La Crosse, WI: Rollin’ On The River

La Crosse, Wisconsin, is only 30 miles from our previous stop in Sparta, but has a completely different vibe.  Having three colleges in a relatively small town means that the population is mostly young and vibrant. And where there are college kids, there is alcohol.  So much so, that La Crosse once held the Guinness World Record for most bars (28) crammed into a city block.  That record has since been crushed by Austin, Texas with over 80, but there is still no denying the fun vibe here in this historic city on the Mississippi!

Naturally, the World’s Largest Six Pack (in dire need of the World’s Largest Paint Job) resides here at a still-active brewery.  Those silos actually contain beer … a lot of beer! … 688,200 gallons to be exact, enough beer to fill 7,340,796 cans!  If these silos were for your own personal consumption, you could have a six-pack a day for 3,351 years and not run out.

Naturally, where there is beer, there must be a “King of Beer,” better known as Gambrinus, standing proudly across the street from the giant six-pack, raising a golden goblet to the heavens. He was originally built by unknown craftsmen in 1890 and moved here in 1939, from a brewery in New Orleans that went out of business during Prohibition. 

The city of La Crosse was named for the sport that explorer Zebulon Pike, upon landing here, observed the local Indians playing a game with sticks that looked like a cross (with La Crosse being the French word for cross).  And you thought La Crosse was just a pastime for rich, entitled white frat boys!

Situated smack-dab on the Mississippi River, named Misi-ziibi or “Great River” by the Chippewa Indians, La Crosse is a tourist stop for the American Countess, a river cruise boat that escorts 245 guests on six- to fifteen- day excursions along the great river.

Our seagoing vessel during this visit will be just a little smaller.  The La Crosse Queen will take us on a two-hour narrated sightseeing trip up the River on an authentic paddleboat, being powered only by these big red wheels going round and round.

The tour takes us past a swing bridge, which pivots a huge chunk of a working railroad trestle horizontally, to allow boats of all sizes (including us!) to pass through.

Many different types of vessels pass through this swing bridge every day, from tiny pleasure boats to huge cargo ships being pushed by tugs!

We also go to Lock and Dam #7, one of 27 created as part of a massive public-works project in the 1930s to enhance transportation on the river.  Since then, the upper half of the Mississippi from Minneapolis to St. Louis has ceased to be a free-flowing river, and is instead now a series of controlled pools in between the dams. The big yellow ship in the foreground is passing through one of the locks.

Even our campsite at Pettibone RV Resort is right on the Mississippi, though a smaller side section where no cruise ships are likely to go puttering by.

A series of beautiful bridges allow automobile and pedestrian passage over the river in various locations.

La Crosse is on the furthest edge of Wisconsin, so crossing over the Mississippi to the west means you are immediately in Minnesota.  La Crescent, Minn., is known as the Apple Capital of Minnesota, because a dude named John S. Harris, a sort of Johnny Appleseed (but not the real one), planted the first apple trees in the Midwest here.

The La Crescent “Apple Blossom Loop” is a popular drive during April and May, when the trees are in full bloom, but even in August, it’s still a lovely, bucolic drive past orchards, farm stands, and peaceful scenes.

The Loop also takes you high on the bluffs, allowing beautiful views of the Mighty Miss.

Also on the Minnesota side, along the Great River Road, Onalaska is known as the “Sunfish Capital of the World,” due to its location on the huge Lake Onalaska. I had never heard of a Sunfish, but it’s kind of like a black bass.

Onalaska is also the location of yet another awesome bike trail, the Great River Trail, where (all three of us!) enjoyed cruising along the Mississippi River, set to the rhythmic hum of passing trains. 

If you really like trains, here in La Crosse you can even play golf on a course where your swing just possibly will be interrupted by a train passing right through the golf course!

For the best possible view of La Crosse, head to Grandad Bluff on the edge of the City.  This 590-foot bluff has a variety of hiking trails in an otherwise mostly urban environment.

Visitors throng to the overlook with sweeping views of the city of La Crosse, the Mississippi River, and one of the beautiful bridges.

Back in town, my curiosity is triggered by this business that offers an extremely wide array of services, all in one building! And, why so many trash cans? What exactly is going on in this place?

Though the summer is winding down, we are still finding a wonderful variety of our favorite things: homemade ice cream (The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor), farmers markets (twice a week here!), and outdoor park concerts in nearby communities like Holmen.

Thus ends our time with my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Nicole (and Rizzo), with whom we’ve been traveling side-by-side since August 4!

They are heading north through Minneapolis, and we are heading south through Nebraska, all of us heading back toward Arizona. Our 11-week Midwest adventure is rapidly coming to an end!

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