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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 tips:
- Fall colors reach their peak in early and mid October
- Consider a canoeing trip on either the Wisconsin River or Kickapoo River
- Contact Wisconsin River Outings for transport and canoe rental in the area
- Camp and hike Wildcat Mountain State Park
- Camp and hike Devil’s Lake State Park
- Leave a Driftless Region tip of your own in the comment section
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