The Great River State Trail follows the shores of the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin. The trail meanders through 24.4 miles of river marsh, thick hardwood forests and bucolic farmland. It is a wonderful nature escape and a reflection of easy Midwestern life along the river and its many tributaries.
Starting from the northern trailhead in Marshland, the trail points you southeast along the river and immediately enters the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge. This is the first of three wildlife refuges on the route. The region is on the Mississippi flyway, so if you time your visit right, you'll be in the company of a vast assortment of waterfowl, wading birds and migratory songbirds. Pay attention to the signs for the Great River State Trail because the refuge provides a number of offshoot trails. As you exit the national refuge, you will briefly pass through Perrot State Park, a wildlife area with hiking, skiing and boating trails.
At mile 9.3 the small town of Trempealeau, with its several cafes and parks, provides a nice break point. The trail travels through peaceful wooded areas that provide shade on a warm summer day, then leads you over a series of bridges that span several small tributaries within the Upper Mississippi River Fish and Wildlife Refuge. There are wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities here and a dizzying array of small streams that all flow into the Mississippi just a few hundred yards off the trail.
Next up, at mile 14.5, is Lytles Landing. This park area provides parking and trail access, as well as a rusting steel train trestle over the Black River. Continuing south the trail cuts through miles of small neighborhoods and pockets of wooded areas. During spring and summer there is a beautiful selection of wildflowers nodding in the breezes along the trail.
Onalaska, at mile 22.5, is about 5 miles north of the industrial city of La Crosse and situated on a ridge overlooking the Mississippi and Black rivers. A bit of on-road travel in this bustling community requires attention. Follow trail signs for about 0.75 mile to the center of town, where restaurants, bike shops and resting spots will suit your fancy. To reach the trail's end at the very small town of Medary, you must carefully cross busy Route 35. If you plan to end your trip here, pay close attention: a seamless transition to the delightful La Crosse River State Trail
could take you all the way to Sparta!
To reach the Marshland trailhead from I-90, take WI 35 Exit 3B and head north all the way to Marshland. Take a left on the unpaved Marshland Access Road immediately east of the railroad track-crossing and the WI 35/County Highway P junction at Marshland.
To reach the Medary trailhead from I-90, take WI 157 Exit 4, travel south for less than 1 mile and take a right on State Route 16. Take a left onto County Highway B and you will see parking for the trailhead approximately 0.5 mile down the road on the left.