Category Archives: Driftless Wisconsin Events

Small-town events in Driftless Wisconsin

July 1, 2016 by Eric Frydenlund

Small-town events are the life blood of our communities. You won’t find big-town parade floats fashioned from roses or 30-foot high balloons shaped like Mickey Mouse. You will find small-town excitement, built from a community pride that draws folks to Main Street from miles around.

Eastman parade 4Small-town events begin with a few volunteers and end with a community-wide party. You can see the excitement in the faces.  The little girl in pigtails, mouth agape, watching the fire engine pass with sirens howling. The three-year-old farmer, hands on hips, inspecting a procession of John Deere tractors. The County Dairy Queen smiling and waving – not the mechanical elbow to wrist wave, but the both-arms flapping wave to someone in the crowd she actually recognizes.

Once the parade finds the end of Main Street, then comes more fun, food and fireworks.  And maybe a local baseball tournament or horseshoe contest. The cook flips the burgers with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other.  And the thank you from the volunteer who hands you your burger and beer is genuine because it’s their club’s annual fundraiser.

And did I mention music?  The musicians span from the local high school bands marching the parades, tubas blaring and snare drums rattling; to professional bands rocking the stage of local music festivals.

There are several communities that celebrate the 4th of July with parades and fireworks with all sorts of activities in between. Eastman holds the quintessential farm-town 4th of July, with parade, ball games, food, and fireworks; while the La Farge 4th of July hosts a parade, ball tournament, bake sale, beer tent, and yes, spectacular fireworks.

Community gatherings are not confined to the 4th of July.  Several communities host farmers markets, typically on Saturdays, an easy way to celebrate food from farm to table. Coon Valley will host the Coon Creek Trout Fest on July 23, offering up a kid’s trout derby, a bobber race, classic car show, fly tying and fishing lessons, food, beverages, and music at night.

The calendar is full with summer music festivals. The Stump Dodger Bash in Gays Mills kicks things off on July 1st and 2nd, a country music happening featuring headliners Erica Nicole on Friday and Logan Mize on Saturday.  The 14th Annual Bluegrass Gospel Music Festival takes the stage in Viroqua on July 8 – 10, an opportunity to enjoy family entertainment, great music, and fellowship with six traditional bluegrass and gospel bands.

Viroqua also hosts the Driftless Music Festival on July 9, a free event offering five bands from 1 – 10pm, closing with Christie Knapp, who’s been “accused of singing in the style of Rosemary Clooney.” The Prairie Dog Blues Festival transforms St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien into a mecca for blues lovers, offering blues and roots music ranging “from Chicago Blues to West Coast Jump, hard-driving Mississippi Hill Country Blues, New Orleans horns and Texas Boogie.”

August begins with the annual Country on the River Music Fest in Prairie du Chien on August 4 – 6, featuring notable headliners such as Kid Rock. And don’t forget the County Fairs, Crawford County on August 24 – 28 and Vernon County on September 14 – 18, which offer a little bit of everything.

Small towns know how to celebrate in a big way. They’d be more than pleased if you joined them.

Christmas Traditions in Driftless Wisconsin

December 2, 2015 by Eric Frydenlund

My memories of Christmas begin with lutefisk and lefse, the Norwegian feast my mother made each year to celebrate my father’s Scandinavian heritage.  The smell of lutefisk – a cod cured in lye – wafting through the house on Christmas Eve sent me in the opposite direction in full retreat. While the rest of the family endured the smell of boiled fish with the consistency of pudding, my sister and I sat in the living room enjoying a holiday meal of hotdogs, which at least were chewable.

For those of you who enjoy lutefisk – and there are many of you – rest assured I have not entirely abandoned my Norwegian heritage.  I do love lefse, a potato flatbread rolled to a thin layer and cooked on a large griddle. Served only with butter – I consider the addition of brown sugar to be blasphemy – I have been known to consume lefse as fast as it comes off the griddle. After my wife made it clear that if I wanted the tradition to continue, I would be supplying the labor, I have learned to make a decent batch of lefse.  Never mind the dough stuck to the kitchen counter and the cloud of flour draping my shirt.

The history of our Christmas traditions is rooted in our ethnic customs. Explored by the French and settled by Scandinavians, Bohemians, Irish, and other nationalities; Driftless Wisconsin offers a variety of ethnic traditions to honor our diverse heritage.  In communities across the Driftless Wisconsin region, the Christmas season inspires us to carry forward our traditions to the next generation.

ofc_horsesOn December 5 – 6 the good folks at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center will help us celebrate an Old-Fashioned Christmas.  Norskedalen, which means Norwegian Valley, “is a nature and heritage center dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the natural environment and cultural heritage of the area surrounding Coon Valley in southwest Wisconsin.”

