The Round Barns of Vernon County

March 21st, 2015 by Corey A. Edwards

Round Barns of Vernon County

Tour the Round Barns of Vernon County

Did you know that the Round Barns of Vernon County, Wisconsin are the highest concentration of round barns in the world? While there were only 17 left at last count, not that long ago the number was nearly double that.

Of course, some of the round barns of Vernon County are of newer construction but most of the round barns here were constructed between 1890 and 1930. Used primarily as dairy barns, round barns didn’t appear here until dairy farming did.

Indiana may call itself the “round barn capital of the world” but they did so before anyone realized that Wisconsin actually has more round barns than any other state, Indiana included. Wisconsin could have cried foul over the situation but decided to let Indiana have the motto, seeing as how it was an honest mistake and they’d already spent so much money getting it emblazoned on things. That’s just how we roll in Wisconsin.

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Driftless Dark Skies: Equinox on Frank’s Hill

March 14th, 2015 by John Heasley

Back in the day, people were closer to the sky. Distances were not yet being measured in astronomical units or light years or parsecs. People had every reason to believe that they could get closer to the stars by climbing a mound or temple or ziggurat. 

In these days, we still build our observatories high in the mountains of Arizona, Hawaii, Chile, and South Africa. They are no closer to the stars, but they are above much of the atmosphere that scatters and distorts the starlight. I remember spending a few nights on one such mountaintop, Kitt Peak west of Tucson, and thinking how much like a monastery it was with astronomers quietly contemplating the heavens. Even better than a mountaintop is to put our telescopes outside our atmosphere as we’ve done with the Hubble Space Telescope.

 A spectacular high place here in the Driftless Area is Frank’s Hill just a few miles northwest of Muscoda. It gives a dramatic view of the Lower Wisconsin River Valley. Along the top of the ridge are several effigy mounds constructed a millenium ago. They include one identified as Corn Woman as well as a water serpent, a beaver, a bison, and a coyote. On the ridge just to the west are a series of conical mounds. 

The public is invited to gather on the hill to celebrate the 2015 Vernal Equinox on March 20.  This year, the equinox coincides with a New Moon, so we should have a great view of the Milky Way as the sky darkens, Three planets will also be visible: Mars low in the west, Venus a little higher and much brighter in the west, and Jupiter high in the south. On March 21, look for Mars just one degree (the width of your little finger) to the right of a smiling crescent moon. Mars and the moon will set just one hour after the sun. On the following night, watch for Venus just two fingers to the right of a waxing crescent moon. Venus and the moon will set two hours after the sun. Frank’s Hill, or any other ridgetop, provides the perfect spot to enjoy these pairings. 

From 1998 to his death in 2013, Frank Shadewald was the owner and keeper of the mounds. What I admired most about Frank is how he welcomed people of so many different traditions to the ridgetop to enjoy the sight of the valley below and the sky above. Here we can experience not only the deep time of the mound builders, but we also rediscover our home in the cosmos. 

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, see Driftless Stargaziing LLC on Facebook, Iowa County Astronomers Facebook group, and  Iowa County Astronomers website. 

“Driftless Dark Skies” appears monthly in the Voice of the River Valley


Dreaming of summer activities in Driftless Wisconsin

February 28th, 2015 by Eric Frydenlund

It’s usually February when I start dreaming about summer. Maybe it’s the noticeably longer days that prompt me to look out the window expecting to see leaves unfolding on the trees. Or maybe, having just fallen on the ice last week and landed on my head, I’m just a little confused.

Fortunately, with so many things to see and do just a click away on our Driftless Wisconsin website, we don’t need to be dreaming; we can start planning for summer activities in Driftless Wisconsin. Ask for a Driftless Wisconsin Map to plot your course through the region.  Because hey, spring is almost here!  And summer is never too far behind.

Summer activities in Driftless Wisconsin

Do you like fishing? Three major rivers and their tributaries in Driftless Wisconsin lay claim to some of the best trout fishing and game fishing in the world. The region is sewn together by a myriad of small streams offering up brown and brook trout to fly fishers amid stunning scenery. Ask Mat at Driftless Angler for a guided day trip to that little-known hotspot for trout.  And the Mississippi River and its backwaters provide perfect habitat for smallmouth bass, white bass, walleye, catfish, northern pike, and pan fish.

summer activities in Driftless WisconsinDo you like boating?  The Mississippi River presents boaters with wide-open waterways for cruising, water skiing, or camping on islands.  Drop anchor, pull out that fishing rod, and watch the tugboats rumble by.  Meanwhile, the Kickapoo and Wisconsin Rivers provide canoeists and kayakers unforgettable days on the river, with the serenity broken only by the stroke of your paddle.

Do you enjoy exploring history?  Driftless Wisconsin presents an intersection of history, where the story of Native Americans, European explorers and traders, the American military, riverboat gamblers, frontiersmen, and immigrants give us a cross section of our past.  Visit Norskedalen, near Coon Valley, that preserves the heritage of 19th century Scandinavian immigration and settlement. See the Villa Louis, in Prairie du Chien, an authentically restored Victorian mansion where the Dousman family made their fortune in trading and real estate.

Do you revel in local food and culture?  Farmers Markets will be opening in May, offering fresh local foods and crafts.  The Farmers Market in Viroqua is one of the finest and largest around, with over 50 vendors on display. Explore the Amish culture, which is well-established in Driftless Wisconsin. The Amish enjoy a simple life that reminds us of our own simpler times.  Take home some Amish crafts to keep the memory fresh.  A number of artists also make Driftless Wisconsin their home. Inspired by the topography, they display their creations in studios, stores, and the annual Driftless Area Art Festival in September.

To complete your planning, I suspect you’ll be looking for a place to stay and eat.  Check out our lodging and dining pages. With the Driftless topography as a backdrop, our inns provide cozy comforts for the weary traveler.  And our eateries offer hospitality second to none.

So the thermometer shows it’s still cold outside. Warm your hearts with a little warm-weather dreaming.  And planning.

Driftless Winter Sports

February 21st, 2015 by Corey A. Edwards

Driftless Winter Sports - snowshoeing and cross country skiingWinter time in the Driftless Wisconsin region means outdoor activities. Once the snow flies, a Driftless winter is filled with skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling opportunities.

Some places just about plumb shut down once that heavy, white blanket of snow hits – but not in Wisconsin’s Driftless region! We love the outdoors, no matter the season, and each season brings with it its own special activities. What follows is a short list of just some of the activities and the places you can experience the great outdoors of a Driftless winter.

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Wisconsin winter scenery and eagle watching in the Driftless region

January 31st, 2015 by Eric Frydenlund

Looking out my window at the Wisconsin winter scenery, the snow has stopped and the squirrels are celebrating.  One is descending a tree limb, snow flying in his wake like a snowboarder on a rail.  Our new puppy, Fargo, having met snow for the first time, has his nose buried in a snow bank, prospecting for sticks and other hidden treasures.

