Posts Tagged: Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Driftless Day Trip: Coulee Region

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Driftless Day Trip: Winter in the Coulee Region!
Adventuring to Mt. La Crosse, Snowflake Ski Club, & Kickapoo Valley Reserve

By Benji Nichols

Winter in the Driftless is a fickle season – cold and dark, but not always enough snow to have all the fun. So what’s a Midwesterner to do? I learned to ski at the long-gone-but-not-forgotten Nor-Ski hill in Decorah (rest in sweet peace, you glove-eating monster). Literally, my first downhill runs were with duct-taped boots on just enough natural snow to cover the corn stubble – but it was enough to plant in me a lifelong love of skiing and snow sports. For this Driftless Day Trip, we’ve decided to round-up a couple of our favorite places to swoosh, snowshoe, and take in the incredible winter light of the Coulee Region. Buckle up and get out there to explore the hills and coulees this winter!

What’s a coulee? The word coulee comes from the Canadian French coulée, from French word couler meaning “to flow”. West central Wisconsin, aka the Coulee Region, has been dissected by water erosion into a series of narrow ridges separated by steep-sided valleys called coulees.

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Driftless is a term we use a lot here at Inspire(d), as we feel like it truly encompasses this amazing region of ours. The term has come to be used fairly widely, but if you really want to be in the heart of the Driftless, Western Wisconsin – particularly in and around Vernon County – is where’s it’s at. It also happens to embody a few of the more alluring and unique winter activities in the region. A mid-winter drive along the Mississippi River valley in any direction is almost guaranteed to produce bald eagle watching of epic proportions, and the scenic views only get better as you leave the river and wind up through the coulees.

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SPOTlight: Mt. La Crosse

Just north of Chipmunk Coulee on River Road (really – it’s a place! … leave it to the Bohemians!), but south of La Crosse proper, is the turn-off for a special set of hills tucked perfectly off the Mississippi. Back in 1959, Mr. Ted Motchman saw these 200 acres of hillside and thought they looked just about right for strapping a couple of narrow boards on your feet and whooshing downhill. An ‘A’ Frame was erected, and adventurers of all ages flocked to show their support of alpine (downhill) skiing. Mt. La Crosse has been in continuous operation since, now with three chair lifts, a beginner tow-rope, and modern snow-making and grooming. They provide a fantastic regional skiing outlet that is family friendly and won’t break the bank. Terrain includes Wisconsin’s longest ski run (Mileaway), and Mid-America’s steepest trail (Damnation – really, it’s a doozie!). Action park and snowboard features also change up over the season to provide seasoned riders even more reasons to keep coming back, as well as high school ski racing action and state competitions. Throw in various special evening rates (the hills are all lit up!), as well as gear and lesson packages (snow boards too!), and these hills keep the adventuring alive as long as temps allow. We’re also fans of the St. Bernard Room, where you can enjoy a cozy view of the slopes with a Spotted Cow or warm beverage in hand. Always check the website or call ahead for conditions and hours – particularly for season opening and closing dates, which typically run from late November to early March.

Details: Mt. La Crosse
N5549 Old Town Hall Rd
La Crosse, Wisconsin
(608) 788-0044

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If you think swooshing down the snowy slopes is adventurous, you’ll want to hang on to your stocking cap for what’s up next! Just up River Road you can catch Highway 14 toward Coon Valley. We’re headed to Westby, another well-known Norwegian enclave, then just past it on County Road P. Keep an eye out – you’ll see a large scaffolding structure jutting off one of the hilltops. What could be a better dead-of-the-winter Norwegian activity than – yep – Ski Jumping?!

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Special thanks to Chad Berger/Lone Wolf Studios, Westby,WI for images)

Spotlight: Snowflake Ski Club

Friends, we’re not talking about sledding buddies mounding up a pile of snow here; we mean the real deal: Skiers in full suits gracefully swooping down an enormous (65 Meter – seriously!) jump and sailing off the end to hover over a snow covered hill that disappears beneath them. Really, its just like the Olympics – only in rural Wisconsin, and with bonfires, and music, and beverages, and… anyhow. The Junior Ski Jumping Competition is Sunday, January 10, 2016 where youngsters compete on all four sizes of ski jumps, while the Snowflake Ski Club Jumping Tournament runs February 5-6 with competitors participating from around the world. Friday night kicks off with opening ceremonies, followed by competition on the lighted course, and more fun continuing Saturday during the daylight. And if spectating isn’t enough, Snowflake offers memberships for youth and the young-at-heart that actually allow you to train to ski jump. Yep. Put that on your bucket list. Or just enjoy the festivities from the safety of the sidelines with a crowd that assumes you’ve all been friends since Shep was a pup.

Details: Snowflake Ski Club
E7940 County Rd P, Westby, WI 54667
(608) 634-3211

Junior Ski Jumping Competition – Sunday, January 10, 2016

Come see junior ski jumpers from around the Midwest compete on the 10, 20, 40, and 65-meter ski jumps. Competitors on the 65-meter jump will be qualifying for a spot on the Junior National Team to compete at the 2016 National Ski Jumping Competition. Free admission for spectators!

Snowflake Ski Club Jumping Tournament – February 5-6, 2016

Professional skiers come from around the globe to compete in this Olympic-like event on the 65-meter jump. Friday opening ceremonies are at 7 pm, with competition following at 7:30 pm. Saturday’s fun starts off at noon. Admission buttons are for sale on site.

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Now, if you were to head east on that same County Road ‘P’ out of Westby and just keep going, theoretically you’d end up right about at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. We’d give you at least a 65 percent chance of this, simply because the roads are winding, the scenery is beautiful, and you just might decide to get lost in the rolling countryside. But really, you should probably consult a map to find the best way to the KVR Visitor Center from your current location. Highway 82 to La Farge will get you close, or Highway 131 south out of Ontario will take you right through the reserve. Some might say that from this side of the river “you can’t get there from here,” but we’re here to tell you that, like most things, getting there is half the fun – and it’s worth the drive to get out into the wilderness. All that said, if you’ve got 4WD or just a good cross-country sense of adventure, our next destination should be perfect!

Spotlight: Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR)

KVRIf you’re an avid Inspire(d) reader, then chances are you’ve read our praises of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve before. The KVR has a fascinating and controversial history – stemming from the “La Farge Dam Project” that never came to fruition – but did relocate 149 farmers by the early 1970s and left an enormous piece of open country in Vernon County. After much political to-do, the project was forever left behind by the Army Corps of Engineers in the mid 1990s and the land was split between the Ho-Chunk Nation and the State of Wisconsin. Over 8,000 acres make up this incredible span of the Kickapoo River with high scenic hills, bluffs, and rock outcroppings standing several hundred feet tall. A gorgeous visitors center opened in 2004 and is a great starting point for first time visitors. It also houses several exhibits and galleries featuring great displays on geology, Native American history, and reserve information. Winter 2016 KVR offerings include an Ice Cave Hike Series, the KVR Winter Festival on January 9, and the “Dam Phunski” Cross Country Ski Race January 23. The visitor’s center and trails are open all winter for hiking and snowshoeing – but please note that trail permits are required for use and available at the Visitor Center as well as 13 self-registration stations in the reserve.

Details: Kickapoo Valley Reserve
S3661 State Highway 131 (visitor center)
La Farge, WI 54639
(608) 625-2960

Attending one of the following events is a great way to jump into the sprawling KVR and get an introduction into one of our regions most incredible pieces of wilderness.

