Driftless Area Travel Guide

Explore the hidden gem of Midwest, Driftless Area. Discover the best places to visit, hike and bike routes, food and drink scene, local culture, and more.

Introduction to Driftless Area

Tucked away in the Midwest region of the United States, the Driftless Area is a hidden gem for travelers looking for a unique adventure. This region covers four states- spanning throughout southwestern Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, and extreme northwestern Illinois. It is a stunning and unique geological wonder that is unlike anywhere else in the country.

The Driftless Area is named so because it was missed by the last glaciers that carved much of the landscape of the Midwest. It has steep cliffs, rolling hills, and rocky outcroppings with many rivers snaking through the valleys. It’s perfect for exploring the outdoors, relaxing in the tranquillity of the countryside or immersing yourself in local culture.

List of Places to Visit in Driftless Area

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

There is a rich cultural heritage to explore in Driftless Area. A few places you must visit are:

  • Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum (Decorah, IA): A world-renowned museum that celebrates the Norwegian-American heritage.
  • Hamburger Museum of America (Seymour, WI): A museum exclusively dedicated to America’s favourite food, the hamburger.
  • Historical Fort Snelling (St. Paul, MN): A place steeped in history, visit this historic site to discover Minnesotan and American history.

Natural Attractions of Driftless Area: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

Famous natural attractions in the Driftless Area include:

  • Effigy Mounds National Monument (Harpers Ferry, IA): Home to impressive and unique Native American earthworks.
  • Pikes Peak State Park (McGregor,Iowa): A beautiful state park with unforgettable hiking trails and great views of the Mississippi River.
  • Driftless Area Scenic Byway (WI-35 along the Mississippi River): Drive through the beauty of the Driftless Area with stunning views of the Mississippi River.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Driftless Area

Driftless Area is famous for its scenic hiking and biking trails. A few of the best ones include:

  • Great River State Trail (WI-MN): A 24-mile bike trail filled with scenic beauty, it offers opportunities to stop and explore quintessential small river towns.
  • Kickapoo Valley Reserve (near La Crosse, WI): With more than 25 miles of scenic trails, this reserve is a nature lover’s paradise.
  • Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area (near Stockholm, WI): This trail offers stunning views of the Mississippi river passing through Wisconsin and MInnesota.

Best Things to Do in Driftless Area: Activities and Tours

Apart from hiking and biking, the Driftless Area has a diverse range of activities worth exploring:

  • Wine and Cheese Tour (Vines and Rushes Winery, Ripon, WI): A delicious tour that takes you through some of the Driftless Area’s famous wineries and creameries.
  • Trout fishing (several spots along the Driftless Area): The region’s steep, winding streams offer some of the best trout fishing in the country, making it a popular destination for anglers.
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride (Galena, IL): Get a bird’s eye view of this miraculous landscape with a Hot Air Balloon ride.

Week-Long Itinerary for Driftless Area

To make the most of your visit to Driftless Area, here is an itinerary for seven days.

Day Activity
Day 1 Explore the museums and historical places in Decorah, IA
Day 2 Hike at Effigy Mounds National Monument, and then visit National Rivers Hall of Fame, Dubuque, IA
Day 3 Go kayaking on Black River, WI followed by a wine and cheese tour in Ripon, WI
Day 4 Visit the charming town of Stockholm, WI, and hike at Maiden Rock Bluff Natural Area
Day 5 Take a hot air balloon ride in Galena, IL
Day 6 Explore the Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Day 7 Visit La Crosse, WI and enjoy a bike ride on the Great River State Trail

Food and Drink Scene of Driftless Area

Must-Try Dishes

Experience the culinary delights of Driftless Area by trying out these local dishes:

  • Prime Rib (Old Towne Inn, Onalaska, WI): A famous dish at this classic steakhouse.
  • Pasties (Emma Krumbee’s Bakery, Shakopee, MN): These turnovers are a traditional meal of seasoned meat and veggies wrapped in pastry.
  • Cheese Curds (Culvers, and other diners throughout the Driftless Area): Deep-fried and delicious cheese snacks.

