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Drifting in the Driftless Region in Wisconsin

Driftless Region Wyalusing State Park

Wyalusing State Park is the beginning of the Driftless Region road trip

What is the Driftless Region

Drifting in the Driftless Region sounds like a title from a beat poet or writer. The name of the area has nothing to do with Kerouac or Ginsberg, but refers to the unique geography found in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. Over 12,000 years ago when glaciers were carving up most of the state, the ice sheets benevolently left this part of the state alone.

Where the glaciers did move over the state, there is interesting geography in these areas too. In fact, the glaciers did a great job of making Wisconsin one of the best cross-country ski areas in the country. The glaciers create hills and valleys called moraines and kettles, but the large ice masses tend to smooth everything out.

Wisconsin River bluffs

Beautiful bluffs and farm along the Wisconsin River

This is not the case in the Driftless Region. The hills are higher, craggier, and more interesting. You find more cliffs with rock faces in this area. The non-driftless region is pretty too, but the views and hills are a little more impressive here.

Fall foliage Driftless Region road trip

I figured the Driftless Region would be a great place to check out fall foliage. I drove up for a camping and fall color weekend adventure. I started at Wyalusing State Park, which is situated on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin River and Mississippi River.

Wyalusing State Park

Yellow trees along the Wisconsin and a rainbow of colors along the Mississippi River bluffs

At Wyalusing there are two campgrounds. The Wisconsin Ridge campground looks right over the confluence and the town of Prairie Du Chien. It probably has one of the most spectacular views from any campground in Wisconsin and the country. These sites are in demand and need to be reserved well in advance on weekends. I settled for the quieter Homestead Campground. It lacked the amazing view, but it had some nice colors in the trees.

Wyalusing State Park

Fall foliage in my Homestead Campground at Wyalusing State Park

The next morning, I drove up to the Wisconsin Ridge campground and checked out the views from the lookout. The colors were waning, but they were still nice. The trees along the Wisconsin were largely yellow, but the trees along the bluffs that overlooked the Mississippi River were red, yellow, and orange.

Wyalusing State Park

Morning mist over the bluffs seen from Wyalusing State Park

I decided I needed to take a detour and check out the bluffs along the Mississippi. I drove into Prairie Du Chien and found a beautiful park right along the river. Prairie Du Chien is an interesting town. It has a lot of history and an old town quaint feeling to it. I was here for colors and not towns, so I took my photos of the Mississippi River and moved on.

Prairie Du Chien Mississippi River

Mississippi River at the Prairie Du Chien city park

The most spectacular bluffs in the region are found along the rivers, so I decided to follow the rivers. I drove back through Prairie Du Chien and picked up route 60 that followed the Wisconsin River. I found pretty tree colored bluffs along the Wisconsin and made several photography stops.

Boscobel Wisconsin bluffs

Bluffs along the Wisconsin River near Boscobel, Wisconsin

Wisconsin River bluff

PIcturesque marsh along the Wisconsin River near Wauzeka

Near Wauzeka, Wisconsin, I found an almost burgundy colored marsh against a similar colored bluff. I took a few pictures and drove into Boscobel for gas. After gassing up, I drove back towards Wauzeka to take route 131 deep into the Driftless Region. I drove past the red colored swamp again, and it was even prettier now as a bald eagle was perched in the middle on one of the dead trees.

Bald eagle Driftless Region

Bald eagle keeping an eye on he Driftless Region

Driftless Region

Many small farms are located in the Driftless Region

I then drove north along Route 131, which follows the Kickapoo River. This area is actually home to a mountain range. The Ocooch Mountains, which instead of being snow covered much of the year, are topped with cows.

Ocooch Mountains Wisconsin

View of the Ocooch Mountains and cows in Crawford County, Wisconsin

I drove up a steep embankment to the highest point in the area. There was a little parking lot and a couple of lookouts maintained by the Crawford County highway department, which provided beautiful views of the area.

Kickapoo River valley Driftless Region

Still a little color in the Driftless Region from a look out over the Kickapoo River Valley

Unfortunately, I was a little late with the colors. I decided to stop my wanderings farther north at Richland Center and backtracked toward Madison. I camped at Blue Mound State Park near Madison. The next morning, I climbed the two observation towers at Blue Mound for a last look at the fall colors. I then drifted on back home to Chicago.

Driftless Region fall foliage

Only patches of colors remained in the Driftless Region

Blue Mound State Park Wisconsin

Blue Mound State Park Wisconsin

Driftless Region tips:

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32 Responses to Drifting in the Driftless Region in Wisconsin

  1. Penelope November 3, 2014 at 3:20 am #

    How nice for all that glacial ice to leave the rock of SW Wisconsin alone … beautiful shots!
    Penelope recently posted..The Natural Wonders Of Paraguay

    • Traveling Ted November 4, 2014 at 1:46 am #

      Thanks Penelope,

      The cliffs and views are even better farther north, but since the leaves were down, I decided to leave that area for another day.

  2. the lazy travelers November 5, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    can’t stop/won’t stop fawning over fall foliage pictures. i refuse to let the fall go! thanks for the lovely photographs, tedward!
    the lazy travelers recently posted..the ultimate hunt for craft beer in philadelphia

    • Traveling Ted November 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

      I hear you Lazy Travelers. Although I am looking forward to winter and snow, I don’t like the in between period from end of leaves fall to first snow fall.

