Vernon County Day Trip
Steeped in history and rich with local flavor, you will find in every corner of Vernon County something for everyone! Whether you are looking to relax and unwind, take in the diverse arts and crafts community, relive the past at one of the County’s historical sites or museums, hike, bike or fish, Vernon County is the perfect vacation destination!
Vernon County in a Day – an Itinerary
On your journey through the county, your time here can begin with paddling away down the Midwest’s “crookedest river”, the Kickapoo. Canoe and kayak enthusiasts flock to the Kickapoo River in the middle of the county to enjoy the distinctive sandstone bluffs and abundant wildlife. River liveries located in Ontario offer canoe and kayak rentals with shuttle services for the voyages.
A North/South drive through the center of the county is on the scenic and winding Highway 131. A must visit is the Kickapoo Valley Reserve located between the villages of La Farge and Ontario with the Kickapoo River as its seam.
The Reserve itself is an 8,569-acre spread of public land. The unique geology of the Driftless area is clearly represented in the Reserve and the neighboring Wildcat Mountain State Park, as the river has carve out its meanders leaving scenic sandstone cliffs and lush vegetation free from the last glacier’s flattening effect. The best way to experience the breathtaking landscapes is by taking part in recreational pursuits such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. The village of Viola, to the south of La Farge on Highway 131 is steeped with archeological history. Visit the Mound Park for ancient reminders of the first inhabitants that became known as the “Mound Builders”. A good base for exploring the Kickapoo River and the hundreds of miles of Class 1 trout streams is Readstown, the southern gateway to the county. Paddlers have plenty of options for canoe and kayak trips. This is where Highways 14 and 61 meet with 131, and where local businesses are focused on service to visitors and vacationers.
Be an explorer and become inspired by nature as you travel the Great River Road from Stoddard, south through Genoa, Victory and De Soto on State Highway 35. While traveling this historic National Scenic Byway you will pause to browse through museums, enchanting village shops, and antiques. Your luck may have it; you just may spot a bald eagle soaring overhead. Enjoy restaurants and local culinary delights along the way or hike, bike, fish or just enjoy the breathtaking scenery. At Genoa you can watch towboats and barges “lock through” at Lock and Dam No. 8 at the south edge of the village. Scenic river overlooks are located along the Great River Road north of town. Victory is a small settlement with a picturesque setting – snuggled next to the Mississippi on one side and back dropped by bluffs on the other. Five settlers laid out the village in 1852 and named it “Victory” to commemorate the final battle of the Black Hawk War fought south of the village 20 years earlier which is now part of the recreation-filled Black Hawk Park.
In DeSoto, named for the daring Spanish explorer, who discovered the Mississippi in 1541, has many historical markers, detailing local Indian history and the war´s end are found along this section of the Wisconsin´s Great River Road.
An afternoon can revolve around simplicity, purity and peace by driving along the quiet country roads of the Cashton Amish community. The sizeable Amish settlement in Vernon County focuses on family, community hard work and faith. You will find a large assortment of authentic Amish goods at specialty shops and farms. You will find hickory bent wood furniture, hand-made quilts and rugs, baskets, custom oak and cherry dining and bedroom furniture, candies, jams, maple syrup and produce. Just North of Westby on Highway 27, turn right on County P and continue through the valleys and ridges by following the Amish signs for their specialty craft. A stop at the Cheese Factory on County D that has a viewing window of cheese being made is a must. Amish Gift Shops & Tour Services can be found on Highway 33 just on the outskirts of Cashton. Additional Amish communities can be found near Hillsboro, in the Liberty Pole area south of Viroqua, Chaseburg and Stoddard areas.
If you find yourself just North of Westby, a Norwegian community, then a must “detour” is on West County Road P. This peaceful and scenic drive along Timber Coulee Creek allows you a close up view of the International Ski Jump Complex. The 12-mile detour will land you in Coon Valley on Highway 14/61. From Coon Valley you can travel west to the Mississippi River or east and meander to the central and eastern part of the county.
Enjoy an afternoon taking in the breathtaking view from the vineyards located near Westby and Viroqua. Sample wines from grapes produced at the vineyards in their tasting rooms. Grapes flourish on the hilly terrain of the Driftless region because of their need for good drainage, air flow, and sun exposure. Branches Winery is located on Old Line Road northwest of Westby, while Vernon Vineyards can be found on Peterson Lane just off Hwy Y, five miles northwest of Viroqua. Check their websites for hours of operation.
The gateway city to the east of the county is the Czech Capitol of Wisconsin – Hillsboro. Serving as the trail head for bicyclists is the Hillsboro Northeastern Spur Trail which connects with the Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail. No matter where your travels take you, Hillsboro is the perfect place to begin or end your journey of Vernon County.
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Whether for a weekend, a week, or longer, you’ll enjoy your stay in Driftless Wisconsin.