This post is part of a series on The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip, our 10-month, 15,000-mile tour of the top pet friendly attraction in each of the lower 48 states.
Growing up in Wisconsin gave me a deep appreciation for the diversity of this great state. From the majestic Mississippi River bluffs, to idyllic Door County, to the rugged shore of Lake Michigan, choosing one pet friendly attraction from Wisconsin’s wealth of options was no easy task!
Ultimately we decided on a place that offered a medley of some of the best Wisconsin has to offer, Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,400-acre preserve where rivers meet rolling prairie, and rich wetlands support a breathtaking variety of wildlife.
The original 707-acre refuge was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. For years, efforts were made to expand the refuge, but offers to purchase additional land were refused. Years passes with the Mississippi flooding the refuge with the spring melt, and turning the backwaters into mudflats during droughts – cycles necessary for plants to thrive in a river habitat.
In 1975, Dairyland Power Cooperative acquired a large property adjacent to the refuge to construct a rail loop near their power generating plant in Alma, Wisconsin. To complete their project, they’d need to pass through part of the established refuge, so a land exchange was organized with Dairyland transferring nearly 5,000 acres that became part of the refuge.
Construction of the railroad levy (the brown line at the top of the model photographed above) separated the refuge from the Mississippi River, giving plants like burr-reed, bulrush, sago pondweed, and wild celery the perfect slow-moving water habitat they needed to flourish. About 40% of all waterfowl and shorebirds in North America migrate along the Mississippi Flyway, and the refuge is their version of a “bed and breakfast.”
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge is located about 35 miles northwest of La Crosse, Wisconsin, on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River. The drive here gives you the opportunity to enjoy part of the The Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway that follows the course of this mighty river for 3,000 miles through 10 states.
Pets at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge
Pets are welcome to enjoy the park grounds and trails with you, as long as they are on leash and cleaned up after.
Pet Rules at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge
- Pets must be leashed
- Pet waste must be picked up and disposed of properly
- Pets are not allowed inside park buildings, including the visitor center
Visitors Center and Observation Deck
Once you’ve arrived, we recommend starting at the visitors center, which is open from 7:30am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday. Here you can get an overview of the park, pick up trail maps, and get a self-guided tour booklet for the Prairie’s Edge Tour Loop. From here it’s a short walk down to the observation deck, where spotting scopes provide up-close-and-personal views of wildlife in the area. Your next stop will depend on what interests you most, because there’s more to do here than you can cover in a day!
Prairie’s Edge Loop
Buster was ready to stretch his legs, so we decided to walk part of the Prairie’s Edge Loop Road. This two-track gravel course is open to vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians, and provides fantastic views of the marshes, woodlands, and prairie that share this unique landscape. Of course, this is a wildlife refuge, so the boys were also keeping their eyes pealed for critters!
It was news to me that prairies once covered 10% of southern Wisconsin! And to discover that this restored prairie grows over sand dunes formed from deposits left by the Trempealeau River was another surprise. When the river changed routes, the grit left behind blew into these rolling dunes, which were eventually overtaken by prairie grass and oak trees, reminding us of a similar landscape we saw during our visit to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore earlier this year.
Kiep’s Island Dike
From the Loop Road, you can take the Woods and Prairie View trails, and meander out the Pine Creek Dike, but be sure you leave time to walk Kiep’s Island Dike. Follow signs to the boat launch and park in the lot for this incredible experience. Depending on the time of year of your visit, you’ll see different species of birds. We saw bald eagles, osprey, egrets, a heron, ducks, and lots of songbirds, but the most surprising were the pelicans!
They dike was built to allow water levels in the refuge to be controlled, to simulate the rise and fall cycles of the Mississippi. The beginning of this walk is through a wooded area, and that’s where we got our first indications that something special was about to happen. As we passed beneath the canopy, dead branches started falling around us – birds large enough to knock these brittle boughs from the trees were taking flight! When the sky opened up, a pair of bald eagles were tumbling toward earth in an aerial wrestling match. And then we saw the magnificent American White Pelicans – among North America’s largest birds – floating regally past with their heads held high.
Unfortunately, my camera isn’t set up to capture these shots. These photos are the best I could get, so you’ll have to go see it yourself!
If you’re serious about getting some shots of the waterfowl, watch for the new photographer’s blind installed earlier this year by the North American Nature Photography Association. With 10 viewing portals, you’re sure to get some great photos!
The weather was iffy for the adoption event and meet up in La Crosse with Coulee Region Humane Society, but it all worked out for the best. Our host was the brand new Dahl Subaru dealership, and they set us up in Celebration Bay – how appropriate! Plus, the dogs were able to play outside in the spiffy new dog park Dahl designed as part of their facility.
Coulee Region Humane was greeted by a line of people waiting to meet the dogs up for adoption, and by the end of the day all six dogs had found their forever homes. It was a spectacular day for Dahl, the Humane Society, and us … but mostly for the dogs!
Visiting these attractions with Ty and Buster is a dream come true. We’ll be blogging about each one as we go along, so fasten your seatbelt and stay tuned!
The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip wouldn’t be possible without the support of our wonderful sponsors: Winnebago, 2 Hounds Design, Alcott, goDog®, PetGuide.com, Red Roof Inns, Sleepypod, The Bark, PetHub, RVPetSafety.com, and The Honest Kitchen. Please be sure to visit their websites and social media pages and thank them for their participation!