Featured Photo by Prairie Du Chien

Road trip! Hit the open road and head towards something fun and exciting to do for a weekend getaway or vacation out of the La Crosse area. Gas up the car, grab a snack for the drive, and check out this weekend getaway idea within driving distance!

Wisconsin State Parks and Natural Areas Nearby Prairie Du Chien

Prairie Du Chien, WI

Wisconsin’s beautiful Driftless Area covers Crawford County, Vernon County, and the Kickapoo Valley in the southwest region of the state. Due to the lack of glacial drift, this area is characterized by rugged and steep landscapes, a large concentration of cold water streams, and natural features such as limestone, caves, and springs. These features make the region perfect for outdoor recreation and adventure, providing a wealth of scenic views, natural areas, and wildlife waiting to be explored.

The Mississippi River and the Wisconsin River are the two largest rivers in the Driftless region, and are home to many unique river towns and communities. One of these communities is Prairie Du Chien, a hub for tourism and outdoor recreation along the Mississippi River in Southwest Wisconsin. Nearby this river town are Wisconsin state parks and state natural areas you can visit anytime of the year to catch a glimpse of the Driftless region’s natural beauty and spend some time in the great outdoors. Here are some of the best outdoor recreation areas near Prairie Du Chien.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
Right at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, you will find one of Wisconsin’s oldest state parks, Wyalusing State Park. There is plenty to do at the park with both the bluffs and rivers nearby, but popular activities include hiking, biking, fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and camping. Wyalusing State Park is one of the best parks in the Driftless region because it showcases many of the features of the area.

If you’re interested in camping, you’ll be happy to know that the park offers many options. There are two family campgrounds, the Wisconsin Ridge Campground and the Homestead Campground, an outdoor group camp, and the Hugh Harper indoor group camp lodge. During your stay, you can explore 14 miles of hiking trails, some with steep climbs and stairways, or head to the boat ramp to hop on the Mississippi or Wisconsin River. You may also enjoy the 6 mile, maintained canoe trail on the backwaters of the Mississippi where you can explore in a kayak or canoe.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
Wauzeka Bottoms State Natural Area consists of a large floodplain forest with many sloughs, channels, and oxbows. Located at the confluence of the Kickapoo River and the Wisconsin River, you may want to plan on exploring in a kayak or canoe to access many parts of the area. Although there is a small portion for foot traffic, you will need a boat or watercraft to reach the natural area.

To start your adventure, put your watercraft in at the boat launch in downtown Wauzeka and paddle southeast. Once you’ve arrived at the natural area you are free to explore at your will. Wauzeka Bottoms is full of beautiful flora and fauna, including maple, oak, and birch trees, bright red cardinal flower, and plenty of bird species like pileated woodpeckers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, brown creepers, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Spend some time viewing the wildlife and nature, and enjoy the peace and quiet of this natural area.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
Found within the 5,697-acre Kickapoo River Wildlife Area-Wauzeka Unit, the Kickapoo Wild Woods State Natural Area is one of the largest blocks of old forest remaining in the Driftless. Here you will find a diverse forest on a ridgetop surrounded by hillsides descending 350 feet to the Kickapoo River. The area is also an important habitat for many southern Wisconsin forested bird species in need of conservation, making it a great place to bird watch for species such as red-headed woodpeckers, tufted titmouses, Northern parulas, Magnolia warblers, and scarlet tanagers.

Like most state natural areas, the Kickapoo Wild Woods State Natural Area has few public facilities but is open for a variety of recreational activities year round. You can hike, fish, hunt, and trap during the designated seasons, and cross country ski during the winter. The natural area is great for exploring the Driftless region’s relatively natural and untouched areas, especially if you enjoy solitude in the outdoors.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

Photo by Slatan

Though this park is a bit of a drive from Prairie Du Chien, the views from the top of Belmont Mound are worth the road trip. Topping out at 1,400 feet above sea level at its highest point, Belmont Mound State Park provides fantastic views of the area and is the perfect park for a day trip. Bring the family or some friends and spend a day in the Driftless outdoors hiking, picnicking, and enjoying the outdoors.

For hiking, the park has 2.5 miles of trails that go around the base of Belmont Mound, through the center of the park, and to a loop in the northeast corner. You can easily explore all of the trails within a few hours and be rewarded with some epic views and fresh air. There is also a picnic area with a playground near the park entrance, which is great to relax and recoup after exploring the park.

Content Writer and Social Media Coordinator. I paint, listen to music, and play with my dogs a lot. When I’m not doing all that, I love to read and try new things.

Maeve Miller

Writer , River Travel Magazine