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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program La Crosse River Trail Prairies (No. 184)

La Crosse River Trail Prairies

Photo by Eric Epstein

Resource links:

La Crosse River State Trail



Along the La Crosse River State Trail between Bangor and Sparta, Monroe and La Crosse Counties. T16N-R5W, Sections 2, 3. T17N-R4W, Sections 27, 28, 29, 31, 32. T17N-R5W, Sections 35, 36. 70 acres.



The La Crosse River Trail Prairie is situated in the Western Coulees and Ridges ecoregion of Wisconsin and features stretches of dry-mesic to dry prairie in a former railroad right-of-way. The long, linear remnants lie on a sandy terrace of the La Crosse River and are indicative of the once vast prairie and savanna complex that covered this portion of the state. The prairie flora is diverse with big and little blue-stem, Indian grass, and switch grass dominating. The drier Monroe County remnant includes species such as white wild indigo, cream wild indigo, white and purple prairie clover, lead-plant, prairie bush-clover, plains larkspur, pasqueflower, prairie coreopsis, stiff cinquefoil, sky blue and silky aster, thimbleweed, and more. The La Crosse County segment is more mesic with a different assemblage of species including heath aster, compass plant, stiff and showy goldenrod, and New Jersey tea. A few wet pockets also exist with cat-tail, sedges, prairie cord grass, cup plant and Canada milk-vetch. Scattered along the right-of-way are young bur oak openings and small sand blows being stabilized by false heather. The La Crosse River Trail Prairie is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1983.


Driving directions

From the La Crosse River State Trail in Rockland, bike or hike the trail east or west. The segments can also be accessed by town and county road crossings. Hunting and trapping are not allowed on the trail corridor. For more information, please see: Hunting and trapping in State Parks.


La Crosse River Trail Prairies is owned by:

  • WDNR


The DNR's state natural areas program is comprised of lands owned by the state, private conservation organizations, municipalities, other governmental agencies, educational institutions and private individuals. While the majority of SNAs are open to the public, access may vary according to individual ownership policies. Public use restrictions may apply due to public safety, or to protect endangered or threatened species or unique natural features. Lands may be temporarily closed due to specific management activities. Users are encouraged to contact the landowner for more specific details.

The data shown on these maps have been obtained from various sources, and are of varying age, reliability, and resolution. The data may contain errors or omissions and should not be interpreted as a legal representation of legal ownership boundaries.


Site objectives

Manage the site as a dry/dry-mesic prairie reserve and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed fire will determine the structure of the prairie and its associated wetlands and uplands. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native prairies.

Management approach

The prairie and associated wetlands and uplands are managed actively through tree/shrub control using tree harvest, brushing and especially fire to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Occasional fire-tolerant oaks, hickories, and native shrubs such as hazelnut may be retained at low densities. The ecological characteristics of the site will be primarily shaped by an intensive fire management program. Other allowable activities include control of invasive plants and animals, augmentation of native prairie species after careful review, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress wildfires.

Site-specific considerations

  • Although maintenance of the recreational trail is allowed, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance within the Natural Area should be minimized to the extent possible.


Very few State Natural Areas have public facilities, but nearly all are open for a variety of recreational activities as indicated below. Generally, there are no picnic areas, restrooms, or other developments. Parking lots or designated parking areas are noted on individual SNA pages and maps. Trails, if present, are typically undesignated footpaths. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map and/or under the "Access" tab. A compass and topographic map or a GPS unit are useful tools for exploring larger, isolated SNAs.

Allowable activities

In general, the activities listed below are allowed on all DNR-owned SNA lands. Exceptions to this list of public uses, such as SNAs closed to hunting, are noted under the "Access" tab above and posted with signs on site.

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Hunting
  • Trapping

Prohibited activities

  • Camping and campfires
  • Collecting of animals (other than legally harvested species), non-edible fungi, rocks, minerals, fossils, archaeological artifacts, soil, downed wood, or any other natural material, alive or dead. Collecting for scientific research requires a permit issued by the DNR
  • Collecting of plants including seeds, roots or other non-edible parts of herbaceous plants such as wildflowers or grasses
  • Drone use, unless authorized by a SNA research permit
  • Geocaching
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use

For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR]

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Last revised: Friday, December 15, 2017