The Village of Gays Mills lies in a valley among the steeply chiseled bluffs of the region known as the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin. The area’s unique topography is the result of escaping the land-flattening glaciers of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago, thereby earning the “Driftless” designation. Gays Mills also sits along the banks of the Kickapoo River which winds its way through the valley and gives the land its ambiance and appeal. The river also carried the area’s first explorers and inhabitants.
Residents of Gays Mills, located in Kickapoo Valley in southwest Wisconsin, have planted and harvested apples for a century. Early experience prompted the Wisconsin State Horticulture Society to urge a project of “trial orchards” around the state to interest growers in commercial production. The society examined a site on High Ridge and planted five acres with five recommended varieties. Area orchards produce apples nationally known for their color and flavor. Today, the small town boasts more than 1,000 acres of apple orchards, as well as berry and mushroom farms and hiking, hunting and cross-country skiing locales.
The population of the tiny town (600 residents) of Gays Mills, Wisconsin, multiplies many times over for the Apple Festival, which annually attracts more than 20,000 attendees. Visitors and townsfolk enjoy many activities, including a parade that runs down Main Street to Riverside Park. This food festival offers attendees not only plenty of chances to eat, but also road races to burn off those newly ingested calories. This event usually opens with two- and five-mile runs through town, as well as a two-mile noncompetitive walk.
On a steep ridge overlooking the scenic Kickapoo River Valley, Wildcat Mountain State Park offers hiking trails with spectacular views and camping for families, groups, and horseback riders. Canoe the Kickapoo River in your own canoe or rent one in Ontario. The upper Kickapoo forms towering canyons as it cuts through Wildcat Mountain and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, an 8,569-acre tract of public land located between La Farge and Ontario that was originally purchased as part of a dam and flood control project.