Wisconsin got on our road trip itinerary by chance and it was a highlight of our west to east swing across the country.
If you've been reading the posts from this trip, you'll know that this is my annual trip with my husband, Simon. He is a poet and aphorist publishing on Instagram as Daily Ferocity. One of his fans said he just had to see the poetry collection at the Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee. Something as simple as that put Milwaukee on our route–and more of Wisconsin as well.
As you would have read in my last post on this road trip, Minneapolis, for a variety of reasons, did not work out for us. It was a visit of misses and frustrations, and certainly not a reflection on the city as a destination. I will have to return.
With less than a week left in our 7-week trip, we were eager to recover our travel mojo and finish on a high. A little research to decide on our route from Minneapolis to Milwaukee led us to discover the Great River Road along the Mississippi. From there we went to Milwaukee and Door County: three Wisconsin highlights not to be missed.
The Great River Road in Wisconsin
The Great River Road is one of America's Scenic Biways following the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. It begins at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota. We picked it up in Prescott, Wisconsin and followed it for a full day to Prairie de Chien. (This town's name translates from French to “dog's meadow” and is pronounced Prairie de Shane locally.)
The road is a real joy to drive. It's a motorcyclist's dream.
The many small towns along the way offer interesting shops to browse, places to eat, and festivals worth planning trips around. The route has numerous historic markers to read and picturesque views to savor.
The river changes along the way. At Pepin, it becomes a full lake before traveling again as a river. Also in Pepin, there is the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. It's a small museum but worth seeing as it represents the history of the region as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder. What struck me was that it dedicated space to the geological and indigenous histories of the area. This is unusual for a small, private museum.
Arriving at the end of the day in Prairie de Chien, we found two riverboats run aground–a charming bookend to the Mississippi portion of our trip.
Wisconsin Highlights in Milwaukee
From Prairie de Chien, we traveled a few hours east to Milwaukee aiming first for the Woodland Pattern Book Center.
The Book Center is home to the largest poetry collection we'd yet seen on our route and one of the largest we've seen anywhere. We had a great time chatting with the employee and other patrons about poetry, Milwaukee, and national politics. To date, the latter had seemed to be an off-limits subject. It was refreshing to learn firsthand people's thoughts even if it was a small sample of opinion.
In the afternoon we visited the Milwaukee Public Library for the inauguration of their new poet laureate, Mario “The Poet” Willis. It was a public event but it was definitely local. We were the outsiders in the crowd. We attended the reception afterwards as well where we were accepted very well. Truly local events are my thing.
That evening we went to Summerfest, the largest music festival in the world. With 12 main stages and multiple smaller venues, I would say that it is a claim that stands up to scrutiny.
Millwaukee treated us very well and it was all by chance. A suggestion that we visit a bookstore just happened to coincide with the Poet Laureate inauguration in the afternoon which just happened to be followed by the opening night of the festival. And, the stop for the free shuttle to the festival was right across from where we staying.
Nothing was planned and it was all amazing.
Stumbling into Door County
Driving north out of Milwaukee with the intention of going over Lake Michigan and then south through the state of the lake's name and home, we got lost. Not terribly lost, but we were trying to avoid major highways and ended up more east than intended and up the peninsula into Door County. What a great find!
The peninsula is a narrow strip of land between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The shorelines are incredible as are the towns that dot them up and down the coast. There are five state parks, multiple live theater companies, concert series and festivals, orchards, wineries, restaurants, and shops. It's a great destination for adventure travelers and those who love poking through small, artsy towns.
Those are the Wisconsin highlights. It was full of surprises, all of them good.
In case you missed them, here are the other posts in this series.
- Wyoming and South Dakota Road Trip in Photos
- Road Trip: Washington State to Yellowstone National Park
- Travel Gives Me Hope: An Idaho Experience
- British Columbia Road Trip Across the Rockies to Vancouver Island
- Canadian Prairies Rod Trip: Drama in a Subtle Land
- Road Trip from Toronto to Winnipeg via Northern Ontario