The byway meanders through 10 states for almost 3,000 miles and includes about 250 miles in Wisconsin, where small towns and farms nourish visitors in sometimes surprising ways.
Sinsinawa – Heavenly loaves of bread, crescent rolls, caramel rolls and one-pound cinnamon rolls are specialties at Sinsinawa Mound, 585 Hwy. Z, a community of Dominican women who live on 450 hilly acres. Order ahead or choose from whatever is baked while traveling, and save time to walk the outdoor and indoor labyrinths. 608-748-4411, sinsinawa.org
Potosi – Beer cheese soup (with smoked gouda and a malt ale) is on the menu at the restaurant of Potosi Brewing Company, 209 S. Main St., which also is home to the National Brewery Museum and Great River Road Interpretive Center. The annual Potosi Brewfest, Aug. 24, brings in additional small-batch beer producers. 608-763-4002, potosibrewery.com
Beetown – Load up on fresh curds at the outlet store for Schurman’s Wisconsin Cheese Country, 7786 Hwy. U East, nine miles northeast of Cassville. Cheddars, especially the extra-sharp versions, are a specialty. 608-794-2422, schurmanscheese.com
Prairie du Chien – The menu is simple at Pete’s Hamburger Stand, 118 W. Blackhawk Ave.: burgers, $3.50; chips, $1.25 per bag. Expect grilled onions but no cheese or other fancy fixings. The little box of food stand, a three-generation family business that began in 1909, is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. peteshamburgers.com
Westby – About 20 mile from the riverfront but worth the drive are cottage cheeses and yogurts from the century-old Westby Cooperative Creamery, 401 S. Main St., and specialty butters from Nordic Creamery, whose farmstead shop also sells small-batch cheeses and ice cream made with milk from the Norwegian farm. westbycreamery.com; 608-634-3183; nordiccreamery.com. 608-634-3199
Onalaska – Fainting goats are part of the welcoming committee at Rainbow Ridge Farms, N5732 Hauser Rd., a bed and breakfast where guests can choose whether to help with daily chores. The farmers are two women who raise the goats, sheep, llamas, donkeys and various fowl. Arrive with the kids or ask for the “honeymoon special,” which includes chocolate-covered berries and a bottle of bubbly or wine. 888-347-2594, rainbowridgefarms.com
Trempealeau – Walnut burgers at the Trempealeau Hotel, 11332 Main St., are so popular that grocers carry frozen four-packs. The meatless sandwich was created in 1986; the oldtime hotel and saloon are 115 years older. Most of the hotel’s eight simple rooms, under $50 per night, have a river view. Outdoor concerts and volleyball are not unusual. 608-534-6898, trempealeauhotel.com
Alma – For a widespread, blufftop view of the river, check out the patio at Danzinger Vineyards, S2015 Grapeview Lane, whose 15 acres of grapes are made into award-winning, sweet wines. Mississippi Mist, a white, was tops at the 2012 Wisconsin State Fair. 608-685-6000, greatriverroadwinetrail.org
Nelson – Dessert first: Lines often stretch way outside the door of Nelson Cheese Factory, S237 Hwy. 35, because of the demand for ice cream in the factory’s specialty food store. Six hilly and winding miles east of the waterfront is The Stone Barn, a seasonal and farmstead pizzeria with wood-fired oven that is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Diners take a seat amid the salvaged ruins of an 1896 barn, in pretty Norwegian Valley. A converted grainary is an antique store. 715-673-4725, nelsoncheese.com; 715-673-4478, nelsonstonebarn.com
Pepin – Check the chalkboard behind the bar for specials of the day at Harbor View Cafe, 314 First St. The setting is casual and cozy, but the menu changes twice daily and leans toward fine dining: braised lamb, coq a vin and several species of fish (none are served deep-fried). The lazy river is within eyeshot. 715-442-3893, harborviewpepin.com
Stockholm – This little town is a hot pocket for pie lovers. For dessert: Creamy peanut butter fudge is a specialty at The Stockholm Pie Company, N2030 Spring St., which also serves savory pies. Until late November, Tuesday is Pizza Night at A to Z Produce, N2956 Anker Lane, a farm whose brick oven quickly bakes pies made with locally grown ingredients. Bring a chair or blanket and expect to a long wait to eat during summer months. 715-442-5505, thestockholmpiecompany.com; atozproduceandbakery.com
Hager City – The Food Network years ago sniffed out Harbor Bar and its jerk chicken, grilled on open flames and sometimes served by Jamaicans who fly up for seasonal work here. So the laid-back Caribbean vibe feels authentic on this little island, right across the river from Red Wing, Minn., at N673 825th St. Some customers arrive by boat. Bands play classic rock all day on June 29, then blues on July 6. 715-792-2417, harborbar.net
Prescott – Order Three Way Walleye (baked, sauteed or breaded and fried) as blues and reggae groups play indoors and out at the riverside Muddy Waters Bar and Grill, 231 N. Broad St. What a confluence: From the multi-leveled deck are views of where the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers meet. 715-262-5999, muddywatersbarandgrill.biz
For more about the Great River Road: experiencemississippiriver.com. Geocaching sites mark the road’s 75th anniversary.
For more about the Wisconsin segment of the byway: wigrr.com, 800-658-9424. Download a free audio tour.