There’s nothing like a leisurely drive during the fall, especially if the payoff at the end is a 250-mile meandering road that winds through 33 towns along the Mississippi River.
Wisconsin’s Highway 35, the Great River Road, is a National Scenic Byway that follows the Mississippi River for 250 miles from Prescott on the north end to Kieler on the south. It’s the route Huffington Post readers chose it as “America’s Prettiest Drive” in a reader’s poll last year.
And it’s only a day’s drive from Traverse City.
Four days of travelling about 200 miles of it from Bay City, Wis., down to Prairie du Chien, Wis., recently are proof it should be on your “bucket list.”
Along the way visitors experience some of the most incredible scenery in the Midwest and pass through dozens of small, unique communities — some of the oldest in Wisconsin. Enjoy views of tree-lined limestone bluffs, soaring eagles and, of course, America’s longest river, the Mississippi, as it rolls slowly down to the Gulf of Mexico.
The road is nestled between the mighty river and the towering bluffs, which you often can climb in various state parks to gain jaw-dropping views of the river valley and surrounding area. Nearly two-thirds of the Great River Road passes near or through protected natural areas.
Bluffs rise as high as 700 feet above the river. Historical markers, museums and visitor centers tell the story of the region and the people who settled it and continue to live and work along the great river.
The region, known as the Driftless Area, escaped the glaciers that flattened much of the Upper Midwest leveling peaks and filling river valleys with “drift,” hence the name of the area. Flood waters, created by the melting glaciers about 10,000 years ago, helped to create the Upper Mississippi River valley which lays as wide as three miles in some sections.