Fresh snow adds depth to the Driftless Wisconsin landscape.  I’m not talking about white stuff up to your ankles. I’m talking contrast.  Suddenly that deer hiding in the woods pops out, as if painted there on white canvas.

Reminds me of the days of my youth when televisions still had a contrast button.  You could turn the knob and sharpen the image of the Lone Ranger chasing bad guys on his white horse every Saturday morning.

No adjustment needed for winter in Driftless Wisconsin.  The contrast is just fine, thank you.

Wisconsin Winter Scenery along the Mississippi RiverUnlike the flatlands where winter landscapes stretch to the horizon, Driftless Wisconsin offers another dimension. Towering bluffs, wooded hillsides, and rolling farm fields, draped in white linen, rise up and insist you take notice.

My Favorite Wisconsin Winter Scenery

My favorite winter scenes are on the river roads; highway 35 along the Mississippi and highway 131 following the Kickapoo. The rivers look deceptively calm this time of year, covered with ice and broken by occasional stretches of open water. River bluffs rise from either bank, offering overlooks of the river to visitors and eagles alike.

We can imagine the “bird’s eye” view of the eagle soaring over these magnificent landscapes. Or we can simply watch the eagles instead.  Eagles, absent of summer’s foliage, are also more visible this time of year.  They can be seen perched along the river near open water, waiting for their next meal.

Events Celebrating the Eagles Place in Wisconsin Winter Scenery

Two upcoming events celebrate the eagle’s prominent place in Driftless Wisconsin.  Prairie du Chien will observe its annual Bald Eagle Appreciation Days on February 27 – 28.  You’ll be able to see six raptors from the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center; impressive from a distance, even more so up close and personal. See a life-size eagle’s nest and take a look for eagles outside through one of the spotting scopes.

Ferryville, situated on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, will celebrate Bald Eagle Day on March 7.  The annual event will feature a live eagle program and plenty of activities for the kids. Lois the Owl will also be present, supervising the always popular hooting contest. And Chloris Lowe of the Ho-Chunk Nation will talk about the importance of the eagle to Native American culture.

Of course there are birds of all kinds visible during the winter in Driftless Wisconsin.  The Kickapoo Valley Reserve Bird Club will welcome all to the Reserve’s Visitor Center on February 14 for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Club members will explain the world-wide event, help count birds at the feeder, and assist with identification of birds observed through binoculars and spotting scopes.

With so many things to see and do during the winter in Driftless Wisconsin, you’ll hate to see spring arrive.  Well, maybe not, but it makes the wait more enjoyable.

Soldiers Grove Wisconsin – America’s First Solar Village

January 17th, 2015 by Corey A. Edwards

Soldiers Grove - America's First Solar VillageSoldiers Grove, on the banks of the Kickapoo River in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region, is known for lots of things – awesome outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, fishing, and canoeing the Kickapoo River; fun festivities, like the annual Driftless Area Art Festival; and much more – but did you know it’s also America’s first Solar Village?

Originally settled in the 1850’s and known as Pine Grove, due to the profuse stands of white pine that dominated the land, Soldiers Grove was renamed in 1867 as a tribute to those who camped in the area during the Black Hawk War of the 1830’s – but not only that.

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New Experiences in Driftless Wisconsin

December 31st, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

Our new golden retriever, Fargo, has a tail-wagging enthusiasm for all things new.  Which for a 12-week-old puppy, amounts to just about anything appearing before his nose.   This includes Christmas tree ornaments, house plants, shoe laces – especially those attached to moving feet – fallen leaves, sticks, and stairways.

Going outdoors presents boundless possibilities, requiring Fargo to navigate a flight of stairs down to our front door; which he usually takes two steps at a time, complete with a belly flop at the bottom. Undaunted, he then leaps outside like a jailbird on parole.

We should all have such passion for life.  Given the opportunity to shed our daily routines, we just might find a new experience we can take two steps at a time.  Driftless Wisconsin offers us such opportunities.

Have you ever toured an ice cave?  On alternate Saturdays from January 31 to March 7, experienced guides will take you on such a journey at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge.  On the afternoon hike you will see “rarely visited” ice caves and frozen waterfalls.  Along the way, you might learn about winter wildlife, the ecology of the Kickapoo Valley, or the fascinating history behind the formation of the Reserve.  You can experience the hike on snow shoes, a great way to navigate the Driftless Wisconsin landscape during the winter.

Have you ever watched a ski jump?  I say watch, since you are not required to abandon your good senses and take the leap yourself.  The 92nd Annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament will be held outside Westby on January 30 – 31, attracting top talent from around the world.  Growing up in Norwegian household with a father who jumped as a young man, I attended many Snowflake Tournaments as a boy.  I watched in awe as highly trained athletes took their “leap of faith” into the abyss of beautiful Timber Coulee.

Ever go fishing through a hole in the ice?  One of the area’s most popular winter activities might be a new experience for you.  On February 7 – 8, the Annual Fisheree on the backwaters of the Mississippi River north of Prairie du Chien will give you the chance to test your ice-fishing skills or try something new.  Mostly, it’s an excuse to get together with friends and tell fishing jokes that can be seen riding your breath into the crisp February air.

Check our outdoor activities and event calendar, and you will find experiences that will slay the winter doldrums. Whether a new experience or an old habit, Driftless Wisconsin offers you the chance to see it for the first time amid this stunning landscape.  Like Fargo, you’ll find a new enthusiasm for everything in front of your nose.

Carp Fest and the Droppin’ of the Carp!

December 20th, 2014 by Corey A. Edwards

Prairie du Chien's Carp Fest and the Droppin' of the Carp 2015Hard as it may be to believe, 2014 is all but gone – which, here in the Driftless Region, can mean only one thing: Carp Fest and the Droppin’ of the Carp!

We all know about the big crystal ball that drops in New York’s Times Square but, in Wisconsin’s Prairie du Chien, it’s the Droppin’ of the Carp and Carp Fest that folks wait for to mark the end of their year.

A carp? They drop a carp?

Yep: starting at 11:59 on New Year’s Eve, a whole, frozen, gussied-up, 20 to 30 pound carp named “Lucky” is slowly lowered by crane onto its throne for Prairie du Chien’s Droppin’ of the Carp countdown.

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Winter Festival & Activities at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

December 12th, 2014 by Meg Buchner

Crawling through the ice out of a smaller cave.

The Holiday season is rapidly approaching and it is a busy, busy, busy time of year for many people. After you’ve enjoyed the annual New Year’s Dropping of the Carp in Prairie du Chien and welcomed in 2015, make a resolution to explore something new and enjoy winter at the same time.

