The small town of Alma, WI is a great stop along the Great River Road – an iconic roadtrip road in the middle of the USA. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Minnesota, winding through America’s heartland and is Wisconsin’s first scenic byway. Alma is situated below Twelve Mill Bluff which was originally named and used by riverboat captains navigating the Mississippi River. The bluff is visible from the mouth of the Chippewa River, twelve miles to the north. The area was settled by Swiss, German, Norwegian and other nationalities starting in 1848. It officially became a village in 1868. The bluffs limited Alma to two blocks wide and seven miles long. The two streets at the base of the bluffs were named Main Street and Second Street with a number of short streets connecting them, several of which are merely staircases that can only be navigated by foot! The first industry in Alma was a brewery, followed by cigar factories and lumber. The town currently is focused on small businesses supporting tourism and the local residents located in buildings that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, many of which date back to the mid-1800’s. The trains wiz by at all hours day and night, blowing their whistles and shaking the buildings. Here are a few highlights from our recent visit where we only touched on everything there is to do in this area. Definitely a place where we will return!
Pier 4 Café
The Pier 4 Café and Smokehouse is a little hole-in-the-wall that serves great breakfast and lunch on the Mississippi River. They are only open until 2pm March through November, so plan ahead and don’t miss out! The menu offers traditional café fair along with their local specialties including their brisket and pulled pork that is a must have. They use their own rubs, that you can also purchase. The portions are generous and the service is 2nd to none. They have some beer and wine choices as well as sodas. We enjoyed both lunch and breakfast. Highly recommend!
Lock and Dam #4 & Railroad Bridge
Lock & Dam #4 is part of the Mississippi River navigation system and was placed in operation in May, 1935 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lock is 110 feet wide by 600 feet long. You can watch boats and barges make their way through the lock from a public observation platform which is open from dawn to dusk from April to November. You can also get an excellent viewing perspective from the Railroad Bridge over the railroad tracks that run alongside. The metal bridge offers a unique experience as trains rumble below at 60 mile an hour speeds!
Buena Vista City Park
Buena Vista Park is located 500 feet above Alma on the Twelve Mile Bluff and overlooks the Mississippi River. It’s views extend several miles to the north, west, and south, offering not-to-be-missed scenery. It is handicapped accessible and offers picnic tables, grills, and a playground. The restroom is a pit toilet. It was oppressively smelly when we visited, so you may want to be sure to use facilities in town before you get here. If you’re in the area, this is a must see!
Danzinger Vineyards is owned and operated by a local farm family and is situated above Alma atop the bluffs. It was started in 2003 and has grown into more than 8,000 plants on 18 acres with some of the most beautiful scenery and views you will find in the Mississippi River Valley. They offer free wine tastings and reasonable prices on glasses and bottles of wonderful, local grape and fruit wine. The have an outdoor and indoor venue and offer beer and food for sale. We enjoyed tasting whites, reds, and fruit wines and then ventured outdoors to experience the view, even with the cloudy, rainy weather. Definitely check out this 2013 Wisconsin Grape Growers Association Winery of the Year when on the Great River Road!
Blue Door Inn
The Blue Door Inn is located in one of Alma’s earliest historic buildings. The house, which was built by the Tritsch Brothers of Baden, Germany, is actually three buildings. The original building was a one-room stone house built into the hillside in 1853. The next connected two-story building was a blacksmith shop with a home above and was built in 1857. Finally, the connecting 2 ½ story brick building, built in 1875, was a hardware store with a home above. There were several remodels and renovations over the years, with the final restoration, which involved exposing the original stone and brick walls and wood floors, was started in 2008 and has many kitchen and bath updates. The historic building is divided into several Suites that can be combined to accommodate larger groups or more space. Staying here includes a continental breakfast. There were four of us staying overnight, so we reserved the Upper Apartment with Suite 4 which included the original stone building and a well-furnished sitting room and kitchen. Definitely a lovely place to stay!
Bill’s Talk of the Town
Bill’s Talk of the Town is a locally owned pub with Chicago style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, and cold beer, wine, and liquor. The owner, the staff, and the patrons were friendly and inviting. Hailing from Chicago, Bill has plenty of Chicago paraphernalia as well as Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers as decorations. He even sports a signed Brett Favre Packer jersey on the wall. Several big screen televisions offer a great place to watch the game with fresh, hot popcorn to tide you over. A great place to pop in while you’re in town.
Alma Hotel Restaurant and Bar
The Alma Hotel Restaurant and Bar is located in the historic Alma Hotel building. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as ice cream and drinks. We enjoyed the Broasted Chicken special and were not disappointed. The young waiter was friendly and welcoming. The food was great.
Red Ram Saloon
After dinner, we stopped for a drink at the Red Ram Saloon. No one was at the bar and the bartender was on the phone smoking a cigarette outside. The bar included a pool table and several televisions. The décor was eclectic. We enjoyed a cold beverage and then headed out. Nothing too special, but nothing to complain about either.
Wings Over Alma
Wings Over Alma Nature & Art Center is a multi-purpose, non-profit organization staffed by volunteers. It overlooks the Mississippi River and offers spotting scopes and binoculars inside or outdoors on the deck. The center hosts the Alma Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, displays artwork from local artists, and offers various items and souvenirs for sale. Definitely worth a stop when you’re in town.
As always, thanks for reading!
Kristi – aka The Trippy Tripster!