A secret paradise in Southwest Wisconsin
No matter what your particular interest, there's something waiting for you in this very special place. Come visit the Kickapoo River Valley.
Whether you are a canoeist, a trout fisherman, a birder, a botanist, or just someone who appreciates stunning natural and rural beauty, traveling the Kickapoo River, its feeder streams, and its surrounding valleys is a special experience. At 125 miles, the Kickapoo is the longest tributary of the Wisconsin River, meandering from the town of Wilton at its source to Wauzeka, where it joins the Wisconsin.
Rising some 350 feet above the river are the Ocooch Mountains, named for a small band of Indians called the Ocoche who once made these hills home. The “mountains” are really a region of forested hills, lush valleys, and sandstone cliffs that stretch beyond the Kickapoo River watershed roughly from Spring Green on the east to Viroqua on the west. You won’t find the Ocooch Mountains on a Wisconsin map, but that’s immaterial. What you will find is that nearly every deep valley has a pristine, cool stream running through it, most often filled with prolific brown trout and sometimes with native brook trout. A true fisherman’s paradise.
The Cashton area is known for its large Amish community. Amish furniture, quilts, crafts, and candies can be purchased directly from the makers (remember, no Sunday sales), or at local shops featuring Amish goods. A little farther to the west is a village that unabashedly celebrates its Scandinavian heritage. Westby’s spring Syttende Mai festival is a true Norwegian folk fest, and its winter highlight is the Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament, which attracts international competitors.
A trip down the Kickapoo can be accomplished by canoe by automobile along State Highway 131, or by biking (pedal or motorized). Beginning at Wilton, the river is slightly more than a stream. This small picturesque farming community marks the center of the Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail, and provides shops, restaurants, and two campgrounds. At Ontario, the river has carved out vertical sandstone cliffs covered with mosses, ferns, hemlocks, and wildflowers, even some rare and endangered species. Ontario is a popular spot to launch a canoe, your own or one rented from a local livery. Here, on a steep ridge overlooking the valley, you will find the 3,600-acre Wildcat Mountain State Park, which offers 25 miles of hiking, riding and cross-country ski trails with spectacular views. Well-equipped camp sites for families, groups, and equestrians are available.