A wonderful way to delve into winter in the Driftless area is to attend the Winter Festival at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. In 2015 the festival will be on Saturday, January 10th. The event is fun for people of all ages and many of the activities are free. The no-cost activities typically include horse-drawn bobsled rides, ice skating, sledding, skiing, archery, snow sculpture, ice cave hikes, chain saw carving, animal presentations, face painting and a sled dog race.  The La Farge Lions Club hosts an annual chili and bread contest for the public. An silent auction of goods and services produced in the Kickapoo Valley is held, and the proceeds benefit the KVR Education Program.

"Resting" in the snow near the covered bridge while snowshoeing.

“Resting” in the snow near the covered bridge while snowshoeing.

Last year our family tried snowshoeing for the first time. A KVR volunteer helped us strap them on and gave us basic instruction on how to walk in them. Having been walking moderately successfully for over 30 years, I assured my children I would be a pro at this. All three of them enjoyed seeing me step on my own snowshoes and fall into a snow bank near the covered bridge. However, once you get the hang of it, snowshoes are a delightful way to explore the outdoors. Our amazing KVR volunteer was not only an expert guide, but shared his wonder at the nature around us. Before we even set off, he had us close our eyes, be still, and listen. I typically think of the winter landscape as being silent and slumbering. However, in just those few moments my 7-year-old was able to identify three different birdcalls. It heightened the sense that nature is still thriving around us, we just have to look a little harder in winter.

Crawling out of a smaller ice cave.

Crawling out of a smaller ice cave.

Next we took a guided hike and visited the ice caves (not on snowshoes!) We were warned that the hiking could be difficult, steep, slippery (you are going up a bluff after all), but it was worth the challenge. A winding path took us through the woods to a series of ice caves. Simply walking in the woods was majestic. The sun shone brightly through the trees creating prisms on the snow. We walked on a path that twisted and turned and seemed to be going nowhere when suddenly an ice cave would  appear carved into the side of the bluff. Some were so small that you had to crawl through icicles to enter, being careful not to disturb the delicate structures. The last cave was large enough for dozens of people to stand upright and walk around in. As we gazed through a massive, bluish sheet of ice, my older son commented that it felt prehistoric and he expected to see cave paintings on the walls behind him. The guide confirmed that these caves very well could have been dwellings or shelter for ancient people.


Inside a large ice cave.

You can experience your own adventure all winter at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. The KVR maintains approximately ten miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, for both classic and skate skiing. A segment of Wisconsin’s self-funded snowmobile trail system winds its way through the Reserve.  A local snowmobile club grooms and maintains the trail from December 15 through March 31, snow cover permitting.  Whatever you decide to do, you will enjoy winter like never before!

Driftless Wisconsin winter landscapes

December 1st, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

Winter arrived early this year.  Snow boots, shovels, rock salt, and other trappings of winter have already made their way out of storage. I found my ice cleats in the back of the closet so could walk down to get the newspaper without ending up on my backside. The Driftless Wisconsin landscape tends to puts a slant on anything you do during the winter.

But the winter backdrop makes up for the cold and inconvenience.  Against this white canvas, every landscape takes on a new look.bald eagle winter 2008b

I live in a coulee of the Mississippi Valley, a smaller valley extending from the larger.  During the wet spring, the ditch in the middle of our ravine feeds the Mississippi with its contribution of water run-off from the top of the bluff.  In the winter, the ditch sits dry, a mere wrinkle separating the steep hillsides to either side.

During winter, the hillside come alive.  Looking out my window, a lone buck walks a trail about half way up the hill, his nose to the wind in search of a mate during this annual ritual.  Otherwise hidden during the three seasons of foliage, his sleek body moves in contrast to the freshly fallen snow.

My eight-year-old grandson may have spotted this buck earlier in the season while deer hunting with grandpa.  Facing opposite directions in our deer stand, he whispered, “Grandpa, I see a deer. He’s a ten pointer!”  By the time I slowly turned around to look, this ten pointer had morphed into a two point spike buck.  But the excitement never lessened. He still claims we saw two different deer – one ten pointer and one spike buck – and who am I to argue with an eight-year-old with eyesight eight times better than mine.

Each morning when I wake I’m treated to high-wire acrobatics outside our window. Two squirrels race across leafless tree branches suspended thirty feet above the dry wash.  Like circus daredevils, they work without a net.  Watching them scamper across branches and jump to adjacent trees, I’m reminded of a Cirque du Soleil performance I saw a couple of years ago, with acrobats and gymnasts performing feats that seemed to defy gravity.

My wife and one-year-old grandson saw ten turkeys cross the ravine just the other day.  What one-year-olds lack in words, they make up with sheer amazement written in their eyes.  Turkeys can often be seen strutting across farm fields or navigating open stretches of woodlots during the winter. I did not see this rafter of turkeys, but the three-pronged tracks in the snow across our lawn told the story.

Another treasure of the winter landscape, eagles can be seen soaring hundreds of feet above the river valleys.  Eagles are year-round residents of Driftless Wisconsin, but they congregate around open water during the winter and can be more easily seen perched in barren trees.  Pick an overlook of either the Mississippi or Kickapoo River valleys, and spend a few minutes watching one of nature’s most graceful creatures.

We are lucky to have such inspirational landscapes and wildlife to view the year round in Driftless Wisconsin; especially in winter when short days and cold weather get you to thinking about spring.  Then you see an eagle silhouetted against a blue sky or a deer bounding across an open field, and you realize we don’t have it so bad.


You don’t have to live in Driftless Wisconsin to experience an inspirational winter moment.  Send for a Driftless Wisconsin Map to find your way here.  Plenty of time left to find that perfect photo of a Driftless Wisconsin winter landscape.


30th Annual Norskedalen Old-Fashioned Christmas

November 17th, 2014 by Corey A. Edwards

Norskedalen Old-Fashioned Christmas 2014Looking for a fun, traditional way to celebrate the holidays? The 30th Annual Norskedalen Old-Fashioned Christmas is the prefect escape for family fun and shopping!

It’s hard to remember how much more slowly time once moved, allowing us to not just experience but savor those special times and seasons, such as Christmas, with friends and family. Now you can relive a little bit of those slower times at the 30th Annual Norskedalen Old-Fashioned Christmas in the Driftless, Wisconsin region.

Tour the quaintly decorated grounds of the 1860’s Bekkum Homestead in a horse-drawn wagon to the sound of area musicians sharing Christmas carols and other traditional, seasonal music. Tour the buildings of the homestead to see how Christmas was celebrated around the turn of the 20th century.

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November Quiet Reveals Driftless Beauty

November 10th, 2014 by Meg Buchner

The Mississippi River is more visible when hiking the bluffs.

Without leaves, the Mississippi River can be clearly seen when hiking the bluffs.

November in the Driftless region is often referred to as the beginning of the “off-season”. The lush greens of summer have given way to the vibrant hues of autumn. In November leaves are underfoot, the color palette is muted and naked tree branches are visible in stark contrast to the sky. Temperatures reach downward and the land starts to settle into winter hibernation. But bounty and beauty can still be found in the quiet colors of November.

