Goose Island is a lovely county park located just south of La Crosse, Wisconsin. It is located on an island in the Mississippi River and offers a campground, boat launching locations, a canoe/kayak trail and, my favorite, hiking trails. While many of the local hikes in La Crosse are bluff hikes, Goose Island offers something different. If you are looking for a flatter dog-friendly hiking/walking location close to La Crosse with spectacular views of the Mississippi River, look no further.
In the summer, spring, and fall, Goose Island is typically well-trafficked with campers, boaters, and those out for a stroll along the river. In the winter, the traffic decreases and sometimes we will explore the park without running into more than one or two people/dogs.
Hiking at Goose Island
For Glia and I, Goose Island is our preferred lazy summer Sunday hiking location. The drive in to the park winds between marshy areas of the river. Drive it slow, as there are often fishermen casting from the sides of the road. When you reach the stop sign, you have a decision to make between our two most frequented hiking routes.
Take a left to head to the Wigwam trail, a short loop that heads through a small forest area and then tracks along the river. Or drive straight/take a right and park in the parking lot near the main office. From this parking lot, it is easy to start a leisurely walk along the road by the river and through the many open areas that house the variety of park shelters and playgrounds on the north end of the park.
Both of these routes are relatively short (~30 to 45 minutes) compared to many of our other favorite hiking locations. So if we are feeling like a longer walk, we will pair the two loops together via the campground roads. There are also a few other short trails that connect some of the other areas of the park. If you have the time, I recommend exploring all of the short trails through the woods and along the water.
As an additional hiking note, leash laws are not well enforced at this county park. Be aware of your surroundings and know that oftentimes dogs encountered in this park are off-leash. Many dog owners seem to use the area specifically for off-leash recreation. Glia is always on-leash, so we do our best to avoid encounters with off-leash dogs (it is typically not recommended to mix on and off-leash dogs – check out this article by Delta Dowgz). I would say about 50% of the dog owners I come in contact with at Goose Island have good recalls and are very aware of other dogs in the area. But with a 50:50 chance, it is safer to bank on dog owners NOT having a good recall.
Water Activities at Goose Island
If you have a dog who enjoys water sports with you, Goose Island can be a great place to launch a paddleboard or kayak in the summer. There is a designated kayak/canoeing trail around the island. Many boaters will also use the county boat launch to gain access to the Mississippi River with dogs in tow.
Winter at Goose Island
Although hiking along the Mississippi River in the winter can be a recipe for frigid wind chills, Goose Island is our favorite spot for cross-country skiing in La Crosse. If you are an experienced skiier, you might not appreciate Goose Island quite as much as Glia and I do. However, I am not super steady on my skis and Glia is just learning how to skijor. As a result we like flat paths without too many obstacles. Goose Island gives us plenty of open areas to practice in. Typically Glia and I take 2-3 loops around Wigwam trail when we decide to spend an afternoon practicing our skijoring skills.
Interested in spending an afternoon, day or maybe an entire weekend hiking and camping at Goose Island, check out the county website for more information.