This Midwestern Park You've Likely Never Heard Of Holds Rich History And Scenic Trails

From the thrilling waterparks that make up The Dells to the shops, restaurants, museums, and architecture that adorn vibrant downtown Madison, the state of Wisconsin plays host to a variety of alluring Midwest destinations for travelers to explore. While some are well-known among adventurers, others are more off-the-beaten-path but equally intriguing. If you happen to be on the hunt for a Wisconsin-based locale that's rich in history and comes with gorgeous trails to discover, Grandad Bluff Park is a wonderful place to explore.

First opening to the public back in 1912, Grandad Bluff Park sits on a bluff that offers up sweeping views to visitors out over the scenic city of La Crosse. The park sits at a height of 1,184 feet which is ideal for framing the Mississippi River from overlooks. This historic park also provides a picture-perfect vantage point over the headlands and river valley making it irresistible to landscape photographers. Grandad Bluff Park's location near the Mississippi River means it's also a haven of opportunity for birders and other wildlife watchers. The river's rich ecosystem supports everything from turkey vultures and bald eagles to deer, raccoons, and foxes that can be viewed from the network of bluff side trails.

Immerse yourself in historical architecture and design

Visiting Grandad Bluff Park means stepping back in time which is something history buffs are sure to appreciate. Before it became a park, the landscape was used in varying capacities. It functioned as a quarry in 1865, but transferred owners no less than 83 times between 1851 and 1912. Eventually, it was designated as a place where people could come to enjoy gatherings, admire the views, and appreciate nature.

A highlight for visitors to Grandad Bluff Park today is visiting a shelter that dates back to 1938. It was built as a Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression and the structure came together with stones from the former quarry. The shelter was wired for electricity in 1954 and renovated in 2011 just before the park's 100th anniversary in 2012. Today, the shelter retains its impressive historic craftsmanship but has been updated to be ADA-compliant. It's a popular starting point for reaching the Grandad Bluff summit area which hosts interpretive displays, fenced overlooks, and limestone viewing benches.

En route to the Grandad Bluff overlook, visitors can stop and admire the bronze sculpture of Ellen Hixon that was crafted by Mike Martino in 2015. This life-sized depiction is a fascinating testament to time. It honors the philanthropic work done by Mrs. Hixon for the city of La Crosse as well as her successful efforts to transition the park out of quarrying and preserve it as a protected space for generations to come.

Hiking at Grandad Bluff Park

While the history that fills Grandad Bluff Park is certainly inspiring, visitors who head this way with an interest in time on the trails will find plenty of opportunities too. That's because the park hosts a variety of multi-use hiking trails to explore that frame rivers, overlooks, and bluffs alike. In total, there are around 5 miles of shared trails to check out that are suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

The Grandad Bluff Valley Trail is a great option for a short nearly 2-mile trek. This trail is designed as a loop that's best enjoyed between May and October when you don't have to contend with ice or snow. It's a relatively flat route with a mild 137-foot elevation gain along the way. The views from the trail are spectacular in every season and the route is ideal for birding while you make the most of the many vistas.

If you're looking for more of a challenge, the War Eagle, Wolfsbane, Tramway, and Compass Loop is a great option. This route gives hikers 3.2 miles of terrain to cover with an elevation gain of around 406 feet. It's a moderately difficult route used by hikers and runners alike and if you plan to explore it in its entirety, you'll want to set aside about an hour and a half of your day.