La Crosse, Wisconsin is located along the Mississippi River, a few hours from Chicago and Minneapolis. It’s a great getaway or roadtrip stopover. It has all the amenities, but maintains its small town charm. La Crosse is all about summer, and with longer days and sunshine, the city comes alive with outdoor activities! Let us show you some of the best activities and adventures for summertime in La Crosse.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Explore La Crosse. As always, my opinions are my own!
Hiking & Nature
There’s no better time to explore the La Crosse region outdoors than during summertime! Trails and activities that are inaccessible in winter open up, and you won’t need your snowshoes or crampons to enjoy the rest!
If you only have time for one trail or stop in La Crosse, it needs to be Grandad Bluff! You can drive, hike, or bike up the 600 foot tall bluff for views of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. This is the spot for sunsets in La Crosse!
With coin-operated binoculars, a unique stone shelter, picnic tables and restrooms, the Grandad Bluff summit is a great spot to relax. It’s been a popular destination since the park opened in 1912.
Grandad Bluff showcases the natural beauty of La Crosse and provides a unique vantage point to appreciate the scenic surroundings. Whether you’re interested in enjoying the outdoors, taking in breathtaking views, or learning about the local history and culture, Grandad Bluff is a must-visit location in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
RVers take note: don’t bring the rig on this drive! There is a 5 ton weight limit on the road up to the bluff and the parking lot is small, not ideal for RVs.
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge
The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge has multiple sections, the La Crosse district the closest. It’s a great spot to hike or bike, with a couple miles of trails, both paved and gravel, through the prairieland.
The refuge is also home to thousands of migratory birds during the year, making it an excellent birdwatching spot. American white pelicans, tundra swans, mallards and more flock to the refuge, particularly in the fall.
Lytle’s Landing is a hidden gem! Located about 3 miles past the Mississippi National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, your GPS may not find it. Turn on Lytle Road, off County Road Z, and follow it to the end. At one point, it looks like it turns into a bike path, but just past that you’ll find the parking lot and canoe launch.
Lytle’s Landing is part of the Great River State Trail. However, this section is perfect for hiking or biking, following the former railroad line. The trail crosses a series of bridges, the first being the most photogenic. The trail crosses the Black River and winds through marshes and floodplains. Bring bugspray!
Apple Blossom Overlook Park
Minnesota is just across the Mississippi River from La Crosse. Take a short drive on the Great River Road to Apple Blossom Overlook Park for amazing views and some nice trails. Be sure to hike the short Overlook Trail to a steep drop off and beautiful views of the river and La Crosse.
The park is nicely mown, a perfect spot for a picnic. Wander the trails amidst fields of wildflowers and just soak in the views! If you’ve never visited the La Crosse region, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the rolling hills and tall bluffs that make the area so unique. Apple Blossom Park is the perfect place to take it all in!
Great River Landing
The Great River Landing is located in Onalaska, along the Mississippi. It’s the trailhead for the Great River State Trail, a 101 mile bike trail system. Even if you’re not biking, it’s a relaxing spot to sit in the bench swings and enjoy the view.
Just down the road you’ll find Sunny the Sunfish, a giant statue welcoming you to Onalaska. There’s a nice picnic table and gazebo too, with river views.
I never imagined a beach on the Mississippi River, but Pettibone Beach is a wide sandy stretch very popular on summer weekends. The park has restrooms, a volleyball court and kayak rentals. On a hot, humid day, this is the place to go! It’s also adjacent to Pettibone Park.
Goat Yoga at Rainbow Ridge Farm
There isn’t much that’s cuter than baby goats! Spend a Tuesday evening or Saturday morning frolicking with them and pretending to do yoga! It’s more about goat fun than real yoga, since the little cuties make it hard to perform focused yoga.
Be prepared to get dirty, so don’t wear your stylish yoga gear and expect to have brunch afterward. Instead, wear your worst painting clothes! The goats chew on every and anything, including hair. They really do jump on your back, and they have no qualms about gnawing on loose strands, so I covered mine with a bandana.
Rainbow Ridge Farm is located in Onalaska, and when they’re not hosting goat yoga, they sell fresh eggs and run a bed & breakfast too!
National Eagle Center
The National Eagle Center is located in Wabasha, Minnesota, about an hour from La Crosse. It’s a bit of a drive, but the center is exceptional. The upper Mississippi River basin is home to many eagles, and the National Eagle Center is both an education and rescue center. They have several rescued eagle ambassadors the public can meet, while also offering classes, tours and special events.
A few intriguing facts we learned at the center: bald eagles can see something as small as a rabbit 3 miles away; they court one another through a death spiral; and their nests can weigh as much as 3 tons!
Explore Downtown La Crosse
Historic and charming downtown La Crosse is home to boutique shops, art galleries, and local restaurants. There’s something unique around every corner, from Artist’s Alley to Drift Mercantile. The alley features murals painted by local artists. It’s easy to miss, but find J’s Cafe and you’ll find the alley. Drift Mercantile sells Wisconsin goods in a former 1800s brothel building. It’s the perfect shop for a souvenir. Next door to the mercantile, Pearl Ice Cream Parlor is a 1930s era soda fountain serving homemade ice cream.
If you’re feeling inspired after visiting Artist’s Alley, check out All Glazed Up. The studio offers wheel classes, pottery painting, and canvas painting. It’s the cutest studio!
Stroll the riverwalk along the Mississippi, which offers scenic walking paths, picnic spots, and beautiful views of the river. You can also rent bicycles from Drift Bike Share Services, located throughout the city.