Ice Cave Hike Series

Visit several spectacular ice caves and frozen waterfalls. Participants will also have the chance to try traditional and modern snowshoes. There will be lots of outdoor discoveries and, depending on the hike leader, the following topics might be discussed: winter wildlife ecology, geology, biology, and history of the Kickapoo Reserve. The hike is rated moderate to difficult. Dress for the weather and don’t forget your camera! Saturdays: January 30, February 20, 27. 12:30 – 4:00 pm

Fee: $10/Person; $9/KVR Friend; $5/Kids 12-18
Registration Deadline: Saturday prior to each hike

Winter Festival
Saturday, January 9, 2016
8:30 am – 4:00 pm

The KVR Winter Festival highlights fun cold-weather-friendly activities such as skating, sledding, skiing, archery, snow sculpture slide, ice cave hikes, birds of prey, face painting, horse-drawn bobsled rides, snowshoe exhibit, and the Tri-state Malamute Club sled dog race. The La Farge Lions Club hosts an annual chili and bread contest for the public and a Kickapoo Quick Auction of goods and services produced in the Kickapoo Valley raises funds for the KVR Education Program. Whoohoo!

Dam Phunski
Saturday, January 23, 2016, 10:00 am

The Dam Phunski is a classic and freestyle cross-country ski course along the scenic Old Highway 131 Trail. Courses include a 1k loop for youth, a 5k point-to-point for juniors and phunskiers of all ages, and a 10k point-to-point for adults.

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It’s worth noting that all three of these winter destinations are in rural locations. La Crosse, Wisconsin, is by far the closest urban hub for this adventure, and a grand place to cozy up on a winter night.

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With such dining and accommodations as the new Charmont Hotel (its amaaaazing!), as well as our favorite cozy eatery The Mint – and fantastic nightlife downtown, La Crosse can be a great jumping off spot for any of the above adventures.

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Viroqua is also quite central to the KVR and Snowflake Ski Jump. Lodging is a bit more sparse, but with outlets like the Viroqua Food Co-op, Rooted Spoon/219 Drinkery, the incredible Driftless Café, and Kickapoo Coffee’s mothership – plus a charming downtown – it’s worth the trip. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the Kickapoo Valley Ranch. If you really want to get lost in a cozy cabin in the woods – literally next to the KVR – this is it. You can see our Driftless Day Trips for more ideas on both La Crosse and Viroqua at iloveinspired.com.

So bundle up, pack warm, and bring your sense of adventure this winter – The Driftless is waiting for you!

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Feeling Inspire(d) to get outside? How about on a FAT BIKE?!

If these adventures leave you saying, “what’s next?”, we’d love to suggest you get out on two wheels – even in the midst of winter! If you haven’t had the chance to ride a “fat” mountain bike yet, now is the time! Think of a standard mountain bike, but with frame accommodations to fit tires 4”+. The extra large tires allow you to run at low air pressures giving great traction on snow, sand, and all sorts of terrain. Local trail organizations and systems like Decorah’s DHPT, Upper Hixon in La Crosse, and Vernon Trails in Viroqua are even grooming some trails for winter riding. Conditions vary widely – and day by day throughout winter ­– but believe us: fat biking is a great workout and a fun way to burn off the winter blahs. Several regional shops are now renting fat bikes as well – Decorah Bicycles, Blue Heron Bicycle Works in Onalaska, and Blue Dog Cycles in Viroqua are all great starting points.

Read the Winter 2015-2016 Inspire(d) Online Here:

Winter 2015-2016 Inspire(d)
Winter 2015-2016 Inspire(d)

December 1, 2015 is national Giving Tuesday! We’ve gathered up a great group of locals to share their ideas and tips on giving in their communities. Check that and the entire Winter 2015-2016 Inspire(d) Magazine online here today (on stands later this week)!

Here’s what you’ll get to read:

How Locals Are Living Generously • Sum of Your Business: Kate Rattenborg/Dragonfly Books • DIY Hot Cocoa, Play Dough, Bubbles • Importance of Me Time (Infographic!) • Driftless Day Trip: Mt La Crosse + Snowflake Ski Jump + KVR • Mississippi Mirth: Community Matters • Paper Project: Adult Coloring Page! • Probituary: Sigrid Peterson

Driftless Day Trip: Viroqua, Wisconsin

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By Inspire(d)

Viroqua, Wisconsin, is just one of those places – the kind you hear about and so want to visit, but getting there seems impossible – literally. We’re pretty sure it’s uphill both ways. But once you do get there, and you take in the views of valleys and bluffs, you wonder: “What took me so long?” And then, “I might never leave.”

