When you’re looking to take a leisurely family drive through America’s great landscape, Wisconsin scenic byways are the perfect choice.
The top five scenic drives in Wisconsin provide diverse landscapes and experiences. You can meander along the coast of Lake Superior, through the lush farmland in Door County, or follow the great Mississippi. Each has so much to explore along the way including historic harbor towns, one-room schoolhouses, and state parks.
No matter which byway you choose, you’re sure to love the Wisconsin scenery that’s ahead.
1. Scenic Drives in Wisconsin: Great River Road (WIS 35)
- Distance: 250 miles
- Time needed: 4.5 hours to 3 days
Lucky for us, in Wisconsin the Great River Road runs for 250 from Prescott in the north to Cassville in the south. Providing some of the most beautiful Wisconsin scenery, it passes through 33 different towns, each with great things to do and see.
History buffs will love visiting the Villa Louis Estate in Prairie du Chien where you’ll find everything from War of 1812 battlefield reenactments to the splendor of the Victorian mansion. The college town of La Crosse has great places to eat, drink and be merry. Don’t miss a stop in Pepin, the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie.
State parks along the Great River Road provide opportunities for an outdoor adventure along this drive in Wisconsin. Ones like Wyalusing State Park in Bagley and Perrot State Park in Trempealeau make it easy to get out of the car for a hike in the great outdoors– The perfect way to stretch your legs.
When to go: Summer is the best time to drive the Great River Road. It’s when you can get into water sports on the Mississippi, and enjoy hiking and biking, and outdoor dining along the shores.
Pro Tip: For great insights, download the free audio tour of Wisconsin’s Great River Road on the wigrr.com website.
2. Scenic Drives in Wisconsin: Lower Wisconsin River Road (WIS 60)
- Distance: 100 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours to 2 days
One of the best Wisconsin scenic byways will have you traveling along the Wisconsin River from the town of Lodi until it joins the great Mississippi. The Lower Wisconsin River Road is a beautiful scenic drive that takes you through the state’s gorgeous landscape of the Driftless Region.
You’ll love stopping to enjoy the greatness of mother nature with the rolling farmlands and rocky bluffs along the river’s shores. You can enjoy a picnic, go for a hike, and get out on the river itself for water fun.
Towns along the way provide endless opportunities for fun. You can sample the local food and drink at places like Oakwood Fruit Farm in Richland Center, Meister Cheese Company, and Wild Hills Winery both in Muscoda.
You’ll love the history found in towns along Route 60. A perfect example is Lodi, the mid-1800s mill town that still has the look. Kids will love to see how schoolhouse education at the Akey School Museum in Richland Center differs from their own. Don’t miss Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin home in Spring Green.
Nature-loving families will love exploring Gibraltar Rock Park and birding in Prairie du Suk. Keep an eye out for bald eagles known to be in the area.
Pro Tip: Many great places to visit are only open during certain seasons. So make sure to check their websites for hours to complete your itinerary in advance.
3. Scenic Drives in Wisconsin: Door County Coastal Byway (WIS 42 and 57)
- Distance: 66 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours to 2 days
The Door County Coastal Byway is a majestic drive that’s one of the best road trips in Wisconsin. What makes this National Byway so special is that it takes you out on the Door County Peninsula, along both the rocky coast of Green Bay and the sandy shores of Lake Michigan.
A special feature of Door County is the Niagara Escarpment. Created millions of years ago by glaciers, this cliff defines the landscape along Green Bay. Definitely plan to get out of the car to explore this incredible terrain.
If your family is the outdoorsy kind, Door County is perfect for your next drive in Wisconsin. The byway travels past 3 state parks, 10 county parks, and a ton of town parks and beaches. A must-do is to get a view from the Peninsula State Park’s observation tower. The view of Green Bay from the top is just breathtaking.
Make sure to spend time in towns like Egg Harbor, Ephraim, and Liberty Grove. Each has great places to eat, historical sites, and welcoming communities.
When to go: Fall is one of the best times to drive the Door County Coastal Byway. You’ll love experiencing fall foliage on this scenic Wisconsin road trip.
4. Scenic Drives in Wisconsin: Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway (WIS 13)
- Distance: 70 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours to 2 days
Hugging the shoreline of the Bayfield Peninsula, the Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway is a delightful way to explore the luscious landscape and quaint lakeside towns. Clearly making it one of the best Wisconsin scenic drives.
Beginning the drive in Barksdale, you’ll be greeted with some of the best Wisconsin scenery of abundant farmland and forest. The whole family will get into the action when you stop to pick some of the fruit at farms like Erickson’s Orchard in Bayfield.
It’s not too far until the view opens up to reveal the beautiful waters of the lake. Along the way, you’ll see changes in the coastline from rocky to sandy with great fishing villages. Don’t miss a walk on Meyer’s Beach where the geological formations like sea caves and arches are incredible.
The Apostle Islands are a major draw for this scenic Wisconsin road trip. You’ll love seeing them from land but they’re so much fun to explore. Consider taking a cruise or kayaking out to see them. The islands also have the largest concentration of lighthouses in the country, 2 of which you can visit.
Pro Tip: Consider driving the Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway in July or September when you can partake in the Red Cliff Reservation’s annual Pow-wow or the Red Cliff Cultural Days.
5. Scenic Drives in Wisconsin: Nicolet-Wolf River Scenic Byway (WIS 55, 32, 70 and 52)
- Distance: 145 miles
- Time needed: 4 hours to 5 days
One of the best road trips in Wisconsin takes you through the beautiful landscape of the north-central part of the state. Known for its incredible views of the great outdoors, the byway runs along the Wolf River and through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
The byway is filled with tons of opportunities to get out into nature by hiking, kayaking, and even ATVing. If you’re looking for a bit more along the lines of history, make sure to visit the Forest County Potawatomi Community Cultural Center and Museum in Crandon. Here you’ll learn about the history and culture of the Bodewadmi, Native Americans.
There are so many great places to stop along this scenic Wisconsin road trip. Make sure not to miss ones like seeing Larry the Log Roller in Wabeno or the World’s Largest Soup Kettle in Laona. For more ideas, check out the Nicolet-Wolf River Scenic Byway website for more selfie-worthy places.
When to go: With so many gorgeous forests to explore, the best time to visit is early October. That’s when you’ll likely get to see the leaves change color.
© Family Road Trip