Traveling along the Wisconsin portion of the Great River Road, a 250-mile stretch that runs along the western border of state, is chock-full of rolling hills and rushing rivers. This quintessential Midwest Americana experience, that for the unhurried traveler, can include leisurely stops at pizza farms, wineries, and even the former stomping grounds of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.
1. Minneapolis/St. Paul: If you’re flying, MSP is the nearest airport to begin your journey. Each of the Twin Cities offers excellent attractions that could easily expand to fill an entire vacation. If you’ve not experienced the Mall of America, pay a visit to the shopping mecca, which also boasts the largest indoor amusement park in the U.S. (attractions are continually being updated). Bonus: there’s no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota.
2. La Crosse, Wisconsin: It’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the southernmost point on your itinerary, and from here you can work your way slowly back north. If beer or roadside kitsch is your thing, check out the “World’s Largest Six Pack” and enjoy a free tour of City Brewing Company.
3. Winona, Minnesota: From La Crosse, travel up Highway 61 on the Minnesota side to Winona, a picturesque college town with views of the Mississippi River. Then traverse the river over to the Wisconsin side and drive north on Old State Highway 35 to Cochrane.
4. Cochrane, Wisconsin: It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of these off-the-beaten-path roads, but if you’re a foodie, don’t miss a visit to Suncrest Gardens Farm. There you’ll find pizza created from seasonal ingredients grown right on the farm and cooked before your eyes in a wood-burning oven — as owner Heather Secrist says, “The pizza crust is a blank canvas.” This family-friendly atmosphere lends itself to a perfect picnic supper during the warm weather months.
5. Pepin, Wisconsin: Pepin is the birthplace of Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum ($5 for adults) features recreated scenes of life on the frontier. Even more impressive (and free) is the recreated log cabin that stands near the site of the Little House in the Big Woods, seven miles north of Pepin. Though the original structures and woods are no longer there, you get a glimpse of what it must have felt like to live there.
6. Stockholm, Wisconsin: This artistic enclave, once on the brink of becoming a ghost town, is now home to just shy of 100 people. Here, quaint boutiques, pie shops, and restaurants dot the downtown. If you time your visit right, you might even catch some artists doing their work en plein air. The nearby Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery is worth a stop, as well, for a free tasting of the fresh-pressed ciders from the orchard.