Arriving in Town
To follow the Great River Road through La Crosse, follow State Highway 35 (Mormon Coulee Road) to US Highway 14/61 as it changes names repeatedly (Mormon Coulee Road, South Avenue, 4th Street, Copeland Avenue, then Rose Street) and reunites with State Highway 35 on the city’s north side near Interstate 90. Through downtown, the Great River Road is divided into two one-way streets: 4th Street going northbound and 3rd Street heading south.
Getting on the River
The La Crosse Queen (608.784.2893) is a replica of a 19th century paddlewheeler that cruises from Riverside Park. They offer a variety of cruising options: a 90-minute sightseeing cruise (from Memorial Day–Oct.), weekend dinner cruises, and a Sunday brunch cruise.
Goose Island County Park (County Road GI; 608.788.7018) has a signed seven-mile canoe trail that will require some effort to complete, given that part of the route is upstream.
The La Crosse River Water Trail is an easy 3½ mile paddle on a tributary of the Mississippi. Begin at County Highway B just one-quarter mile west of its intersection with Highway 16 and follow it to a point just above the river’s confluence with the Black and Mississippi Rivers in Riverside Park.
If you didn’t bring a canoe or kayak with you, don’t fret; you have options. You can rent canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards through the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Outdoor Connections (Recreational Eagle Center, 1601 Badger St.; 608.785.8860). They don’t offer a shuttle service, so you’ll have to transport the boat yourself. You can also rent a canoe through Pettibone RV Park (333 Park Plaza Dr.; 800.738.8426/608.782.5858) and paddle the adjacent backwaters.
The UW-La Crosse Outdoor Connections can also outfit you with camping equipment, skis, and snowshoes.
You may not get a chance to tour the old brewhouse for the City Brewery, but don’t fret. Head over to Pearl Street Brewery (1401 St. Andrew St.; 608.784.4832) on a Friday evening (5pm or 6pm) or Saturday afternoon (1pm-4pm), and they’ll show you how they make beer (free).
**La Crosse is covered in Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Vol. 1. Click the link above for more. Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.
Where to Drink
La Crosse has a reputation as a hard-drinking town and, frankly, it’s hard to argue the point, especially after a drive down Third Street any night after 10pm. Although downtown bars draw a wide range of people, many cater to the college crowd. Not that you wouldn’t be welcome; you would. Just don’t expect a lot of high-brow entertainment. Here are a few bars around town that stand out from the rest.
The Pearl Street Brewery (1401 St. Andrew St.; 608.784.4832) is housed in the former La Crosse Footwear building; visit the tasting room and enjoy their beer directly from the source (open Tu–Th 4p–8p, F 3-10, Sa Noon-7, Su 11-4).
For a different take on local craft beer, check out the cozy Turtle Stack Brewery (125 2nd St.; 608.519.2284), which has as many as nine different beers on tap at any given time.
The Bodega Brew Pub (122 S. 4th St.; 608.782.0677), located in the storefront that has had a café since 1875, is a must stop if you love quality beer; they have over a dozen on tap and 400+ in bottles.
The Starlite Lounge (222 Pearl St.; 608.796.0905) has a 1950s vibe and is the hip place for martini lovers; they host live jazz a couple of times a week.
Sitting at the top of the road to Grandad Bluff, the Alpine Inn (W5717 Bliss Rd.; 608.784.8470) is a fine place to stop for a drink, especially if you brought a designated driver.
For the straight dope on the gay scene, stop into the LGBT Resource Center (230 6th St. South; 608.784.0452). Gay bars include the neighborhood taverns My Place (3201 South Avenue; 608.788.9073) and Chances R (417 Jay Street; 608.782.5105).
Bus service is provided by the La Crosse MTU (608.789.7350; operating hours generally M–F from 5a–10p Sa, Su 7a–7p but exact times vary by route). Each bus has a bike rack with space for two bikes (no additional charge). Buses run every half hour or hour, depending upon the route; after 6p, you can ask to be dropped off at a location other than a designated stop. Later at night, free rides are offered from the downtown bars to campus locations (Th 10p–3a, F,Sa 9p–3a).
Downtown post office: 425 State St.; 608.791.8100.
La Crosse Public Library: 800 Main St.; 608.789.7100; WiFi.
Public Radio Station: 90.3, WHLA.
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A Song for La Crosse
Rivertown by Mr. Blink, from Free and Loafing in La Crosse (2009)