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Visit Prairie du Chien: One Weekend, 20 Essential Destinations

Late summer is a perfect time to travel in the Upper Midwest. Days are pleasantly warm, nights are great for sleeping, and the crowds thin out a bit …

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View of the Prairie du Chien Area

Western Wisconsin and eastern Iowa feature a bevvy of fun river cities and towns bordering the Mississippi and beckoning to travelers.In fact, it’s fairly easy to visit four of these river towns in a long weekend, although that’s a big of a rush.

Here at Midwest River Cities, we’re visiting all the river cities and towns we’ve identified, first with an overview visit and then with a more in depth follow up visit …




A recent long weekend in western Wisconsin took us to a town we’ve always wanted to visit … Prairie du Chien. The second oldest city in The Badger State, Prairie du Chien sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, about an hour south of LaCrosse and just over the river from northeast Iowa …

Introducing Prairie du Chien

Entering over the river from Iowa, the first thing you’ll notice is Prairie du Chien’s topography. Before reaching downtown, you’ll cross over a large island in the Mississippi, St. Feriole Island (more about the island in a minute). The town itself is tucked between the meandering river and tall limestone bluffs that form the backdrop of this scenic part of the state …

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Visit Prairie du Chien

Prairie du Chien features an historic downtown, centered on Blackhawk Avenue, where you’ll find most of the local independent retail, bars, a few restaurants, and so on. The town has a population of just under 6,000 and boasts a lot of history – a War of 1812 battle was fought here and the area was once a prominent trading and commerce point on the river …

As we typically do when traveling, we make a list of all the things we’d like to see. The list is always a mix of “local” … natural attractions, independent shops, a bar or two (or three), and whatever closely identifies with the destination.

And so, this travelogue will be a little different – it’s a spotlight tour of 20 of our favorite Prairie du Chien destinations.

Now of course, there are a lot more than 20 things to see and do here … this is simply a sampling of what caught our fancy, in no particular order.

We hope you find it useful and enjoyable! With that, let’s explore Prairie du Chien!




Prairie du Chien’s St. Feriole Island

If you’re coming into Prairie du Chien from Iowa, you’ll be driving across the Route 18 bridge directly above St. Feriole Island. A fairly large land mass smack dab between Wisconsin and Iowa, the island holds a treasure trove of area history …

St. Feriole Island was the site of early fur trade and an important military fort, which saw battle in The War of 1812’s Battle of Prairie du Chien. In the early 20th century, the island was an prominent railroad stop, connecting rail routes east and west.

The island, though, was prone to flooding and by the 1980’s almost all businesses and homes were relocated to safer ground. Today, St. Feriole Island is mostly parkland, as well as the prominent historical home Villa Louis, which is a Wisconsin Historic Site …

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#1: Trail of Presidents On Arbor Day a few years ago, oak trees were planted in an area just east of Villa Louis on the island. The grove consists of about two dozen trees and is called The Trail of Presidents … each tree is dedicated to a U.S. President who has either lived in Prairie du Chien or visited.

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Washington Didn’t Sleep Here But Lincoln Did

Two non U.S. presidents are also honored, and there’s a historical plaque mounted at the foot of each tree telling the President’s connection with Prairie du Chien …

A clever idea to blend history and nature, and well worth seeing!




#2: Prairie du Chien Farmers Market – The Prairie du Chien Farmers Market is held on Saturday mornings in Lucky Park, just a block east of downtown as you head over to the island. The market itself isn’t large, but it’s inviting … the day we visited, live music was taking place and the selection of produce and local products was enticing …

Insider Tip: See if Moonshadows LLC is there selling their Habanero Salsa. If they are, buy a jar or two and thank us later. We spread it over some toasted garlic bread with slices of Wisconsin smoked sausage on top … ohhhh yeah!

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Valley Fish & Cheese

#3: Valley Fish & Cheese People come from miles around to shop here, and after sampling the smoked fish, we know why! Owner Mike Valley uses 100% hickory wood to smoke such delicacies as white perch, sturgeon, catfish, lake trout, and many more. In addition to smoked fish, there’s an excellent selection of Wisconsin cheese available, along with jerky and various sausages. Prairie du Chien Insider Tip: Get the crab dip if it’s available, get a box of Triscuits, and have yourself a picnic on the riverfront on St. Feriole Island like we did. A wonderful early dinner!




