By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 13, 2024 at 9:01 AM

Although I sometimes enjoy a road trip, what really makes a vacation for me, in general, are two things: no keys and no driving.

But my long weekend spent exploring western Wisconsin in an RV Great Lakes Mercedes Benz Winnebago Vita proved a really enjoyable exception to this informal rule.

At KinstoneX

When you’ve got what amounts to a pretty darn nice hotel room at your back, driving ain’t bad at all.

And while there can be a lot to think about when out RV-ing – electric and water hookups, emptying tanks, remembering you’re driving something that’s likely a lot taller, wider and heavier than your car, making sure everything is secured when you’re moving, etc. – RV Great Lakes makes everything a snap.

That’s because owners Carolina and Erik make everything super easy.

They’ll pick you up or deliver the RV to you, they’re available by phone/text 24 hours a day and not only does their website have quick, thorough and easy how-to videos, they also do a training and a road test to get you comfortable with driving the vehicle before you hit the road.

I reserved the RV for four days and after realizing the timeline was a little tight and the departure date a little early in the season for the Apostle Islands, I plotted a trip centered around exploring the Great River Road along the Mississippi River, bringing a friend along to share the fun, and the driving.

Mississippi River
Mississippi River at Nelson Dewey State Park.

Before leaving, we watched the videos on the RV Great Lakes site and then spent a couple hours that first morning doing a hands-on training with Carolina and Erik.

Anything that might have still seemed mysterious or confusing was quickly demystified. And after a 20-minute drive around town, we felt comfortable enough to head out.

Driving straight to Platteville, we hit the Wisconsin outpost of Dubuque’s 7 Hills Brewing for lunch. The brisket burgers here are pretty great, especially the Yellowstone with smoked pork, fried pickle chips, beer cheese and Carolina barbecue sauce on a brioche bun.

After a quick walk around Platteville’s historic downtown, where some the buildings date to the late 1840s, we backtracked slightly to an edge-of-town stroad where we stopped for groceries. Because, remember, we had pretty much a full kitchen sitting right behind us the whole trip.

Provisions stowed, we headed for Nelson Dewey State Park campground, making a stop at the Dickeyville grotto, which is a sight to behold.

Dickeyville Grotto
Part of the grotto in Dickeyville.

The grotto and shrines cover a chunk of property adjacent to Holy Ghost Church in Dickeyville and were built between 1924 and 1930 by Father Mathias Wernerus using a vast array of found objects collected around the world.

There’s colored glass, shells, stones, tiles and more. It’s a folk art lover’s dream come true; Wisconsin’s own Watts Towers, with a sacred bent.

Passing through Potosi, we couldn’t pass up a stop at the National Brewery Museum, even though we’d both been there before. A quick walk around the small museum section on the ground floor (there’s much more upstairs), a peek into the lagering cellar, which was closed – just like the last time I was there, sadly – a few photos and back on the road.

Arriving at Nelson Dewey State Park in Cassville, we drove straight to the top of the 500-foot bluff for a sweeping view over the Mississippi River and across to Iowa. Along the bluff there are some really cool campsites that are really on the edge of the bluff and would be dramatic places to set up shop.

However, they’re walk-in sites, so we backed into a wooded site and put our RV skills to the test.

Solar panel inverter off? Check.

Wheels chocked? Check.

Stabilizers? Check.

Electric hookup? Check.

Awning extended? Check.

Slide extended? Check.


The slide is, just like on a band’s tour bus, a section of the RV that slides out to create more space inside. To see it from the outside, the slide doesn’t look very wide, but opening it makes the interior surprisingly spacious.

And speaking of tour buses, that’s pretty much what the Vita is like, if you were to remove the middle section of the bus where the bunks are.


Stepping inside the back door, there are two recliners in front of you. Just across from those are the kitchen with a two-bowl sink, a three-burner gas stove and a combination microwave/convection oven. Next to the recliners is large refrigerator – not quite full size, but much larger than your dorm room fridge was.

Next to the fridge is a bathroom with a toilet and a shower stall, and just outside the door – like a classic Milwaukee tavern – is the sink.


In the back left corner is a bed that can comfortably fit two people. Another bed is above the driver’s cab and is accessed by a ladder.

Getting a fire going out in the firepit and connecting a phone to the RV’s Marshall speaker, we rocked the Beatles’ “Let It Be” box set and got started on an admittedly simple dinner.


