Fall color in Driftless Wisconsin is majestic and breathtaking! The bluffs become a riot of orange, red, yellow and brown. If you want the inside scoop on the 10 best ways to enjoy fall color in the Driftless region, read on…
10. In a Vineyard
Many people don’t realize that Vernon County alone boasts 32 vineyards and 68 acres of grapes. The farmers who plant these vineyards and create bold regional wines with cold-climate grapes are renewing the countryside and the rural landscape. Vineyards are a great place to view fall color because they are located in the rolling hills and overlook acres of grape vines and bluffs. Most of our vineyards have food and outdoor seating where you can relax, sip, and enjoy the autumn view. Branches Winery and Vernon Vineyards are two great destinations.
September 27, 2015 view from the Kickapoo Valley Ranch in La Farge.
9. A Cabin in the Woods
There’s nothing like waking up on a cool fall morning to a misty haze hanging over the bright bluffs. Or, you can watch the sunset over the Mississippi River from an outdoor hot tub on a cabin deck. Fall asleep listening to the sounds of the Kickapoo River and delight in the warmth of a fire before bed. From rustic to upscale, the Driftless area has many unique cabins to stay in.
8. At a Farmer’s Market
The Driftless Area has a large selection of Farmer’s Markets where you can enjoy the local color as well as the fall harvest. Multi-colored pumpkins, squash, apples, plants and vegetables are all available now. Many of our markets have Amish vendors, such as Ferryville Market in the Park and the Viroqua Farmer’s Market. These artisans offer unique hand-made items and baked goods. Plus, it’s a beautiful drive just getting to a Farmer’s Market, either along the Great River Road, or on a highway through rolling hills.
7. In an Orchard
The historical marker and overlook on HWY 171 in Gays Mills.
No color sight-seeing trip is complete without a visit to the local orchards. Our area is dotted with them, especially in Gays Mills. Most are located on ridge tops (there is a spectacular overlook on HWY 171). Plus, there’s so much more than apples at the orchards. You can get pumpkins, squash, baked goods, Wisconsin meats and cheese, locally made wine, and even pick your own grapes (and apples!) You can even pet animals or get lost in a corn maze.
6. In a Park
Crawford and Vernon County have three state parks, and just across the Mississippi River, the neighboring state of Iowa offers two more. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is an 8,569-acre natural area located between the villages of La Farge and Ontario. Wildcat Mountain State Park is located on a steep ridge overlooking the Kickapoo River, offering spectacular views. The 3,603 acres in the park are mostly wooded. Just south of Prairie du Chien is Wyalusing State Park. The park’s 2,628 acres includes hardwood forests, pine plantations, bluffs, springs, waterfalls, wetlands, and backwaters, providing habitat for wildlife and 90 species of birds. There are also eight county parks and forests where the leaves are changing and the fall foliage looks different every day.
5. On a Bike
Get up close and personal with the rolling hills and enjoy autumn scenery from your bike. We have a wide variety of mapped routes for you that wind past tranquil farmland and up and down hills. Crawford County has charted nine tours using “roads as routes,” a combination of country and township roads. Vernon County has mapped five routes from Westby. If off-road biking is your preference, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve boasts 24 miles of trails and Wyalusing State Park has 4.9 miles of trails.
4. On a Trail
Many of our parks and natural areas have trails for hiking or horseback riding. If you want to watch leaves flutter down, spot deer or other wildlife, enjoy a trail. Many trails climb the bluff and lead to spectacular view (see #1). In Coon Valley, Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center offers six miles of nature trails, an arboretum, and a pioneer log homestead.
3. From the Road
Great River Road, HWY 35, north of Prairie du Chien.
There’s a reason the Great River Road was voted the Prettiest Drive in America by the Huffington Post in 2012. In the autumn, the sunlight bounces of the Mississippi River, framed by colored bluffs on either side. In a car or on a motorcycle, people love to experience the sites of fall from the road. Wisconsin created the Rustic Road program, a “great step backwards,” to preserve what is left of the state’s scenic, lightly-traveled country roads. Two are in the Driftless area and fall is a great time to experience them.
2. From the Water
Take a “color cruise” and spot all kinds of color from a river! Paddling down the Kickapoo River is breathtaking in the autumn, as it is framed by limestone bluffs and foliage. If you’d prefer that someone else does the driving, you can take a fall color cruise down on the Mississippi River. These cruises depart from Prairie du Chien.
1. From the Top of the Bluff
Fall view from Wyalusing State Park. Photo by Nancy Nygaard.
The limestone bluffs are what make the Driftless region so unique and there is no better place to see fall color than from the top of one! The Overlook Point at Wyalusing Park offers an unparalleled view of the Mississippi River. Across the river in McGregor Iowa, you can visit Pike’s Peak and gaze at Prairie du Chien. North on HWY 35, a short hike south of Ferryville will take you to the top of Sugar Creek Bluff, part of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. Across the river in Lansing, Iowa, Mount Hosmer offers an overlook with a view of both Vernon and Crawford County. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Wildcat Mountain State Park have spectacular bluff views of the Kickapoo River Valley.
Keep up to date on autumn color with Travel Wisconsin’s Fall Color Report. Peak color for Driftless Wisconsin is predicted to be between the second and third week in October! We also have FREE map available for visitors or to help you plan a trip. You can request it here and we’ll mail it to you.