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Sawmill Saloon, Downtown Prairie du Chien

#4: Sawmill Saloon A candidate for oldest bar in Prairie du Chien, the Sawmill Saloon has been under the same ownership since the late 1970’s. Our affable bartender shared some of the bar’s history as we enjoyed Spotted Cow on tap … there’s been a tavern at this location since not long after Prohibition.

Comfortable and the ideal Saturday afternoon “take a break from shopping” spot, the Sawmill Saloon livens up later in the evening and is one of downtown Prairie du Chien’s go to night spots. We love the old saloon atmosphere, the long wooden bar, and all the friendly locals …

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Shopping In Downtown Prairie du Chien

#5: Planted Tree Gallery – This downtown gallery, gift store, and home decor outlet is located just steps away from Sawmill Saloon and Pete’s Hamburgers. Planted Tree Gallery and Gifts features local art, jewelry, artisan crafts, prints, and more …

The Gallery accepts consignments from local artists and you’ll see the works of some of Prairie du Chien’s most accomplished artists here. The store is warm and inviting and every item is one of a kind …

Stop in to see their appealing selection of home decor when you visit Praire du Chien …

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Combination Liquor & Outdoors Store

#6: Stark’s Sport Shop – This unique spot on Blackhawk in the heart of downtown is part liquor store and part sportsmans store … seems like it might not fit together but Stark’s makes it work!

Here you’ll find a wide array of local beer and wine, including Wisconsin and Iowa wines. Stark’s is proud of their pricing and will meet or beat any advertised price in town …

If you’ve got a taste for something good, cold, and from Wisconsin to go, stop in at Stark’s …

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Pete’s Hamburgers Since 1909

#7: Pete’s Hamburgers – The ultimate must do in Prairie du Chien. This humble hamburger stand has been serving burgers, and only burgers, here at this spot since 1909. It’s open only during the warm weather months and during those times, on weekends. You’ll know you’ve found Pete’s when you see the line (don’t worry, it moves fast). Burgers come with onions or without onions and you can get chips and a can of pop to go with if you wish.

Light appetites order one burger at Pete’s … everyone else, two or three. The bakery fresh buttery hamburger bun is almost as good as the burger itself (almost!). It’s true what they say, you haven’t been to Prairie du Chien if you haven’t been to Pete’s …




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There’s Always A Bargain Waiting For You Here

#8: Bargain Boutique – A resale type shop (think Goodwill) right downtown on Blackhawk, the Bargain Boutique is a place where people donate their no longer used household items, clothes, and other items so they can be re-sold at rock bottom prices to those less fortunate, or those looking for a great deal. All proceeds go to help those less fortunate in the community … the Bargain Boutique is also home to the town’s food pantry …

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Have A Cold One At Jim’s Bar

#9: The Oldest Bar In Prairie du Chien – Jim’s Bar Well, it wouldn’t be a Midwest River Cities travelogue without stopping in at the oldest bar in town, and in Prairie du Chien, that place is Jim’s.

Busy from open to close, this is one of several friendly watering holes in the downtown area. While we visited on a Saturday afternoon, a wedding party stopped in, along with a pub crawl, along with trades workers, couples, and visitors like ourselves. There’s a surprisingly eclectic selection of beer on tap and plenty of room around the big semi circular bar …

Jim’s dates back to 1934 and according to the Prairie du Chien Chamber, takes the title of oldest bar in town … long time patrons in the bar agree with that determination too!

Jim’s not only has a long history, but their history is sprinkled with perseverance. The place burned down, and was rebuilt, twice in its first two decades of existence and they remain one of the favorite local haunts in Prairie du Chien …

We loved it at Jim’s and we bet you will too … stop in!




#10: Who Doesn’t Love A Good Bakery? Local Oven – Right in between Jim’s and Bob’s is this friendly combination bakery / lunch / ice cream stop, The Local Oven. A popular spot for those strolling about the downtown area for a scoop of fresh ice cream, the Local Oven is also the place to buy your fresh bakery. Donuts, long johns, pastry, cakes, specialty breads … they’ve got it all!

