Huck Finn’s Rivertown Adventure Trip: Mighty Mississippi River on Great River National Byway
Travel this historic highway and pause to browse through museums, enchanting village shops and antiques. Enjoy restaurants and local culinary delights. Hike, bike, fish or just enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Your trip to the Great River Road will begin on Highway 14/61 from Westby with your first stop at the city of La Crosse. It is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River and on the east by 600-foot high bluffs. This unique and varied topography provides many recreational opportunities and sites like Granddad’s Bluff look-out point, and Riverside Park just a few minutes from the historic downtown shopping district. We suggest a light lunch at the WaterFront Restaurant located just South of Riverside Park. Also, Huck Finn’s on the Water Restaurant offers spectacular views of the river, harbor and bluffs. Continue South, by way of State highway 35, to Genoa, where you can watch towboats and barges “lock through” at Lock and Dam No. 8 at the south edge of the village. Scenic river overlooks are located along the Great River Road north of town. If you missed lunch La Crosse, we suggest the Great River Roadhouse located right on Highway 35. They are known for pizza, chicken and ribs.
Victory is a small settlement with a picturesque setting – snuggled next to the Mississippi on one side and back dropped by bluffs on the other. Five settlers laid out the village in 1852 and named it “Victory” to commemorate the final battle of the Black Hawk War fought south of the village 20 years earlier. Victory prospered during the wheat boom of the 1850´s, but today is only a remnant of its past.
In DeSoto, named for the daring Spanish explorer, who discovered the Mississippi in 1541, has many historical markers detailing local Indian history and the war´s end are found along this section of the Wisconsin´s Great River Road. Just north of town is Blackhawk Park, an Army Corps of Engineers park offering riverfront campsites, picnic areas, a fishing dock, a sand-swimming beach and boat-launching facilities.
At the south end of the Great River Road is the once Indian village of Prairie du Chien that became a fur-trading center. The oldest community on the Upper Mississippi, fur warehouses built by the American Fur Trading Co. in the 19th-centurey still survive on historic St. Feriole Island. Also on the island is the beautiful Villa Louis Historic Site, an Italianate-style brick mansion built in 1870 by the widow and son of early fur trader Hercules Dousman. The opulent mansion contains a magnificent collection of Victorian decorative arts with over 90% of its original contents. Now owned and operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society, the estate includes 25 acres along the Mississippi River on St. Feriole Island. The estate is open May through October. For you hunting sport enthusiasts, Prairie du Chein is also home to a very large and well-visited Cabela’s Sporting Center.
Your return trip to Westby from Prairie du Chein on Highway 27 North brings you back up on top of the ridge. Enjoy the lush vistas and farmland as you travel through small villages. In Liberty Pole a worthy stop is at the old general store fashionably named the Liberty Pole Store. Follow Highway 27 into Viroqua. This community has many shops and historic sites that it may require a return trip to take it all in.
End the afternoon with stops at Vernon Vineyards and Branches Winery and Westby Co-op Creamery for their famous cheese curds and spectacular cheeses. The perfect treat with one of the bottle of local wines you purchased as you relax at the Westby House.