This ride within the Mississippi River’s Bluff Country is marked by the river and its many tributaries and associated wetlands, scenic valleys of temperate deciduous forest, pronounced limestone and dolomite peaks, bluff-top dairy farms and horse ranches, and riverside communities.
Road quality is excellent on either side of the river, with the Great River Road (MN-26 & WI-35) often receiving attention. Roadways near Brownsville and Caledonia are two-lane cracked asphalt, as are the “Alphabet Roads” in Wisconsin. Watch for tar snakes, loose gravel, slow-moving tourists and quick-moving wildlife.
Closest motorcycle dealerships include Rod’s Ride On Powersports in La Crosse, 2Brothers Powersports in Onalaska, La Crosse Area Harley-Davidson and Root River Powersports in La Crescent.
The largest city on Wisconsin’s western border, La Crosse (pop. 51,645) is serviced to the northwest by the I-90 bridge, but also by the Cass St. bridge and newer Cameron St. bridge that both connect the community with La Crescent, Minn.
La Crosse first enters the history books in 1805, when soldier/explorer Lt. Zebulon Pike mounted an expedition up the Mississippi River and recorded the location’s name as Prairie La Crosse. The first white settlement sprung in 1841 when New York native Nathan Myrick established a trading post near the junction of the Black, La Crosse and Mississippi Rivers. The Black empties into the Mississippi north of the city, and the La Crosse flows into the Mississippi just north of the downtown area.
La Crosse had grown to nearly 2,000 residents by the time it was incorporated in 1856, but grew even more rapidly after 1858 with the completion of the La Crosse & Milwaukee Railroad. Lumber served as an initial industry, followed by brewing brought by newly immigrated settlers.
By the second half of the 19th century, La Crosse’s location between Milwaukee and St. Paul helped it become one of the largest cities in Wisconsin, even attracting the establishment of three colleges and universities between 1890 and 1912.
Look up and you’ll see towering bluffs, the most prominent of which is the 590-ft. Grandad Bluff, which has an overlook of the three states region. Bliss Road provides access to the bluff.
Pass through Brownsville (pop. 466) to get to Caledonia. Looking for more twisties? Travel 3.5 miles west out of Brownsville on CR3 to CR24. Turn left (south) travel 4.6 miles to Crazy Corners Rd. Veer right (north) travel 3.9 miles back to CR3.
Located 17 miles southwest of LaCrosse, Wis., Caledonia (pop. 2,868) was incorporated in 1870, then reincorporated in 1889. Evidently, the town was named by founder Col. Samuel McPhail for the ancient Roman word for Scotland.
New Albin (pop. 522) is the farthest northeast town in Iowa, located on the Mississippi River and the Minnesota border. History notes the community was platted in 1872, shortly after the Chicago, Dubuque and Minnesota Railroad had been built through the area, and was named for the son of a railroad official.
Lansing (pop. 1,000) is a river town with a seasonal influx of boaters. The community was platted about 1851 – evidently obtaining its name from its first settler, who was a native of Lansing, Mich. Find Mount Hosmer, a 450-foot-tall bluff that offers a panoramic view of the city, the Mississippi and the Black Hawk Bridge.
Located on the Great River Road, the village of De Soto (pop. 287) was known as the Winneshiek Landing from 1820 to 1854, but the first settlers did not like the Native name and renamed the community after Hernando De Soto, who discovered the Mississippi River. The community boomed via grain and lumber shipping on the river, but by the 1880s had slowed with the establishment of the railroad.
Also on The Great River Road, the village of Genoa (pop. 253) was established in 1854, originally platted as Bad Axe City. The oldest known white settler on the site is said to have been David Hastings, who erected his house in 1853 and manned a steamboat landing.
Steamboats continued to be key to the community until 1884 and the establishment of the Chicago, Burlington & Northern Railroad. In fact, more than 30 steamboats remain buried in silt and sand after sinking on the Mississippi River between Trempealeau, Wis. (just north of La Crosse) and Victory, Wis. (just north of De Soto).
Stoddard (pop. 774) was founded as a farming community and is notable as one of the few communities along the Mississippi River that was never a trading post or a riverboat stop. The river was originally one mile west of Stoddard, but when Lock and Dam No. 8 was built in 1937, the ensuing lake flooded the lowlands and made Stoddard into a river town.