Is there any better time of the year than FALL? Sure it means the end of summer and for those of us in northern areas of North America, it means winter and the snow will soon be here. But heck, there is no nicer weather or more beautiful scenery than what happens in fall!
Feeling a bit of my ten week wanderlust cycle, it was time to pack the car and hit the road. Following the TravelWisconsin.com fall colors prediction map for the past couple of weeks, I thought there might not be a better time to head north especially since the weather forecast was for clear sunny days with temperatures in the 70’s. For once, the weatherman had it right!
With just a few designated and specific stops along the way, my plan was to leave Milwaukee early on Friday and be home Sunday afternoon in time for the 3:15pm kick-off of the Packers’ game. With tours booked in La Crosse on Friday afternoon and Osceola Saturday morning; and hotels reserved in St. Croix Falls Friday night and Portage Saturday evening, I had a framework for my road trip. With "Toots the Garmin" by my side, I was fearless willing to take whatever roads piqued my curiosity along the way.
From Milwaukee I drove the first of what would be my limited highway miles . . . approximately 90 of them from Milwaukee to Madison via I94. I would also end my adventure with another 25 miles of highway driving on from Washington County (Allenton) home. Not bad considering that I logged over 1,000 miles in my three day road trip.
Heading north and west out of Madison, I enjoyed the morning ride through the rural farmland. Farmers’ roadside markets dotted the way with pumpkin stands and fall themed displays. Beyond Richland Center, the rolling hills became more prominent, with bursts of color visible in the distance.
Reaching the Kickapoo Valley, I made my first top of the morning near Gays Mills. Many years ago I had visited with area of Wisconsin with a good friend who had access to a cabin overlooking the Mississippi River. We spend many fall and winter weekends making this trip, enjoying the Sunday Packers’ game at whatever local bar we passed near game time. On this trip, I wanted to go back to the apple orchard that we frequently stopped at for yummy baked goods.
Thanks to some research on the internet and Trip Advisor, I was able to narrow it down and to locate the name and address of that orchard from some 15 years ago . . . the Kickapoo Orchard. How simplistic – a DUH moment for me.
I did stop in at the Kickapoo Orchard to check out their supply of freshly picked apples and bakery items. I wandered around their property, including the Sunflower Maze and the grape vines out along the road. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.
From the orchard, I next programmed Toots to take me to La Crosse by way of the Amish community of Cashton. Using "Down a Country Road" as my landmark, Toots did great to get me right where I wanted to be. From there, I knew the area well enough to navigate through to find several photo ops including a large Amish farm and schoolhouse with a lovely explosion of fall leaves serving as the backdrop.
From Cashton, I arrived on time for my La Crosse Queen Paddlewheeler boat tour on the Mississippi River. (See separate review on that enjoyable experience.) After my brief time in La Crosse, I headed over the Mississippi River into La Crescent, MN. My drive north along the river took me on the Apple Blossom Trail as well as the Minnesota Great River Road.
With the sun starting to set to the west, the effect on the Wisconsin side bluffs was very nice. I stopped several places along the way for photos, in addition to my "drive-by" photography that I’ve been known to do around the world. Sometimes you just cannot conveniently STOP so you must do the best you can with a smaller digital camera. For me, my Canon SD600 serves that purpose well without putting me or others around me at risk.
I decided to head back into Wisconsin at the Wabasha, MN/Alma, WI border. Heading north from there, I enjoyed the rest of my drive on the way to St. Croix Falls. I was able to catch the sun setting over the road in front of me somewhere along Hwy 10.
With nightfall upon me, I stopped for supper in Amery, enjoying a decent meatball & cheese sub at the Village Pizzeria. I suppose I could have pushed on to my hotel but I was afraid there might not be a convenient place to stop. It all worked out fine, as I arrived to my hotel in time to catch the last half of the US Senate Debate on PBS.
On Friday I drove a total of 440 miles.
The next morning, I got up and out early in hopes of possibly seeing some wildlife down around the St. Croix River. I had to be in Osceola by 9:30am for my 10:00am train ride, so I had about two hours to explore the St. Croix Falls area.
The first thing I noticed was just how bright the fall leaves were. Since I had arrived after dark the night before, I had no idea how beautiful the area was. The views across the river to the Minnesota side glistened as the sun was rising in the sky behind me.
My train ride aboard the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway was a very pleasurable and relaxing way to see more of the river and bluffs on both in Wisconsin and Minnesota. (See separate review on that ride, which also includes several photos.)
The drive of the St. Croix Scenic Byway in Minnesota was interesting although at several points the road did navigate in and away from the river providing a more limited view of the river and bluffs. As I made my way to Stillwater, I decided to go back over to Wisconsin but the main road & bridge were closed so I had to go a bit further south to make my way back to Wisconsin.
I crossed over into Prescott, WI and with the temperatures approaching 80F, it seemed time to stop in at the local DQ for an ice cream cone. In Prescott I also spent some time stretching my legs at the Great River Road Visitor Center.
From Prescott, I continued my southerly drive stopping from time to time to photograph the bluffs or fall foliage. Considering that the trees were estimated to be near peak and the weather being just about perfect, I was surprise that there were not more cars on the road. There were, however, lots of motorcycles out and about throughout my weekend trip. Every small town that had a bar, had bikes parked and people congregating to enjoy conversation and a beverage.
Because my return home would bring me back through La Crosse, I thought I would again venture through the Amish community of Cashton. I was really glad that I did as I was treated to an especially beautiful photo op of a farm with the harvest moon rising above it. I also passed by a really nice barn quilt which I snapped a photo of as well.
I was surprised that as night fell, there were a couple of Amish buggies out on the road. The first was driven by a man hauling building materials. The second was well after dark. With the red triangle on the rear and what appeared to be an oil lamp on the front as a headlight, my hope was that they made their journey safely.
I arrived to my hotel in Portage, Wisconsin around 9:00pm. I had driven a total of 360 miles and I was zonked!
(Continued in Part 2)