Rustic Roads crisscross Wisconsin for scenic autumn drives

rustic1When asked to recommend a scenic Wisconsin drive for USA Today a few years ago, I deliberately veered away from the Mississippi River’s Great River Road and other grand but obvious choices.

I favored a five-mile stretch of dirt and gravel that sashays around little lakes and post-glacier forestation, north of Rib Lake in Taylor County. Visitors come to drive the remote hills and dales, stop for a swim at South Harper Lake during warmer weather or hike nine miles north (on Timm’s Hill National Trail) to the state’s highest natural point (1,951 feet above sea level) in Price County.

This quiet little stretch of paradise 40 years ago was designated Rustic Road 1, and at that time the route was among the first in the nation to gain protection because of its remote, scenic nature. It is west of Highway 102, between county roads C and D.

Roads in this program are in outstanding natural areas, showcasing rugged terrain to agricultural vistas that are unique. These are truly the roads less traveled, local access routes, and the maximum speed is 45 mph. They pass scenic prairies and farmland, skirt bodies of water and cut near historic ethnic settlements.

For now, 117 country roads are part of Wisconsin’s Rustic Roads Program. They are roughly 2 to 37 miles long, involve 59 counties and total 669 miles. Brown and gold signage marks the way, and these roads begin with an “R” to distinguish them from other rural thoroughfares.

Newest are R-116 in St. Croix County and R-117 in Waushara County, both approved almost one year ago. R-116 is 2.2 miles of 140th Avenue, between County A and 120th Street, and somewhat follows Ten Mile Creek near Boardman. R-117 is 1.8 miles, between 26th Road and County A, in a wildlife-rich area with access to Covered Bridge Park, near Saxeville.

The nomination of a new rustic road begins by circulating a petition of support and requires local government approval before the Rustic Roads Board considers the application. Go to wisconsindot.gov and search “rustic roads” for details.

Autumn is an excellent time to explore Wisconsin by auto, bike or foot because of the beauty of changing leaf colors. The state tourism department adds an extra enticement, the “Road to Fall Fun” scavenger hunt, a series of challenges with rewards. The five-week contest ends Oct. 18 and moves north to south and involves county parks and forests.

Look for clues at TravelWisconsin.com on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday until that week’s prize is found. Participants must be at least 18 years old to claim a prize; winners will be announced on the department’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

The project “encourages people to get outside and enjoy Wisconsin’s beautiful fall color season,” says Stephanie Klett, tourism secretary. The first hunt had a hiking-themed prize package, and the second was a biking theme.

Oct. 1-4 clues lead to a prize package that includes a kayak and paddles. The Oct. 8-11 winner gets a rod and reel, filled tackle box and Northwoods excursion with a fishing guide.

The final set of clues, Oct. 15-18, comes with a Packers-themed prize that includes two game tickets, an introduction to wide receiver Jordy Nelson and autographed team memorabilia.

Do you or someone you know deserve a peaceful, refined getaway? Tell me why in no more than 75 words for a chance to win a two-night stay at The Goldmoor Inn and Resort, bed and breakfast lodging on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and five miles from historic Galena, Ill.

Estimated value is $700 for two nights in a fireplace suite with king-sized bed and whirlpool bath for two, plus a chef-prepared breakfast. The getaway goes to the person who is the subject of the top essay.

The Goldmoor offers 18 cottage, cabin and suite accommodations on 21 acres. It is a former country estate that is under the new ownership of natives of Germany who have decades of intercontinental hospitality experience. goldmoor.com, 815-777-3925

The winning mini essay will be well written, compelling and credible, as determined by an independent panel of judges. Submissions of more than 75 words (we’re counting) are disqualified, but that doesn’t include your name, city and contact information. The deadline is Oct. 9; write “goldmoor getaway” in the email subject line (to info@roadstraveled.com) or my snail-mail address (PO Box 259623, Madison, WI 53725).