The La Crosse region is always hosting a festival, especially in summer! We attended Artspire in June, an art festival sponsored by the Pump House Regional Arts Center. Local artists booths, music and dance performances, hands on art activities, and a beer garden run all day during the annual event.
Be sure to check Explore La Crosse’s calendar for other events, like Riverfest, IrishFest and more!
Every Thursday June thorugh early September, enjoy live music in Riverside Park. The free concert series begins at 5:30pm, so bring some lawn chairs, a cooler, and kick back. You’ll also find several food trucks and a beer tent onsite.
It’s a great way to start the weekend and enjoy local music. The genre changes every Thursday, varying from The Beatles to Irish tunes.
La Crosse’s dining scene is worth a roadtrip in and of itself! You will be pleasantly surprised with the options, from steak, to European flavors, to traditional Wisconsin fish frys, they’re fit for any foodie!
Red Pines Bar & Grill
Red Pines Bar & Grill is quintessential Wisconsin! Set in a log cabin on Lake Onalaska, with dozens of beers on tap and bottled, and fried local fish every night of the week, it’s as Wisconsin as it gets! The fried walleye is absolutely delicious, and you can’t beat the views from the deck.
It’s definitely a local’s place, where you’ll find a give it back board. So and so gifts so and so a beer, a burger etc. It’s small town charm at it’s best!
Uno Venti Pizzeria
Uno Venti serves stone fired pizzas in a historic building from 1871. You can watch them make and fire the pizzas in the domed oven right by the dining room. The patio is also a great outdoor dining option, another benefit of visiting La Crosse in summer!
From the charcuterie boards to handmade pizzas and freshly made cocktails, you can’t go wrong with this pizzeria!
The Waterfront Restaurant
As it suggests, The Waterfront Restaurant is on the riverwalk, with views of the Mississippi and the La Crosse Bridge. We’ve eaten at The Waterfront each time we’ve visited La Crosse and it always blows us away. I keep a running list of the best restaurants we’ve found as we travel the US, and after two years, The Waterfront is still on it!
Their menu changes seasonally, focusing on farm to table ingredients. Reservations are recommended for the dining room, but the tavern and patio are first come, first seated. They offer a tavern menu, or the regular dining room menu as well.
La Crosse Distilling Co.
Both distillery and restaurant, La Crosse Distilling is all about sustainability. Their distilling grains are sourced from local farms and the distillery is geothermal powered. They distill gin, whiskey and vodka, as well as make all their own mixers for cocktails served at the bar. While they don’t offer daily tours, they are available for groups and special events.
Let’s not forget the food! Their menu offers some great, healthy options, as well as comfort food. Dine in the tasting room or on the outdoor patio.
Kaddy’s Kafe is a cute spot in La Crescent, just over the river from La Crosse. Family owned, the cafe serves a delicious breakfast. It’s a perfect stop before heading to the Apple Blossom Overlook Park, just a few minutes away.
I loved their patriotic touches, including a patch board for military, firefighters and police. If you’re one of those, bring a patch in to add to the board!
This might seem an odd recommendation, but Hy-Vee is a Midwest based grocery store you can’t miss! With a full service bar and food court, it’s perfect for a reasonable priced meal or to stock up on groceries. The food court options range from pizza to hibachi, to sushi and burgers.
The grocery and liquor store are huge! For us, it was a great last stop to fill the pantry and fridge before heading west into wilderness.
To grab a drink…
It’s Wisconsin, so of course every restaurant serves alcohol! However, there are two spots worth calling out for a drink. Huck Finn’s on the Water has a great deck facing the river and marina, where you can sip a cocktail and watch the yachts go by. Perfect for a summer day!
The Starlight Lounge is a retro bar above Buzzard Billy’s in downtown La Crosse. A throwback to the 50s and 60s, the Starlight serves up snazzy cocktails Tuesday to Saturday from 4pm on. Check their schedule for live music.
River View Winery & Vineyard
River View Winery & Vineyard is a seasonal specialty, only open during summer weekends. The winery sits atop a bluff along the Minnesota side of the Mississippi. The open air patio has sweeping views of the area, and tastings are just $5. River View offers red, white and blush varietals.
Lost Island Wine
Lost Island Wine is family owned and operated in tandem with Skeleton Crew Brewery. At their tasting room, you can sample both the beer and wine. Enjoy the tiki themed indoor seating, or grab one in the outdoor courtyard. Lost Island offers nearly 40 different wines, many with a tropical flair.
Onsite, they also have one of the only home brew supply shops in the area, which also offers home brew courses.
La Crosse is a great RV destination! Just about 4 hours from Chicago, it’s a easy weekend trip or the perfect stopover on the way west. We’ve journeyed to La Crosse en route from Chicago to the Badlands National Park and to Denver.
Pettibone Resort sits on an island in the Mississippi, feeling like a nature retreat, but just minutes from downtown La Crosse. It’s a 2 minute drive or a nice bike ride across the bridge. With all the RV parks we’ve visited, Pettibone has had the easiest access to dining and groceries!
The park has center pull through sites, along with back-in riverfront options. All sites have water and power hookups, with a dump station up front. They also offer a dump service two days a week.
Neshonoc Lakeside Campground
Neshonoc Lakeside Campground is located in West Salem, about 20 minutes from La Crosse. It’s a huge park, with permanent residences on one side, and temporary sites up the hill. This campground is also part of the Thousand Trails network.
Swim or boat in the lake, enjoy the pools, or take part in one of the many social activities offered. Sites vary on hookups, so just be sure what you’re reserving. The staff are so helpful too!
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