Created by Chris Stindt
Gravel is a La Crosse area specialty - the region is part of the driftless; we have some amazing views, bluffs to climb, a great river, oh, and quality crushed limestone roads, plus the benefit of a mid-sized town to offer breweries, distilleries, great food and places to stay.
Jump to Section
This guide will help you figure out where you want to ride, where to stay, eat and drink, plus some great local bike shops.
The area offers everything from pancake flat rails-to-trails to hilly rides with over 10,000 feet of climbing. You can stay on the cheap at a campsite, or at a 5-star hotel overlooking the Mississippi River. Taco trucks to steak houses, dine in your kit or throw on some fancy duds, the choice is yours. Oh, and we don’t recommend trying to drink out of the world’s largest 6-pack, we have multiple other better options.
Where to Ride Gravel From La Crosse
The little secret is that most of the gravel routes we have are actually over the Mississippi River, in Minnesota. Yes, you can get to gravel in Wisconsin, but it's consideralby farther away than the gravel in Minnesota.
Gravel Biking Routes
Each route can be modified; if you’re the hardy type to ride from your hotel, but want to be in the city, then you have 5-10 miles of road riding at the beginning and end of each route. Alternatively you can stay in La Crescent or simply drive to the start of the gravel. Based on experience, there is something magical about crossing one of the biggest rivers in the world to start an epic adventure. But generally, if you’ve done it right, the hardest climb of the day is coming back over the blue bridge at the end of the day. Some days I start in town, other days I drive over; choose your own adventure.
The Appetizer [30 miles]
This route starts in La Crescent and heads west. What little traffic you see on County Road 6 is quickly left behind, as you turn on to Pine Creek Road. Pavement gives way to gravel and almost immediate views. A climb takes you to Nodine, and then a gravel descent brings you to the prettiest swale in the country, between east and westbound traffic on I90. A challenging climb up an (in)famous MMR brings you back to the ridge top. Enjoy this great taste of driftless gravel! LINK TO MAP .
Deceptive Distance [35 miles]
Multiple times I’ve mapped this route and left my house, thinking I’d just be out for a couple of hours. Alas, as my wife will tell you, I’ve never done it in less than 3 hours. Partially because it’s closer to 50 miles if you leave from La Crosse, but also because it features 4 full bluff climbs. But damn, this is a great route close to the city. If you want to get the full experience of driftless gravel, but don’t have time to commit to a full day of riding, this is your best option. LINK TO MAP.
The Skullsplitter [56 miles]
This is a former race route I used to coordinate. If you want all gravel and still want over 50 miles, this is a bruiser of a route. No services, again, except Little Miami. LINK TO MAP.
Metric Century [65 miles]
Notes on this route…make sure you have plenty of fuel and liquids. More than you think you’ll need. I’ve been picked up at least twice trying to finish this one on two bottles and not enough snackies. There is a soda machine at Little Miami in Freeburg, and to be honest, you might want to just plan on stopping there so you can say you did. Otherwise start with a lot, or hit the KT in Hokah. Grab a snack at Free Range Exchange on the way back. Other fun bits: Country Road 5 is one of my favorite roads…period. Cut into rock, running downhill and along a little river valley, it’s really special. LINK TO MAP.
Gravel Monster [105 miles]
This route was created by a couple of local gravel aficionados, who had created a ‘monster’ road route with 10 climbs, and wanted to do the same for gravel. I was one of, if not the first, to test it out, and it was definitely a challenging ride. If you want to make sure you hit triple digits on the odo, start in La Crosse. Refuel in Houston. If you time it right, stop in Hokah for baked goods to fuel the last bit to home. What else…oh 7200 feet of climbing. Brace yourselves, gravel is coming. LINK TO MAP.
Big Dumb Dirt [127 miles]
This route combines some of the above south and west options into one dumb massive ride. You’ll need to be a) strong b) masochistic and c) have a LOT of time to complete this. LINK TO MAP.