People who enjoy hunting will attest to the rich wildlife of Driftless Wisconsin in November. Deer hunters (bow and gun) find the area a popular destination. The fall turkey hunt season is underway. Duck hunters find waterfowl on the Mississippi River or Wisconsin River. In fact, Mariah Haberman, one of the hosts of Discover Wisconsin, lists this area as one of the best places to hunt in her Travel Wisconsin blog. There are also many public hunting areas and natural areas available. The Wisconsin DNR web site lists state natural areas by county.

November view from the top of the bluff near Stoddard.

November view from the top of the bluff near Stoddard.

For non-hunting outdoor enthusiasts, November uncovers new adventures. Hiking trails are blanketed with fallen leaves. The newly revealed forest has a changed view. Animals are more visible when not hidden by foliage. On most hikes the bright colors of blue jays and cardinals are easily spotted. On top of the bluffs you can see for miles as the rivers and valleys spread out below you. The limestone rock faces are more pronounced and majestic. A popular place for hiking is the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, where the equestrian and mountain bike trails are open through November 15, as weather permits. Hiking is permitted on all trails, all year and the landscape is ever-changing.

For bird watchers, fall migration is still underway. The Great River Road that stretches along the Mississippi River is a wonderful place to view eagles and other birds. In fact, 40% of America’s ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl fly along the Mississippi River on their fall migrations. In Vernon County north of Stoddard, you’ll find an excellent overlook with a handicapped accessible observation area, interpretive signs, spotting scopes and a bench. In Crawford County, Ferryville is a designated “Bird City” with an observation deck and spotting scope immediately adjacent to HWY 35. You can also view a list of “birding hotspots” on Wisconsin’s Great River Road web site or download a Wisconsin Great River Road birding checklist.

November sunset in Ferryville, WI

November sunset in Ferryville, WI

As the November days grow shorter the sun sets earlier over the bluffs and west of the Mississippi River. As if to compensate for the stark colors of the landscape, the sunsets grow more brilliant. As the sun slips over the bluffs, the clouds light up with brilliant orange and fuchsia hues that are reflected in the darkening waters. Winter is coming and the landscape of the Driftless region will soon be painted with sparkling white. For now, the quiet beauty of November is something to be thankful for.

Driftless Wisconsin gives you perspective

October 31st, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

I was in La Crosse for a meeting the other day when a driver ahead of me on 4th Street became upset with the pedestrian pace of the car in front of her. She darted right around him and darted left if front of him as quick as a fish swimming downstream.

The drivers around her, guardians of their own place in the swimming lane hierarchy, began honking their horns. In the chaos of lane shuffling and horns blaring, I ended up directly behind her. Thinking I was the source of her misery, she set about her revenge, driving as slow as a rubber necker passing a car wreck.

I tried passing on the right and she quickly changed lanes. I tried passing on the left and she beat me to the hole. Finally, tiring of this snail’s race, she allowed me to pass, whereupon she greeted me with the one-finger salute. That greeting we reserve for the special people in our lives.

I smiled. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders at her knowing the greeting was intended for the green Chevy ahead of her. Or perhaps for some other misery left behind her that day.

desoto 2For perspective, she might have glanced over at the Mississippi River bluffs. She lives in a land as deep as the blue sky. The topography follows our disposition. It has its ups and downs; but summit a ridge and everything becomes clearer.

Farmers, who generally wave from their tractor seats with all five fingers, have this perspective. My son-in-law, who farms up on the ridge, sets upon his chores with a sense of humor. You have to when you’re living depends on rain and the random movements of weather patterns. His good nature is as endless as a 16-hour day.

That’s not to say that the Driftless area inhabitants don’t know hardship as well as Flatlanders. The folks up on the ridge peer warily at the clouds during windstorms, while valley dwellers keep one eye on the creek in rainstorms. Yet my grandfather, who farmed near Westby and built a barn out of the remnants of a cyclone, would suggest that optimism is built from the loose ends of pessimism.

It is perhaps the rugged slopes of our resiliency that define us more than the topography. We are Driftless in our resolve.

Resolve takes the shape of patience, waiting in line at the post office for the lady at the window to find her checkbook buried in her purse amid Shopko coupons. Our fingers are preoccupied grasping packages addressed to loved ones who have moved from the Driftless, and our horns are muted, talking to the person next in line about the unpredictable nature of weather and grandchildren.

Resolve in the form of tenacity, as when the winds shred our barns and the rains fill our valleys. We pitch in and help. Or we commiserate, knowing that the random movements of funnel clouds and ten-inch rains could just as easily chosen our piece of the world.

So if sluggish cars and one-fingered drivers have you mumbling to yourself, or life takes a sudden turn down the slopes of adversity; look to the hills. That chiseled bluff and its cohorts up and down the valley, give rise to a sense of perspective.

Snowflake Ski and Golf Club features more than ski jumping

October 19th, 2014 by Greg Hoffmann

Snowflake Ski and Golf Club outside Westby is known much more for the former than the latter.

Each winter, ski jumpers from all over the globe gather for a competition that draws hundreds of spectators. The ski jump structure and hill tower over the golf course.

That doesn’t mean what you can’t have a great time playing golf on the nine-hole course that sits at the bottom of that hill.

golf001The course is a Par 30 layout with six Par 3s and three Par 4s. The headwaters of Timber Coulee stream, one of the best trout fishing waterways in the state, wind through the course and add a challenge. So do some well-placed trees and undulating greens.

Probably the most undulating of those greens is on the 165-yard, No. 6 hole. If you don’t knock your tee shot on to the back of the putting surface, you are likely to watch your ball trickle back down hill on the green, which has a slope that rivals the grade of the ski jump. The hole is the No. 1 handicap hole on the course.

On the 164-yard No. 3 hole, you have to drive the ball over the stream. The green has more subtle, but still tricky breaks on it.

Numbers 7 and 8, both par 4s, can be challenging depending on what direction the wind is blowing from. You can get some pretty good breezes coming off the hills. No. 7, listed at 237 yards can play longer if the wind comes from the north. Some trees on the right also add obstacles.

No. 8, listed at 250 yards plays much longer if there is a stiff breeze from the south — which there was the day my partner and I played it. The hole is the No. 2 handicap hole on the course.

On most days, the course is well groomed overall and the greens well maintained. There are exceptions when it gets a lot of rain. Right now, some major re-grading is being done to the main ski jump hill, but that doesn’t interfere with your golf.

The course clubhouse offers daily food specials and a variety of beverages to wet your whistle after a round. Make sure you check out the photos of the ski jump competition. It’s been going on for more than 90 years.

Greens fees are under $10. If you play on a day when the clubhouse is not open, you are asked to deposit your fee on the honor system.

That informality, the beauty of the surrounding hills — dominated by the big jump — and the natural layout of the course make a round at Snowflake a lot of fun.


