West Central Wisconsin is known as Amish country. The first Amish families arrived in Wisconsin in 1920, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the population grew significantly. Now the area has the fourth-largest Amish population in the nation, settlements characterized by horse-drawn buggies, colorful quilts flapping on clotheslines, giant Belgian horses pulling plows, and rows of corn shocks under autumn skies. The Amish are well known for their beautiful handmade quilts, baskets, furniture, and many other items. Tourists have learned they can often get some excellent workmanship by going directly to the source when buying some of these items. (No Sunday sales.)
Learn more about the Wisconsin Amish
Gays Mills, Soldiers Grove’s neighboring village, is the “apple capital” of Wisconsin. Seven orchards on thousands of acres produce apples that are nationally known for their color and flavor. Harvest time is a wonderful time, as cars with license plates from many states fill the parking lots. And for over 50 years, the Applefest celebration, with its parade, arts and crafts show, and music, has helped the festival atmosphere associated with apple-picking time in September.
More about apple harvest in Gays Mills
Southwest Wisconsin provides many choices for bike riders. The first rails-to-trails conversion in the state, the 33-mile Elroy-Sparta Trail is only minutes away from Soldiers Grove. The Great River Road South tour charts a 54-mile on-road tour. And for the more adventurous, mountain bikes can be ridden through the Kickapoo Valley Reserve or near Granddad Bluff along the Mississippi. Or simply chart your own path along the back roads of the Driftless Area.
More about outdoor activities in the Driftless
More about cycling in Southwest Wisconsin
Eagles along the Mississippi River. Sandhill cranes along the Kickapoo. Wildlife refuges that have recorded over 300 species of birds. Wisconsin is a birder’s paradise. The Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail is a mapped auto trail that, when complete, will reach into every area of the state, including southwest Wisconsin. Full-color viewing guides with maps and descriptions of every site will lead the nature traveler to warblers, shorebirds, eagles, loons, cranes and all manner of mammals found in some of the state’s premier wildlife venues.
More about birding in Southwest Wisconsin
Campers are welcome in the village of Soldiers Grove. Beauford T. Anderson Memorial Park has campsites equipped with hook-up for those with larger recreational vehicles beautiful sites close to the Kickapoo River for those in tents. Restroom and shower facilities are available. Permits can be secured at the village office, the pharmacy, or at Campbell’s One Stop. Nearby state parks also offer a variety of campsites.
The Kickapoo River meanders for 130 miles from Wilton to Wauzeka, where it empties into the Wisconsin River. The name Kickapoo is Algonquin for “one who goes here, then there” and accurately describes the river, which flows in all directions of the compass for portions of its length. A paddle down the Kickapoo takes you through high sandstone cliffs, family-owned dairy farms and through river villages including Soldiers Grove. Bring your own canoe or rent one from one of the local canoe liveries, who also offer shuttle service.
Southwest Wisconsin trout streams are a favored destination of fisherman from all over the country. The accessibility of the water, the potential to catch trophy trout, an abundance of public easements and the scenic beauty of the area all contribute to the area’s reputation. Because many of the trout streams in the area run through pasture land, the lack of high brush and trees on the banks make fly-fishing a pleasure.
Southwest Wisconsin has proved to be a perfect place for wild turkey; the stable population makes it a premier place for spring and fall turkey hunting. Whitetail deer hunting is equally popular whether by muzzleloader, bow or traditional firearms. Bringing home a trophy whitetail is the ultimate Wisconsin hunting experience. Southwest Wisconsin also offers waterfowl, pheasant and small game hunting.
More about hunting in Wisconsin