13 new things to do in La Crosse-Eau Claire

13 new things to do in La Crosse-Eau Claire

Photo courtesy of Cady Cheese Factory via Facebook

By Erin Yarnall

February 6, 2024

It’s hard not to thoroughly enjoy a trip to the La Crosse-Eau Claire area in western Wisconsin. Between the beautiful bluffs, the proximity to the Mississippi River, and all that there is to do in the cities and towns in that region, there’s plenty of reasons to return time and time again. But what if you’ve already hit a lot of the major sites?

If you’ve hiked around Grandad Bluff in La Crosse and visited Eau Claire’s family-friendly museums, what’s left? Plenty. Try hitting some of the area’s smaller cities, like Menomonie and Chippewa Falls, for gorgeous hiking locales, or try a new restaurant that offers up some of the best of the state’s culinary delights.

If you’re traveling to the La Crosse-Eau Claire area for a repeat trip and looking for something new to do, or if you’re on your first visit and wanting to try something unique, here are some new places that are worth exploring.

Wax nostalgic at Dahl Auto Museum

711 3rd St. S, La Crosse

The La Crosse area is home to some rich history and there are few more fun ways to explore that than a visit to the Dahl Auto Museum. The car museum walks visitors through the history of local automobile company Dahl Automotive, which first opened up shop in 1911. The museum showcases cars from each decade of the company’s existence, with more than 20 antique and classic cars on display.

To make visitors even more nostalgic, the museum also houses a recreation of the Starlite Drive-In, a historic drive-in theater that operated in the city from 1949 until 1978. The museum is open every Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Enjoy the offerings at Pettibone Park

700 N. Pettibone Drive, La Crosse

The most famous walk in La Crosse might be around Grandad Bluff, but that doesn’t mean the city’s other offerings aren’t worth taking in. Pettibone Park, located on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, is one of the city’s most unique locations. The park, first opened in 1901, has volleyball courts, a disc golf area, and plenty of trails for walking and hiking.

During the summer, the park offers even more fun thanks to its waterfront location. It’s an ideal spot for swimming, and visitors can also rent canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards.

Explore the caverns at Crystal Cave

W965 WI-29, Spring Valley

There are plenty of fun things to do aboveground, but in the La Crosse-Eau Claire area you can also hang out underground. Located in Spring Valley 46 miles east of Eau Claire, Crystal Cave runs for more than 4,600 feet and extends to a depth of 69 feet. The cave was first discovered in 1881 and visitors can now tour and explore the site.

Crystal Cave offers so much more than just cave tours, too. Make your way to the Prospector’s Creek area to go gem panning with the little ones, and maybe even uncover a gem or fossil while you’re at it. Or hit the links at the cave’s dinosaur-themed mini-golf course, where golfers can learn different dinosaur facts at each hole. The cave shuts down for the winter but is open each year from April 1 through Oct. 31.

Sample some Wisconsin-made dairy at Cady Cheese Factory

126 WI-128, Wilson

Wisconsin cheesemakers produce a quarter of all of the country’s cheese, and there are plenty of opportunities to see where the magic happens, like at the Cady Cheese Factory in Wilson. Having opened in 1908, the cheese factory is one of the oldest in the area, producing more than 50,000 pounds of colby, cheddar, Monterey Jack, and gouda cheese every day.

Don’t forget to pick up some of the factory’s free samples, and if you’re a fan of any of them, you’re in luck. The factory also houses a gift shop for visitors who can’t part without buying a package, or several packages, of their favorite locally made cheese.

Take in a lot of art on a sculpture tour in Eau Claire

610 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire

Sure, art lovers can head out to fancy museums all around the world, but they can also stick around Eau Claire to see some pretty great pieces as well. The city is filled with sculptures, and Eau Claire has put together a walking tour that visitors can take on their own time, passing by all of them. It might take a while, however—with nearly 80 pieces included, it’s the largest outdoor walking sculpture tour in the world.

An extra perk? Eau Claire’s sculpture tour comes without a hefty admission fee and it’s easy to follow along with. Visitors can access a map on Visit Eau Claire’s website, which points out where to find the dozens of pieces.

Get into local history at the Chippewa Valley Museum

1204 E. Half Moon Drive, Eau Claire

Eau Claire is home to a bevy of museums, like the family-oriented Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, or industry-specific ones like the Wisconsin Logging Museum. For visitors interested in the history of the area, spend a day exploring the Chippewa Valley Museum.

The museum ($12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 for students and children ages 5-17, free for children under 5), is open Tuesday through Saturday, and has several exhibits that tell the history of the Chippewa Valley. Exhibits include Changing Currents, which showcases how life in the area has changed over the past 400 years, and Farm Life, which illustrates the lives of rural families in the area throughout the past.

