Visit Perrot State Park in Wisconsin
At the center of Perrot State Park, Trempealeau Mountain is much more mound-like than mountainous.
Five other mounds in the park are taller and are more aptly dubbed bluffs.
Mountain or not, the steep-sided, 425-foot-tall formation is a landmark along the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin, the centerpiece in a picturesque park with an intriguing natural and human history.
To the Sioux, it was Pah-hah-dak, mountain separated by water. The Ho-Chunk called it Hay-nee-ah-chah, soaking mountain. French fur traders dubbed it la montagne qui trempe a l’eau — the mountain in the water. The French name stuck as Trempealeau, which today is also the name for the adjacent river and nearby town.
Traces of the area’s first human inhabitants remain in effigy mounds scattered throughout the park. Many have been destroyed over the past 7,000 years by the elements and humans, but some remain on the mountain and the mainland along the river.
American Indians used the mountain as a landmark for navigating, as Europeans would also do later.
In the fall of 1685, Nicolas Perrot led a group of French fur traders from Green Bay down the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers to the Mississippi. From there, the group turned north and paddled canoes up the Mississippi. But fall was quickly turning into winter, so they built a fort at the base of Trempealeau Mountain to spend the winter. In the spring, the group continued upriver and built Fort St. Antoine on Lake Pepin. Another French fort would be built at Perrot’s winter campsite in 1732. Traces of this fort were discovered when a railroad company did excavations in the area in the 1880s.
In 1918, Winona, Minn., resident and Trempealeau County native John A. Latsch donated the land to Wisconsin to turn into a park, with the stipulation it be named for Perrot. Today the park sees more than 390,000 visitors every year.
They come for sweeping views of the mountain and rivers from the top of 520-foot Brady’s Bluff and 507-foot Perrot Ridge.
More than 12 miles of hiking trails wind through the property; hikers can thank the Civilian Conservation Corps for many of those, including the steep, half-mile climb up the west side of Brady’s Bluff. The trail on the bluff’s southeast side offers more gentle switchbacks plus near-constant views of the Mississippi River.
In addition to boasting the best views in the park, Brady’s Bluff is home to a rare dry bluff prairie landscape. At the top, a shelter constructed by the CCC offers a spot for a shaded break.
For a hike closer to the river, the 2.5-mile Riverview Trail travels the length of the park along the Mississippi and Trempealeau rivers.
Located along the Mississippi River flyway, the park is a prime spot for bird watching. More than 200 species have been spotted here — look for warblers, vireos, and hawks. Tundra swans are among the earliest migrants in spring and have been spotted in the hundreds on their journey to their summer home near the Arctic Circle.
A boat launch on Trempealeau Bay provides access to the Mississippi River and its sloughs. The park office has an adaptive kayak available for use.
In the winter, nine miles of trail are groomed for cross-country skiing. Hiking and snowshoeing are permitted on ungroomed trails.
The park’s 102-site campground is heavily wooded, with the most-coveted sites offering views of Trempealeau Bay and its mountain. Site 44 is one of the best along the bay.
While you’re there: A trail spur from the campground leads to the 24-mile Great River State Trail, a crushed limestone path that traces the Mississippi River from the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge to La Crosse. The trail boasts 20 bridges, including a 287-foot trestle beauty over the Black River.
In La Crosse, a short road route connects it with the La Crosse River State Trail, which heads east to link up with the Elroy-Sparta Trail. That rail-trail route links with the 400 Trail in Elroy to create a superb network of 100 miles of off-road bike trails.
The Historic Trempealeau Hotel was one of the few buildings in Trempealeau to survive a devastating fire in 1888. Today the hotel and restaurant serves up its famous walnut burgers with views of the Mississippi River.
Just north of the park, Elmaro Vineyard’s patio overlooking its vineyards is a picturesque spot for sampling the winery’s offerings.
In Fountain City, The Monarch Public House serves up Irish and pub fare plus beer made with a recipe dating back to 1856.
Getting there: Perrot State Park, W26247 Sullivan Road, Trempealeau, is about 220 miles west of Milwaukee via I-94, I-90 and Highway 35.