Wisconsin's Rivers: Motorcycle Touring

Three routes for motorcycling touring Wisconsin’s rivers.

River Watershed

The Kickapoo, Wisconsin and Mississippi river watersheds offer some of the best motorcycle touring in the world.

Photo By Gary Ilminen

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Wisconsin's Rivers
What: Three great routes following the Kickapoo, Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers in Wisconsin.
Best Kept Secrets: Visit Taliesin, famed Wisconsin architect Frank Lloyd Wright's incredible summer home in Spring Green, Wis.
More Info and Photos: Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.

The watersheds of the Kickapoo, Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers offer some of the best motorcycle touring in the world, in a spectacular part of southwest Wisconsin called the Driftless Area. “Drift” is what geologists call the stone fields left behind after a glacier grinds the land down and then melts away. But since glaciers never covered the area it’s “driftless,” with soaring sandstone bluffs, pinnacles, towers and walls that look more like what you’d expect to see in the desert southwest, jutting up out of rolling green pastures.

The Kickapoo River

The Kickapoo River offers some of the best riding, snaking its way south 65 miles from Ridgeville in Monroe County to its confluence with the Wisconsin River at Wauzeka.

From Wauzeka, run the Kickapoo south to north. Take SR 60 east to SR 131, then go north on 131. This begins the experience of traversing the entire length of a river from its mouth to its headwaters.

Along the way, you’ll go through tiny villages like Viola, the ancestral home of S&S Cycles. Farther up 131 is La Farge and the dam that never was. In the late 1960s, the federal government schemed to tame the Kickapoo with a huge dam near La Farge. In 1970, the Federal Environmental Protection act was passed, and enviromental concerns led to costly changes and delays. The project came to a halt, unfinished, in 1975. Today, a large portion of the dam that was constructed stands north of town, and next to it, jutting some 60 feet high, stands a concrete obelisk that was built to house the controls for the flood gates.

North of La Farge on 131 lies tiny Rockton and the Rockton Bar, a motorcycle-friendly spot that hosts a tasty outdoor chicken barbecue every Sunday from April to October. North of Rockton, the curves come even closer together as you cross SR 33; a right turn here takes you south to Wildcat Mountain State Park and wonderful switchback roads. Keep heading north on 131 through Wilton and you’ll have ridden the entire length of the Kickapoo River!

The Wisconsin River

The Wisconsin River flows 430 miles southwest from its headwaters at Lac Vieux Desert, a lake near the border of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to its confluence with the Mississippi south of Prairie du Chien.

The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway lies in the driftless area, from the dam at Prairie du Sac, spanning the roughly 92 miles of the Wisconsin River between its mouth at the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien. The Riverway includes 79,275 acres of land on both sides of the river, set aside by state law to help preserve the area’s natural beauty.

Starting in Prairie du Chien, take US 18 east to SR 60 (recently designated a National Scenic Byway), which defines the centerline of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. It sweeps along the curves of the river, in some places cut into hillsides directly above the water. Follow it back to Wauzeka, then through more beautiful river villages on the north bank like Gotham, Lone Rock and Spring Green, home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic summer home Taliesin and American Players Theatre. Stay on SR 60 all the way to Prairie du Sac, if you please.

The Mississippi River

Starting again in Prairie du Chien, take SR 35 north, also known as the Great River Road and a designated National Scenic Byway. Head north on SR 35 to the junction with SR 82 north of Ferryville. Cross the river to Lansing, Iowa, on SR 82 and you’ll ride across the Black Hawk Bridge, one of the hairiest old steel-grid deck bridges left in North America. In Lansing, check out Lansing’s Veterans Memorial Park high atop Mt. Hosmer for a spectacular view upstream and downstream. Back in Wisconsin heading north on SR 35 again lies La Crosse, a beautiful river town and corporate headquarters for S&S Cycles.

If you’re looking for a destination with history, stunning scenery, great attractions, meandering waters and roadways, think about riding along these great rivers.