La Crosse River State Trail


La Crosse River State Trail Facts

States: Wisconsin
Counties: La Crosse, Monroe
Length: 22 miles
Trail end points: S. Water St. (Sparta) and County Hwy B (La Crosse)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6017595
Trail activites: Bike, Fishing, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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La Crosse River State Trail Description

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.

La Crosse River State Trail Reviews

My wife and I rode the trail at the end of July 2016 and encountered no issues. In fact, we had an awesome ride and the little bar/restaurant in Rockland was very welcoming. The active rail line makes it even more special.

If were to believe a local Bike shop owner there are only two maintenance persons covering about 300 mile of trail and it is showing. in some areas the crass creep into the trail is so bad that it's not real safe to ride two abreast or pass someone. Because of the nature of the surface it packs well so generally the surface is good. It's not what it was in years past. Sure wouldn't label it a tourist draw unless your a mountain biker.

almost no maintenance done this year. Ridden it two times, once in May and again at the end of June.


was able to get on at west end twice this week while in LaCrosse for work. well maintained trail and only negative was having to rise into a headwind coming home.

I rode this trail in mid-October as a link in the four-trail chain between Reedsberg and Marshland.

The scenery on this link was not as nice in general as the other three but I appreciate the connection of the four trails for over 100 miles of continuous trails.

There was a lot of loose gravel on the short steep downhill heading north from the end of this trail toward the Great River trail. Be careful there. I had wider tires so didn't crash but narrow road tires could have been a different story.

The four trails made a great October trip, even if this was not a stellar year for fall colors.

I have absolutely no idea why the previous reviewer fussed about maintenance because we road the entire length and the trail is in great shape. It is easy, pretty and links nicely to other trails with nice little communities in between. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 waz that the bathrooms and water fountains were shut down in mid October. That's just crazy....plenty of people on the trail and no where to get water.

Needs maintenance soon; unfortunately since 2010 Wisconsin’s government decided spending any money for natural resources was no longer an option since businesses & the rich needed more tax breaks, & it’s starting to show on our once great bike trails. This often very narrow, hard-packed crushed limestone trail is quite bumpy; much of the limestone is gone so the surface left, though still very hard, is starting to erode in big patches (a few more years & there will be holes); plus there are lots of small ruts, probably caused by rider’s tires during spring thaw or saturating rains, & a few large varmint holes. There are a few sections still in pretty good shape where there is more crushed limestone left. There is a large parking area at the Medary trailhead (w/toilets) on County Hwy. B, just east of Hwy. 16, south of Onalaska, where this trail intersects w/the Great River State Trail (which goes NW from here). The La Crosse River Trail heads east through a mix of lovely marshland, heavily wooded sections, & some farmland, w/a working railroad just to the north (great for watching trains); there are no cross roads/road access points until 5.2 miles where there is a ½ mile spur north to the large Veterans Memorial Park near West Salem on Hwy. 16, which has many toilets, pump water, picnic tables, camping, & another spur into West Salem. At 6.7 miles the trail passes through West Salem, where there is a beautiful park w/a tall, covered pavilion w/toilets & water. Crosses Linse Rd. at 8.8 miles; from here east the trail is pretty close to Hwy. B & I 90 to the south. Another 2 ¼ miles is Bangor (which is where I turned around so I didn’t go the final stretch to Sparta, but I assume the trail condition is similar; I remember years ago completing this section & it is more open & too close to I 90 for my taste). Hey Wisconsin, take care of your precious environment before it is too late– bike trails & other natural areas attract paying tourists!

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, I liked seeing so many dairy farms along the trail. Enjoyed seeing such pretty rolling wisconsin hills. The old Sparta depot has a good souvenir selection if so inclined. Truly exceptional biking experience!

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 going over the old iron trestle that spans the La Crosse River. The trail surface is composed of crushed limestone, and is fairly straight and easy to ride with only a few slight gradients. I began the ride at Sparta, and rode to the trail head in Onalaska You can continue from here through the town of Onalaska, and connect with the Great River Trail for another 25 miles. You will also find parking in the small village of Bangor and the town of West Salem as well as a nice rest area to just relax at with rest room facilities, and a soft drink vending machine. To get to the trailhead depot at Sparta turn at the corner where you'll find the tall statue of "Ben Biken", and go about two blocks, the depot will be on your left.

Dennis Adam
Sheboygan, WI

"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. Near the La Crosse end of the trail, the scenery switches to wetland with great views of the surrounding hills. "

"This trail was part of our first full day riding across the state. I've heard it described as ""prarie-like"" and this is certainly true on the western end. After a short run on streets through Onalaska, from the Great River Trail, the recently completed connector brings you to the main trail at a dedicated bridge over the railroad tracks. Running is smooth and grades gradual all the way to Sparta. Services may be sparse in some of the midway towns."

I noticed that the trail indicates it goes from Sparta to La Crosse.That information is incorrect. It goes from Sparta to the Medary Trailhead and on to Onalaska. It also does not indicate that Onalaska is a nearby city. Onalaska and the Great River State Trail are interconnected to this trail.

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