Gregg Hoffmann, a semi-retired, award-winning journalist, writes the Wet A Fly: In The Driftless Area blog for his web site, He has written blogs for Driftless Wisconsin on fly fishing and golf this season.

Ghoulees In the Coulees – A Driftless Halloween

October 18th, 2014 by Corey A. Edwards

Ghoulees In the CouleesIf you’re looking for a little – or a big! – Halloween thrill during your Driftless vacation this October, then Ghoulees In the Coulees is for you!

It’s that time of year when the nights grow longer, there’s a chill in the air and, if you’re of a mind, the lengthening shadows begin to look a little sinister – Norskedalen’s Ghoulees In the Coulees takes advantage of all these things to create an unparalleled three nights of thrills, laughter, fun, and excitement.

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Driftless Harvest: Farmer’s Markets & Apple Orchards

October 11th, 2014 by Meg Buchner


One of our favorite traditions is taking a family trip to discover the bounty of autumn. We drive in a winding loop on back roads, enjoying the amazing colors of the leaves and making numerous stops. There are a few rules on this adventure: try something different at every place and ask questions.

We began our day visiting the Farmer’s Market in Viroqua. It is open on Saturdays from 8 am -12 PM and located on Rock Ave. Some of the offerings included: fall berries, vegetables, pumpkins, squash, mums, and baked goods. The coffee was rich, piping hot, and took a bit of the chill from the early morning air. The kids shared some of the biggest, juiciest raspberries we’d ever seen! They also sampled gooey, nutty, freshly baked coffee cake.

We headed out of Viroqua on HWY 27 with the destination of Gays Mills. In Mount Sterling, we turned onto 171. We spotted Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery, a small store at the side of the road. Wisconsin is well known for cheese, but Mount Sterling has the distinction of producing high quality dairy goat products. We all tried goat cheese and found it delicious and very creamy, with many flavors and varieties. (My 7-year olds question: “Can I watch you milk a goat?” Sadly for him, that wasn’t possible at the cheese store.)

applesontreesWe continued east towards the orchards. The first one we came upon was West Ridge Orchard. The outside was lined with pumpkins and bins of squash and gourds. West Ridge has a free corn maze and photo opportunities where kids (or anyone) can put their faces through wooden cut outs. We sampled Apple Crisp Doughnuts (delicious), bought a giant box of baking potatoes, white pumpkins, and Zestar apples. Everyone enjoyed seeing the many varieties of apples and tasting them.

Our next orchard stop was at Turkey Ridge, which has been a certified organic orchard for 25 years. That means (and we asked) that they do not use any pesticides or herbicides. Animals—such as pigs, sheep, fowl, cows, and horses help control pests, fertilize, mow, and aerate the soil. (My 7-year olds next question was if he could get some sort of animal to take over our lawn duties, but sadly for him that also wasn’t possible). We picked up some organic cider and did a little more taste testing. Turkey Ridge also lets you pick your own apples (as do many of the other orchards) and we plan to try that another time.

The historical marker and overlook.

The historical marker and overlook.

We cruised down the bluff through falling golden leaves and drove across the Kickapoo River into Gays Mills. A few corkscrew turns on 171 East took us to the top of “orchard ridge.” We stopped at the scenic overlook to take some pictures of the fall colors and read the historical marker about apples in Gays Mills, which date back to 1905.

By now our elder son was getting hungry again (really?) and we headed up the road to Sunrise Orchards. Featuring an on-site bakery and a large sales area, the smell of warm, freshly baked apple cider donuts drew the boys like a magnet. Depositing quarters in a cup purchases hot cider and a few of the dozen donuts disappeared before we even made it to the register.

Our next stop, Kickapoo Orchard, is only a short way past Sunrise on HWY 171. As with many of the other orchards, Kickapoo is a small, family-run operation. We noticed that they are celebrating 50 years of family ownership this October. Kickapoo also had fun family activities: photo opportunities and a free sunflower corn maze. They have a well-stocked gift shop and I found some fabulous lotion actually made by the orchard owner. We also purchased caramel apples coated with nuts and candy and their bakery’s specialty: apple pizza. Luckily, I was able to work off some of these sweet calories wandering completely lost in the corn maze. (My 7-year olds question: “Can’t the GPS on your phone get us out of the corn maze?” Sadly, it could not.)

Once the 7-year-old finally lead us out of the corn maze, we went Fleming Orchard. In operation since 1937, Fleming also features a bakery and a wide variety of apples. We purchased a bag of Honey Crisp as well as Greening Apples for cooking. A step out the back door puts you in the midst of a live entertainment center. Kids can feed goats (and hoist a bucket to make them climb for the corn), view pigs and rabbits. You are also up close and personal with the orchard. Rows are neatly labeled with the many varieties of apples and stretch as far as the eye can see.


Mom? Are you lost in the corn maze?

We rounded out our trip with two more apple orchards: Starry Ridge and Hillcrest Orchard. We found that orchards offer a lot more than apples. Many grow grapes, berries, pumpkins and squash. They have gift shops, crafts and other Wisconsin treats (cheese curds!). Most offer tours of their cider making operations, coolers, and sorting houses. Even if you don’t take a formal tour, it’s fun to see apples growing and taste them fresh from the tree. Everyone in our family learned something. Here’s what my 7-year learned: “Mom can’t find her way out of a corn maze without me.”

Fall excitement in Driftless Wisconsin

October 1st, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

I was out at the park the other evening, about the time light settles into the shadows for the night. It reminded me of hunting deer with my father at dusk; feeling the excitement lurking at the edge of the woods. Every shadow looked like a ten-point buck.  And sometimes it actually was, much to my delight.

About this time, our golden-retriever was feeling his own excitement. Riley wears his emotions on his tail, with each new discovery bringing a wag. He galloped back and forth, thrashing though the brush, hot on some fresh scent. It could have been a deer or a rodent, no matter; his tail beat faster than a base drummer.

Fall in Driftless Wisconsin brings this sort of excitement. The leaves keep you in suspense, wondering what part of the spectrum of colors they will visit next.  Red sumac accents every scene. Every setting surprises you, whether a deer coming out for feeding or a squirrel scampering through the leaves.  Of course, knowing the difference between the sound of an approaching deer or a scampering squirrel proves a challenge, especially to this hunter.

Driftless Wisconsin is bursting with places to enjoy the fall colors. My favorite places are along the back roads, undiscovered valleys with low traffic counts and high rewards.  Granted, you can get lost on some of these roads, but given the scenery, who wants to be found?

Pick any road labeled with a letter rather than a number and you’re on your way to discovery. County Road P in Hwy 27 colorVernon County features Amish crafts along the way; stop in for a look as long as it’s not a Sunday, a day of rest for the Amish.  County Road E in Crawford County gives you a tantalizing glimpse of the Mississippi River while traveling west; the sort of jaw-dropping view that has you reaching for your camera.

Parks, State Natural Areas, and overlooks offer more opportunities to get out of the car and into the color, up close. Parks provide developed trails while Natural Areas allow for spontaneous exploration. Just bring along your sense of wonder.

