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La Crosse
City of La Crosse
Downtown La Crosse
Downtown La Crosse
Official seal of La Crosse
Location in the state of Wisconsin
Location in the state of Wisconsin
Country United States
State Wisconsin
County La Crosse
 • City 22.54 sq mi (58.38 km2)
 • Land 20.52 sq mi (53.15 km2)
 • Water 2.02 sq mi (5.23 km2)
Elevation 669 ft (204 m)
Population (2010)
 • City 51,320
 • Estimate (2014) 52,440
 • Rank US: 709th
 • Density 2,501.0/sq mi (965.6/km2)
 • Urban 100,868 (US: 298th)
 • Metro 136,749 (US: 294th)
Demonym(s) LAXian
Time zone Central (UTC−6)
 • Summer (DST) Central (UTC−5)
Zip Code 54601, 54602, 54603
Area code 608
FIPS code 55-40775
GNIS feature ID 1567672
Airports La Crosse Regional Airport
Interstate I-90

La Crosse is a city in the U.S. state of Wisconsin and the county seat of La Crosse County. Lying alongside the Mississippi River, La Crosse is the largest city on Wisconsin's western border.

The city's estimated population in 2014 was 52,440. The city forms the core of and is the principal city in the La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of La Crosse County and Houston County, Minnesota, with a combined population of 135,298. La Crosse is home to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Viterbo University, and Western Technical College. A regional technology and medical hub, La Crosse has received high rankings from some magazines in health, well-being, quality of life, and education.


LaCrosseWI 1867
Artists representation of La Crosse in 1867.

The first Europeans to see the site of La Crosse were French fur traders who traveled the Mississippi River in the late 17th century. There is no written record of any visit to the site until 1805, when Lt. Zebulon Pike mounted an expedition up the Mississippi River for the United States. Pike recorded the location's name as "Prairie La Crosse." The name originated from the game with sticks that resembled a bishop's crozier or la crosse in French, which was played by Native Americans there.

The first white settlement at La Crosse occurred in 1841 when Nathan Myrick, a New York native, moved to the village at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin to work in the fur trade. Myrick was disappointed to find that because many fur traders were already well-entrenched there, there were no openings for him in the trade. As a result, he decided to establish a trading post upriver at the then still unsettled site of Prairie La Crosse. In 1841, he built a temporary trading post on Barron Island (now called Pettibone Park), which lies just west of La Crosse's present downtown. The following year, Myrick relocated the post to the mainland prairie, partnering with H. J. B. Miller to run the outfit.

The spot Myrick chose to build his trading post proved ideal for settlement. It was near the junction of the Black, La Crosse, and Mississippi Rivers. In addition, the post was built at one of the few points along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River where a broad plain ideal for development existed between the river's bank and the tall bluffs that line the river valley. Because of these advantages, a small village grew around Myrick's trading post in the 1840s.

A small Mormon community settled at La Crosse in 1844, building several dozen cabins a few miles south of Myrick's post. Although these settlers relocated away from the Midwest after just a year, the land they occupied near La Crosse continues to bear the name Mormon Coulee.

On June 23, 1850, Father James Lloyd Breck of the Episcopal Church said the first Christian liturgy on top of Grandad Bluff. Today a monument to that event stands atop the bluff, near the parking lot at a scenic overlook.

More permanent development took place closer to Myrick's trading post, where stores, a hotel, and a post office were constructed during the 1840s. Under the direction of Timothy Burns, lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, surveyor William Hood platted the village in 1851. This opened it up for further settlement, which was achieved rapidly as a result of promotion of the city in eastern newspapers. By 1855, La Crosse had grown in population to nearly 2,000 residents, leading to its incorporation in 1856. The city grew even more rapidly after 1858 with the completion of the La Crosse & Milwaukee Railroad, the second railroad connecting Milwaukee to the Mississippi River.

