The Driftless is a beautiful area and a great place to get up high and see the view. There are lots to choose from along the Mississippi River, within the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, and atop Wildcat Mountain. You’ll find vistas of rivers, ridges, bluffs, valleys, and farmland. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might spy an eagle or three.
Where to begin? Sugar Creek Bluff is part of the land protected by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. The hike is about ¾ mile one way and is just outside of the town of Ferryville on the Great River Road. The trail takes you to a goat prairie (hill prairies often found in the Driftless) and an expansive view of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.
If you’re looking to climb hills, ramble along a bluff line, or maybe get your feet wet while crossing a spring fed stream, well… you’re in luck! There’s a wealth of rugged trails to get you off the beaten path and away from the crowds. Long pants, some bug spray (depending on the time of year), sturdy shoes, and you’re set to go.
Where to begin? Billings Creek Trail in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve is a good one. Two miles one way, with deep valleys, a few streams to cross and an overlook of the Kickapoo River. If the stepping stones at Billings Creek are submerged and the creek is raging – maybe skip crossing that one and just take the opportunity to soak your feet and enjoy nature.
The state parks in the Driftless have portions of trails that are accessible to those with mobility issues. Wyalusing State Park, Nelson Dewey State Park, and Wildcat Mountain State Park all have taken steps to assure everyone can enjoy the beauty of the Driftless region.
Where to begin? Old Settler’s Trail at Wildcat Mountain has an accessible 0.4 mile, one way, trail that takes visitors to the best view of the village of Ontario below. Wildcat also has accessible campsites.
Going the Distance
Pack the backpack, grab your walking stick, and get ready to spend some serious time surrounded by nature. Equestrian trails are great places to take a deep dive into the Driftless. They’re longer than your average hiking trail and walkers are welcome.
Where to begin? The Kickapoo Valley Reserve has 37 miles of equestrian trails open to hiking year round. Stop by the visitor center to help determine which one is right for you. If you run into horses on the trail, it’s always a good idea to stop and speak calmly to the horse (the rider too) it lets our four legged friends know you’re nothing they need to worry about.
Coming across the unexpected on a nature hike makes the trip even that much more enjoyable. Whether it’s the ice cave formed by a frozen stream waterfall in the Kickapoo Valley, or a cave carved out of the sandstone in Wyalusing, the Driftless can surprise you with the beauty of its topography.
Where to begin? The Wyalusing Bluff Trail is a short trail, 0.2 miles, but it packs into its length stone steps, wooden stairs, a limestone cavern, and a stone ‘keyhole’. The kids will love the adventure of it, without being so long as to completely tire them out.