Local Beverages

There are many great places to have a drink in Driftless area, but make sure you try these local beverages:

  • New Glarus beer (brewed in New Glarus, WI): A famous and delicious beer available throughout the region.
  • Cider (Blossom Ridge, Mt. Horeb, WI): This is a delicious cider that can be enjoyed all year round.
  • Wine (Grapevine Tours, La Crosse, WI): Take a tour and discover the local wineries of the Driftless Area.

Where to Stay in Driftless Area: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

There are many accommodation options in the Driftless Area, including hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. Some of the best ones are:

  • The Charmant Hotel (La Crosse, WI): A charming and upscale hotel with a great view of the Mississippi River.
  • Bishop’s Bay (Waunakee, WI): A historic Airbnb-style guesthouse set in beautiful surroundings.
  • Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ (Warrens, WI): A family-friendly campground with cabins, RV sites, and many outdoor activities.

What to Buy in Driftless Area: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

Looking for something to bring home from Driftless Area? Here are some ideas:

  • Cheese (Carr Valley Cheese, La Valle, WI): A must-try in the Driftless Area, take home some award-winning cheese from Carr Valley Cheese.
  • Arts and Crafts (Prairie Villa Rendezvous, Prairie du Chien, WI): Discover local arts and crafts from around Wisconsin and the Driftless Area at this store.
  • Antiques (De Stijl, Madison, WI): Take home something vintage from this quirky antique store in Madison, WI.

Local Culture and Customs of Driftless Area

There is plenty of local culture to discover in the Driftless Area, with many quirky customs and traditions. One of the most charming aspects of the Driftless Area is the friendliness of the locals. Take the time to get to know people and understand more about their way of life.

Best Time to Visit Driftless Area

The best time to visit the Driftless Area is either in Spring (April-May) or Fall (September-November). The weather is perfect for outdoor activities, and the changing scenery is beautiful.

Do’s and Don’ts of Driftless Area


  • Do pack for different weather conditions. Temperatures can vary from day to night, and rain is always a possibility.
  • Do try the local food and drink scene.
  • Do take the time to explore the local culture and chat with locals.


  • Don’t forget to bring your camera. You won’t want to miss a photo opportunity in the Driftless Area.
  • Don’t ignore the safety advice given for outdoor activities, like hiking, biking or fishing.
  • Don’t leave without bringing home some local souvenirs.

Safety and Health

Safety in Driftless Area

The most important thing to keep in mind when visiting the Driftless Area is to take precautions while you’re enjoying outdoor activities. Keep an eye on weather conditions and be mindful of the wildlife. Stay on the marked trails and carry enough water.

Health in Driftless Area

The Driftless Area is generally a safe region, but it is always advisable to carry personal medication and be prepared for any emergencies or injuries.

Getting to Driftless Area: Transportation Options and Logistics

Airports Near Driftless Area

The closest airports to the Driftless Area are:

  • La Crosse Regional Airport (LSE) (La Crosse): Serves the western end of the area.
  • Dubuque Regional Airport (DBQ) (Dubuque): Serves the eastern end of the area.
  • Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) (Madison): Serves the northern part of the area.

Bus Stations Near the Driftless Area

Traveling by bus is an excellent way to reach Driftless Area, and the closest bus stations are:

  • Jefferson Line: Has stations in Decorah, IA, and Rochester, MN.
  • Greyhound: Has stations in Dubuque, IA, and La Crosse, WI.

Other Options

Another option to reach the Driftless Area is to rent a car and drive. This option gives you more flexibility to explore the region.

How to Get Around in Driftless Area

The best way to get around the Driftless Area is by car, but other options include bicycle, ATV, kayak, or even horseback riding.

Where to Go Next from Driftless Area: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

There are many great destinations near the Driftless Area worth exploring, including:

  • Door County, WI: A stunning peninsula on Lake Michigan with beaches and wineries.
  • Apostle Island National Lakeshore (Bayfield, WI): An unforgettable island experience with beautiful sea caves and kayaking.
  • Chicago, IL: A bustling Metropolis with world-class museums, restaurants, and theaters.


The Driftless Area is a unique destination in the United States, with a rich history, stunning natural beauty, and delicious food and drink options. It is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with hiking trails, biking routes, kayaking, and many other activities. Its friendly locals make it an excellent place to visit and soak up local culture while exploring the great outdoors.