As the mighty Mississippi surges south towards the Gulf of Mexico it bids a post-card pretty adieu to northern stops along its shores. La Crosse, a pleasant city set at waters' edge and surrounded by curlicue islands and wiggly inlets, weaving rivers and stately bluffs, is a fine introduction to life on the Great River Road. Both the La Crosse and Black Rivers merge into the Mississippi here, historically a crossroads for trade and travel.
Modern La Crosse has a handful of charming historic buildings worth paying a visit, like the Victorian-style Hixon House and the Mary of the Angels Chapel at St Rose Convent. Brush up on area history helped along by interesting museums ranging in focus from archeology (at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) to riverboats (Riverside Museum) or keep the young ones entertained at the children's museum.
With so much water close by, it should come as no surprise to find that there are a number of enjoyable activities focused on the great outdoors that generally lead sooner or later to the Misssippi. For fabulous views out over the surrounding countryside, head up to the top of Grandad's Bluff, or put in some big river time slipping along in an old paddlewheel boat. Independent-minded travelers might prefer a bit of canoeing along watery stretches inland, or an overnight houseboat float. Don't dally so long on the water that you miss hiking or biking one of the local trails.
La Crosse is 87 miles south of Eau Claire.