This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight.
Scenic drives on winding roads through undeveloped country, farm settings, and fall foliage are all part of Wisconsin’s Rustic Roads program.
“There are 120 rustic roads, and the network is growing,” said Liat Bonneville, Rustic Roads coordinator.
The program was created by the state Legislature in 1973 to encourage hikers, bicyclists and motorists to visit the state’s scenic countryside. Today, the Rustic Roads program includes 724 miles of roads in 59 counties.
According to the Rustic Roads guide booklet, each of those roads was selected for its beauty and natural features such as “rugged terrain, native vegetation and wildlife or open areas with agricultural vistas that make the road unique. The road should be a lightly traveled, public access road.”
Although there are no specific restrictions placed on a road, “when a Rustic Road is designated, a community commits to doing what can to preserve the rustic character of the road,” Bonneville said.
The Wisconsin Rustic Roads guide booklet which explains the location of and information about each Rustic Road is available in print form from the Rustic Roads program at the contact information above or online at https://wisconsindot.gov/Documents/travel/road/rustic-roads/guide.pdf. The guide also includes a Rustic Roads Locator Map and a checklist so travelers can mark each Rustic Road they visit.
The Rustic Roads offer a variety of scenery and road surfaces. For example, Rustic Road 92 south of River Falls is an asphalt road winding through a heavily forested landscape. Rustic Road 13 has a different feel as it runs along the western edge of Willow River State Park so the eastern side of the road is state park and the western side is private land and homes. Rustic Road 51 between Stockholm and Maiden Rock begins as a two-lane gravel road, then turns into a single-lane gravel road which crosses two single-lane bridges before plunging through three streams that flow across the road.
Rustic Roads are identified with brown and yellow signs that show the direction of the road and often identify the number of the road with the letter R such as R-51 or R-13, so they won’t be confused with highway numbers.
Driving the Rustic Roads has become popular and is “very much a fall activity,” Bonneville said. “Fall is the prime time.”
If you go...
Name: Wisconsin Rustic Roads
Address: Wisconsin Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 7913, Madison, Wis.
Hours: Open daily