Although maybe not for everyone, driving the Great River Road (GRR) offers much compared to the average interstate. It changes direction often, crossing the Mississippi River when it can, and dallying in towns all other roads have forgotten. Driving the GRR, road trippers can escape semi trucks, creeping RVs and endless billboards usually found on other routes. Other rewards include local color and wildlife.
The Great River Road was created in 1938 from a network of federal, state and local roads. The drive (also known as the River Road) forms a single route along the Mississippi. Showing off the ten states bordering the Mississippi, the GRRs vary from two- and four-lane freeways to unpaved track. The 100-mile drive from Prescott, where it crosses the St. Croix River, to La Crosse, is the portion that stretches across southwestern Wisconsin. Heading south on Rte. 35, the GRR crosses a part of the glacial plain. The fertile soil here is a product of "drift," a pulverized soil left by the ice sheets. Farther south, the road enters an area known as the "Driftless Region," a pocket of limestone bluffs and rocky uplands, beginning around a town called Maiden Rock. Along this 100-mile stretch one gets a close-up view of the Mississippi for longer periods than anywhere on the route.
Small towns, some with a population under 100, all compete for the "Main Street USA" claim to fame. For some of these towns, the GRR is their only street. Not prettied-up for tourists, these hamlets along the margin are original. Most have at least one gas station and a roadhouse with a neon beer sign in the window. In addition to the riverside scenery, Stockholm has a replica of the "Little House on the Prairie" log cabin and Amish crafts. Alma offers an observation platform over Lock and Dam No. 4. In Trempealeau, you can have dinner and stay the night at the Historic Trempealeau Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon, the only survivor of a downtown fire in 1888. If you can sneak past the plethora of modern America such as fast food, gas and lodging establishments into downtown La Crosse, you will find century-old buildings still standing. Two miles east of Main Street lies Grandad Bluff, offering a view of the city and the Mississippi from 590 feet up.
Stops Along the Way:
Beginning around the second weekend in May, Trempealeau's annual outdoor music series features established name bands throughout the summer months. Rent bikes or canoes and navigate either the 100-mile network of paved trails, or canoe the Long Lake Canoe Trail.
Distance of Drive:
Bodega Brew Pub
244 4th Street, La Crosse, WI 54601
Call ahead to confirm hours of operation.
Good Stop For: 400 bottled beers, 10 microbrews
This is a stop for when the day's driving is over
Best Time of Year for Drive:
Autumn and summer are both beautiful seasons for this 100-mile drive from Prescott to La Crosse. The leaves in Fall are spectacular, and you're likely to hit one or more Oktoberfests.
Points of Interest on Drive:
Bluffs, trees, hiking, camping, fishing and scenic river drives abound on the Great River Road. La Crosse, by far the largest town along the 100-mile route, has much to see and do, including the Heileman Brewery (608/782-BEER), right on the GRR at 1111 S. 3rd Street, Museum of Modern Technology (608/785-2340), and La Crosse Doll Museum (608/785-0020), among others.
Historic Trempealeau Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon, Trempealeau, WI (608/534-6898)