Moving water is an incredibly powerful force, and rivers use that force to shape the landscape. As you’d expect, roads that follow the course of rivers make fabulous motorcycle routes—winding, scenic, and a little wild. But for a road to be worthy of being called the Great River Road, you need a truly great river: none other than the mighty Mississippi River.
Designated in 1938, the Great River Road follows the Mississippi River for roughly 3,000 miles, making it the country’s longest National Scenic Byway. The Mississippi River passes through or forms the borders for 10 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Each state maintains and promotes its section of the Great River Road.
Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road extends roughly 250 miles, from the city of Prescott to the Illinois border. It’s the only road in Wisconsin designated a National Scenic Byway, and is also the state’s only All-American Road.
For most of your ride, you’ll follow Wisconsin State Trunk Highway 35 (STH-35). You’ll see the route marked with Wisconsin Great River Road signs—a green steamboat surrounded by a steering wheel.
There are some places where a county road will bring you closer to the river than STH-35 does, especially south of Prairie du Chien and the Wisconsin River. By all means, take these offshoots and make the most of your ride along the river.
Our interactive route map shows the primary route you’ll follow as you ride the Great River Road in Wisconsin.
Deciding when to ride the Great River Road will help you determine whether you’ll need warm-weather motorcycle gear or cold-weather clothing. To help you choose, here are the monthly temperature and precipitation averages for La Crosse, Wisconsin.
While you can’t control other motorists, you can control how you respond to them. That’s why defensive riding is so important.
As you ride the Great River Road, keep in mind that it’s a destination road. Expect to share the road with plenty of drivers who are unfamiliar with the road. They can speed up, slow down, and even stop unexpectedly—especially along the more scenic stretches of the road. STH-35 is also a primary road carrying commuter and business travelers along the state’s western border, so weekday mornings and evenings can be busy.
Here are some additional safety tips to keep in mind as you ride:
Riding along the Mississippi River, the journey is a destination in itself. But it’s not the only one. Here are some must-visit spots to stretch your legs, pick up some great food, and explore.
Scenic Perrot State Park sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Trempealeau Rivers. And with dozens of hiking trails to explore—many of which reach the tops of 500-foot bluffs overlooking the water—you’ll be glad you reserved a campsite to relax for the night.
La Crosse is the state’s largest city along the Mississippi River, offering great opportunities for dining, entertainment, sports, and cultural events. It makes a great base camp, whether you’re exploring the middle section of Wisconsin’s Great River Road or heading east for a day trip along the nearby Kickapoo River Valley motorcycle route.
Prairie du Chien is Wisconsin’s second oldest city, and the oldest European settlement on the Upper Mississippi River. If you are an American history buff, Prairie du Chien is a must-visit, with nine sites on the National Register of Historic Places and five National Historic Landmarks.
Looking for a more statewide Wisconsin motorcycle adventure? Check out the Kettle Moraine Zig-Zag route, just a few hours east of the Great River Road.
Make sure you’re up to speed on Wisconsin’s motorcycle insurance requirements and rules of the road before beginning your ride.
The general information in this blog is for informational or entertainment purposes only. View our blog disclaimer.