Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com
What a way to spend the last holiday of summer, then with old and new friends biking around the Mississippi River Valley, in and around La Crosse, Wisconsin! (below, cyclist on the Apple Blossom loop overlooking La Crosse)
Last year, riding in and around this bike friendly community at the Labor Day Weekend Bicycle Festival, Marcy and I enjoyed several days of fun. Meeting and riding with cyclists from Florida, Oklahoma, Illinois, Minnesota and neighboring cities in Wisconsin. Enjoying a full schedule of city bike tours, scenic road routes to explore, a bike rodeo on Saturday and evenings filled with entertainment in the downtown area; a great time was had by all.
With most events starting and ending in or near Cameron Park, in the historic downtown district of La Crosse, it was easy to pick and choose which events or rides we wanted to participate in. From: coffee tours in the morning; many historic and wildlife tours throughout the day; ice cream or candy shop tours in the afternoon, it was hard to take it all in; and still have time to fit in at least one of the many country tour loops, on the Minnesota or Wisconsin side of the Mississippi – or the mountain bike options up in the bluffs overlooking La Crosse.
If you can take off early for the weekend, each year the fun begins on Thursday evening with a Registration Packet Pick-up Party at the Pearl Street Brewery. Located in the warehouse district of town, those that can make it early can sample some of the area’s finest brews while looking at all the ride option that begin Friday morning. Last year, we sampled the latest IPA, a couple stouts and a porter that tantalized my taste buds. Along with all the great food in La Crosse, visiting the brewery was an added bonus to our visit here.
On Friday, as more cars toting bicycles roll into town, cyclists of all ages and experience levels looked forward to all the ride options scheduled. Ride opportunities last year and similar to this year’s schedule included a: Coon Valley Coulee Express ride (28, 48 or 57 mile), In town Coffee & Muffin Ride to West Salem, with stops at a bakery, and up in the bluffs on the east side of La Crosse, mountain bikers can try the Human Powered Trans Ride for some technical challenges. Other self-guided tours and events of the day included: trail rides; tandem & recumbent rides; and options for some gravel road riding.
As the sun sets, beyond the bluffs on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River, the Festival’s activities move from the park to the heart of downtown, centered in music filled Pearle Street area. Here while enjoying the tunes of several bands, along with many food and beverage options in the closed-off street section, many bicycle tales were shared and the next day’s activities planned.
The event and ride options on Saturday continue with registration and packet pickup throughout the morning in the park. Here, amongst a farmers market setting, local vendors are selling coffee and breakfast scones as riders check in for the events of the day.
For those wanting to explore the countryside on the Minnesota side of the river, some say it’s God’s Country, the Apple Blossom Loop (35 miles) and the Driftless Region’s Most Scenic Ride (62 and 82 mile) are rich in history and beauty. Similar to Friday’s Wisconsin’s coulee ride in length, all tours depart from Cameron Park in La Crosse. The Apple Blossom crosses the Mississippi River bridge into La Crescent, Minn. to begin the featured rides of that day.
Later in the morning on Saturday, at the Mayo Clinic Health System Campus, the annual BIKE SAFE rodeo takes place. Great family fun, this event features a bike safety course, a sizing and discounted helmet sale, bike decoration stations, with a parade that follows showing local residence and visiting families, and all the fun bikes decorated.
As the kids continued to have fun at the rodeo there was a late morning Heritage Tour of La Crosse scheduled, the first of two for the day, can be enjoyed. As we discovered the commercial buildings with 20th century Chicago style including gargoyles, followed by the Art Deco and Art Modern styles of the “Roaring Twenties.”
Then the residential tours show another side of La Crosse’s architecture. From Victorian to Tutor designs a local guide there, like ours last year, will give you an impromptu lesson that really explained how the towns expanding neighborhoods complement the contrast to the historic downtown district of this river city.
With the heat of August still normally in play on Labor Day Weekend, the Homemade Ice Cream Tour was and is a big hit for all. Using both the paved trail and recommended city bike routes, a tour leader will take you to three confectionary establishments in the city that still make their own ice cream, on site. We found, with a few miles in between each of the planned stops, it was easy to have a small cone to taste test at least one of a dozen or more different flavors at each shop we stopped at.
Each year the La Crosse Area Bicycle Festival coincides with the Downtown Sound Music Festival which takes place on Saturday and Sunday, from 2 to 10 p.m. Last year the Music Festival feature live entertainment on a bicycle powered stage! See the fun had by all on their Facebook page and a lineup for this year’s entertainment.
Planning the trip here we found the Settle Inn, about a half mile north of the downtown area, to be a very bike friendly lodging venue to ride from each day. With many hotel amenities favorable to bicyclists here and a combination of designated bike routes to get downtown, I will use this property again. For more hotel or camping options when biking here, see At-A-Glance, La Crosse.
If you can’t make it for the 2014 La Crosse Area Labor Day Weekend Bike Festival, contact the Tourism Bureau and they can arrange maps and itineraries for your own weekend bicycle festival, anytime of the year.
I could ramble on and on about the pleasurable time Marcy and I had at last year’s Bike Festival, however I won’t. The most important thing I can share with you is, come to La Crosse with your bike and – have some fun!