This night we decided to use the included gas grill that connects easily to a propane connection on the RV’s exterior.

Some brats went on the grill, a salad was made and we ate al fresco at the campsite using the kitchenware stocked on the RV. There’s everything you need: pots and pans, a teapot, a French press for coffee, plates, bowls, cups, coffee mugs, silverware, cooking utensils, dishwashing supplies.

During the whole trip there was exactly one thing I wish the RV had that was lacking and that was a roll of aluminum foil, which is hardly something they can be expected to provide. It’s pretty amazing how Carolina and Erik have thought of darn near everything.

I called dibs on the bed, which I found to be comfortable and plenty spacious for one, and my friend climbed the ladder to the upper bunk, which has privacy curtains.

Each was fully equipped with mattress pad, fitted sheet, top sheet, blanket, comforter, two pillows and pillow cases.

The windows all have blinds and there are privacy panels that install easily on the windshield and the driver's and passenger’s side windows.

In the morning, I put the shower to the test, remembering to turn on the water heater and the water pump in advance. There was plenty of hot water, good pressure and while the shower isn’t especially spacious, just being able to take a hot shower without leaving the RV at a campground is luxury enough, if you ask me ... no flip-flops, no soppy mix of water and dirt on the floor, no chilly walk back from the shower building.

A quick breakfast and coffee in the RV kitchen and we were off for the day.

Total time for readying the RV for departure can’t have been much longer than 5-10 minutes.

Then, we headed to Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien for a tour of the Edward Townsend Mix-designed house (stay tuned for an Urban Spelunking story, in which I'll tell you all about it).

Afterward, we drove to La Crosse, where we stopped for the de rigueur photo in front of the world’s largest six-pack at City Brewery, which once again brews Old Style, in addition to PBR and others.

La CrosseX

Because it is a contract-only brewer, with no brands of its own (and surely numerous NDAs), there are no tours at the facility, so after stopping to make sandwiches in our kitchen for lunch we popped in to 608 Brewing to taste a really good brown ale.

The next leg of the trip along the Great River Road offered some of the best views of the trip: wide swaths of the Mississippi, the hills and bluffs across the river in Minnesota and broad expanses of bright blue skies.

We passed through numerous towns slung along the shore with only the road and the ubiquitous train tracks separating stretches of houses and shops from the banks of Big Muddy.

At a scenic overlook we spied a pair of bald eagles circling overhead.

Not long after, we saw a visitors center at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery and made a U-turn for one of the most interesting stops on the trip. After getting some background in the modern visitors center, we went out to the buildings where fish were being raised.

An employee came over and explained how it all worked and then we wandered out by the beds full of water and fish before moving on.

The fastest route to our next stop found us crossing the river into Minnesota and then back across, taking us through Winona, which had a few interesting buildings I regret not stopping to see more up-close.

Back on the Wisconsin side, we went up and up until we reached Kinstone in Fountain City.

The dolmen at Kinstone.

Beginning in 2010, Kristine Beck started building stone structures – megalithic stone circles, a labyrinth, a chapel, dolmen, etc. – on 30 acres of her fourth-generation dairy farm. A mixture of spirituality, art and nature, it’s like a bit of Ireland and Britain right here in Wisconsin and on a gorgeous warm and sunny day, with views off into the distance from its high perch, Kinstone is a great place to visit.

After descending back to the river road, we began making our way inland toward River Falls, which is a much bigger town than I expected and perhaps because it's college graduation season, the town, which is home to UW-River Falls, was bustling.

Did you know that there’s a Kinnickinnic River that runs through River Falls? I did not.

We bee-lined for Lazy River Bar & Grill because it was Friday and we heard this place offers a seasonal fish fry buffet, and we got to enjoy the last one until the return of Lent.

In the large hall behind the tavern a table was laid with salad, vegetables, fries, fried shrimp, fried cod, baked cod, bread, a cheesy potato bake, desserts like chocolate mousse and pistacchio marshmallow fluff salad.

Suitably stuffed, we popped into Rush River Brewing nearby and grabbed six-pack of amber in bottles to enjoy at the campsite and headed to Willow River State Park. We’d heard there was a waterfall and a dam worth seeing here, but the skies opened up and we were glad we were in a luxe RV instead of a tent.

Inside, we listened to music, chatted, checked out the TV, though there wasn’t much on, so we drank our Rush River amber and got in some nice quiet reading time in the recliners.

