A Guide to Wisconsin’s Drift-Free Zone

This story is part of our summer guide to the June issue of Milwaukee Magazine. To read our complete guide to summer fun, order your copy today!

SAVED THE LAST RIDE of Ice Age glaciers, Wisconsin’s southwest corner is free of “drift” – the glacial debris that shaped the rest of the state’s landscape. Rather than hills and lakes, the Driftless area is dominated by steep ridges and river valleys. Scenic roads wind through a tangle of verdant beauty, modest farms and small towns, making the Driftless a world in itself to disappear for a day or a long weekend. There’s plenty to see and do, so here are some highlights to get you started.

1. Drift-Free Coffee


Co-owned by James Beard Award-nominated chef and “Wisconsin Foodie” host Luke Zahm, this unassumingng restaurant has customers who travel long distances for its carefully prepared and seasonal dishes. evolving menu. The farm- to-table mission takes advantage of the region’s highest concentration of organic farms in the United States.

Drift Cafe; Photo courtesy of Driftless Café, by Shana Meshbesher

2. Local Breweries


Housed in a converted century-old factory on the edge of the town of the same name, Hillsboro Brewery (206 E. Madison St.) makes great beers and has a solid pub menu. snappy The IPA is a hit, just like Joe’s Beer, a carrier named after brewer Snapper Verbsky’s father. Driftless Brewing Co. at Soldiers Grove (102 W. Sunbeam Blvd.) has a consumer room in a notable passive solar building along the highway. Try the milk stout of the cow cult.

Hillsboro Brewing Co.; Photo courtesy of Hillsboro Brewing Co.

3. Old fashioned cheese


With milk from more than 200 Amish dairy farmers, this cheese factory produces 20 varieties, including fresh muenster curds. The store sells other Wisconsin cheeses and sausages, as well as a variety of Amish-made jams, candies, maple syrup, and crafts.

4. Drift-free vineyards


Just west of Westby, Cellar Branches (E6796 Old Line Rd.) uses cool-climate grapes grown on the estate to produce standout wines that include dry, oaky reds, crisp whites, and dessert and fruit wines. The outdoor brick oven pizzas are a bonus. Make it a wine route: visit Vernon Vineyards (S3426 Peterson Ln., Viroqua) 10 minutes away.

Cellar Branches; Photo courtesy of Branches Winery

5. Crazy Frank’s Readstown Flea Market


As much a museum as it is an indoor flea market, Crazy Frank’s is the place to stop look for antiques, collectibles and memories, or simply to browse among found objects and remember your childhood (or that of your grandparents). More than 350 vendors sell everything from vintage toys, tools and household items to Cabbage Patch dolls and Coca-Cola products. 611

6. Drift-Free Books and Music


With a collection of over 500,000 new, used and rare books and records, the store occupies one of Viroqua’s historic tobacco warehouses. A collection of vintage beer cans welcomes you at the door. Navigate here for classics, bestsellers and all kinds of genres and specialized books. Be sure to research the rare early work or first edition you are looking for.

Driftlessy books and music; Photo courtesy of Driftless Books & Music

7. Amish Merchandise


The Driftless has a large Amish population, especially in the area between Hillsboro and Cashton. look for them
delicious pies, jams, preserves, fresh products, quilts and other artisanal products to Viroqua and Ferryville Farmers Markets (220 S. Main St., Viroqua; Sugar Creek Park, Highway 35, Ferryville). And on your way, watch for road signs directing you to the many small Amish stores in the area.

Ferryville Farmer’s Market; Photo courtesy of Ferryville Farmer’s Market

8. A magnificent journey


For a winding ride through the heart of Driftless, follow State Highway 131 north from State Highway 60 near Wauzeka, as it flows low along the Kickapoo River and high along the ridges, for great views of the horizon. The ridgetop 23 historic marker above Gays Mills celebrates the nearby apple orchards and offers a roadside lookout not far from the 131. (The fresh apples and fall colors will remind you here in the fall.)

9. The Kickapoo River

E13660 WI-33, ONTARIO

The Kickapoo is a narrow, winding river through forest and sandstone outcrops that is fun and easy for paddlers of all skill levels. Starting in Ontario, where most paddle and buoy outfitters are located, the most popular route ends at the take-out outlet at Wildcat Mountain State Parkbut other landing stages and riverside campsites offer longer routes.

Kickapoo River; Photo by Alamy.com

10. Wisconsin River


The Prairie du Sac Dam is the last on the Wisconsin River, leaving 92 miles of unimpeded water in the Mississippi. The current is steady and the river is wide, with many side channels to explore. A plethora of sandbars makes it ideal for free overnight camping. Wild River outings in Boscobel offers day trips, canoe and kayak rentals, longer trips and shuttles.

11. Cheyenne Valley and the Round Barns


A landmark in Hillsboro commemorates 150 black farmers and freed slaves who settled in the Cheyenne Valley in the 1850s. Born there in 1889, World War I veteran Alga Shivers built some of the striking round barns for which the area is known. Proximity Vernon County Museum (410 S. Center Avenue, Viroqua) is a good stop for a history lesson, and its online map shows surviving round barns.

Round barns; Photo courtesy of the Vernon County Historical Society

12. Eagle Cave


Learn some history and geology on a guided tour of Wisconsin’s largest onyx cave, a variety of waxy-looking rocks with parallel bands. Bring a light jacket to the 3,000 foot crossings for a 52 degree break from the summer heat. The private property, ideal for families, also offers camping, cabins, canoe rentals, mini-golf and more.

Eagle Cave; Photo courtesy of Eagle Cave

13. Wildcat Mountain State Park


The 3,643-acre park sits atop a high ridge that descends to a canoe landing on the Kickapoo River. At a minimum, take a picnic stop for one of the scenic lookouts, but the 20+ miles of trails, 25 pull-up campsites, and 20 hiking sites make for a good one. home port for a campsite or hiking.

14. Kickapoo Valley Reserve


At its heart runs the river, but the reserve also has trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders. Explore the valleys and along the ridges with abundant birdlife, rare plants, river crossings and lookouts. Hikes can range from 1 to 8 miles, and 25 rustic, first-come, first-served campsites are scattered throughout.

15. Kickapoo Valley Ranch Cabins


Eight quiet, comfortable cabins gleaming with hardwood provide drift-free views and no distractions – other than the resident llamas and horses maybe. Customers get a crazy good cookie at the check-in from on-site Cowboy David’s special-order bakery, which in itself is worth a stop.

Kickapoo Valley Ranch Cabins; Photo courtesy of Kickapoo Valley Ranch Cabins



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