La Crosse is surrounded by beauty. From a world-class river to towering bluffs, it’s easy to see why people enjoy bicycling here.
There are plenty of people younger or more ambitious than me who fearlessly explore our many mountain bike trails or climb the winding roads up to our ridgetops.
But La Crosse, or Prairie La Crosse as it was first called by the explorer Zebulon Pike in 1805, is one of the few spots along the eastern side of the Upper Mississippi River Valley that offered an expansive plain that was a perfect place for settlers to put down roots.
Those same attributes also make it perfect for recreational bicyclists like me.
The relatively flat, bicycle-friendly landscape covers much of the western part of La Crosse County, extending from its border with Trempealeau County along the Black River at the north, to an ever-narrowing strip of land that features Goose Island County Park at the county’s southern border
Longtime area residents remember the occasional and contentious battles about whether to build a highway that would connect the suburban communities to the north to our city’s central core. The last big road project, which city voters rejected in a referendum in the late 1990s, would have removed one of the marsh trails many walkers and bicyclists enjoy today.
For now, at least, the opponents to such a road have won. And during the past 20 years, what has happened, with much less controversy, has been the expansion of bike routes, helping make that north-south connection simpler, albeit on two wheels, not four.
For riders who want to explore even further, these four Wisconsin State Park System trails span about 100 miles from Reedsburg to Marshland, Wis.
• 400 Wisconsin State Trail (22 miles, Reedsburg to Elroy)
• Elroy-Sparta State Trail (32 miles, Elroy to Sparta)
• La Crosse River State Trail (21½ miles, Sparta to Onalaska)
• Great River State Trail (24½ miles, Onalaska to Trempealeau)
State trail passes are required for anyone 16 or older biking on the trails. Children younger than 16 can bike the trails for free. Walking and hiking on the state bike trails is free for everyone.
Finally, for those looking to explore the other side of the Mississippi, the new Flyway Trail near Winona offers an easy way to cross over into Minnesota.
Each summer, I look forward to a few weekend bicycle trips away from home. However, there are many summer evenings when riding along Pammel Creek on the city’s South Side, taking the Bud Hendrickson trail up and over the rail crossing on the North Side or simply exploring the tree-lined streets through any of our neighborhoods is a perfect way to end the day.
And, yes, after a long day, I’m thankful that those settlers picked a flat prairie to call home.
What defines our city? We take a crack at identifying the icons of Winona
Bloedow’s Maple Long John
St. Stan’s Tintinnabulum
Bob Welch Aquatic Center
Great River Shakespeare Festival
Airport Lake Rope Swing
Lakeview Drive Inn
Alternate Side Parking
Mississippi River Towboats
Winona State University
Cotter Marching Band
Winona Steam Calliope
East End Shotgun Houses
Minnesota Marine Art Museum
WNB Financial (formerly Winona National Bank)
Watkins Great Hall
Winona County Courthouse
The Anglers of Winona
Downtown Third Street
U.S. Hwy. 61
Herky the Winhawk
Winona Public Library
Icons of Winona
Garvin Heights Park
Steamboat Days Parade
Winona County History Center
Winona Athletic Club
The Windom Park Mansions
Festivals, festivals, festivals
Old Wagon Bridge
Westfield Golf Club
Merchants National Bank
Scott Rada, a longtime La Crosse resident and former La Crosse Tribune journalist, is social media manager for Lee Enterprises.