While camping in Northeast Iowa, we crossed the mighty Mississippi River to check out Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin. And we’re so glad we did!
Wyalusing is a beautiful 2600-acre park nestled on a bluff 500 feet over the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers! And it’s the perfect spot to take in the panoramic views and explore the outdoors. So, whether you camp, hike, bike, paddle, or picnic, there are many ways to experience nature at this great park.
It’s located just south of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. And it’s not far from many Northeast Iowa destinations, like Effigy Mounds National Monument and Pikes Peak State Park.
About Wyalusing State Park
Wyalusing is one of the first Wisconsin state parks, established in 1917. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was instrumental in building park structures like roads, trails, and shelters.
At first, the park got named Nelson Dewey State Park, after the first governor of Wisconsin. But the name changed in 1937 to Wyalusing. Wyalusing means “home of the honorable warrior,” a phrase that pays homage to the Native American cultures that once inhabited the area. (Nelson Dewey State Park is now a state park 30 minutes south of Wyalusing near Cassville, WI.)
Native American peoples lived there for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. And the park is home to several Native American burial mounds from the Woodland culture.
Things to do in Wyalusing State Park
Wyalusing has 109 campsites at two campgrounds: Wisconsin Ridge Campground and Homestead Campground. Wisconsin Ridge Campground is on the park’s north side on a ridge above the Wisconsin River. And the Homestead Campground is in the center of the park, near the Visitor Center.
A couple of group camp options are also available. First, a large group camp area is near the Wisconsin Ridge campground. Also, there’s the Hugh Harper Indoor Group Camp for organized groups; it has a lodge with dorm rooms and many modern amenities.
Over 14 miles of scenic hiking trails wind through the park. So whether you want a leisurely stroll through the prairie, a scenic bluff trail, or a more challenging rocky climb, there’s something for you! Some routes even lead to small waterfalls and caves.
A couple of the park trails are suitable for mountain biking too! The Mississippi Ridge Trail and Whitetail Meadows Trail/Walnut Springs Trail allow mountain bikes.
If a scenic picnic is what you’re after, Wyalusing has what you want! There are several picnic areas and five open-air shelters throughout the park. And, if you’re planning a group picnic, the picnic shelters are reservable.
Play baseball, tennis, basketball, or volleyball in the park! The courts and ball field are near the Old Wagon Road Trail and Wisconsin Ridge Campground.
A boat ramp at the river backwaters is on the park’s western edge (at the end of Long Valley Road). Another boat ramp on the Mississippi is just south of the park at Wyalusing Recreation Area.
Kayak or canoe the Mississippi River backwaters
A six-mile canoe trail starts at the park’s boat landing and goes through the backwaters of the Mississippi. There are blue and white canoe signs to help you navigate the route, and there’s a map on the Wisconsin DNR website. Also, the park concessions rent canoes and kayaks during peak season.
Fish in the backwaters of the Mississippi & Wisconsin Rivers! Anglers often catch Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Walleye, among others. Find a fishing pier at the park’s boat landing (at the end of Long Valley Road).
Hunting is allowed in the park in areas away from the central park features. See the hunting map for details. All hunting is subject to State of Wisconsin hunting rules, regulations, and season dates. Also, see the Wisconsin State Park hunting information.
Winter activities at Wyalusing State Park
Winter is a great time to visit the park! The good news is, it’s open all year long.
Head to the Astronomy Center parking area to access the cross-country ski trails. Whitetail Meadows, Turkey Hollow, and Prairie Trails are usually groomed for skiing. Whitetail Meadows Trail is recommended for beginners.
Snowshoeing is a fantastic way to experience the park in the winter! Snowshoe to the frozen waterfalls on Sand Cave trail, or explore the other routes. But be sure to avoid walking on groomed cross-country trails.
Our favorite things at Wyalusing State Park
Wisconsin Ridge Campground
We were most impressed by the camping options at the park! We were camping on the Iowa side of the river when we visited. But we would love to return to Wyalusing to camp at the Wisconsin Ridge Campground. It’s got a nice concession area, and the views from some of the campsites are spectacular! But, from what we understand, it’s a very (very!) popular campground, so we recommend making reservations well in advance.
Did we mention the views? Even if you don’t snag a campsite on the ridge, you can hike along the bluffs for amazing views from the overlooks!
The hiking trails
There’s a nice variety of trails throughout the park to see some great points of interest. There’s much to explore: river views, caves, waterfalls, woodlands, and prairie too.
Things to do near Wyalusing State Park
This area of Iowa/Wisconsin is a playground for nature lovers! Not only is it beautiful and unique, but there are so many outdoor activities—fishing, camping, hiking, biking, and water trails. Below are a few of the many places to consider seeing while you’re there!
Prairie du Chien is a few short miles north of the park and a great stop when you’re in the area. Stop for supplies at Walmart and get a bite to eat at a restaurant like Huckleberry’s. Or tour the Villa Louis Historic Site or the Fort Crawford Museum – just to name a few options.
McGregor and Marquette are historic Iowa river towns not far from the park. They’re known for their scenic views, historic buildings, quaint shops, and eateries. Also, find places to stay, a casino, and a winery!
Effigy Mounds National Monument is on the Iowa side, 16 miles from the park (north of Marquette, Iowa). While there, check out the visitor center, trails, and ranger programs. Also, learn the history of local Native American tribes and see animal-shaped burial mounds!
As the crow flies, it’s only 2 miles from Wyalusing State Park to Pikes Peak State Park in Iowa (across the river). Unfortunately, we can’t fly, so it’s an 18-mile drive. But it’s worth it to get the Iowa perspective on a 500-foot-tall bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and then hike to a waterfall!
Nelson Dewey State Park is a small Wisconsin State Park 30 minutes south of Wyalusing along the Mississippi River. It features short hiking trails, camping, and picnic areas.
If you’re looking for another great escape to nature, check out the Yellow River State Forest. Yellow River is about 40 minutes northwest of the park. Find 40+(!) miles of multi-use trails, primitive campsites, trout fishing, kayaking, and more!
Visit Wyalusing State Park Today!
Wisconsin State Parks require admission fees. Since we are Iowa residents with out-of-state plates, we paid $11 for a day pass.
Wyalusing State Park is at 13081 State Park Ln, Bagley, WI 53801