Coulee Experimental Forest: A nearly hidden hiking experience

When Glia and I first moved to La Crosse, I spent a fair amount of time trying to find the local hiking trails. During my online research, I stumbled across the Coulee Experimental Forest.

The Coulee Experimental Forest is a Wisconsin DNR managed property located near Barre Mills, WI (just east of La Crosse). I consider this a “hidden” hiking spot, because there is no way I would have ever stumbled upon this trailhead without a little research. There is minimal signage and Russlan Coulee Rd, the country road the trailhead is located on, announces its low maintenance status prior to ever seeing the forest signs. (Technically there is a second trail head that may be more obvious, but I have never approached from County Road II.)

It is hidden for another reason also. I have never run into more than one other person/hiking group per trip during any of my hour+ long hikes here. Be aware though, that the “top” of this hike (which can be accessed from the trailhead off of Country Road II) are groomed for skiing in the winter. There may be more traffic when the snow cover is adequate for skiing.

Basic Rules and Regulations to be Aware Of:

I have not seen any dog-leash rules posted at this state forest, so it appears legal to have dogs off-leash. However, please continue to follow hiking with dogs etiquette and recall your dog prior to passing other trail users. (As a side note: Glia stays on leash as always, as her recall is not 100%. She has worked up enough training to be allowed the freedom of an extending leash, that can be locked shorter when passing other trail users. You will see our extending leash in the pictures of this article, but just like off-leash freedom, make sure your dog has some training prior to using a leash longer than 6 feet.)

An additional warning: Hunting is allowed here during hunting season. So be aware of when local hunting seasons open and close.

Finally, respect the groomed ski trails and avoid walking on them during skiing season if possible. According to Wisconsin law, it is “unlawful” to allow your dog on groomed ski trails during the skiing season.

Why We Enjoy This Forest:

Beyond the seclusion of the Coulee Experimental Forest, we like this trail for a variety of reasons. If you start from Russlan Coulee Road, you get a hike that heads upwards first. Glia and I always like coming downhill when we are tired (or at least I do. I don’t know if Glia cares). You can either take the wide gentle trail up, or after crossing a small bridge on the main trail, you can take a right for a steeper, smaller trail. Either way, you will get a lollipop loop if starting from Russlan Coulee Rd.

At the top of the hill, you can meander around a few interconnected loops on mostly a flat, forested terrain. We love the variety of interconnected trails, as it allows us to pick the length of our hike more efficiently. I recommend downloading the trail map to your phone ahead of time, as there are minimal maps posted and you will probably lose cell phone service on this hike. A map can be found at the DNR’s Coulee Forest website.

Other La Crosse Trails

This is the last in our series of main trails that Glia and I frequent in/near La Crosse, WI. But we are always looking for more trails to discover. Do you know of any good trails in the area?

If you want to find out more about the other trails Glia and I love around La Crosse, check out any of the posts listed below.

Or check out my overview article: 5 best dog-friendly hiking trails in La Crosse, WI



Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts