Greetings from Family Travel Week, sponsored by The Family Backpack, a new online guide that connects you to the best family travel blog posts. Enjoy seven days of family travel stories that will help you plan your next adventure, reduce pre-vacation stress and provide useful tips for once you arrive at your destination. Wheels up!
Over the years, the family book "101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12" inspired us to seek out unique places to visit and experience with our children. I try to apply the same logic when we travel locally in our home state that I would when we travel anywhere in the world. I research online, ask friends about their experiences and then ask my kids what places sound interesting to them. Traveling doesn’t always mean a six-hour plane ride. You can share the world with your children and view it through their eyes 45 minutes from your house.
La Crosse, located on the western side of the state, is a beautiful city surrounded by bluffs and the mighty Mississippi River. (That might sound vaguely familiar if you attended Oktoberfest there in college.) It’s a great base city to day trip from to other fantastic places that you probably have never even heard about.
My favorite time of year to visit is the summer as there are so many family-friendly things to do. Here are some of our favorites.
Hiking in Hixon Forest. There are plenty of scenic shady forest trails leading up to the top of a bluff and trails for all hiking levels.
Grandad Bluff. Great photo opps here as well as lots of spots to picnic. It provides an ideal vantage point to watch the sunset with the river and the bluffs of Minnesota as the back drop.
The La Crosse Queen paddleboat. A chance to see the river "Mark Twain style." There are also very kid-friendly pizza cruises.
Cost: $46.50 (Prices may have changed; check for latest rates.)
Norskedalen. This nature and heritage center has more than five miles of hiking trails and a large outdoor shelter to picnic under. It reminded us of a smaller, less-crowded version of Old World Wisconsin. We went on a weekday and only ran into two other people the whole time we were there.
Cost: $15 (Prices may have changed; check for latest rates.)
La Crescent Aquatic Center. High points include a 14-foot climbing wall in the pool among other great things and on a late Friday afternoon there was hardly anyone else there. Plus, it’s only 15 minutes across the bridge in Minnesota.
Rudy’s. My kids have never had McDonald’s – that’s a post for another time – however, I can’t resist Rudy’s cheese curds and their root beer floats. The staff rollerskate their way to your car or table with your order. Need I say more?
The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor. This is an authentic, 1930s soda fountain and confectionery with great homemade ice-cream. It’s located downtown among the historic buildings of La Crosse.
Other day trip Ideas within 90 minutes of La Crosse:
The Mississippi Explorer. The Explorer now only runs out of Prairie du Chien, which is a little over an hour down the river from La Crosse, but it’s a beautiful drive that follows the river and well worth it. This interactive river cruise takes you on the back waters of the river and up close to wildlife such as bald eagles. It’s super kid friendly with plenty of animal skins and other things for kids to touch and feel. You can also tour Villa Louis and make a day of it.
Cost: $88 plus tax. There is an online discount. (Prices may have changed; check for latest rates.)
Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minnesota. Rated one of the Top 10 caves in the U.S., they now have added a miniature golf course to give tourists something else to do after touring the cave. If you are super curious about the Amish like I am, you can do an Amish Tour in Harmony as well. www.amish-tours.com
Cost: $44 / Cost for the Amish Tour varies on whether you ride on their tour bus, have a tour guide in your car or self guide. (Prices may have changed; check for latest rates.)
National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota. We are an animal-loving family and got so excited when we discovered that the National Eagle Center is only an hour and 15 minutes from La Crosse. There are two floors of interactive exhibits and daily interactive eagle programs where you learn about this majestic bird. Plus, it’s right on the Mississippi River so the views are spectacular.
*Cost is based on a family of 4, 2 adults and 2 children between the ages of 4 and 11.
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Andrea Khan is the founder of The Family Backpack, and a kids and family content contributor at OnMilwaukee.
She was born and raised in Wisconsin and first ventured out of the country to France in high school. That trip changed her life and she has been traveling every since.
Three kids, over 24 countries and 20 plus states under her belt she still has a lot of world to see!
She considers herself a foodie, participates in a CSA, hits her local farmers market and also has her own backyard garden.
When she’s not traveling or planning their next trip she enjoys reading, cooking and playing games like Rummikub with her kids.