Pepin County Attractions
Pepin County, though Wisconsin's second smallest county, is one of the state's most colorful and historic vacation destinations! Pepin County is bordered by and named for Lake Pepin, a 28-mile long, 3-mile wide spectacularly beautiful and tranquil body of water formed where the delta of the Chippewa River flows into the mighty Mississippi,
Nestled in the hills along the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers, Pepin County features fabulous scenery and a wide variety of year 'round recreational and leisure time activities. The steep hills and deep valleys have a quiet, wild beauty that has inspired artists and writers for more than a century, including Mark Twain and William Cullen Bryant, a late 19th century visitor, who wrote, Lake Pepin ... "ought to be visited in the summer by every poet and painter in the land." The Rochester Post-Bulletin praised the county's charm, editorializing that "Pepin and Stockholm, tucked between the bluffs and river are blessed with one of the more scenic settings in the Midwest. And ... they are relatively untouched by the kind of crass commercial development that turns charm into a curse." The New York Times travel editor wrote of Pepin County, "This back county has an untouched quality, as if is dreaming of early pioneer days, when the wilderness came down to the edge of the fields."
The furbearing animals that first attracted the French settlers remain abundant throughout Pepin County. More than 50,000 acres of public hunting lands are available within fifteen miles of Durand, the county seat. Remote river bottoms, rugged bluffs and hillsides present a tough challenge to the most experienced hunter. For deer and duck, Pepin County is one of the state's best; turkey and grouse are plentiful. Rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, muskrat, beaver, and fox are also abundant. Even black bear can be found here.
Fish are also abundant in Pepin County. The fast-moving Chippewa River, and the quiet, but deep, Lake Pepin are habitat to more than a dozen species of' large and small game fish including northern pike, walleye, small and large mouth bass, panfish, trout, and catfish. Local outfitters provide tackle and bait, boats, motors and up-to-date information about fishing conditions.
Pepin County is the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the setting for "Little House In The Big Woods", the first of her internationally acclaimed chronicles of growing up in young America. The people of Pepin County remember and pay tribute to their most famous daughter with a reconstruction of the log house Charles "Pa" Ingalls built here in 1863 and where Laura was born in 1867. Her life is remembered also at the Pepin Historical Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum; and at the annual "Laura Ingalls Wilder Days" festival where "Little House" fans from around the world gather on the second full weekend in September to visit her birthplace and share their enjoyment of her work.
The area's historic past is also remembered and preserved in vintage buildings rising from the river to the bluffs of picturesque frontier river towns. Museums and 19th century bed and breakfast inns, railroad depots and commercial buildings, on the sites of 17th century fur-trading posts, capture the feel of the historic past. There are also historic frontier day re-enactments, great riverboats with steam calliopes a'whistling their arrival and departure, Old World churches built by 19th century immigrants, 100 year-old round barns, horse-powered transportation, 19th century farming practices, lantern-lighted windows, traditional dress and customs of the county's Amish communities.
Pepin County's wildflowers are as numerous and diverse as the County's varied physical characteristics. Amateur nature lovers and naturalists who explore the area's uplands and lowlands, open prairies and deep, wooded ravines, sharp bluffs and river bottom habitats delight in discovering yellow ladyslipper, trillium, showy orchids, maidenhair fern, pasque flower, blazing star, blue-eyed grass and hundreds of other varieties of spectacular, delicate, and rare species of wildflowers and the equally delicate, unusual and rare beetles and butterflies attracted to them.
Outdoor enthusiasts are offered many different recreational opportunities in Pepin County, including cycling the rolling hills, forests and prairies, hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and skiing through fairytale gorges, across open prairies, along rushing streams under leafy canopies, through magnificent hardwood forests, and around towering bluffs. The county's inland lakes, rivers and streams provide miles and miles of canoeing and kayaking trails, from lazily drifting, easy paddling beginners' routes to the more challenging, rushing waters of the Chippewa River. Lake Pepin invites sailors, power boaters and floatboat captains as well as kayakers, sailboarders and canoeists to join the eagles and egrets on its waters; and swimmers are never far from refreshing waters anywhere in the county.
Pepin County's art galleries, antique shops, specialty gift and collectible boutiques delight browsers and reward serious treasure hunters with unexpected "finds" from Native American artifacts to contemporary gifts and artworks. Several Amish communities invite backcountry travelers to browse and sample their handmade furniture, quilts, and handicrafts.
