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 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 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
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.
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.
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