The crayola colors of the trees along the Mississippi should get you amped up for an autumn weekend in the river town of La Crosse. Make this a getaway geared to biking and hiking a grand bluff, sampling a grand selection of beer and viewing sculptures of grand proportion.
8 a.m. – Wake up in La Crosse. With tons to get to in one weekend, best to come in the night before. If you like B&Bs, The Wilson Schoolhouse Inn and Four Gables B&B are both on the National Historic Register. For vacation rentals, the Paulsen Cabin at Norskedalen is a 130-year-old log cabin that sleeps six, plus your rental fee gets you admission to the nature and Norwegian heritage center there. And there’s the newly opened Charmant Hotel (charmant means “charming” in French), an independent, luxury boutique hotel with restaurant and rooftop bar located in a former 1898 candy factory.
9:30 a.m. – Get the necessary caffeine boost via tea, espresso or coffee at The Pearl where the setting will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine.
10 a.m. – Head straight to – actually, make that up – Grandad Bluff, a symbol of this
area of Wisconsin, known as the Coulee Region for its deeply carved river valleys. At the top of the 600-foot-high bluff, you’ll be rewarded with views of three states – Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. The Hixon Forest Trails come highly recommended and offer access to the bluff.
Insider find: Human Powered Trails, a non-profit group with a goal of developing sustainable and environmentally sound trails for the region. The ever-expanding bluff trails are open for all types of human-powered shared use, and that goes for everyone from beginner cyclists to hardcore mountain bikers.
Noon – Try Hackberry’s Bistro in downtown La Crosse for lunch, where the chef uses organic
eggs, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef and sustainable fish to create seasonal dishes. Stock up on take-with food at the People’s Food Co-op on the first floor of the same building.
1:30 p.m. – Now that you’ve fueled up, it’s time to take a turn at the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, a non-profit land trust that has permanently conserved more than
15,000 acres of bluffs, prairies, wetlands and streams. Give their “Hikes to Healthiness Trails” a try and get in a little birding and nature photography, too.
4 p.m. – Finish up the afternoon with a tour and tasting at Pearl Street Brewery, known for its award-winning ales and lagers.
7 p.m. – If you want a full-on supper club experience, The Waterfront Restaurant & Tavern is the place. White linen tablecloths, formally-attired servers, entrees made with ingredients at the height of the season, and live music in the lounge all make dinner here an
event. Save room for the S’mores Chocolate Bombe dessert. Piggy’s Restaurant has a national following for its barbecue baby back ribs and its wine cellar recently received props from Wine Spectator magazine. If you prefer a lighter repast, 4 Sisters Wine Bar and Tapas Restaurant is chic and fun, plus you get stunning views of the Mississippi River.
9:30 p.m. – Dedicate the night to the city’s brewing heritage, which stretches back to the mid-1850s, with stops at Bodega, featuring 400 beers in an historic and, some say, haunted building. Two other options to try: Turtle Stack Brewery, a small craft brewery and tasting room or The Golden Tap, a sports bar that also serves Mediterranean food.
8 a.m. – Pop in to Rosie’s Café, a quintessential hole-in-the-wall diner with really good food. Biscuits and gravy with a side of rosemary potatoes and a cherry turnover should do it. Or book the two-hour Sunday Captain’s Brunch on the La Crosse Queen, a modern day replica of the grand paddle-wheelers that used to ply the Mississippi in the early 1900s. The riverboat tours run through late October.
9 a.m. – Give your legs a break after yesterday’s hiking and biking and glide along effortlessly on a La Crosse Segway Tour. Choose from a number of routes that take you through historic districts, over park bridges and alongside the Mississippi River, which are available through the end of October. Or map your own walking route to take in public art installations, including the sculptures in Riverside Park along the Mississippi River.
Noon – Buzzard Billy’s has authentic New Orleans-style food and a great draft beer selection. It’s located in a restored 130-year-old hotel. And yes, they serve gator. Or try the Root Note, an organic café that follows the rhythms of the harvest to create sweet and savory crêpes, salads and soup.
1:30 p.m. – Hit some shops before heading home. The Antique Center of La Crosse is one of the state’s largest antique malls. Satori Arts Gallery, in business for 25 years, specializes in Chinese artifacts, natural Mississippi River pearls and works by local artists. Experience Dim Sum Tea Shop where you can choose from 150 loose tea varieties.
La Crosse is just one stop on Wisconsin's fabulous Great River Road. Check out some more scenic stops and activities along the Mississippi River.