The next morning, the rain was still coming down in buckets and we couldn’t take the RV down to the waterfall path, which was likely a mud pit anyway, so we headed over to check out the dam, which was built just a few years ago to replace a more than century-old dam that had become unsafe.

It looks – and its roar sounds – pretty impressive.

Little Falls Lake DamX

Behind the dam is Little Falls Lake, which is considered one of the best largemouth bass lakes in the Twin Cities area.

Despite the rain, hearty souls were out on an organized run of some kind, while a couple park rangers were setting up for what looked like a fishing program or class.

Then we headed over to meet Jon Kreidler, co-founder of Tattersall Distilling, which opened in 2015 in Minneapolis’ Northeast neighborhood but now has a massive new facility in a former Shopko in River Falls.

The place is jaw-droppingly impressive with a huge still house, a restaurant, a huge events space, meeting rooms, bride and groom rooms for weddings, a shop, three kitchens, numerous sprawling outdoor spaces and a great selection of everything from ready to pour bottled cocktails to whiskey – ryes a specialty – brandy, RTD canned cocktails, vodka, gin and more.

Kreidler showed us around as staff worked furiously to prepare for a huge day thanks to UW-River Falls graduation.

So we got out of their way and left them to it and hit I-94 toward Baraboo for our next stop. Though we’d hoped to make a stop at Wildcat Mountain, the weather – foggy, cloudy and wet – and the clock demurred.

Like yesterday, we saved a bit of money by making sandwiches in the RV with the groceries we’d bought and ate on the go, the RV pointed toward Baraboo’s main square and the Al. Ringling Theatre, which you can read all about here.

Al. Ringling Theatre
The auditorium at the Al. Ringling Theatre in Baraboo.

Forgetting to check the handy itinerary I’d made in advance we accidentally skipped the Ringling Mansion to see the lovely 1906 house and to stop in at the attached brewery and taste the beer brewed according to a recipe found under the floorboards of the home. Next time.

Instead, we went over to Dr. Evermor’s Sculpture Park, that wonderland of folk art created by the late Tom Every (a Brooklyn native like me, except he was born in Brooklyn, Wisconsin), who made a mind-boggling array of sculptures of all shapes and sizes from old industrial parts and other objects.

The biggest is the Forevertron, which at 50 feet tall and 120 feet wide, is the second largest scrap metal sculpture in the world. It weighs 300 tons and you could stare at it for hours trying to figure out what the myriad parts are from.

Dr. Evermore's Forevertron
Dr. Evermore's Forevertron.

I was most struck by Every’s animal sculptures, which despite being made out of scrap metal parts, all have the most expressive faces.

On our way to our next stop we drove through Spring Green, getting a glimpse of the recently landmarked Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, his Taliesin home, studio and school, and even the petite Wright-designed Wyoming Valley School.

For our last night, we camped at Governor Dodge State Park in Dodgeville, where we set up at the site and walked the Stephens’ Falls trails through a beautifully rocky, green and serene ravine fed by the eponymous falls.

Nearby was the spring that feeds into the waterfall. The immigrant Stephens’ family built a spring house around it to help direct water to their farmstead just above, which we also checked out.

Though all the house and other buildings are gone – except for a single log cabin foundation – there was copious signage explaining the site and including photographs that made it easy to imagine how generations of a family built a life in this idyllic spot, albeit a life that was surely far from easy.

We grabbed some firewood, made chili and cornbread in a single cast iron pot on the fire, rocked the Grant Green's "Alive!,” sat around the fire on the included camp chairs and enjoyed our last two Rush River ambers.

Sunday morning, we cleaned up our rolling hotel room, and then stopped to take a peek in the old military plane parked outside the Don Q Inn, just outside the campground entrance.

Don Q airplaneX

On the way home we made a stop at Madison’s UW Arboretum for a hike on a gorgeous morning and wrapped up a great trip with some frozen custard (something we could not find anywhere in western Wisconsin) at LeDuc’s in Wales.

Although we got some great outdoor extras from RV Great Lakes, including an inflatable kayak, the early May weather didn’t cooperate and so those never left the storage compartment.

But, considering the great natural beauty we saw, the friendly tours we got from the hosts at our various stops and the chance to experience it all in a really fun and comfortable RV Great Lakes camper, we could hardly be disappointed.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.