Books transport us to faraway fantasies and magical lands. They can also serve as travel guides to their settings. Here, 14 spring trips inspired by books, movies, and music.
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Adrift Among Giants
The Driftless Area of Wisconsin is tailor-made for meandering, provided you don’t mind a lot of ups and downs. To get an idea for the region, read David Rhodes’s beautiful novel, Driftless. As he explains in the book: “The last of the Pleistocene glaciers did not trample through this area, and the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand, and silt—called drift—are missing. Hence its name, the Driftless Region. Singularly unrefined, it endured in its hilly, primitive form untouched by the shaping hands of those cold giants.” Rhodes’s fictional town of Words is tiny yet full of the drama, humor, and pathos of contemporary rural life. The real-life villages of the region aren’t much different. One wonders if the residents have stories as interesting as their fictional counterparts, but regardless, the drama is there in the landscape. Because of its singular geology, the region is loaded with trout streams, bike trails, hilly hikes, and picturesque dairy farms.
Where to go
Make the charming town of Viroqua your base. It’s just about impossible to get lost, but if you ask for directions you’ll wind up in a little chat. The friendly folks may remind you of the characters in Rhodes’s book: organic farmers, artists, shopkeepers, and the nice Norwegian lady at the dairy co-op. The Amish sell produce and handmade wares at roadside stands, making the entire area a farmers’ market in summer. Folk bands from the Twin Cities often play here, and the surrounding hills are full of Minnesota expatriates. You’ll be reluctant to leave but can return anytime by reading Rhodes’s new novel, Jewelweed, out in May from Milkweed Editions and featuring some of the characters you’ve met in Driftless.
Driftless and Jewelweed by David Rhodes
Wildcat Mountain State Park technically has neither wildcats nor mountains, but it does have incredible vistas over the rolling hills and deep hollows (dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/wildcat). As long as you’ve come this far, you may want to drive a little farther east to Spring Green and take the Loving Frank tour at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate (5607 County Rd. C, taliesinpreservation.org). Read Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, a fictionalized version of his scandalous relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, which only ended when she was murdered.
Enjoy local flavors at Driftless Café (118 W. Court St., Viroqua; driftlesscafe.com).
The Farmer's Inn in Viroqua (7830 Anderson Rd. E., thefarmersinn.net). Owners Gary and Jean Bekkedal rent out a cabin on their farm, where they have Jersey dairy cows, calves you can sometimes feed from a bottle, sheep, chickens, some beautiful draft horses, and, if you’re real nice, a trout stream they’ll tell you about. A few miles from Viroqua are two equally charming Victorian B&Bs to choose from, the Roth House (102 Pine St., Soldiers Grove; therothhouse.com) and the Old Oak Inn (500 Church St., Soldiers Grove; theoldoakinn.net).
LAKE WOBEGON TRAIL
Discover the land that inspired Garrison Keillor on the Lake Wobegon Trail, cutting through Stearns County (lakewobegontrail.com). The 46-mile trail parallels I-94 from St. Joseph to Osakis along a paved former-railroad line—above-average biking.
➻ Where to go
Hit the trail just west of St. John’s University. Get some fish fry and rhubarb pie at Fisher’s Club, a supper club Keillor's invested in (425 W. Stratford St., Avon; fishersclub.com). In Freeport, the trailhead starts across from Charlie’s Café (115 E. Main St., charliescafe.com).
➻ Where to stay
The historic Palmer House Hotel, the model for Sinclair Lewis’s Minniemashie House in Main Street (500 Sinclair Lewis Ave., Sauk Centre, thepalmerhousehotel.com).
Sarah Stonich’s Vacationland, out this month, is set in Naledi Lodge, a fictional north-woods resort on its last knotty-pine legs. Stonich spent plenty of summers around such mom-and-pop places, as chronicled in her 2011 memoir, Shelter.
➻ Where to go
In Ely, hit Cobweb Antiques (138 E. Chapman St.)—Stonich’s grandmother lived in the annex next door. Have burgers at Stony Ridge Resort (60 W. Lakeview Pl., stonyridgeresort.com), then hike to the point at Semer Park or down to the DNR’s float-plane corrals, where vintage deHavilland Beavers are cared for like flying thoroughbreds.
➻ Where to stay
Camp Van Vac, a string of shore-hugging cottages erected in 1917 (2714 Van Vac Ln., campvanvac.com).