes sense that there are some impressive historical sites in the city that visitors can enjoy taking in, like Villa Louis. The Victorian home was originally constructed for local fur trader, lumberman, and businessman Hercules Dousman. More than a century later, the house was restored to its 19th-century appearance.

The museum closes for the winter — between October and May — but when it’s open, it operates from Wednesday through Sunday with seven tours running per day. Tickets cost $15 for adults and teens, $13.50 for seniors, $8 for kids between the ages of 5 and 12, and free for kids under the age of 5.

Photo courtesy of Villa Louis Historic Site via Facebook

10. Potosi Brewing Company

209 S. Main St., Potosi

With more than 269 actively operating breweries in Wisconsin, visiting a local brewery is a fun way to explore part of the state’s culture. Explore the brewing process on a tour of the Potosi Brewing Company, located in the Great River Road-adjacent village of Potosi. Each guided tour, which includes four five-ounce beer samples and a souvenir Potosi pint glass, costs $20 per person. Or, stop by the brewpub to sample even more of the brewery’s offerings on tap, along with its extensive menu of Wisconsin classics, including cheese curds, macaroni and cheese, and a Friday fish fry.

Another perk of visiting the Potosi-based brewery is that it also houses the ABA National Brewery Museum, which showcases historic beer bottles, cans, and advertising materials.

Photo courtesy of Potosi Brewing Co via Instagram

11. Country Heights Supper Club and Motor Inn

1154 Badger Road, Hazel Green

The cuisine of Wisconsin sets it apart from other states throughout the region, and it’s important to sample some locally sourced cheese and beer while on a trip throughout the state. Another important piece of Wisconsin’s cuisine is the Friday night fish fry at a supper club. Even if you’re not traveling along the Great River Road on a Friday night, there are supper clubs along the route that will provide a delicious dinner.

The Country Heights Supper Club and Motor Inn, in Hazel Green, Wisc., is located just south of Kieler, the southern terminus of the riverside route, and serves as a perfect way to wrap up a road trip along the lengthy road. Although the motel is open every day, the adjoining supper club is open Tuesday through Sunday, serving up daily specials, which, of course, includes a Friday night all-you-can-eat deep-fried pike dinner.

Photo courtesy of Country Heights Supper Club and Motor Inn via Facebook

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.




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