  3. Meg @ Mapping Megan November 5, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Fantastic photos Ted! I love Wisconsin – have also heard of a place called the ice Age Trail which I have to check out – apparently it takes you along the landscape which has changed from where the glaciers you mentioned once were – now I guess it’s all one big glacial lake!
    Meg @ Mapping Megan recently posted..The Best Way to Juggle International Travel While Studying Full Time

    • Traveling Ted November 5, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

      Actually, the area where the glacier carved out consiste of many lakes and hills called kettles and moraines. The terrain is hilly, but lacks the jagged cliffs and more rugged terrain of the Driftless Region. Have hiked several portions of the Ice Age Trail. It is a beautiful trail that has many different features depending on where you decide to explore in the state.

  4. Charli November 6, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    What a stunning landscape, I love the fall colours in your photographs. We’re in love with landscapes carved by glaciers. Having spent 18 months exploring New Zealand we’ve seen our fair share! Yet I hope one day we’ll make it to the Driftless Region!
    Charli recently posted..Is Global Weirding Affecting Your Travels?

    • Traveling Ted November 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

      The Driftless Region is the area in Wisconsin where the glaciers did not carve the landscape; however, the rest of Wisconsin where they did their carving is beautiful too.

  5. wandering educators November 6, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    I love the midwest – it’s so incredibly beautiful! Lovely photos – thank you!
    wandering educators recently posted..The Magic Green Light in Arctic Norway

    • Traveling Ted November 8, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

      The Midwest does not always get its due for scenic beauty, but it has its spots.

  6. Craig Zabransky November 6, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

    Tip?: Bring a good driftless type book to read by a campfire…Kerouac or Ginsberg? Maybe some poetry – like Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass….

    stay drifting, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Sunset Sunday-The Knossos Palace Sunset, Crete, Greece

  7. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) November 6, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    I’ve been admiring your Prairie du Chien photos for several days now. The whole region looks gorgeous! I’m thinking the family and I will need to plan for a camping trip up there next summer. Maybe we’ll even get a spot at the Wisconsin Ridge campground.
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..Best family hotel in Springfield, Illinois: Residence Inn by Marriott

    • Traveling Ted November 8, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

      Be sure to reserve in advance or go on a weekday if you want a Wisconsin Ridge site with a beautiful view.

  8. Nichelle November 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Wonderful landscape and fall foliage! If only everyday is fall. 🙂
    Nichelle recently posted..Travel Blogger Interview – D Travels ‘Round

    • Traveling Ted November 8, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

      I wished the peak colors lasted longer than a week or two.

  9. Trips By Lance November 7, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    I’ve only been to Milwaukee. I’d like to explore nature in Wisconsin in the summer or fall. Being way down here where the Big Muddy passes Memphis, the river looks so different up that way.
    Trips By Lance recently posted..Sleeping Bear Dunes Three-Hour Guide

    • Traveling Ted November 8, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      Wisconsin is a great state to explore during the summer, fall, and winter.

  10. Margherita Ragg November 7, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    I love the action of glaciers on the environment. And as a cross-country ski enthusiast, I’d love to visit! Not to mention the fall foliage. Shame you can’t get fall foliage and snow at the same time!
    Margherita Ragg recently posted..Silence and Nature on the Tsiribihina River

    • Traveling Ted November 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

      The Driftless Region is actually where the glaciers did not carve up the state, but the part that it did affect is beautiful too.

  11. Pola (Jetting Around) November 9, 2014 at 1:27 am #

    Hey there, Traveling Poet. Beautiful views, I sense a road trip in my future…
    Pola (Jetting Around) recently posted..Impressions of Chicago from a first-time visitor

    • Traveling Ted November 9, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

      This area is quite close to Chicago and not heavily visited, so it would be great road trip material.

  12. Mary @ Green Global Travel November 9, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    We still have so much of the USA to see. Your photos and description of Wisconsin make me think we should take an American road trip. Great shot of the bald eagle keeping watch!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..INTERVIEW: NatGeo’s Dereck Joubert on Rhinos Without Borders

    • Traveling Ted November 9, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

      There is a lot of beautiful outdoor places in the northern area of the Midwest. I definitely recommend.

  13. John Fredson November 9, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    Shoot, it’s just incredible how many places across the US are stunningly beautiful. People nowadays don’t go outdoors enough if you ask me – so many people missing out on incredible views and just that feeling you get when you’re surrounded by nothing but nature.
    John Fredson recently posted..Binocular Reviews

    • Traveling Ted November 9, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

      I completely agree. John. There are so many outdoor places to enjoy and visit.

  14. Leigh November 9, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    You have done some great posts about Wisconsin. Apart from landing at an airport, I have never got out to explore the state. Definitely need to visit and follow in your footsteps.
    Leigh recently posted..Travel News from Around the World: November 7, 2014

    • Traveling Ted November 9, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

      As nice as Wisconsin is, it pales in comparison to Canada. However, it is worth a visit.

  15. Kieu November 11, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    Can’t get enough of that morning mist/fall foliage shot — so pretty!
    Kieu recently posted..Don’t judge me – the Asian things I pack

  16. Leah November 11, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

    The trees! Oh my goodness…Wyalusing State Park is splendid.
    Leah recently posted..What I wish I knew before Renting a Car in Italy

    • Traveling Ted November 11, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

      You can see why this is probably Wisconsin’s #2 most popular park. #1 is Devil’s Lake because of great swimming.

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