|Apple orchards bloom across the hills above the Kickapoo River Valley in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.|
Head south on the Great River Road
|Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick|
Some of Minnesota's most stunning views can be found along the 17-mile Apple Blossom Scenic Drive each spring. This byway, tucked above the Mississippi River Valley in southeast Minnesota, celebrates the apples which have thrived along these bluffs for more than 150 years.
Meander by farms, orchards
From the picnic area and overlooks at Great River Bluffs State Park, you can even seen Wisconsin’s Black River delta on the opposite shore. The park’s hiking trails thread through the hardwood forest, thick with maples, basswood, oak and hickory. They flame into full glory by late September and early October. If you want to camp here, reserve these spots early.
Take a drive to Gays Mills
Because many of these bluff-top farms and orchards (given the proximity to La Crosse and great views) have become homesites, I actually prefer to head into Wisconsin and drive about 45 minutes south of La Crosse, Wis., along the Great River Road, where you may spot eagles and migrating waterfowl and an Amish buggy or two.
At Wisconsin State Highway 171, head about 12 miles east to the tiny town of Gays Mills. It welcomes visitors with a burst of showy white blossoms then wows them on the east side as the highway climbs the high ridge above the Kickapoo River Valley where orchards have grown award-winning apples since 1905.
While orchards aren’t open in the spring, wooden signs promise fresh-picked fruits and sweets from apple pizza to pies—a perfect reason for a return trip in the fall.
Loop back to La CrosseIf you head back to La Crosse via Viroqua on Highway 61, the approximately 100-mile loop drive meanders through steep coulees and past brooks squiggling through lush meadows. Viroqua's also an ideal lunch stop with the Driftless Cafe. It serves tasty seasonally inspired meals with local ingredients, such as roasted root vegetables and trout.
|Lupine growing along Lake Superior.|
Here are my favorite picks for scenic spring blossom drives in Minnesota and Wisconsin:
You can't beat the gorgeous Lake Superior setting, artsy shops, great cuisine and views of the Apostle Islands. The month-long Bayfield in Bloom festival includes blooming orchards plus 54,000 daffodils. Our favorite Bayfield flower? June-blooming lupine which fills the ditches with an explosion of purple and tinges of pink.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, Minn.
A great option if you don't have time to travel far from the Twin Cities and want to research planting your own apple or fruit trees. Call the Bloom Line at 612-625-9791 to find out what's blooming.
Door County, Wisconsin.
Another lovely Great Lakes setting and the chance to meander by both cherry and apple orchards. Door County's six-week Festival of Blossoms runs through early June and includes several package deals. It's a great time to visit before summer crowds hit.
--Photos and text by Lisa Meyers McClintick