October is peak color season, but trying to predict the exact day is rather like forecasting the weather; you have a “chance” of peak on any given day from early to mid-October.  Best to just come and jump into the mix.  The excitement is building.

Norskedalen’s Civil War Immersion Weekend 2014

September 21st, 2014 by Corey A. Edwards

Civil War Immersion Weekend 2014Every October, Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center turns back the clock, whisking visitors back to the late 1800’s during the Civil War Immersion Weekend, scheduled this year for October 11th and 12th.

Norskedalen, which means “Norwegian valley,” is a nature and heritage center in Driftless Wisconsin. The center includes Bekkum Homestead, a group of 13, Norwegian pioneer farm buildings, and Holte Cabin, a Civil War-era building reconstructed by a Civil War re-enactment group: Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin.

Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin was part of the famous Iron Brigade. Known to Confederate fighters as “the terrible Black Hats,” this company fought at Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg, where it was nearly annihilated. Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin became the most honored brigade in the eastern army.

These talented and dedicated Civil War re-enactors of today’s Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin bring history to life every year at the Civil War Immersion Weekend with drills, skirmishes, and demonstrations – and it’s not all just war, either. Civilian re-enactors will also be demonstrating the daily life of the 1863 citizenry. Visitors to Norskedalen’s Civil War Immersion Weekend will be able to wander the grounds and visit living history stations to learn what life was like during the Civil War from re-enactors in authentic costume.

Watch as uniformed soldiers drill and pass time at their war-front camp. Hear stories about their life on the march and during wartime. Learn about Civil War era artillery and how to load and fire a cannon. Stop by the farmstead and watch as women work over wood-fired stoves to provide for their families and children perform their daily chores. Listen to the tales of loss and survival as these regular people suffer through the rigors of the engulfing conflict. Witness skirmishes and the main battle from a hilltop as it unfolds below between Confederate and Yankee troops.

Whether you’re a full-blown Civil War buffs, have just a passing interest in US History, or are simply looking for an exciting and thought provoking time while in the Driftless Wisconsin region, Norskedalen’s Civil War Immersion Weekend is for you!

Norskedalen’s Civil War Immersion Weekend 2014

October 11th and 12th
Saturday 9am – 5pm, Sunday 9am – 3pm
for directions, details and more, please visit:

Fall fishing is great in Driftless Wisconsin

September 14th, 2014 by Greg Hoffmann

September annually provides a last chance at good fishing for the season in Driftless Area streams.

As the temperatures start to drop, the water cools from the summer peaks and the trout become more active again.

Vernon County offers the two heavyweights in the area in Timber Coulee and the West Fork, but there are other, small streams that often are fished less in the Fall.

Coon Creek, Bishops, Camp are just some of those in Vernon County. The surface weeds often have died off, providing easier access to fish than in summer.

Crawford County has some beautiful streams to fish in the Fall. Trout Creek can live up to its name on any given day.

Others include Plum, Sugar, Pine, Copper and Knapp. Fishers and environmentalists have fought to keep Copper a good fishing stream. They battled against a commercial well that was proposed in the area.

You do have to make some adjustments to catch trout in the Fall. Terrestrials, such as ants, grasshoppers and crickets, will still work, as they do in late summer.

Insect hatches start winding down, but olives and other surface flies still work at times. Patterns that mimic crayfish and other bottom creatures also can be effective.

The trout start migrating in Fall. Brown trout begin upstream movements into smaller tributary streams to seek spawning habitat, :so there’s an opportunity to catch trophy fish that have spent the summer hiding in deep-water pools and under logjams and are now congregating in smaller tributary streams,” says Mike Miller, a DNR stream ecologist and avid trout angler.

This fisher had a great Fall experience a couple years ago that demonstrates what Miller is saying. While fishing in the West Fork on the last day of September, and that fishing season, I caught a fish in a pool that was about 15 yards wide and maybe 25 yards long.

As I was releasing him, I looked down into the crystal clear water to see about six fish race by my boots. At first I thought they were suckers, since they often hang in groups and move in unison. But, then a group of 8-10 raced by, and this time I could see they were trout, even was able to distinguish between browns and a few brook trout who displayed their reddish bellies as they raced by.

Then, came another group of 8-10, then more and more and more. The exodus lasted for what I would estimate as 2-4 minutes and included dozens of trout, all racing upstream in a frantic manner. I watched in amazement.

I saw nothing that could have scared that many trout into fleeing upstream. A friend/mentor said I might have witnessed a spawning run, which trout some times do almost like the better known runs of salmon. Whatever caused it, I felt privileged to have witnessed it.

You likely will not have this type of experience when fishing in the Fall. But, you can take in some of the colorful beauty of the Driftless Area and catch some trout. So, if you can’t get out before the end of this season, mark your calendar for Fall of next year.


Gregg Hoffmann, a semi-retired, award-winning journalist, writes the Wet A Fly: In The Driftless Area blog for his web site, He has written blogs for Driftless Wisconsin on fly fishing and golf this season.

Autumn Events in Driftless Wisconsin

September 7th, 2014 by Meg Buchner


Fall is approaching Driftless Wisconsin. It’s a season where the suns mellows, but still shines brightly. The air is slightly crisp, and the leaves turn orange, scarlet, or gold. The bluffs become a riot of glorious color, framing our winding roads. The harvest begins and it is season of bounty — from apples to pumpkins — on roadside stands to abundant farmer’s markets. It’s a season of celebrations, and the people of the Driftless region know how to celebrate autumn.

If you look at our event calendar, you’ll find something to do every weekend, and you really can’t go wrong. Here are just a few of our family’s favorite fall festivities:

FerrieswheelThe Vernon County Fair is held in Viroqua on September 10 – 14th. This is a true, old-fashioned fair with fun for the whole family. The Grandstand has antique tractor pulls, truck pulls, harness racing and a demo derby. The Midway has a host of rides and games for all ages. In the evening the Ferris wheel lights up the sky for miles. At the top you can see the whole town of Viroqua as well as the family farms, country roads, and rolling bluffs. There is fried, fluffed, and funneled fair food in trucks galore. Save a little room and visit the 4H food stand, staffed by friendly kids and parents and with a menu of farm fresh deliciousness. Be sure to visit all the exhibit halls, too. The Education Building has displays from schools from across the county. You can see prize-winning plants, pickles, sewing, crafts and more. If you visit the commercial buildings, spend a quarter and spin the wheel at the Vernon County Memorial Hospital booth. You can win apples, popcorn, t-shirts, and lip balm, just to name a few. Of course, don’t forget to visit the animal buildings. Area youth take great pride in their animals and look forward all year to showing them at the fair. See horses, cows, pigs, goats, rabbits, and chickens. Don’t miss the fair!

