Wyalusing State Park
Wyalusing State Park occupies the southern and eastern banks of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers near Prairie du Chien, where the Wisconsin flows into the Mississippi. It was established in 1917, making it one of the oldest state parks in Wisconsin. Originally named after Governor Nelson Dewey, the park was renamed Wyalusing in 1937. (Dewey now has a park named after him near Cassville at Stonefield, by the way, so don’t feel bad.)
The park lies in the midst of the “Driftless Region,” named so because the glaciers that flattened much of the state thousands of years ago went around this area. The resulting bluffs, valleys, coulees, and hollows make for some of the most beautiful landscapes and views you’ll find in the Midwest.
The park offers expansive views from nearly 600 feet above the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, sometimes to points 20-30 miles distant. The city of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin is visible to the north just a few miles away, as is McGregor, Iowa across the Mississippi. Pikes Peak State Park on the Iowa side essentially serves as Wyalusing’s cross-state counterpart, and yes it was named after the same guy who Pike’s Peak in Colorado is named after: a guy named Zebulon Pike, an early explorer who clearly knew how to leave his name on things. A key piece of Wisconsin history lies in the fact that Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet were the first Europeans to paddle down the Wisconsin River (via the Fox River and Lake Michigan, no less), past the site of Wyalusing and into the Mississippi River back in 1673… which helped to eventually give rise to the early settlement that became today’s Prairie du Chien.
Wyalusing State Park not only offers beautiful overlooks, but 2,700 acres of recreation, relaxation, and history. Ancient Native American burial mounds are located throughout the park, as is a memorial to the passenger pigeon – a once-plentiful bird that became extinct by 1912. Explorers and fun-seekers can check out 14 miles of hiking trails which run on high and low ground throughout the park; they also have access to a few caves and several very scenic overlooks. There are also two mountain biking trails, a boat launch on the Mississippi, picnic areas and playgrounds, and areas for fishing, hunting, and cross-country skiing. Campgrounds are plentiful and the Bluff Top Concession Stand offers refreshments, supplies, ice, firewood, even kayak and canoe rentals during the summer and early fall seasons. For star gazers, you can enjoy the natural view outdoors or get even closer at the Huser Astronomy Center, which opened in 2003 and offers free programs for the public.
Today’s Visitor Center greets you at the park’s entrance, where you pay your entry fee and can get information. The original park office lies further in and is now known as the Paul Lawrence Interpretive Center. Constructed in 1939, this lovely little building was constructed of nearby-quarried stone and white pine for the porch timbers. Inside, you’ll find some interesting park history, including details on the early work by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) to further develop the park during its second decade in operation – including that requirements for workers insisted that they had at least six teeth.
Trails, along with some of the roadways through the park, lead you to additional bluffs views of the Mississippi River, along with Native American mounds. There is also a monument to Passenger Pigeon, a species that went extinct in 1914 but once heavily populated this area, as its was along one of its primary migratory paths. The monument offers a beautiful overlook of the river and bluffs on the Iowa side, as well as background on the passenger pigeon with some occasionally scathing commentary on reasons for its extinction.
Any tour of Wyalusing is bound to delight your senses, teach you some history, wrap you in nature, and serve as a wonderful getaway road trip.
You’ll find Wyalusing State Park in the town of Bagley, tucked into the northwest corner of Grant County a few miles south of Prairie du Chien. It’s a short drive off U.S. 18/Highway 35 via County Roads C and X, which also serve as the Great River Road in this area. Highway 60 is also just to the north, across the Wisconsin River. It’s part of the “America’s Byways” Tour for a reason: it’s gorgeous around here and pleasure to drive or ride!
Our head State Trunk Tourer Eric Paulsen filmed a video short about Wyalusing in conjunction with Soerens Ford in Brookfield, Wisconsin; they gave him a Ford Focus RS-7 to test out for the trip. Here’s the video:
You can find the latest conditions and other updates for Wyalusing State Park from the Wisconsin DNR here.
Wyalusing State Park Address:
13081 State Park Lane
Bagley, WI 53801