Gone are the weeks and weekends of summer that lend themselves to longer travel destinations. Here now are weekends sandwiched between the weeks of school and preschool. Today I highlight three fall day trip destinations that are within easy driving times of Madison. You could easily make any of the trips into an overnight destination as well. As soon as Mother Nature peppers the forests with fall colors, any day trip will be more beautiful. Happy traveling!
Mineral Point sometimes feels like a time-forgotten town. It’s wonderfully preserved historic buildings house artists, galleries, and unique shops. It makes it a great day trip with your family or with a group of friends (did you read that? Moms day out???). Some of the artists both work and display in their workshops-cum-galleries, so it is interesting to see their artistic process. Families and individuals from the Cornwall area in England settled in the Mineral Point Area (Iowa County area) in the 1840s. Cornish history and traditions are celebrated each year during the 24th Annual Cornish Festival (September 23-25). Sites to see include the Pendarvis Historical Site where period-costumed guides help you to understand why the Cornish settled this area. Mineral Point is also home to the Mineral Point Depot Museum where railway enthusiasts can tour a pre-civil war depot and see model trail layouts and railroad memorabilia. Kids and adults alike will enjoy visiting High Street Sweets. Top on my list of restaurants to visit on my next trip are Popolo Pizzeria (traditional wood-fired, hand-tossed NY style pizza) and The Red Rooster Café (Cornish specialties). Nestled in the rolling hills of south central Wisconsin, Mineral Point is a 50 minute drive from the west side of Madison via Hwy 18/151.
A day trip to Rockford, IL, is all about the kids and exploring both the Burpee Museum of Natural History and the Discovery Center Museum. The Burpee Museum of Natural History features Homer and Jane (dinosaurs), fossils, and other information about the Natural History of our world. Exhibits also feature the Ordovician Sea (hey, what covered North American millions of years ago?), Carboniferous Coal Forest, and a Paleo Viewing Lab (visitors can see objects being prepared for exhibit). The Discovery Center Museum is a hands-on Science Museum where families can explore exhibits including the Science of Sports, the Body Shop, the Tot Spot (for toddlers!), Simple Machines, and Wild Weather. Plan to bring a picnic lunch since there is a nice lunch room in the Discovery Center Museum. Both museums are part of the Riverfront Museum Park complex in Rockford. This complex also houses the Rockford Art Museum. Rockford is an easy 1 ½ hour drive via I-90.
Dubuque, IA, lies just across the Mississippi River from the tip of far southwestern Wisconsin. If you wait to go to Dubuque in mid-to-late September or early October, the bluffs and hills around the Mississippi will dazzle with vibrant fall colors. To experience a family fun trip to Dubuque, you’ll need to put the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium on the list. Here you’ll find a Main Channel Aquarium that features the fish and other creatures typically found in the Main Channel of the Mighty Mississippi along with aquariums and habitat displays focusing on the Mississippi Delta, the Bayou, Flooded Bottomland Forests that border the river, and the Marsh more. A playful otter habitat is sure to delight kids and adults alike. Having grown up along another stretch of the Mississippi River, I think a must see experience is heading to a Lock & Dam to watch boats (hopefully a large barge) lock through to traverse the river. The best lookout over Lock & Dam #11 in Dubuque is Eagle Point Park. You can see Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois from the park. The park also features several play areas for your kids to explore. If you’d like to see a lot of Dubuque without hiking up and down the sometimes steep hills that line the river, jump on the FREE Jule’s Summer Trolley (May – October) to visit many popular Dubuque sites including Eagle Point Park. Another unique and inexpensive Dubuque attraction is Fenelon Place Elevator Company. Ride a funicular (incline railway) up the steep side of a hill to an overlook of Dubuque, the river, and beyond. If you have time, a visit to the Mississippi River is not complete without a trip ON the Mississippi. The SPIRIT of Dubuque is a replica dual paddle wheeler that sails daily through October. A select number of October’s cruises on the SPIRIT of Dubuque are fall color cruises narrated by the captain. Dubuque is an approximately 1 hr and 45 minute trip from Madison down Hwy 151.