The Driftless Art Festival is September 20-21 in Soldier’s Grove. The amazing scenery of the area provides inspiration for a multitude of artists, and this festival showcases their talents. You’ll find a huge variety of work including pottery, ceramics, pastel drawings, paintings, photography, jewelry, woodworking, glass, fiber, weavings, and sculpture. Stroll from tent to tent and at most displays you’ll meet the artist him or herself. All are friendly and happy to chat about their work. For many years, I’ve done a good portion of my Christmas shopping at the Driftless Art Festival, as there is so much unique and beautiful work.

The KidsArt tent in the middle of the grounds features artwork on display from regional schools. Activities for children take place in the tent, too.

Learning to weave at the Drifless Art Festival

Learning to weave at the Drifless Art Festival

Kids can use toothpicks and corks to build a sculpture creation, paint pictures, or learn to weave on the large communal loom. A host of yellow-shirted volunteers are there to help and provide free snacks. Speaking of snacks, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other artists of the Driftless Art Festival: the culinary geniuses! You can choose from a variety of delicious treats, from a full meal to a delicious strawberry smoothie, using berries grown locally in Ferryville. Take your food over to the performance tent and enjoy some music. There will be four different groups this year, so music will be playing all day long. Don’t miss the Driftless Art Festival!

Gays Mills Apple OrchardsThe Gays Mills Apple Festival is September 26th – 28th. This festival has all sorts of events spread out across the whole town. In Riverside Park on the banks of the Kickapoo River, you’ll find a selection of arts and crafts. Just up the road at the Crawford County Fairgrounds, there will be a flea market. Participate in a horseshoe tournament, enjoy the kiddie carnival, or try the fun walk/run on Saturday. Don’t forget the parade on Sunday afternoon; the kids enjoy being thrown candy and treats. Of course, apples are the centerpiece of this festival and you’ll want to eat some: freshly picked, drizzled with caramel, or baked into a pie or sugared donut (or one of each) –you can’t go wrong. Be sure to visit every apple orchard in Gays Mills, whether during the Apple Festival or any time this fall. Only going to one orchard in Gays Mills is like going to Mall of America and only going to one store: just wrong. Each orchard is unique with their own specialty and activities. Some offer free apple recipes, others have a free corn maze or animals for the kids to feed and pet. Of course, you’ll leave with a car full of the best fresh apples around. Don’t miss the Gays Mills Apple Festival!

With all of the fall events going on in Driftless Wisconsin, you’ll want to plan a visit for a day, a weekend, or even a month! Luckily, we have you covered with many great places to stay. You won’t be disappointed. Don’t miss Driftless Wisconsin in the fall!


Change of seasons in Driftless Wisconsin

September 1st, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

Fall is still three weeks away and the air is thick with anticipation.  Or maybe that’s the humidity.  Mornings draped with fog are already appearing, showing the first signs of the change of seasons.

Meantime, we’re trying to squeeze every last drop out of summer, before kids turn their attention from fishing to studying, and we turn from summer vacations to raking the yard.

But wait.  The fun isn’t over yet. Outdoor recreation in Driftless Wisconsin has no seasonal boundary and the transition from summer to fall might the most enjoyable.

Last evening I drove up to Pikes Peak Park in Iowa, which looks back at the Driftless Wisconsin landscape.  The overlooks of Driftless Wisconsin – including Pikes Peak, Wildcat Mountain State Park near Ontario, Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien, and the ridge tops between the Mississippi and Kickapoo Rivers – offer stunning views of the Driftless topography.

Two rivers gather below Pikes Peak; the Mississippi spilling from the north and the Wisconsin coursing from the east. Above, a hawk slides by, quiet as a whisper.  On quiet evenings without wind, even the muddy waters of the Mississippi lay flat as glass; with islands rising from their own reflection.

Below me, a fishing boat plies the river, skittering across the surface like a water bug.  Nearby, a dog barks from an anchored boat, perhaps announcing the landing of a nice bass. The rivers and streams are full of fishermen, catching up after a wet spring and late flooding.  The serious fishers are intent on the perfect cast, while the casual, like me, are caught glancing up at the hills.

A horse trail passes by our house just the other side of the dry wash. Our dog, Riley, announces the coming of riders, who trot by with a wave of their hand. Friends say our golden retriever is as big as a horse, so maybe he’s just giving a shout out to his kin.

I’m not a horseman myself, but I can’t imagine a more relaxing way to explore the Driftless topography. The horses are sure-footed and the scenery just won’t quit.  Horse trails at Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge and La Riviere Park in Prairie du Chien are some of the best around.

The view from the saddle can be equally satisfying on a bike. Last weekend, the Aloha Bike Tour in Viroqua and the Kickapoo Brave Ride in Gays Mills brought bicyclists from afar to enjoy the unmatched beauty and challenging rides of Driftless Wisconsin.  I wondered if the smiles on the faces of returning riders could be traced toDSCN1107b the vistas seen or the challenges met.  But don’t wait for next August; the coming fall offers bike riders stunning views of fall colors with cooler temperatures to boot.

And fall is almost here. Yes, you can take a hike or mount a bike right outside the door from where you’re sitting. But it won’t compare with the change of seasons in Driftless Wisconsin.

Driftless Wisconsin – What Does That Mean?

August 18th, 2014 by Corey A. Edwards

Canoeing the Kickapoo in Driftless Wisconsin

Canoeing the Kickapoo River past tell-tale and
fascinating, Driftless Wisconsin rock formations

If you look for Driftless Wisconsin on a map, you probably wont find it because Driftless Wisconsin is a region – “the Driftless Wisconsin area” – but why “Driftless?” What does that mean?

The Driftless Wisconsin area is geologically unique in many respects and is called “Driftless” because it lacks drift. “Drift” refers to the material left behind by glaciers: an aggregate of gravel, boulders, and other telltale residue.

A lack of drift indicates that an area was skirted by the most recent passage of glaciers. This dodging of the glacial bullet often leaves a landscape that looks radically different from the areas surrounding it – and that describes Driftless Wisconsin to a “t.”

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Summer on the Sandbar in Driftless Wisconsin

August 11th, 2014 by Meg Buchner

Another summer day has dawned with a bright blue sky, puffy clouds and a slight breeze. As the temperature climbs, the sun dances on the Mississippi River outside our door. The river is calling and the children are echoing, “Let’s go on the river! Let’s go to a sandbar!”

Unable to resist, we quickly assemble everything needed for a day on the river. Life jackets, sunscreen, sand toys, towels, and a cooler of snacks and refreshments are loaded into the boat and we head to a dock. On the Great River Road in Driftless Wisconsin, you can find a boat landing literally every few miles. We frequently launch from the boat landing in Ferryville or Black Hawk Park north of De Soto.

Today the children are clamoring for a beach, swimming, and water recreation. Spending the day on a sandbar is a family favorite. Sandbars dot the length of the Upper Mississippi River. They are essentially islands in the river, often covered with trees and other foliage. Some are large and some are small enough for only one boat; all are a fun place to stop and explore or just relax.