Enjoy some music at the Blue Ox Music Festival

5024 Crescent Ave., Eau Claire

The state of Wisconsin isn’t lacking when it comes to music festivals—Milwaukee’s Summerfest is one of the largest music festivals in the world, in fact—but even smaller cities like Eau Claire have their fair share.

Blue Ox Music Festival is an annual three-day event in Eau Claire. The music festival showcases some of the biggest and most exciting up-and-coming names in bluegrass, Americana, and roots music. This year’s festival will be held from June 27-29 at 5024 Crescent Ave. in Eau Claire, and features headlining artists like Band of Horses, Sierra Ferrell and Watchhouse. Three-day general admission tickets cost $239.

Be amazed at the US Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championship

100 Carson Park Drive, Eau Claire

The US Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championship isn’t something you can attend all year long, but if you’re in Eau Claire in August, or feel like making a special trip up, the event will be well worth the visit. Master chainsaw carvers work to craft intricate sculptures out of wood, and by the end of the weekend, an overall winner is crowned, and the pieces are auctioned off.

There’s more fun to be had beyond watching the carving. The annual four-day long festival also features food trucks, balloon art, mural paintings, and more fun activities all weekend long. The championship is held annually at Eau Claire’s Carson Park.

Grab a drink at the Bodega Brew Pub

122 4th St. S, La Crosse

If you’re leaving the La Crosse-Eau Claire area without trying some locally made brews, you’ve missed out. But if you’ve hit up some of the area’s most well-known breweries and still can’t pick a favorite, try a sampling of several options at the Bodega Brew Pub. The La Crosse bar is well-known for its extensive beer menu, which contains plenty of locally sourced selections such as the Crabby Cider from Stockholm’s Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery and, of course, New Glarus Brewing Company’s Spotted Cow.

The Bodega Brew Pub doesn’t just offer up a lengthy beer menu, though. The beloved bar also serves sandwiches, appetizers, and flatbread pizzas. They have a busy event schedule, with live music performances and trivia nights held regularly.

Enjoy a peaceful walk in the Riverside International Friendship Garden

405 E. Veterans Memorial Drive, La Crosse

At first glance, La Crosse might not seem like a bustling international hub, but the northern Wisconsin city has eight sister cities all over the world: Bantry, Ireland; Dubna, Russia; Épinal, France; Friedberg, Germany; Førde, Norway; Junglinster, Luxembourg; Kumbo, Cameroon; and Luoyang, China. La Crosse’s Riverside International Friendship Gardens, set inside the city’s Riverside Park, recognizes each of these sister cities with a unique garden that celebrates the unique culture of each one.

The garden is open every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and is free to enter, though donations are welcome. Free audio tours of the gardens are available on the Riverside International Friendship Gardens’ website.

Go for a hike at Devil’s Punchbowl

410th St., Menomonie

Devil’s Punchbowl might sound intimidating to those uninitiated with the local landmark, but it’s a truly beautiful spot to visit year-round. Devil’s Punchbowl is home to a waterfall on its western end during the summer. In the winter, the landmark typically houses a vast collection of icicles hanging from the waterfall’s edge.

Devil’s Punchbowl is owned by the West Wisconsin Land Trust, which has made it accessible for visitors throughout the entire year. The jaw-dropping formation, created by retreating glaciers, can be accessed by a wooden staircase, built into the side of the punchbowl.

Eat a huge slice of pie at Norske Nook

13804 W. 7th St., Osseo

From cheese curds to its many fine brews, the state of Wisconsin is well-known for its culinary contributions. What’s less publicized is the state’s impressive pie selections. Norske Nook, a Norwegian-themed restaurant located in Osseo, about a 30-minute drive south of Eau Claire, is well-regarded for its many flavors of pie.

Stop in for some authentic Norwegian-inspired cooking, like the restaurant’s potato pancakes or lefse wraps, or just help yourself to one of the restaurant’s seriously massive slices of pie. You can also pick up a whole pie to go, just be sure to place your order 48 hours ahead of time. Norske Nook has two additional locations throughout the state, in DeForest and Rice Lake.

Spend the day at Lake Wissota State Park

18127 County Highway O, Chippewa Falls

Wisconsin has no shortage of beautiful parks to explore, especially in the La Crosse-Eau Claire area, home to Lake Wissota State Park, which lies just north of Eau Claire.

The park, which is just north of the city of Chippewa Falls, has an abundance of activities to offer visitors. There’s miles of hiking, biking, and horse-riding trails, but the main attraction of the park is its namesake lake. The massive man-made lake covers 6,300 acres, and during the summer visitors have fun kayaking, canoeing, and water skiing.

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CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | THINGS TO DO

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