That seems to be the case for a lot of people who call Viroqua home. Folks came for a variety of reasons – like those who settled there in the mid-1800s, it might simply be the beauty of the region pulled them in. Or more recently, the surge of organic farming – not to mention the headquarters of organic biz-moguls Organic Valley nestled one town over in La Farge. Maybe it was the Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School that drew one family to town, and the great food co-op recruited another.

Whatever brought these people together, they’re working hard – together – to make their little town of 5,000 special, sustainable, and a fun place to be.

Which, in turn, makes it a fun place to visit! We made our way on a sunny weekend to check out this little community big on cooperatives. The historic downtown is easily traveled on-foot and is filled with quirky stores, handmade shops, cafes, and boutiques. And behind every counter is a person recommending the place next door or just down the street. Calling these people friendly would be an understatement.

We’ve laid out just a few of our favorite spots to help you find your way – whether it’s packing out into the 8,000+ acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve, or hunkering down for a quiet romantic weekend, enjoy all the bounty of the Driftless Region!

Get Outside:

Kickapoo Valley Reserve. S3661 St H 131. La Farge, WI . 608-625-2960. kvr.state.wi.us
The “KVR” (as they say…) is one of the most impressive expanses of land in the entire Driftless Area. 8,500 acres between La Farge and Ontario, Wisconsin (just a few miles from Viroqua) cradle the Kickapoo River, offering up unlimited recreational opportunities. Originally pegged for a controversial damn dam project in the early 1960s, the project failed to ever be completed, leaving this treasure to eventually become a public reserve.

Snowflake Ski Club. Westby, WI. snowflakeskiclub.com
Giant ski jump in a town of 2000 (just up the road from Viroqua)? Awesome. Make sure to mark your calendars for the 92nd (yes, you read that right!!) Annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament January 30 and 31. Fun!

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Bluedog Cycles & Brewdog. 201 South Main Street. 608-637-6993. bluedogcycles.com| Pete and Alycann Taylor have been holding things down at this unique bike shop since 2005. Not only do they offer great products and service, but they are great resources on getting outdoors near Viroqua. Stop in, tell them we sent you – and check it out before you get outside!

 

Check It Out:

Viroqua Public Market. 215 South Main Street. www.viroquapublicmarket.com | The Viroqua Public Market is the center of many good things downtown. First, the market serves as an outlet for hundreds of vendors from across the region. The same building also houses Bramble Books and the Viva Gallery, as well as the occasional indoor farmers market. The building also houses the Rooted Spoon (more below).

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Temple Theatre. 220 S. Main Street. 608-6637-8190 | www.temple-theatre.com Refurbishment was finished in 2002 on this anchor of downtown Viroqua. With nine murals, a full rehab of the 1922 Temple Theatre’s Wurlitzer organ, and the grand marquis, it’s a grand venue for events and performances.

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The Ark. 401 E. Jefferson Street. 608-637-7824. artarkviroqua.org | Viroqua’s community and regional arts center – offering classes, space, movement, and a home for the arts in the midst of the Driftless Region.

Viroqua Farmer’s Market. Saturdays 8:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., May – October – Location: Western Technical College Parking Lot | Rockin’ farmers market – amazing variety of local and Driftless Region products.

Driftless Folk School. www.driftlessfolkschool.org | Ever wanted to learn more about practical, sustainable, lifelong skills? Do you like to work with your hands, create objects, or learn traditional crafts? Check out all of the classes at the school – from ‘Clay in a day’ and ‘Design your own small building,’ to ‘Fruit tree grafting’ – the possibilities are great, and ever changing. Check out the schedule online.

Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. (Coon Valley) 608.452.3424. www.norskedalen.org | Norskedalen or “Norwegian Valley” is a 400-acre site dedicated to preserving and interpreting “the natural environment and cultural heritage of the region”. Open daily for visiting, in addition to special events, a guest cabin, historical displays, and much more.

Eat / Drink:

Driftless Café. 118 W Court St. www.driftlesscafe.com | “Seasonal menus – Locally Sourced – Written in Chalk” Seriously good local food. Really, these guys aren’t messing around. We mean it. Go now. Get a Wisco Pop with dinner, and don’t skip dessert.

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Rooted Spoon. 219 S. Main St. www.rootedspoon.com | Adjacent to The Viroqua Public Market, these fine folks host “219 Drinkery” every Friday, often with different themes, and an amazing brunch every Sunday. They also offer incredible monthly dinners and special events, but are not open for regular daily service. Plan ahead to hit one of their events – great space, good people, fun menus.

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Tangled Hickory Wine Bar. 120 S. Main St. www.tangledhickory.com | Downtown wine bar with changing seasonal entrees, a wide and affordable wine list, and nice ambiance. Happy Hour specials on wine and appetizers everyday from 4-6pm.

Viroqua Coop. 609 N. Main St. viroquafood.coop | Cooperative awesomeness! Beyond the normal co-op grocery and bulk findings, offerings include a great deli/hot bar, coffee and bakery counter, fun gifts, and a fantastically selected beer cooler. You can even get Kickapoo Coffee or a WiscoPop!  Early or late-ish, this is a great stop for supplies!

WiscoPop! www.wiscopopsoda.com | If you didn’t already know it (perhaps you read the story here?), we love WiscoPop! Three Viroqua business partners making incredible craft brewed soda from nothing but great ingredients. Their product is currently available only on tap or by special order mini-kegs (bottling coming soon!). You can find them in Viroqua at the Coop, Driftless Café, and across the region.

Kickapoo Coffee Cafe. 302 S. Main. www.kickapoocoffee.com | Since 2005, Kickapoo has been sourcing and roasting incredible coffee beans from around the globe. We drink it here at Inspire(d) HQ every day! Co-owners TJ Semanchin and Caleb Nicholes don’t cut corners when it comes to finding the best coffee beans possible and coaxing out their incredible flavors. The Kickapoo Coffee Cafe in Viroqua is an amazing meeting spot in Viroqua, with exceptional beverages and offerings. Kickapoo Coffee also offers monthly tours and coffee cupping / tastings at their production facility– it’s a wildly educational (and caffeinating) experience! (Check website for details.)

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Kickapoo

Stay:

Heritage Inn. 220 & 217 East Jefferson Street. 608-637-3306. herinn.com  Beautifully restored historic Inn with private baths, cable, AC, etc. Just a block off of Downtown Viroqua, leaving you easily on foot for in-town adventures!

Natures Nook Retreat. S4878 Cty. Rd. S. 608-637-3928. www.naturenooksretreat.com | Rural Kickapoo Valley cabin rentals meant for relaxing – there’s the Little Barn, Cabin-in-a-barn, and Kinship Place gathering space. The west fork of the Kickapoo River runs through the 95-acre property, including access to brown trout, kayaking, and hiking trails.

Kickapoo Valley Reserve. 608-625-2960. kvr.state.wi.us | If you really want to get out there and enjoy the woods, this is your place to throw down a tent and watch the stars. 25 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis with minimal fees. Remember to pack necessities as the KVR is a little ways away from civilization – which is all the more of a reason to visit!

PLAN AHEAD:
Driftless Wisconsin Portal. driftlesswisconsin.com
This portal is a fantastic guide to all things in the Viroqua area. Take a look and plan your own adventure!

Community Powered Radio – WDRT 91.9FM. Also listen online: wdrt.org
Viroqua’s community powered radio station. You’ll hear an eclectic mix of music, shows, and events broadcast from their downtown studio!