Tubing on the Mississippi River

Tubing on the Mississippi River

As we speed down the river, the children clamor to ride in the tube. We slow to attach the towrope and launch the giant river tube. Big enough for three people, it shoots over the waves and cuts through the spray. The kids alternate screaming with laughter and urging us to go faster.

After a few exhilarating turns in the tube, we head for the sand bar. We’ve dubbed one south of De Soto “the cove” because it is just off the main channel, horseshoe shaped, and large enough for at least fifteen boats. The current isn’t strong in the cove and the beach is wide and inviting, big enough to build gigantic castles or bury a willing sibling in sand. A steep climb from the beach leads you to tall trees and quiet paths across the island.

The sandbar is like an ongoing summer party that you don’t need an invitation to attend, just transportation to get there. As we pull up, someone already has music playing and a grill going. The kids spot familiar friends or possibly potential new ones. Everyone is equal on the sandbar. Generation of families arrive on pontoon boats. Jet skis pull up to the shore. Speedboats and fishing boats come and go. A large rental houseboat complete with corkscrew slide leading directly to the water glides by. It is crowded with people who wave and shout hello as they go past.

The day of sun, water and sand passes far too quickly. Soon it’s time to shake out the towels, wash off the plastic buckets, and head back. We’ve made special memories, yet like so many others we’ve spent – it’s summer on the sandbar.

It begins on a river

August 1st, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

We held a family reunion last weekend at a cabin on the Kickapoo River near Wauzeka. The cabin sits on a ledge overseeing the valley, suspended in the canopy like a tree house.  The river lazily passed by just down the hill from the back porch.

Kickapoo RiverSiblings armed with potato salad, cucumbers, and ham sandwiches arrived to shake hands, grasp shoulders, and sit with elbows on knees to tell our family history; each with their own version. A straw hat sat on the pot belly stove; a proxy for our departed brother.

My own history begins on a river, winding its way up the Kickapoo to the headwaters of my youth. I spent many a summer day in Ontario, waking to the smell of bacon sizzling in an iron skillet and the thundering voice of Ruth Downing. Ruth lived on a street climbing the hill above the river, not far from the switchboard operator who knew everyone by their first name on the telephone party line.

On sun swept days my mother and I would pile into Ruth’s ’41 Chevy, which served as tour bus to explore the winding roads of the Kickapoo Valley. I sat in the backseat; my nose lurking below the windows, listening to Ruth’s rolling narration as the landscape rolled by like a movie in an outdoor theater. The cinematography was hypnotizing, capturing every angle of the valley from the cavernous backseat.

We climbed the highway with hairpin turns to Wildcat Mountain State Park, for family picnics on tables set with a view of the sprawling valley. I remember losing a football over the edge of the overlook. It might be still falling, given the endless drop to the river below.

My history flows down the river like the life line on the palm of my hand. As an adventuresome teenager, I camped in a pup tent near Steuben while canoeing, the river waiting just outside our tent flap.  Later in life I helped with the Driftless Area Art Festival in Soldiers Grove, an event held on the banks of the river that captures the story of the Driftless area on canvas, pottery, fabric, and any number of ways that make you ponder.

I helped set up rest stops for the Kickapoo Brave Ride at Gays Mills, a bike ride that explores every turn of road and crest of hill that frames the valley; and this year, includes a paddle on the river to boot.

I worked on the lower Kickapoo, marking deadfalls to be cleared to open up the river for navigation.  I sat in the front of a canoe expertly piloted by Mark Drake, trying to keep my eye on the map while mallards launched from the river’s surface, sandhill cranes paced the river bottoms, and scenery unfolded around every bend.

My history winds through Driftless Wisconsin as aimlessly as the Kickapoo, never knowing what the next bend will bring.  I invite you to begin your own history in the valley. No matter that you did not spend your youth here. The river and its ways will begin for you a new childhood, ripe with adventure and stories to tell.

The story begins on a river.

Summer trout fishing in Driftless Wisconsin

July 26th, 2014 by Greg Hoffmann

Fishing often becomes more challenging in the dog days of summer in Driftless Area streams.

Driftless 085webThe heat, and in some years shallow water depths, often make it necessary to hunt for the deeper holes and areas of streams where trees and other growth along the stream provide some shade.

This year, with the moist spring and early summer, depths on most streams are good. That’s a break for fishers who come from elsewhere in hopes of finding good fishing.

Terrestrials — flies that look like grasshoppers, crickets and other land loving insects — often work best in mid-summer. They mimic one of those critters who has fallen into the water, and trout love to surface to eat a treat.

Summer fishing is best from dawn into the early morning and late afternoons until dusk. Your shadows aren’t as likely to spook fishing during that time. The majority of the hatches also take place during those times.

The Driftless Angler, a great fly shop in Viroqua, says this about the insects during the summer days: “The major insect available in the summer time is the tiny olive (formerly Pseudocoleon) with some Cahills, Tan Caddis and Midges as well. Later on in the season, some Coulee region streams get a heavy hatch of Tricos; these tiny mayflies can provide some great fishing on summer mornings. Ants, beetles, crickets and hoppers are also very important and readily available sources of food in the summer, and can provide some excellent fishing even when trout do not seem to be interested in anything else.”

Two star streams in Vernon County — Timber Coulee and the West Fork — can be productive in summer. Trout often can be found tucked up against the higher banks and in shaded areas of Timber.

The authors of the second edition of Wisconsin Trout Streams write this about Timber: “Timber Coulee Creek might just be the crown jewel among Wisconsin spring creeks.”

After describing some of the management projects that have been dobe on the creek, Jeff Mayers, Steve Born, Andy Morton and Bill Sonzogni write: “No wonder Trout Unlimited named it one of the top 100 streams in the country.”

When you’re done fishing, try some of the pubs and restaurants in nearby Coon Valley. There also are places to stay near Timber, perhaps most notably Coulee Cabins right across the road from the stream.

The West Fork serves more or less as the “home field stream’ for this blogger. On its north ends, near Bloomingdale, you can find shadier areas that provide good summer fishing. Farther south, in the more popular areas of the stream near Avalanche, you can find some deeper holes.

After fishing the West Fork, you can go to Westby or La Farge to eat. There also is the Rockton Bar, a hangout for outdoors enthusiasts, not far away.

While Timber and the West Fork attract the most attention, and fishers, there are plentiful smaller streams in Vernon and Crawford counties. Matt at the Driftless Angler can help you with these, and even guide you for a fee.

Later in summer, and in September, when the temperatures start to cool down, fishing often picks up. Standing in a stream, surrounded by early autumn colors, and catching trout is an experience that can’t be beat.

For more information on the streams in Vernon and Crawford counties, go to For the Wisconsin Trout Streams guidebook, which includes streams around the state, go to


Gregg Hoffmann is a semi-retired journalist and avid fly fisherman. He publishes