The Old-Fashioned Christmas offers visitors the opportunity to explore that heritage through the lens of the Christmas holiday, complete with horse-drawn carriage rides, Christmas caroling, a buffet of Norwegian delicacies, and a bake sale – including lefse!  Craft demonstrations in spinning, wood-stove cookery, and kid’s crafts will keep you grounded in the spirit of Christmas. And you’ll have the chance to make your own holiday decorations.

Also on December 5, La Farge will hold its Old-Fashioned Small Town Christmas Celebration.  The community, located near the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, will take you back to your small-town childhood memories with a huge craft fair at the school, a cookie walk at the Reserve, and a soup luncheon.

On December 4 – 6 and 11 – 13, The Villa Louis Historic Site in Prairie du Chien will celebrate Victorian Home for the Holidays.  Held at the Villa Louis, the opulent estate of Hercules Dousman restored to its 1890s splendor, the event recreates the holiday traditions of a Victorian family.  Enter the Dousman parlor for a recital on a restored 1879 Steinway piano.  Visit the kitchen, where the Dousman cook prepares the holiday menu.  Sample some desserts and apple cider.

No holiday would be complete without witnessing the Droppin’ of the Carp in Prairie du Chien on December 31.  Culminating the week-long Carp Fest, the evening includes a bonfire, entertainment, and the countdown starting at 11:40.  Inspired by New York City’s dropping of the Time Square Ball at midnight, this celebration ends with the ‘Droppin’ of a carp taken from the Mississippi River and preserved for this special occasion.

Tradition has it that the Carp King and Queen kiss “Lucky” the fish for good luck in the New Year.  Well, at least they don’t have to eat it.

Carp Fest and the Droppin’ of the Carp!

December 20, 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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30th Annual Norskedalen Old-Fashioned Christmas

November 17, 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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Ghoulees In the Coulees – A Driftless Halloween

October 18, 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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Norskedalen’s Civil War Immersion Weekend 2014

September 21, 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:

Autumn Events in Driftless Wisconsin

September 7, 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!


Get a Taste of the Old West at Viroqua Wild West Days

July 19, 2014 by Corey A. Edwards

2014 Viroqua Wild West Days

If you’re looking for a taste of some 1880’s style, old west fun and excitement, come experience the 17th annual Viroqua Wild West Days in Viroqua, Wisconsin! Held the third weekend of every August since 1997, Viroqua Wild West Days transforms 7 acres east of the Vernon County Fairgrounds into an 1880’s Boom Town.

Stroll the wooden sidewalks and visit the the Marshall in his office. Down a a cold beer or sarsaparilla at the Buckeye Saloon with its dance hall girls. Chat with the Northstar Hotel’s barber or buy some goods at the general store. Check out the fur-traders rendezvous and the Civil War camp of the 1st Wisconsin Company D. Take a ride around the grounds in a carriage or an authentic stagecoach, or hit the gaming street for an opportunity to test your skill, luck, or muscle. Drop by the undertakers to view the recently gunned down outlaw in his coffin. You may even witness a gunfight!

The Viroqua Wild West Days aren’t just for make-believe, either. There are real wild west events to witness or, if you dare, join in on! The popular, crowd pleasing, Hog Wrestling event regularly pulls in over thirty different teams of young men and women just aching to enter a ring of thick muck to try their hand at wrestling a greased pig into a bucket.

Then there’s the Hell On Hooves Ranch Rodeo and Bull Riding Bonanza that truly kicks off the Viroqua Wild West Days weekend. Beginning Saturday at sundown, the Hell On Hooves Ranch Rodeo tests a cowboy’s skills in bull riding, roping, sorting, milking, and more. And don’t miss the Mutton Bustin’ event with kids competing to see who can last the longest atop a running sheep.

Top all of this off with food and craft vendors, parades, concerts, races, and what you’ve got on your hands is one wild, wild west of a good time – guaranteed!

2014 Viroqua Wild West Days

August 15th through the 17th, 2014
925 Nelson Parkway Viroqua, WI 54665

Viroqua Wild West Days Lodging & Dining
Whenever you’re in the Driftless Wisconsin area, whether it’s for Viroqua’s Wild West Days, another event, or just to enjoy the peace of our unique and beautiful countryside, you should treat yourself to a great, local business for your Driftless lodging and dining needs. Driftless Wisconsin’s motels and historic Victorian inns offer you the best in convenience, hospitality, and amenities of both the past and the present, while classic, Driftless dining offers you the kind of local, farm-fresh foods your body and tastebuds deserve. Come vist and see what makes Driftless Wisconsin so special.