Another out-of-the-way river town, Bagley became a haven for tourists as early as the 1920s and still does a respectable tourist business today.
Direct your questions to the Grant County UWEX Office (866.472.6894/608.723.2125) or surf to the Grant County tourism website.
A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, James Orr, settled around the mouth of Sandy Creek in 1836 (south of the current town of Bagley). He and his partners proposed a new town—to be called Cincinnati—at that location. Even though the town was never more than a paper tiger, it was listed on a Grant County map in 1842.
Alfred Bagley established a farm in the mid-1800s and made a decent living growing corn. The Chicago, Burlington, & Northern railroad purchased land in 1885 from Bagley’s widow, Mary, which spurred the creation of the village. The town was platted in 1886, the same year the first train roared through. According to one story, the railroad gave a glass plate with a train embossed on the bottom to every woman who gave birth that year and attended the viewing of the inaugural train. Mary’s sons, Dorlen and Dorwin (names you don’t hear very often anymore) built the first house and store in 1887 and gave the town its name. By 1895, Bagley counted 173 residents, many of whom were retired farmers.
The railroad has certainly had an impact on Bagley. There was once a “hobo jungle” just west of the tracks. Passenger trains served the town until the 1950s; residents could ride to Glen Haven for 8¢ or to Prairie du Chien for 12¢—roundtrip. Bagley was also famous for being the exact spot where the two Zephyr trains would meet (when they were on time).
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The hiking is a steep and a bit difficult but worth the effort at Devil’s Backbone State Natural Area. The views are partially blocked in the summer by foliage.
Jay’s Lake Recreation Area (Pine Lane; 309.794.5332), just south of town, is located next to the backwaters with a boat ramp, shoreline fishing, and a short hiking trail.
North of Bagley, Bagley Bottoms Boat Landing (Bohringer Lane; 608.935.3368) is a good spot for bird-watching in the Mississippi backwaters.
Gasner Hollow Prairie State Natural Area (Gasner Hollow Rd.; 608.266.2621) is a mostly undeveloped property that features a mix of prairie and oak savanna. There are a few Indian mounds at the top, which is reached via a moderately difficult uphill hike on an occasionally maintained trail. The footing can be slippery; a walking stick would be a big help. The natural area is on the northeast corner of County Highways X and Gasner Hollow Road. Park along Gasner Hollow Road and walk upslope (NW) into the prairie. The trailhead is near the stop sign.
Getting Out on the River
River of Lakes Resort (132A Packer Drive; 608.996.2275) rents boats including canoes, paddle boats, flat bottom boats, and pontoon boats.
Eating & Drinking
The Bagley Hotel (175 S. Bagley Ave.; 608.996.2300) opened in 1913 as the Park Hotel. The bar looks virtually unchanged since that time, which is not a bad thing at all. The house specialty is the Bagley Burger, which is a half-pound patty with ham and egg, but I also love their patty melt. Mmm, good!
Luck of the Irish (150 S Bagley Ave.; 608.996.2204) is a spacious bar and restaurant and a popular place to boot. The bar menu is fairly standard tavern fare, but they also have a supper club that serves steaks and seafood. The bar has a pool table, video games, and darts.
Just south of Bagley, the River of Lakes Resort (Willow Lane; 608.996.2275) is a full-service recreation destination in a quiet vacation community, with boat docks, fishing, a campground, and boat rentals. The campground, located next to a backwater channel of the Mississippi River, has about 100 sites, most with water and electric. Although it is open year-round, many services are only available from mid-April through mid-October. The resort is one mile south of Bagley on County Highway A, then ¾ mile west on Willow Lane. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park (11354 County Highway X; 800.999.6557/608.996.2201; Open May–October) is a full-service campground in a coulee just north of Bagley with over 200 sites, half with full hookups and most of the rest with water and electric.
The old-school Bagley Hotel (175 S. Bagley Ave.; 608.996.2300) has nine clean, basic rooms with shared baths, perfect if you just want a cheap place to crash; no credit cards.
The River of Lakes Resort (Willow Lane; 608.996.2275) has nightly rentals of RVs, plus a log cabin with kitchen and private bathroom. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park (11354 County Highway X; 800.999.6557/608.996.2201) has 11 basic cabins that sleep five without kitchen or bath, three cabins that sleep five with a half-bath, microwave, and small fridge, three small lodges that sleep six equipped with a half-bath, microwave, and small fridge, and two large lodges that can sleep ten with a half-bath and kitchenette.
The River of Lakes Resort (Willow Lane; 608.996.2275) has a two-bedroom apartment with kitchen and private bathroom.
Post Office: 140 S. Bagley Ave.; 608.996.2620.
Heading upriver? Check out Wyalusing.
Heading downriver? Check out Glen Haven.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009