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Bob’s Bar: A Prairie du Chien Mainstay

#11: Bob’s Bar – Another great, historic local bar, Bob’s dates back “only” to 1959. Come on in, take a seat at the long bar, and enjoy a cold one or two and some great local conversation …

You can’t miss Bob’s on Blackhawk Avenue … it’s a few doors down from Jim’s and right next door to Local Oven …

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Try The Natural Casing Wieners

#12: Mississippi Meats – We love checking out local fresh meat outlets and this new shop two blocks past the intersection of Blackhawk and Marquette Road has been doing steady business. They’ve got a deli with interesting salads, like the cheesy pasta salad we bought to take along on our picnic …

Want fresh or smoked brats? You’ll find them here, along with some special blend natural casing wieners, which are nothing short of fantastic!

Mississippi Meats also carries a wide selection of frozen meat and fish, along with a selection of grocery items for one stop shopping …




Visit Prairie du Chien

Frazier’s Old Faithful Inn, Prairie du Chien

#13: Frazier’s Old Faithful Inn – Here’s a place that’s a fun party no matter when you stop in. A block plus up from Bob’s on Illinois Street, Frazier’s Old Faithful Inn looks like an old road house or railway tavern from the outside. Inside, it’s friendly locals and cold Wisconsin beer (and we were told some top notch pizzas).

This may be the oldest bar in town … the owner’s girl friend shared a history scrapbook with us that details some of Frazier’s history. Whether it is or not, this is the definition of friendly local bar and it’s been a mainstay for a long time …

Just steps away from Frazier’s front entrance are freight railroad tracks, and when a train rolls by you can literally feel the vibration inside the bar. In fact, the proximity is so close that as the old saying goes “If you’re drinkin’ you better be thinkin”!”

We stayed about an hour and during that time, three different groups came in, each celebrating a different event. If you can’t have a good time at Frazier’s, you probably can’t have a good time!

Visit Prairie du Chien

#14: Shihata’s Orchard – This sprawling apple orchard is located about a mile and half north of town and about three miles east. When you turn on Limery Road off of Marquette Road from downtown (Route 35), you’ll be traveling several hundred feet up a ridge.

The orchard is at the top and it’s a few degrees cooler up here and there’s plenty of air circulation, which is perfect for apple trees.

Of course the star of the show is the apples, which you can pick in season, but our Prairie du Chien Insider Tip is twofold … apple bread and apple cider donuts! They’re both baked fresh daily when the orchard is open (mid August through Fall) and all we can say is “wow” …




#15: The Broken Ladder This new addition to downtown Prairie du Chien is located on the north side of Blackhawk very near Stark’s. The Broken Ladder features all sorts of unique items, many of which have been refurbished into home decor pieces …

This appealing little store is the perfect stop for anyone searching for a special rustic one of kind item that’ll look just perfect in your home – the inventory is continually changing so you’ll always find something attractive, creative, and calling your name …

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Buy Cheese Curds at Quality Beverages

#16: Quality Beverages – This beverage mega store is located south of downtown on Route 18. A one stop shopping experience for any kind of adult beverage you’re craving, it’s also a great place to pick up Wisconsin cheese and fresh cheese curds …

A Wisconsin specialty, cheese curds are small irregularly shaped pieces of cheese most often served as a snack or on an appetizer platter. Their distinguishing characteristic is the “squeak” they make when you’re eating them, caused by the air pockets within the curd …

Quality Beverages receives regular shipments of fresh local cheese curds – they pair wonderfully well with local beer or wine!

#17: Prairie du Chien Welcome Center – Always our first stop when crossing into a new state, this Welcome Center is just over the Route 17 bridge from Iowa on your right hand side before entering town …

Here you’ll find the usual helpful array of guides, brochures, and maps for not only Prairie du Chien, but also the rest of the state. The center is capably staffed with guest representatives who can help with any questions or point the way to your destination.

