If you like to hike and have lived in or near La Crosse, Wisconsin for any period of time, you know about Hixon Forest. You have probably also heard about Goose Island. But you may not know about all of the small pieces of land set aside as part of the La Crosse Blufflands Project.
Between 2002 and 2009, the Mississippi Valley Conservancy partnered with the City of La Crosse to protect nearly 1000 acres of bluffland for public recreation. According to the La Crosse Blufflands Project website, there are 4 main trails.
Mathy (also known as “the Quarry” or Medary Quarry)
Located near Hixon Forest (at the dead end of Country Road FA), Mathy tract (or the the Quarry) is a great area to explore with your dog. The property totals 453 acres and is overall a fairly gentle hike. It offers a mix of forest and open areas with great views of bluff rock and the valleys behind the bluffs.
These trails are fairly popular and the small parking lot is often full on weekends. However, with over 400 acres, the trails do not feel crowded once you are out hiking.
There is one main loop trail (about 1.5 miles) that heads down into the old Quarry, loops around and then heads back to the parking lot. This is were you will encounter most of the traffic at this site. However, there are also several trails that extended further into the preserved land. Below is a picture of Glia taking in the view from down inside the old quarry area.
A bonus feature of the Quarry, is that it connects to the human powered trails in upper Hixon forest. This means you have access to another 12 miles of interconnected trails.. You can reach these trails from the parking lot or loop into them during your hike. The human powered trails are mostly forested, as seen below.
Glia and I love the Quarry trails when the steep bluff trails are muddy, icy or otherwise slippery. We can still get out to the bluffs without worrying about sliding down them.
Beck/Miller (also known as Miller Bluff)
Miller Bluff is located conveniently close to the Quarry. To reach Miller Bluff, drive down FA and park in the Quarry parking lot (this is the closest parking). Then walk down the Rim of the City Rd cul-de-sac. At the end of the cul-de-sac, you will have access to both Hixon Forest trails and Miller Bluff. The hike from the cul-de-sac to the edge of the bluff is relatively short, but grants access to a beautiful view of La Crosse.
Alternatively, if you are driving in from Highway 16, you can park at the bottom of the bluff and hike up. The hike up is relatively steep, but is a very enjoyable, short hike and ends with this view. This trail is supposedly 2-3 miles long. I am assuming this is the round trip length from the bottom of the bluff.
If you want to make this hike longer – just connect with Hixon or the Quarry.
On the south side of La Crosse, you will find a lovely out and back trail. The trailhead, and associated small dirt parking lot, is hidden back on Easter Road, but once you find this trail, you will find yourself wanting to return often. The start of this trail parallels a small creek created by run-off from the bluffs. There is a peaceful secluded feel as you enter along the babbling water and beneath a canopy of trees. The trail then winds it way up ending in a great view of La Crosse and the Mississippi River. Hass trail is about 2 miles out and back.
The last trail listed on the La Crosse Blufflands Project website is Skemp/Lennox. It is located in Onalaska with a trail head next to Bethany Evangelical Church. It is listed as an out and back hike, but actually a paved trail that connects with the Medary Quarry trails. So if you are coming in to La Crosse from the interstate or just live north of La Crosse, this trailhead is a great option.
This trail is not listed on the La Crosse Blufflands Project website, but is another protected bluff area and is included in the La Crosse Tribune’s article “Bluffland Trails: The Backyard You Didn’t Know You Had”. This trail is another southside option. And it sounds like the Mississippi Valley Conservency is looking to connect these two trails with the Hass trail. Currently, these trails are both about 1/2 mile in length, so are definitely shorter trails compared to the others on this list.
While the Cliffside Bluff trail is not listed in either of the two articles I have previously mentioned, it is another great little southside trail. Like the Miller Bluff Trail and Hass Trail, this hike starts at the base of the bluff and heads upwards for wonderful views. A trailhead can be found off of Old Vineyard Road (in the neighborhood behind the old k-mart. I think the parking lot just has a Hardee’s now).
There is something so rewarding about ending a hike with views like this. They might not be mountain views, but they are still rewarding.
Overall, the trails of the La Crosse Blufflands Project are great additions to add variety to your local La Crosse hiking routine. All allow dogs on leashes. And as an extra bonus, on weekdays, Glia and I often have these trails to ourselves.
Do you know of any “hidden” hiking locations in or near La Crosse? Let us know about them in the comments section below.