Following our Eaux Claires experience, Jeremy and I decided to take the scenic route home. We planned a rather loose, three day itinerary that took us south along Great River Road – which runs alongside the Mississippi River – through the “driftless area” of Wisconsin and a bit of Iowa before cutting across back into Indiana.
We were never in one place long enough to share a thorough “city guide” for each, but in case you ever find yourself in this area of the country, we cannot recommend it enough! Here’s a quick overview of our travels through this beautiful part of the Midwest.
After the festival, we grabbed brunch in Eau Claire and hit the road. I had done quite a bit of research before our trip and booked three hotels in three cities along Great River Road, but we agreed that, because there are so many tiny towns along the way, the trip would be one of stop and go as we pleased.
I booked our first night at The Blue Door Inn in Alma, Wisconsin. This quaint, riverside city is only about an hour and a half away from Eau Claire, and the majority of the drive there was SO beautiful. We had no idea what to expect and were so excited when we caught our first glimpse of the Mississippi River. On top of that, it rather quickly turned “mountainous” if you will.
Mid-afternoon, we checked into the inn, which was perfectly situated with views of both the town and the river, and had a gorgeous garden area. We nearly wept tears of joy at the thought of showering and sleeping in a real bed in an air-conditioned room. We took a minute to sit and gather ourselves before getting ready to explore.
Post-showers, we decided to take up the innkeeper’s recommendation of visiting the “biggest overlook on Great River Road” and stop at a winery, both nearby.
After making the long, winding drive up the bluff in search of the overlook, we began to question whether or not we were heading the right direction. We had reached the top and it looked quite normal, with lots of fields and farms and barns whooshing past. Finally, we started to see signs for the overlook and parked the car.
We walked through a gorgeous park area (filled with several friendly people, I should add) and when we made it to the actual overlook, were left speechless. Seriously. We kept looking at each other and would start to say something and just end up standing there with our mouths hanging open and awe in our faces.
Randomly, at this exact moment – kid you not – this woman started playing an obo. We were standing on top of a mountain, with miles of river, field, and sky in every direction, as the sun began to cast its golden glow across the world, and the gentle wind was suddenly carrying a magical OBO PERFORMANCE across the land. What is this life?
We really, really didn’t want to leave. Each time we’d start, one of us would say, “Hang on. Just a minute!” It was tough. But we wanted to find and visit this highly recommended winery before it got too late.
We found it without any issue, but just as we pulled up, the owner was walking out and locking up. He told us to hang out on the property awhile and take in the views (and take some photos, which you see above), and invited us to come back the next day. He also suggested that if we wanted a drink and some “interesting food selection,” we should visit “Bucknuckles.” His directions would have been helpful if we were from the area, but we couldn’t quite follow them.
Tired, hungry, and ready to explore a little more, we decided to drive a little further south, to Fountain City. We ended up settling into a booth at The Monarch Public House, where we ate way too much and enjoyed a few delicious drinks, too. Jeremy claims that the brews he had in Fountain City were some of the best he had on the entire trip!
We talked with our waitress a bit about our travels, and when she learned we were from out of town, she immediately suggested “Bucknuckles,” too. Because we were in a totally different location than when the winery owner gave us directions, we were even more confused, but decided that if two people in two different towns had suggested this place, we’d better find it. So after we paid up, we set out to do just that.
We tried looking up an address for Bucknuckles, but believe it or not, it wasn’t posted ANYWHERE online. We decided to just try our luck and attempt to find it based on the directions we’d gotten from our waitress.
The drive started out okay, and we were feeling pretty good about it. But then it got dark. And then we BOTH lost cell signal. And then we were in the middle of nowhere in complete darkness, driving slowly because the roads were so unfamiliar and winding.
Occasionally, we’d pass through a village, or crawl past an abandoned barn. The car crept by an abandoned country cemetery every few miles and my heart started racing. Was this a set-up? Was this place real? And if it was, was it REALLY a bar or was it a place we’d never leave after walking through the door?
While we slowly drove on, I felt some relief at seeing a dreary old farmhouse with a light on. Life! But immediately after came a small, open barn full of squealing pigs and on the outside, spray-painted in red, a message that said, “FRIDAY 13.”
Jeremy assured me it was probably just some bored country kids and that he was sure that, even if we didn’t find Bucknuckles, we’d find our way back to the main road and our inn in Alma.
I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when I saw what looked to be neon lights in the middle of a field not far ahead of us and, low and behold, there it was. Bucknuckles!
We walked in and for awhile it was just us and a bartender. Was it worth the several mini heart attacks we suffered to get there? Well, it was pretty cool.
We had a couple of drinks, then made our way back to Alma to get some much needed sleep (but not before getting lost again and driving about 10 MPH the entire way back!)
The next morning, we woke up to a complementary breakfast in bed (fresh fruit, juice, and fresh-baked muffins from the bakery in town.) We got a pretty early start and checked out.
We stopped into a few tiny shops in town that were actually open. The one bummer we had on this road trip was that many places in these small towns are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays – which was the majority of our travel time.
The shops we visited were very lovely and unique though, and so were the people we encountered. They were all very interested in us – apparently it was quite obvious we weren’t locals – so we spent a good chunk of time explaining where we were from and why we were passing through.
Just before leaving, we came upon a giant eagle’s nest that is continuously being built by the townsfolk and visitors. We found a stick to add to the creation before hopping in the car and heading for the winery on our way out of town.
Our visit the winery – Danzinger Vineyards – is one of my biggest highlights from the trip. First off, this was only my second visit to a winery and it fulfilled my desire to visit another. Secondly, every single sample we tried was incredible.
We decided we each wanted a full glass, so we made our selections and also ordered a cheese tray and took to the patio to sit and have some inspiring conversation – and take in the views.
Much like the overlook the day before, it was so, so tough to leave such a magical place. But we knew that even more breathtaking places laid ahead of us, so we said goodbye to Alma and started south.
Find out where we ended up next here!