Also the home of the Prairie du Chien Chamber of Commerce, this is an excellent stop to get your bearings and deal with the necessities (washrooms, drinking fountain, etc.) …




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Pikes Peak State Park

#18: Pikes Peak State Park – This Iowa state park is located a few miles south of the Route 18 bridge into Iowa from Wisconsin and about 10 miles north of Guttenberg …

The park is named after explorer and U.S. Army General Zebulon Pike, for whom the famous Pikes Peak in Colorado is also named. Pikes Peak State Park is perched above the highest bluff along the Mississippi River, and it’s a must see. Originally, we hadn’t planned to visit due to time constraints, but were encouraged to do so by the Prairie du Chien Chamber staff …

Why can see why so many people love this park … the view is one a kind. From the top of the bluff, you can clearly see the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, as well as Prairie du Chien a few miles up river …




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#19: Effigy Mounds National Monument – One of over 400 units administered by the National Park Service, this National Monument is located just over the bridge from Prairie du Chien and about two miles north. An exceptionally scenic area, you’ll drive along a winding road to the entrance with a freight train track on the roadside …

Effigy Mounds National Monument showcases ancient Native American earthen mounds, often built / shaped in the form of native wildlife, like bears, eagles, and more. They’re most commonly found in this part of the country, and there’s a high concentration of these mounds here on the grounds …

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Walking / Hiking Trails Abound

There are also several walkable trails within the grounds, built on suspended boardwalk platforms to allow you to see the natural beauty but not disturb it. The site is boasts a diverse array of eco systems, from low lying marshes to rocky outcroppings to high, towering bluffs.

We’ve now made it a point to visit any unit of the National Park Service whenever we’re in close proximity. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Effigy Mounds National Monument when you visit Prarie du Chien …

#20: Wyalusing State Park This sprawling Wisconsin state park is located six miles south of downtown Prairie du Chien along both the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. It’s an ideal spot for bird watching,as migratory birds flock here during the migration seasons. Hiking and camping opportunities abound, and the winding terrain offers several outstanding views …

Wyalusing State Park offers very close proximity to the spot where the Wisconsin River empties into the Mississippi. If you’re a boater, there are ample boat launches and access points for both rivers …

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Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin

While you’re in the park, be sure to stop at the Carrier Pigeon Monument. These birds, now extinct, flocked here by the thousands a hundred years ago and prior. They were hunted to extinction and the monument pays tribute to the species and chides the shortsightedness of man …




Summary and Thank You

We are so glad to have had the opportunity to visit Prairie du Chien. It’s a breeze to navigate, chock full of history, and offers welcoming establishments and warm, friendly people …

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Prairie du Chien’s Historic Downtown

Easy to reach from anywhere in the Midwest, Prairie du Chien is the a perfect example of an attractive river town. The scenery in the area is spectacular, with two expansive state parks and Effigy Mounds National Monument close at hand …

From here, you’re less than an hour away from prominent river cities like LaCrosse and Dubuque. Gems like Guttenberg and Cassville are even closer and combined, make for a relaxing long weekend excursion …

We’re looking forward to our next visit to Prairie du Chien to further explore old favorites and add to this list …

Special thanks for helping us with planning and suggestions for our visit to Brenda Ready of the Prairie du Chien Chamber of Commerce. Thank you Brenda!




Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out all the travelogues at MidwestRiverCities.com …

Jim & Laura Hofman

    5 Comments

  1. Did you not visit the Fort Crawford Museum? Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis were stationed at the Fort. This is where Black Hawk surrendered at the end of the Black Hawk War. During the Civil War it was part of hospital that cared for Wisconsin and Minnesota soldiers. Lots of info about the Mississippi River – clamming, boating, the railroad, and so much more. We constantly receive comment that this is the best small museum on the upper Mississippi.

    • Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. We had 24 hours in town and as such, couldn’t get to everything there in Prairie du Chien. We’re working with the Chamber on a return visit and plan to visit / document a lot more in Prairie du Chien, including the museum. Thanks for reading!

  2. Next time you come this way be sure to see the Mississippi River Sculpture Park on ST. Feriole Island just next to Villa Louis. I’ll be happy to give you personal tour. Just let me know when you will be coming.

    • Thank you Florence … We had plans to spend more time on St. Feriole Island to see the Sculpture Park and gardens, but the weather wasn’t cooperative. Next time for sure!

  3. A visit to The Cannery is a must before leaving…very unique gift and decor items. But Prairie is loaded with history that should not be missed!

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