Hixon Forest: The Gem of La Crosse, WI Hiking

Hixon Forest: The Gem of La Crosse, WI Hiking

Glia and I have lived in La Crosse, WI for about 3 years now, and our favorite part of the city is the hiking opportunities. We have several trails that we frequent on a regular basis( see 5 best dog-friendly hiking trails in La Crosse, WI). From trails inside the city limits to exploring the local state parks (like Perrot State Park in Wisconsin and Great River Bluffs State Park in Minnesota), we love hiking the bluffs and river. Of all of these trails, our most frequented hiking location is Hixon Forest.

Hixon Forest

Hixon Forest is one of the gems of La Crosse. Seriously, if you visit just one outdoors spot in La Crosse, I highly recommend Hixon Forest and the adjacent Grandad Bluff. The views from Grandad Bluff are the best in the city. However, if you enjoy a hike, equal views are available from within Hixon Forest.

The land of Hixon Forest was donated to the city in 1912. The Bicentennial Trail (described as a scenic hiking trail) was developed in 1975. Check out this neat article regarding the first trails in Hixon Forest. If you want more current information about events in Hixon Forest, check out Explore La Crosse.

Trails

Today there are several trails available in addition to the Bicentennial Trail. There are also several places to park. The main parking lot is the lower Hixon trail head. This parking lot can be reached from Highway 16 to Bluff Pass to Milson Ct. At this trailhead you will find a gravel parking lot, port-a-potty, and the start of the two most used trails : Bicentennial Trail and Rotary Vista Trail. This is normally where Glia and I start our hikes.

Before starting your hike, check out the maps. There are two versions of the map – a spring/summer/fall and a winter map. In the winter, the lower Bicentennial Trail and part of the golf course are used for cross-country skiing.

The maps are nicely labeled with numbers that match the small maps in the forest at each trail junction. Unfortunately the online map I was able find (which is the spring/summer/fall version) does not have these numbers. Click on the photo below for a link to the pdf version available through Explore La Crosse.

  1. Bicentennial Trail (Green):

    Viewpoint from a vista on bicentennial trail.

    This is likely the most frequented trail in Hixon Forest. You will find it in green on the trail map. If you are looking to hike up the bluff first and cool down on your way back, park at the lower Hixon trailhead (off of Milson Ct). You can also park at the Weather Station and start on the top of the bluff.  My favorite part about this trail is that it is a nice loop trail (both the dog and I like walking circles instead of out and back trails). Then you add in the good work-out you get hiking up the bluff, the rewarding views at the top, and the lovely forest trails, and you have a spectacular afternoon hike. The bonus for us is that it is less than 10 minutes from our house.

    Prairie at the top of Bicentennial Trail, along Country FA.
  2. Rotary Vista Trail (Red-ish):

    This trail is another main trail. It is an out and back trail (unless you loop it via Rim of the City road and County FA). This is a moderate grade trail that is frequently used by mountain bikers. It is a nice hike, but Glia and I don’t frequent it as much as she is often on a long leash and I worry about the possibility of tangling with a quickly approaching bicycle. Access this trail from the lower trailhead or by parking on Rim of the City Road. (Also note, there is a steep short-cut from Bicentennial to Rotary Vista that cuts out some of the switchbacks. This trail is not on the maps).

  3. Oak Trail (Yellow): 

    On the other side of the trail system is Oak Trail. This trail can be accessed by two small parking lots off of Bliss Road. Or, you can connect via Bicentennial Trail. This is a nice little trail and I often hike the small loop portion of it as an add-on to the Bicentennial or Hickory Trail.

  4. Hickory Trail (Purple): 

    At junction #2 between Bicentennial and Hickory trails.

    Glia and I love this trail for a few reasons. In fact it is our most frequent winter hike. First off it is the perfect length for a mid-day hike. We start in the parking lot off of Milson Ct and the loop takes us about 45 minutes. It involves a little gentle hike partway up the bluffs but is not so steep that we have to worry when the terrain gets muddy or icy. If you are paying attention to the map, you will note that we have to start on Bicentennial Trail (we normally park at the lower trailhead). We often mix and match sections of Hickory Trail and Bicentennial Trail to make slightly different loops through Hixon.

    On a side trail of Hickory Trail
  5. Miller Bluff Trail (Tan): 

    If you take the Rotary Vista trail up the bluff, it is well worth the time to connect to Miller Bluff for some more great views. Alternatively, not pictured on the trail map, you can park on Bluff Pass road and take a trail from the base of the bluff to the viewpoint on Miller Bluff Trail. Miller Bluff offers fantastic views of La Crosse and is also a decent spot to watch fireworks from. For firework watching, park on Rim of the City Road.

  6. Human Powered Trails (Black):

    And finally, don’t forget the trails behind the weather station – the Human Powered Trails. Like the Rotary Vista trail, there are often mountain bikers up here. But the trails are nice and even connect to The Quarry or Mathy Tract at the end of County FA.

Want more than an hour or two of hiking?

Another junction between Hickory and Bicentennial Trail.

The above trails are of varying difficulty and length. Bicentennial trail is the longest at 3 miles. So if you really wanted to do a day of hiking, I recommend connecting them (follow the red arrows on the map below). Start at the lower trailhead. Hike up Rotary Vista, head to the view-point at Miller Bluff. Then walk down Rim of The City Road and into the dead-end of County FA (go north). There you can meander through the Mathy Tract trails before using that parking lot to connect to the Human Powered Trails. From the Human Powered Trails, you can cross the street to the Bicentennial Trail. Head north and visit the north vista on Bicentennial. Then head south again. Added this summer is a second trail that runs parallel to the bicentennial trail on the top of the bluff, so take that through the forest and then follow Bicentennial down the bluff. Hike the loop of Oak Trail. Then decide if you are up for the Hickory loop before following Bicentennial back to the lower trailhead.

Now that you have the scoop on Hixon Forest, it is time to head outside with your four-legged companion! Read more about making sure you have the essentials for a good hike with your pup.

Are any of my readers from the La Crosse area? What are your favorite hiking trails? Or if you are from further away, who also lives in a city with perfect afternoon hiking trails?

 

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