BONUS: ATB Route [55 miles]
[ATB = All Terrain Bike]: Do you have a road bike and don’t mind underbiking? A gravel bike that is fine on the road? Enjoy a bit of hike-a-bike on singletrack with amazing views? Do you crave only the best coffee, food and baked goods on offer (see Wonderstate)? Try this bonus route out. LINK TO MAP.
Rail Trail Routes
We are fortunate to be at the intersection of a couple of great rails to trails conversion options. Westward goes to Trempealeau and Eastward goes…to Milwaukee, if you’re adventurous enough. You can really choose your own adventure, do an out and back to Tremp and then head east to Sparta or try the tunnels of Elroy Sparta. Go as far or as short as you want, these are your best chances to ‘recover’ on gravel, while enjoying sites and sounds (Mississippi River and more).
*You need a state trail pass. All local shops sell them, but Coulee Bike Co. is located right near the trailhead at Great River Landing on Onalaska.
Westward Route [41 miles]
This route goes through town, if you’re staying downtown, on mostly bike paths. Or start in Onalaska at Great River Landing and you’ll be all on trail. It’s an out and back to Trempealeau, which has a nice little cafe for a coffee and snack. LINK TO MAP.
Eastward Route [69 miles]
This route goes all the way to Norwak. Black Squirrel Capital of the World? Sure why not. If you haven’t seen it before, this goes through 3 tunnels, carved through the bluffs, to keep things flat. Bring a light and a sense of adventure. LINK TO MAP.
Where to Eat
Freighthouse Supperclub, La Crosse
Freighthouse is a really nice place, down near the river. Dress up and dine inside or chill on the back patio. Great food and nice ambiance.
Pearl Ice Cream, La Crosse
(the President came, ok, it’s not political, it’s just that good)
Homemade ice cream! Candy! I’ve definitely eaten ice cream on the sidewalk in a kit at mile 85 of a century.
Free Range Exchange, Hokah
Hokah is a nice little town that is a jumping off point for a lot of the gravel. Stop mid ride or after for a baked good and hot coffee. You won’t regret it!
Barista’s Coffee, Houston
Toward the western end of our usual gravel routes, Houston has a couple of gas stations, but if you have time, stop at Barista’s for a coffee, snack or quick lunch.
Meringue Bakery, La Crosse [yeah, you’re gonna wanna stop here]
A bakery from 3-time Food Network Champion, Jen Barney. I’ll leave it at that.
Where to Stay
Perot State Park: A bit out of the area, but great for bikepackers or those who prefer to be off the beaten path.
Pettibone Resort: Camping right on the Mississippi between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Great for starting rides but still being close to town.
Goose Island: South of the city, this county owned campground is gorgeous and also right on the river. If you are ok riding a bit longer to gravel, or driving, this option is very nice.
Charmant: This converted candy factory is a block from the Mississippi River. Gorgeous views and very nice rooms, they also have a restaurant and cafe. If you want the best, this is it.
Downtown: Most chain hotels have options in downtown. If you want nightlife or city access, you have options here.
Onalaska: Picture any busy interstate stop you’ve ever been to, and this is it. Hotels, restaurants, a mall, etc. Lots of options to stay here.
La Crescent The new Best Western is a great option if you want to stay in a smaller town, closer to the gravel.
Airbnbs: Lots of options. If you want close access to gravel, find something in Minnesota. If you prefer city amenities, try downtown La Crosse.
Where to Drink
Wonderstate Coffee, Viroqua: Great roasted coffee, incredible food, ambiance.
Grounded Coffee Patio, La Crosse: A really nice downtown cafe with outdoor seating, if you want to sit by your bike.
Breweries & Distilleries
Turtle Stack Brewery or 608 Brewing: We like beer in La Crosse, and have two small microbreweries in/near downtown. Can’t go wrong.
La Crosse Distillery:This newer option is a great place to grab dinner or a drink, and to take some local distilled spirits home with you. [food and drinks]
Bike Shop Picks
Downtown La Crosse: Smith’s Bike Shop
Onalaska: Coulee Bike Co [near the Great River Landing]
Onalaska: River Trail Cycles