In the heart of the Driftless Area, Viroqua is a crunchy little town with great food, a raft of charming rentals and some of the Midwest’s best fly-fishing.
Scenic sunrise over foggy landscape in Viroqua
Viroqua at sunrise
| Credit: Kathryn Gamble

In southwest Wisconsin (2 hours west of Madison), green pastures bunch up into an earthen blanket that Ice Age glaciers forgot to iron flat. Red barns, clear trout streams and spotted Holsteins nestle in the grassy wrinkles. This pastoral landscape, known as the Driftless Area, stirs up nostalgic feelings even if you've never cast a line or risen before dawn to bring the herd in for milking. Amish farms dot the landscape, but the town of Viroqua (population: 4,000 or so) has a granola-fueled outdoorsy streak—a cultural mash-up you'll see on display at the farmers market in summer and fall.

Downtown Viroqua
Downtown Viroqua
| Credit: Kathryn Gamble

What to Do

Fly-fishing is a big lure (see what we did there?), with hundreds of local streams. (Be sure to secure a Wisconsin fishing license.) Options for local guide services include some specifically focused on making the sport more inviting to women and girls. Whether you're going it alone or working with their guides, the Driftless Angler fly shop is an excellent place to get information about local streams and trout's seasonal diet preferences.

If you'd rather keep your feet dry, check out Wildcat Mountain State Park, about 30 miles northeast of Viroqua. The 2.5-mile Old Settler's Trail has narrow pathways and hair-raising drop-offs that snake through tall pines and around boulders the size of spaceships.

Driftless Books and Music
Driftless Books & Music
| Credit: Kathryn Gamble

There are a few shops to browse in town, including one of the state's largest used bookstores—Driftless Books and Music. Open seasonally, it fills an old tobacco warehouse, with sections for every imaginable micro topic (Scandinavian lit, organic farming, facial hair) as well as books by, for and about women.

Noble Rind cheese shop in Viroqua, Wisconsin
Server holds fish dish at Driftless Cafe
Wonderstate Coffee in Viroqua, Wisconsin
Left: Noble Rind | Credit: Kathryn Gamble
Center: Driftless Cafe | Credit: Kathryn Gamble
Right: Wonderstate Coffee | Credit: Kathryn Gamble

Where to Eat

At Wonderstate Coffee, whose nearby roastery is solar-powered, fuel up on seasonal drinks and wader-busting breakfast sandwiches in a 1940s Mobil gas station. Wearing its ethics proudly on its sleeve, Wonderstate is a leader in fair treatment of farmers and donates 5 percent of its profits to community initiatives.

For lunch or a snack, sample local farmstead cheeses on a board at Noble Rind Cheese Company (where the phone number spells BRIE). Or cobble together a locavore picnic from the excellent Viroqua Food Co+op, which is so much more than just a grocery store. Magpie Gelato is a sweet score for ice cream or crepes.

For a meal that celebrates the bounty of Vernon County and its hundreds of organic farms, reserve a table at The Driftless Cafe, where the evening menu changes daily, tracking the seasons and the chef's mood. (Lunch is excellent here, too, and a bit more casual.) Co-owner Luke Zahm hosts Wisconsin Foodie on PBS, and if you're lucky, the options may include trout.

Honey Barn VRBO in Viroqua, WI
Honey Barn
| Credit: Kathryn Gamble

Where to Stay

Bucolic vacation rentals abound in the Driftless. Poke around on Airbnb and Vrbo, and you'll find comfortable homes walking distance from trout streams, HGTV-ready cottages with butcher-block countertops, and apartments in town (including one above the Driftless Angler fly shop).