Heart of the Driftless: Viroqua

By Megan Roessler

Wisconsin’s Driftless Area is truly unique. Here, steep, rugged hills are punctuated by cold, clear trout streams that run through valleys left behind as glacial drifts flattened the rest of the state 31,500 years ago. Hidden among these hills is Viroqua: a tiny town with a population of just 4,500. Despite its size, Viroqua has charisma, culture and cuisine all its own and has the makings of a perfect weekend getaway.

Start your day with a fuel up at the flagship location of Kickapoo Coffee. A garage-style door opens the café to picnic table seating outside. Next, a stroll down Main Street, which has small-town charm in spades, offers something for everyone. Anglers can stop by the Driftless Angler, which serves as an outlet for fly-fishing clothing, gear and more.

Knitters can delight in hand-dyed wools and knitting supplies at Ewetopia Fiber Shop. Bookworms can sate their intellectual appetite at Driftless Books and Music, a bookstore with a truly vast collection that specializes in rare and antique finds. A trip to the indoor Viroqua Public Market to browse arts, crafts and foodstuffs will round out the afternoon, and a stop at Wisco Pop! to sip a soda made from local, organic ingredients makes for the perfect afternoon treat.

For dinner, hit up the home base of Luke Zahm—who you may recognize from his freshman season hosting “Wisconsin Foodie”—in an understated storefront on Viroqua’s Main Street. There, The Driftless Café humbly serves lunch, dinner, pizza and brunch made from the finest local organic meats and vegetables. (Be sure to check out the Instagram-worthy mural of a trout outside.) Rest up at the quaint Coulee Cabins, a short jaunt up Highway 14, to enjoy an authentic log cabin experience or stay at the historic Viroqua Heritage Inn to be close to the quiet, comforting hum of downtown.

Viroqua’s sophisticated creative flair and beautiful scenery help it to truly live up to its nickname: “The Heart of the Driftless.” An organic oasis and artist’s dream, this town offers the ultimate weekender’s escape.


For those who are looking to amble around the Driftless region’s landscapes, there are plenty of outdoor sights and activities. Three Chimneys and Monument Rock are spectacular examples of the region’s unique geology—both are remnants of a long-gone undersea mountain range and tower above visitors. Nearby Duck Egg County Forest is perfect for a quick scenic hike, and offers both pedestrian and horse trails that weave through a lush Midwestern ecosystem.

The cold water trout streams of the Driftless region make it a world-renowned destination to go out casting, especially for colorful brook trout.

A sport that requires patience, focus and a careful hand, fly fishing in these streams is the perfect way to spend a meditative afternoon outside. Feeling trepidation about heading out? Athena & Artemis Women’s Fly Shop, a sister shop housed in the same storefront as the Driftless Angler, looks to create a bigger space for women in the world of fly fishing.


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