La Crosse River State Trail

Trail Map

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The La Crosse River State Trail is a link in a chain of rail-trails that connect more than 100 miles. This 21-mile trail leads you from the industrial river community of La Crosse to Sparta, the self-proclaimed biking capital of the United States. There are seamless trail connections from the 24-mile Great River State Trail on the west end and the 32-mile Elroy-Sparta State Trail on the east end. All of these trails require a state pass, which can be obtained at numerous places along the trail.

The La Crosse River State Trail follows the old Chicago and North Western Railroad line, which Harry Truman traveled during his 1948 presidential campaign. The crushed limestone trail now carries runners, walkers and cyclists though beautiful green rolling hills and iconic Wisconsin farmland.

Beginning in Medary, right outside of La Crosse, the trail travels east through some nice wooded areas, gently ascending out of the river valley. An active rail line parallels the trail for its entire length. Once you pass under Interstate 90 near the start of the trail, you will be surrounded by serene rolling hills that are vibrantly green in the summer and punctuated by orange, yellow and red in the autumn. Silos dot the landscape as far as the eye can see.

A popular feature of this trail is its camping opportunities. Two connecting trails, both within the first 10 miles, lead to campgrounds just north of the trail. These campgrounds are both close to the La Crosse River.

The trail breezes though the small Wisconsin towns of West Salem, Bangor and Rockland. All three communities have built pleasant parks along the trail and have quaint Midwestern main streets with any amenities you might need for a trail excursion.

The trail reaches its end in Sparta at an old railroad depot that now serves as a central information center for the entire trail system. Here you will find all you need to know while traveling though this trail-friendly region. Sparta is truly a biker's town and the small community is very proud of it. Be sure to check out all the bicycle-themed sculptures around town before you continue your journey on the Elroy-Sparta State Trail.

Parking and Trail Access

The Sparta depot, with parking, is on Milwaukee Street. From Interstate 90, take the Sparta exit, travel north for 0.2 miles and turn right on Avon Road. Turn left onto South Water Street and left again on Milwaukee Street.
To reach the Medary trailhead from I-90, take the WI 157 exit (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 .5 mile down the road on the left.

Reviews

Excellent way to see countryside.

   October, 2013 by daireemt

My wife and I rode from West Salem to Sparta and back, September 23. It is a gentle grade with both open spaces and wooded areas. The trail surface is so well maintained, one scarcely notices it's not paved. Excellent riding surface. As a former dairyman, ...read more

The old iron trestle is the highlite of this trail

   January, 2009 by pbadam1512

I rode this 22 mile trail on August 28, 2008 with my Scorpion Fx recumbent trike. This trail isn't much on scenery except for when going through some densely populated wooded areas, but consists mainly of open meadows and wet lands. I did, however, enjoy ...read more

rail fan delight

   November, 2005 by ggwbikemt

"This trail is adjacent to a heavily used Canadian Pacific rail line. The Amtrak Empire Builder also passes through twice a day. The trail itself is in a oak savannah prairie from Sparta to West Salem which is one of only a few prairie remants still standing. ...read more