When it comes to dining, "Pepin County has a personality all its own including ... culinary experiences that rival big cities" the Milwaukee Journal once informed its readers. Pepin County's restaurants, bars, cafes, delis, coffee houses, bed and breakfast inns, dining rooms and fast food outlets feature a wide range of foods served in a variety of settings. Diners can choose from fine Italian, Norwegian, Continental, Classic American and Frontier Style Cuisine served in historic 19th Century settings, river front dining rooms, authentic Old World cafes and excursion boats. For casual meals, area fast food outlets, coffee houses, taverns and bars offer carry-out or eat-in pub burgers and fries, Mexican specialties, made-to-order sandwiches, pastries hot from the oven and desserts to tempt the most discerning palate.
Pepin County travelers also enjoy a broad range of lodging accommodations, including semi-wilderness campsites in the Tiffany Wildlife Area, full service RV Resort campgrounds, housekeeping resort cottages, luxurious 19th century bed and breakfast inns, a 19th century hotel, and contemporary, full service and economy hotels and motels.
For unspoiled natural beauty, one of the most scenic areas you will ever discover, come and enjoy Pepin County!
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Mississippi River, Onalaska
With more than three million people annually who come to fish, boat, hike, birdwatch, hunt, sightsee or just relax, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is one of the country's largest and most visited refuges! Established in 1924, the 200,000-acre, 260-mile-long Upper Mississippi refuge features more than 265 bird species, 57 species of mammals, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 100 species of fish. No wonder this refuge is a nature-lovers wonderland! Special attractions along the La Crosse county shore of the river include boat and canoe rentals, the Long Lake and Goose Island canoe trails, with observation points at major pull-offs denoted by interpretive refuge signs. Displays of refuge wildlife are found at the US Fish and Wildlife Service visitors center, located at 555 Lester Ave. in Onalaska. Open Monday - Friday 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Tiffany Wildlife Area
Ten thousand years ago, rushing melted waters from the Wisconsin Glacier created the fertile Chippewa River Valley and the delta that now makes up the State of Wisconsin's Tiffany Wildlife Area. Its 13,000 acres include one of the largest stands of bottomland hardwood forests in the state and offers excellent whitetail deer and waterfowl hunting, wildlife viewing and semi-wilderness canoeing, hiking and camping.
Laura Ingalls Wilder/Pepin Historical Museum
State Highway 35, Pepin
This museum features artifacts from Pepin's past as well as items relating to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the late 1800's pioneer life captured in her charming auto-biographical novels. The Museum also contains a gift shop well-stocked with memorabilia of the era and Pepin's illustrious daughter. Attendants are on duty from 10:00 am. to 5:00 pm. daily from May 15 through October 15. For information on celebrating "Laura Ingalls Wilder Days" the second full weekend in September, visit lauradays.org.
Visitors will also find extremely interesting historic buildings in the Village of Pepin; the Pepin Village Hall and Library Building at 2nd and Pine Streets; and, the Old Masonic Building at 2nd and Main Streets.
Little House Wayside
Cty Hwy CC, Seven miles north of Pepin
The birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder is commemorated by a reconstruction of the log cabin Charles "Pa" Ingalls built here in 1864 -- the "Little House In The Big Woods" -- in which Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 and later memorialized in her internationally acclaimed books on pioneer life.
Courthouse Museum and Jail
Standing in Durand, the current county seat, is the Old County Courthouse and Jail. Listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, the restored 19th building no longer serves as the seat of county government, and the jail and sheriff's quarters no longer house prisoners; but visitors can enjoy viewing the century-old keep and other historical exhibits on display in this National Register treasure.
In addition to the Old Courthouse and Free Library Buildings, visitors to Durand will also find a number of 19th and early twentieth century buildings and historic places including the Old Depot Building at 4th Ave. West and Wells St.; The George Tarrant House at 7th Ave. East and Madison St.; St. John's Lutheran Church at 3rd Ave. East and Montgomery St.; an Old Log Cabin in Tarrant Park; the First Schoolhouse Building at 510 1st Ave. East, the River Hills Community Church at 1st Ave. and Prospect St.; and, Dorwin's Mill on Dorwin Road in the Town of Durand.
Spring Street, Stockholm
On Spring Street in the Village of Stockholm, which lies along the Mississippi River north of Pepin, visitors will find a number of historic sites, 19th and early 20th century buildings including the Stockholm Institute and Old Post Office Museum, a Harness Shop, the Merchants Hotel Building, a General Store, the Opera House, a Blacksmith Shop, The Youngquist-Peterson Building and the Bruchman Hotel Building. These vintage buildings now house a museum, antique shops, art galleries, specialty shops, cafes and more.
