Road Trip/Wildflowers in bluff country
On two sides of the Mississippi, see thousands of lovely blooms in one day.
© Beth Gauper
Spring beauties are one of the first ephemerals to appear in shady forests.
In May, the shady forests and sunny hillsides of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin erupt into blooms.
The varied terrain of bluff country provides the region's best and widest array of wildflowers, all within a 50-mile radius. Here's a road trip on which you can see them all.
Start in Carley State Park, four miles south of Plainview, Minn., to see masses of Virginia bluebells. Then drive east to the woodland canopies of Whitewater State Park, where you'll find the full array of ephemerals: trout lilies, spring beauties (pictured), hepatica, bloodroot, false rue anemone, bellwort, marsh marigolds and Dutchman's breeches.
From Whitewater, drive southeast to Mound Prairie, a state natural area between Houston and
Hokah, just north of the Root River.
On this dry goat prairie, you'll find wood betony, blue-eyed grass, prairie smoke and hoary puccoon (watch for rattlesnakes; they like full sun, too).
Head east on Minnesota 16, Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway, to La Crescent and catch the start of Apple Blossom Drive, a 17-mile Minnesota scenic byway with nearly continual panoramas of the river valley.
Take County Road 29 and 1 north to Nodine, 12 across I-90, and 3 to Great River Bluffs State Park, which also has goat prairies and spectacular river views from hiking trails. Continue on 3 down to U.S. 61 and follow the river north.
Cross the Mississippi at Winona and head south again on Wisconsin 35, quickly turning off at Marshland for Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
Continue to Perrot State Park, where you should find a lovely array of spring ephemerals, including thousands of jeweled shooting stars.
Get back onto Wisconsin 35 and head north to Lake Pepin. North of Stockholm, turn right onto County Road AA. That leads to the 4½-mile Rustic Road 51, a narrow dirt road lined by perhaps the region's most varied display of spring wildflowers.