The Great River Road

For most of the nearly 60 mi (97 km) between La Crosse and Prairie du Chien, the GRR (Hwy-35) is again confined to the margin between the tall gray and yellow bluffs and the impressively wide lakelike Mississippi. At times the roadway is so narrow that the few houses have to climb three stories up the irregular wooded slopes, while the railroad tracks on the right are suspended over the water on viaducts. About halfway along, there’s a maze of small islands around the mouth of the Bad Axe River, with the occasional blue heron poised like a Giacometti sculpture in alga-covered sloughs. Dotting the curves alongside the road are a series of historical markers old enough to be artifacts themselves; most are related to the tragic Black Hawk War of 1832.

Midway along this scenic stretch of highway, 32 mi (53 km) north of Prairie du Chien between the riverside hamlets of De Soto and Genoa, the Great River Roadhouse (9660 Hwy-35, 608/648-2045) is a great place to stop and stretch your legs—and your stomach, feasting on the broasted chicken dinners, good pizza, roasted ribs, pasta, Friday night fish fry, and constant cold beers.

Prairie du Chien

Named by early 19th-century French voyageurs, Prairie du Chien (pronounced “duh-SHEEN”) could be renamed Prairie du Kwik-Stop or Prairie du Pabst by the modern traveler cruising along the GRR on downtown’s West Blackhawk Avenue. The town’s main attraction is the posh Villa Louis (608/326-2721, daily mid-May-Oct., $13.50), which embodies the wealth that could be made in the fur trade back when every European dandy’s head sported beaver-pelt hats. Built by the state’s first millionaire, the house boasts one of the finest collections of domestic Victoriana in the country; signs point you here from all over town.

Spring Green: Taliesin

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous country house and studio, Taliesin (pronounced “tally-ESS-en”), is in Spring Green (608/588-7900, daily May-Oct., $25-100), 65 mi (105 km) east of Prairie du Chien via Hwy-60. Fully guided tours of the private residence and architecture school he inspired are offered; ticket prices and times vary, depending on what’s included in the tour. Spring Green is also home to the state’s biggest tourist trap, the incredible House on the Rock (608/935-3639, daily May-Oct., $30, times and rates vary Nov.-Jan. and Mar.-Apr.), with its “World’s Largest” merry-go-round, kitschy collections of everything from dolls to replicas of the crown jewels, and the eponymous house, standing atop a 60-ft-high (18.3-m) chimney of rock.

Map of the Great River Road through Wisconsin

Map of the Great River Road through Wisconsin.
Map of the Great River Road through Wisconsin.

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