Emily Krause, A Mom Explores
The Fall Itinerary for Families
Families in the Midwest who are looking for the perfect getaway need not look any further than the La Crosse Region. Located on the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota and characterized by soaring bluffs surrounding the Mississippi River, you couldn’t ask for a more scenic area to enjoy making memories with your kids.
My husband and I took our 4 young children and road tripped to La Crosse to enjoy the outdoors, the delicious food, and a little bit of history and culture. We were blown away by the beauty of the region and the warm hospitality that greeted us.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in La Crosse, WI with your family, I’ve got you covered! I’m sharing our family’s itinerary for the perfect weekend in La Crosse.
Kick off your weekend on Friday afternoon by checking into the chic and elegant Charmant Hotel.
The only boutique hotel in La Crosse is a former candy factory, so it’s only fitting that guests are greeted with Midwestern warmth and a handmade chocolate upon arrival. They even made sure each of our kids got one so no one felt left out! If you can’t get enough of the sweet treats, the Charmant Hotel has a Sweets Bar where you can purchase more to enjoy on-site or at home.
Once you’re settled into your room, you can venture down to the main floor for dinner at The Restaurant, the Charmant’s culinary pride, or order certain menu selections to your room.
If you’re set on enjoying the town on your first evening and the kids aren’t too tired, head a few blocks into Historic Downtown La Crosse for some Big Al’s Pizza.
Another option is to take your food to go so you can enjoy the sunset at Riverside Park overlooking the Mississippi River, as it’s just a block away from the Charmant. Kids can burn off the last of their energy before bed while the adults enjoy the view.
After a good night’s rest on the Euro-top mattresses of the Charmant, you’ll want to fuel up on breakfast and caffeine to prepare for the day of active sightseeing ahead. You can’t go wrong with the complimentary coffee and tea at the Charmant’s Parlor which also offers pastries and hot chocolate for the kids. Grab a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows and savor a slow start to your day.
An alternative option for breakfast would be The Breakfast Club & Pub, a perfect spot for fans of the 80s movie of the same name. Is there a more invigorating way to start the day than a full breakfast menu and 80s music?
Next, you’ll want to walk off your breakfast or finish sipping your coffee as you stroll through the Riverside International Friendship Gardens right down the road from The Charmant Hotel. This is a free public space where you can enjoy curated gardens representative of La Crosse’s sister cities in China, Norway, Ireland, Russia, France, and Germany. My kids loved guessing which country we were in before reading the signs!
Now it’s time to check out of your hotel, load up the car, and road trip along Apple Blossom Drive, a loop off of the Great River Road. This short scenic byway takes you into La Crescent, Minnesota for beautiful landscapes and myriad apple orchards. In fall you can pull over for apple stands on the side of the road, and in spring you’ll love inhaling the scent of apple blossoms.
By now the kids are probably starting to complain that they’re hungry, so it’s time to head back into La Crosse for lunch at Fayze’s. Located in Historic Downtown La Crosse, this family-friendly restaurant even has a kid’s corner with books and a hidden gnome door.
If you’re not ready for dessert just yet, this is the perfect time to drive just outside of the downtown area to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. But first make sure to stop for a picture with the world’s largest six pack at City Brewing Company on the way out!
Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine is a Catholic Church and pilgrimage site, but anyone is welcome to visit free of charge. The well-kept religious site tucked into the Mississippi River Valley is peaceful and incredibly scenic. Even the kids were filled with a sense of awe and respect at the chapels and devotional sites. When you reach the shrine at the top, the view is nothing short of spectacular. A cart is available to take people up and down the half-mile path in case your little ones start complaining that their legs are no longer working.
Once you’re back in La Crosse, you can wander through historic downtown, or give those walking legs a break when you stop to enjoy a treat from The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor. This mom highly recommends the cappuccino oreo flavor!
We’re saving the best for last today! Drive to the top of Grandad Bluff and take in the stunning views when the light is best for photos. Bring some change so the kids can look through the viewfinders for a closer look at life down below. If you’re looking for a family photo to commemorate your trip, this is the spot to do it. The panoramic view of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa from the top of the bluff is second to none!
Since we have babies, toddlers, and little kids, we opted not to do any hiking on the bluff, but if you’re an outdoorsy family you can use the Hixon Forest Trails to get to Grandad Bluff Park.
You’ve likely worked up an appetite again, so make your way to Onalaska, WI to enjoy dinner at David Reay’s Modern Diner and Tavern. The welcoming atmosphere, the comfort food, and the view of Lake Onalaska from the 4 seasons patio will make this restaurant a hit with the whole family.
David Reay’s is the perfect spot to eat because it will get you nice and close to your second hotel, Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center in Onalaska. You’ll get to enjoy the feel of escaping to a remote cabin with all the amenities of a hotel. The rustic decor is soothing, and the family hotel rooms are incredibly spacious with log bunk beds, a large sitting area, and a kitchenette.
I would highly recommend ending your day with a swim in the spacious and heated indoor/outdoor pool or soaking in the divinely warm whirlpool to ease your muscles after a day full of walking and activity.
Start the last day of your getaway with the complimentary continental breakfast that you can take to-go or enjoy in the breakfast room at Stoney Creek. Our kids loved the pancake maker that operates with the touch of a button.
Since Onalaska is known as the Sunfish Capital of the World, you can commemorate your time there by visiting Sunny the Sunfish, a 25-foot-long fiberglass fish sculpture perched on the edge of scenic Lake Onalaska.
Plan to stay for a bit and enjoy the view through the free binoculars located in the gazebo near Sunny, or walk some of the nearby trails.
If you have time and you’re wanting the kids to expend some energy before the drive home, stop by Norskedalen, a Norwegian nature and heritage center, or Hidden Hills, an outdoor property with a petting farm, obstacle course, and more, on the way out of town.
One thing is for sure: for outdoor fun and activities you can do with kids of any age, La Crosse is the place to go!
Travel Writer / Blogger
I’m Emily Krause, a mom of four who won’t let having little ones stop her from exploring the world! I’m here to help you make travel easier & more accessible for moms!
*Disclaimer: This is just my perspective on La Crosse Region activites, businesses, and destinations. As this is only my opinion, please explore the rest of the site to learn more about those that I’ve missed.