Get on the Water in the La Crosse Region

Written By: Anthony Quill @fromtenttotakeoff

Water has a magical way of captivating the human spirit. For time immemorial it has drawn explorers, mystics, and weekend warriors to its shores in search of adventure, reflection, or some good ol’ fashioned fun.

Enter La Crosse, Wisconsin, a booming college town on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. If there was ever a place for water lovers to unite, this is it! Not only does it sit on the United States’ largest river, it is also home to the Black River, the La Crosse River, Blue Lake, Target Lake, Lake Onalaska, Lake Neshonoc, the Root River, and so much more. 

With so much to offer, it can be hard knowing where to begin. 

You can start simple by grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many amazing restaurants that dot the banks of the area’s rivers and lakes. Then you can grab your canoe or kayak, or rent one locally, and follow one of the many paddling trails that crisscross the greater La Crosse area.

Looking for even more action? Then it’s time to grab your rod and reel and head out for some world-class bass and panfish fishing. There is a reason the region is home to the giant Sunny the Sunfish statue. Finally, if you love the idea of a day on the water but do not yet have your own gear, then La Crosse has plenty of options to rent it all.


Looking for a bite to eat with a view? Then you’ve come to the right place! La Crosse offers everything from fine dining to the traditional Wisconsin supper club experience, all with beautiful views of the water.

Huck Finn’s On The Water

Voted “La Crosse’s Best Outdoor Dining”, Huck Finn’s is a local institution. Relax on the river overlooking North Bay Marina and enjoy their famous Herb Lemonade or Bloody Mary’s. Then get ready for mouth watering burgers, juicy steaks, and fresh walleye.

The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern

Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern offers fine dining with arguably downtown La Crosse’s best riverfront patio. Get ready for an unforgettable meal, superb service, excellent wine, and hopefully a stunning sunset to
top it all off!

Sullivan’s Supper Club

Enjoy classic dining along the Mississippi River and immerse yourself in Wisconsin’s Supper Club tradition at Sullivan’s Supper Club. If you’re lucky, you can enjoy some classics like their shrimp dinner or a savory Filet Mignon on their coveted patio. 

Pettibone Boat Club

Did somebody say Tiki Bar? Pettibone Boat Club, with their expansive patio and one-of-a-kind tiki bar, is definitely worth a stop. The patio offers 270 degree views of the Mississippi River and great burgers, wraps, sandwiches, and one-of-a-kind fresh fish.

Paddling Trails

There is no better way to explore a river town than by paddling its water trails. La Crosse is home to numerous options including the Black River Trail, Goose Island Paddling Trail, La Crosse River Paddling Trail, and the Lake Onalaska Canoe Trail.

Black River Trail

A great way to spend the day is on the Black River around French Island. You can grab a bite to eat at Huck Finn’s, rent your preferred water craft from Island Outdoors, and then enjoy a leisurely paddle up and down the Black River. If you really want to go all out, paddle across the river to Moxie’s Tiki Bar for a Rum Runner or Mojito!

Goose Island Canoe Trail

Goose Island County Park serves as the trailhead for the seven-mile Goose Island Canoe Trail. The full trail takes about 4–5 hours to complete and winds through the scenic Mississippi River backwaters. The fishing is amazing, and the views are breathtaking. 

Goose Island County Park also hosts the county’s largest campground, a general store, and canoe rentals. Unlike the Black River Trail, this is a B.Y.O.B. destination. 

Lake Onalaska Canoe Trail

Another great option is the relatively new Lake Onalaska Canoe Trail. It takes you through the Mississippi backwaters into Lake Onalaska. The trip from Lytle’s Landing to Fred Funk Landing takes about four miles, and it is another three miles to Mosey’s Landing, home to the local legend, Red Pines Bar and Grill.


There is no better feeling than casting a line across the water, apart from casting said line and feeling a bite! La Crosse’s unique location in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area results in quality fishing to excite almost any angler. Whether you are after bass, sunfish, walleye, or even trout, the area boasts plentiful populations. 

Bass Fishing on the Mississippi River

There is a reason the area hosts countless bass fishing tournaments each year, and it’s not because of the beautiful views and great restaurants. It is the high quality largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing that draws in the crowds. But you don’t have to be a competitive angler to land a lunker. Given the productivity of the river and its backwaters, beautiful fish can be found by even the most novice angler. 

Pan Fishing on Lake Onalaska and Lake Neshonoc

If you’ve ever stopped at the Lake Onalaska Overlook, then you’ve come across Sunny the “Giant” Sunfish. The reason the city hosts a 15-foot tall giant sunfish statue is because it has been named the “Sunfish Capital of the World.” 

Any parent with young kids knows that all it takes is some wax worms, a bobber, and some hungry sunnies to keep kids interested. Just make sure you’re paying attention, as the local panfish grow to healthy sizes and you won’t want to let them get away!

Fly Fishing in Root River

While not as well-known as the area’s bass and panfish angling, the Driftless Area hosts some of the best fly-fishing in southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. If you are looking for a unique fishing experience, then grab your fly rod and head out onto one of the area’s many trout streams, including the famous Root River.

Boat Rentals

 Don’t worry. You don’t have to have your own boat to enjoy all that La Crosse has to offer. There are a number of rental options in the La Crosse area that can outfit you with either a powerboat or human-powered vessel. 

Pontoons and Fishing Boats – Does your idea of a great day on the water involve cruising around in a pontoon or fishing the backwaters with the speed and comfort of a fishing boat? Then check out one of the La Crosse area’s premier boat rental companies.

Schafer’s River Rentals

Schafer’s rents everything. From pontoons and fishing boats to canoes and kayaks, they have it all. If fishing, be sure to stop in their bait shop for up-to-date fishing reports and a great selection of lures and bait. 

American Marine

American Marine isn’t just a watercraft showroom. They also rent a wide variety of pontoon boats with tubing, skiing, wakeboarding, and wakeskating packages. Best part? They are located right at Huck Finn’s, so you can grab a bite to eat and a cool drink once your water-based adventure is complete!

Design a Cruise

Not sure if you are ready to captain your own vessel? Then head over to Design a Cruise and let Captain Bob do it for you. He’ll plan everything, from fishing trips to sightseeing tours, all aboard his double-deck twin-engine pontoon. Bob also serves as a part-time captain on the La Crosse Queen, so he knows his way around a ship! 

Canoes, Kayaks, and SUPs – Would you rather enjoy the serenity of the river without the hum of an outboard engine? Then a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard is your best bet.

Island Outdoors

Island Outdoors is a proper outfitter. They rent everything from canoes and kayaks to stand up paddleboards and hydrobikes. They also sell all the gear you could even need for a successful day on the water.

Neshonoc Lakeside Campground

Neshonoc Lakeside Campground is an excellent home-base for exploring Lake Neshonoc. In addition to traditional camping amenities, they also rent kayaks, canoes, and motorboats. The campground also has a heated pool and hot tub.


If you are looking to try stand-up paddleboarding, then check out KayoeSUP. They rent a variety of different SUP models and offer highly-rated classes for all ability levels. SUPing is the fastest growing watersport in the world, and for good reason. 

So there you have it. A trip to the La Crosse area isn’t complete without some time on, or at least near, the water. Whether you are an avid angler, outdoor watersports enthusiast, or just looking for a drink with a view, you’re bound to find something!