Historic Pepin County
Throughout the county, visitors will find historic markers and buildings including two historic churches at Lund, Sabylund Lutheran Church on Cty. Hwy. J and Mission Covenant Church on Cty. Hwy. CC; Little Plum Schoolhouse on Cty. Hwy. N three miles southwest on Ella; and, three fascinating ghost towns including Shoofly (now called Ella) on Cty. Hwy. N; Porcupine on Cty. Hwys. SS and D; and Tarrant at Cty. Hwys. A and B.
Maiden Rock Bluff
Great River Rd., North of Stockholm
Although the Village of Maiden Rock lies just across the Pepin County line, the mythical Maiden Rock Bluff and its State Historical Society Marker stand firmly within Pepin County. Legend holds that the Dakota maiden, Winona, heartbroken at her father's refusal to allow her to marry the man she loved, threw herself from the edge of the bluff, which rises four hundred feet above Lake Pepin.
Across Lake Pepin in a northwesterly direction from Maiden Bluff is Point-No Point, an optical illusion more readily seen (than unseen) while traveling on the river itself. Mark Twain described the phenomenon in his 1870's articles "Old Times on the Mississippi". Twain recalled focusing his eyes on a sharp wooded point several miles upstream and then watching it " ... melt away and fold back into the bank."
Fort St. Antoine
Great River Rd., South of Stockholm
A mile or two downriver from Stockholm, on a gently-sloped terrace with a commanding view of the Great River, 300 years ago, Nicholas Perrot took possession of all lands west of the Great Lakes "no matter how remote" in the name of Louis XIV of France. For the next century, the French dominated mining, trapping and trading in the upper Mississippi River Valley. Legend has it that Perrot's principal fort and trading post, Fort St. Antoine stood on this site. Artifacts discovered during recent archeological investigations verify French presence here during the 1700's.
Pepin County has a number of Amish settlements. Their black buggies and horses can be seen on county roads throughout the year. Their homes, farms, and farming methods are much as they have been for generations. Relying only on horsepower, windpower and other natural energy sources, 19th century agricultural practices, and centuries-old traditional wisdom, the Amish families produce a bountiful variety of goods and agricultural products. Signs posted along county roads invite passersby to homesteads where Amish families display and sell the fruit of their labors; dairy products and baked goods, candy and leather crafts, toys, quilts, bentwood furniture, whirly-gigs and more.
From the late 1800's until the 1930's, round barns were the choice of most progressive farmers. Built with the silo and hay chute in the center for more efficient distribution of food and forage to the surrounding animals, round barns saved labor and conserved energy. These barns were usually covered with red tiles, sheet metal and wood boards soaked in local creeks to render them pliable. With the arrival of electricity, round barns were replaced by rectangular structures, which provided the straight lines required for piping for electric milkers and gutters for mechanical barn cleaners.
Eau Galle River Dam
Cty. Hwy D, Eau Galle
The Eau Galle River flows through the heart of Pepin County before it empties into the Chippewa. Up river and just north of the Pepin County line, the Eau Galle River Dam is very much worth viewing.
Pepin County Road Tour
Travel from historic site to historic site over hills and prairies, across lazy streams and rushing rivers, through forest and farmland and see the 150 year-old Witness Tree, Little Plum Schoolhouse and Little Plum Lutheran Church, Round Barns and Waterfalls. See Amish farmers working their fields with teams of horses, Ghost Towns and living history museums. Thrill to the flight of egrets and eagles, be observed by whitetail deer peeking through the trees, observe the cattle shyly peeking from their pastures, enjoy the quiet beauty of this spectacular county surrounding you as you travel the county's roads and highways. For road tour maps and information contact area merchants or Pepin County Economic Development, P.O. Box 39, Durand, WI 54736.
Great River Road Loop
Wis. Hwy 35, Minn. Hwy 61
Follow the Great River Road, which runs along both sides of the Mississippi, on Wis. Hwy 35 from Pepin to north of Bay City, across the Mississippi to Red Wing, Minnesota, south from Red Wing on Minn Hwy. 61 to Wabasha, across the Mississippi to Nelson and north on Wis. Hwy. 35 back to Pepin. The entire loop is about 65 miles long. The view will last a lifetime.