Wyalusing State Park - July 2018

The temperature is a record cold in Central Wisconsin as I write this. The freezing weather has us longing for summertime, which is why we’re reflecting on our July trip to Wyalusing State Park.

This park is located in southwestern Wisconsin, at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, and is one of Wisconsin's oldest state parks. The park features family and group camps, hiking trails, a canoe trail, Native American burial mounds, bird watching, fishing, boating, bicycling and picnicking near several scenic overlooks of the river valleys below.

We are not into the camping lifestyle so much, instead we choose to stay at B&B's when we can.

Why We Like the Bed & Breakfast Experience

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For a couple who’s initials are “B&B,” it probably makes sense that we like to stay in B&B’s when we travel. Here's why we like them.

  • Not only are they generally more affordable, you also have your own built-in trip advisor when you stay at one.
  • If you LOVE breakfast, there is no place better to enjoy a hearty breakfast than at a B&B.
  • Meet other travelers and share trip ideas, or keep to yourself. Your choice!
  • Clean showers and indoor plumbing. (Not always included in the camping experience...)

On this trip, we ventured just across the Mississippi River to McGregor, Iowa, where we stayed at the historic Stauer House. An historic victorian home built in 1882 by local lumber baron Peter Stauer, the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is just a short walk from the downtown area of McGregor.

Venturing Into Iowa

We love Wisconsin State Parks, so when we learned that Iowa State Parks are free admission, we decided to check out Pike’s Peak State Park and Effigy Mounds National Monument.

When you drive from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin into Iowa, you cross this really awesome bridge.

Exhibit A:
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First stop was Effigy Mounds National Monument.

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Here, you can see ancient Indian burial mounds created in the shape of creatures like bears. To be honest, it was kind of hard to see the shapes, but it was a good hike! Bring lots of water if you plan to attempt this adventure. Stop at the Visitor's Center for a museum, interpretive film, trails, and ranger-guided programs - all for free, though there is a donation box if you'd like to support the park!

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We are really into views, especially ones that involve water. It's photos like this that help us cope through the cold, dark Wisconsin winters:

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Just a few miles away from Effigy Mounds is Pike’s Peak State Park, with the park boundary bordering McGregor. We could see the park from our B&B, which was cool.

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This park is extremely well kept, with manicured boardwalk trails and amazing views. We could sit at the “Crow’s Nest” and stare at the Mississippi River all day long. You can see Wyalusing State Park across the river (it's that mound in the middle right of the next photo).

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After exploring Pike’s Peak, we ventured into town for dinner before getting some rest. Eddie’s Pub in Prairie du Chien did not disappoint!

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Wisconsin Views

The next day, we woke early and enjoyed an incredible breakfast courtesy of Stauer House. I’m not exaggerating when I say that B&B’s live up to their namesakes with the BEST breakfasts. We also met a group of sisters who were staying for a week and enjoying the neighboring communities. People often ask us "Isn't it weird staying in a house with strangers?" It's really not, and it's largely because you are able to make of the situation what you want to. If you want to be super social, you can. If you want to hole up in your room, you can. We fall somewhere in the middle. We enjoy meeting people at the breakfast table, then going our own way for the day.

After fueling up on egg bake and homemade pastries, we drove back across to the Wisconsin side of the river and through Prairie du Chien. This little town is one of Wisconsin’s oldest communities and it is full of history. We hope to return some day and explore more of the small town, but this trip was more about the nature just to the south of town.

As State Park Aficionados, we’d always heard that Wyalusing was one of the favorites for many travelers. With miles of hiking trails, riverside vistas, and the opportunity to kayak or canoe the backwaters of the Mississippi River, we were really excited to explore this place.

We started the day by renting a canoe at the Concession Stand in the Peterson Shelter on Wisconsin Ridge.

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It's a simple process - you basically pay for however long you think you're going to use the canoe. In our case, we didn't expect our adventure to take more than three hours, so we paid ahead of time at the concession stand and filled out the necessary paperwork with our emergency contact listed (thanks, mom). We didn't ask if they've ever had to call the emergency contact for someone because we didn't really want to know...

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The park attendant gave us a key, which we then took with us to the dock. Here, there are stacks of canoes - we simply unlocked one and off we went.

Canoeing on the Mississippi was one of the most relaxing experiences I think we've ever had. The waters were calm, there was no one else on the river, and there were a ton of eagles flying above. The canoe trail is clearly marked with blue signposts that are tacked to trees or posts along the waterway. When we found a sign, we'd canoe toward the sign until we could see the next sign. We had a map just in case, but the trail was well marked and we referenced it only once or twice.

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It was about an hour on the water before we reached the Mississippi River itself, which we were cautioned not to venture onto. Seriously- only venture onto the water if you have the experience and the proper equipment to do so. A canoe is not proper equipment! We reached the end of the trail and turned around to venture back, all the while watching eagles swooping in and out of the water in pursuit of dinner.

We got back and returned our key to the concession stand, where we found the perfect t-shirt to celebrate our accomplishment. We "survied" our adventures on the Mississippi.

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After our adventure down the Mississippi backwaters, we did some hiking and enjoyed the views. The Sentinel Ridge trail is a good one if you like views like we do! Here's a sample:

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Downtown McGregor

After a day full of outdoor adventures, we cleaned up at the B&B and decided to take a relaxing stroll into McGregor.

Fun Fact - We stayed in McGregor one year to the date after an EF1 tornado tore through the downtown, destroying homes and historic buildings that had been there since the 1860’s. The town was celebrating the anniversary with sales and discounts. As we were walking downtown, we could see hundreds of eagles flying above as the sky became increasingly darker.

As it started to rain, we hurried back to the B&B where we sat on the wrap-around porch and watched a severe storm roll in. The B&B owners shared stories of last year's historic tornado as we watched the sky grow darker and the wind increase. It was a bit of an ominous evening, but luckily the worst of the storm missed the downtown area and no hail damaged our new car!

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Other SW Adventures

When we travel, we make the most of the time we’re given. On our way home, we stopped at Nelson Dewey State Park, Governor Dodge State Park, and Tower Hill State Park. We'll write more about these amazing places later!