During the second half of the 19th century, La Crosse grew to become one of the largest cities in Wisconsin. It was a center of the lumber industry, for logs cut in the interior of the state could be rafted down the Black River toward sawmills built in the city. La Crosse also became a center for the brewing industry and other manufacturers that saw advantages in the city's location adjacent to major transportation arteries, such as the Mississippi River and the railroad between Milwaukee and St. Paul, Minnesota. Around the turn of the 20th century, the city also became a center for education, with three colleges and universities established in the city between 1890 and 1912.

La Crosse remains the largest city on Wisconsin's western border, and the educational institutions in the city have recently led it toward becoming a regional technology and medical hub.

La Crosse river front
La Crosse river front


Grandad Bluff in La Crosse

La Crosse is located on the western border of the midsection of Wisconsin, on a broad alluvial plain along the east side of the Mississippi River. The Black River empties into the Mississippi north of the city, and the La Crosse River flows into the Mississippi just north of the downtown area. Just upriver from its mouth, this river broadens into a marshland that splits the city into two distinct sections, north and south.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 22.54 square miles (58.38 km2), of which, 20.52 square miles (53.15 km2) is land and 2.02 square miles (5.23 km2) is water.

Surrounding the relatively flat prairie valley where La Crosse lies are towering 500 ft bluffs, one of the most prominent of which is Grandad Bluff (mentioned in Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain), which has an overlook of the three states region. This feature typifies the topography of the Driftless Area in which La Crosse sits. This rugged region is composed of high ridges dissected by narrow valleys called coulees, a French term. As a result, the area around La Crosse is frequently referred to as the "Coulee Region".


La Crosse's location in the United States' upper midwest gives the area a temperate, continental climate. The warmest month of the year is July, when the average high temperature is 84.1 °F (29 °C), with overnight low temperatures averaging 63.2 °F (18 °C). January is the coldest month, with high temperatures averaging 25.9 °F (-4 °C), with the overnight low temperatures around 8.9 °F (-14 °C).

Climate data for La Crosse, Wisconsin (La Crosse Regional Airport)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 57
Average high °F (°C) 25.9
Average low °F (°C) 8.9
Record low °F (°C) −43
Precipitation inches (mm) 1.1
Snowfall inches (cm) 11
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.5 7.6 9.6 10.8 11.0 11.0 10.8 10.4 9.6 8.3 8.9 9.3 116.8
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 8.5 6.0 4.4 1.3 0 0 0 0 0 .3 3.2 7.3 31
Source #1: NOAA (normals 1981–2010, extremes 1948–2001)
Source #2: The Weather Channel (extreme temps)

|source 3 = U.S. climate data

Neighborhoods and districts

La Crosse Commercial Historic District
Downtown Historic District

La Crosse has 17 voting districts (wards). Neighborhoods in the city include:

  • Washburn
  • Historic Cass & King
  • Historic downtown
  • Northside (Upper and Lower) and Old Towne
  • Hungary Point
  • Mud City
  • College Park (UW–La Crosse campus district)

Suburbs include French Island in the Town of Campbell, Holmen the Town of Medary, City of Onalaska, and the Town of Shelby.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 3,860
1870 7,785 101.7%
1880 14,505 86.3%
1890 25,000 72.4%
1900 28,895 15.6%
1910 30,417 5.3%
1920 30,421 0.0%
1930 39,614 30.2%
1940 42,707 7.8%
1950 47,535 11.3%
1960 47,258 −0.6%
1970 50,286 6.4%
1980 48,347 −3.9%
1990 51,140 5.8%
2000 51,818 1.3%
2010 51,320 −1.0%
Est. 2015 52,306 1.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
2014 Estimate

According to 2009–2013 ACS estimates, the median household income was $40,457 and the median family income was $57,744. Males had a median income of $37,305 versus $32,145 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,282. About 10.1% of families and 23.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.7% of those under age 18 and 7.8% of those age 65 or over.

2010 census

At the 2010 census, there were 51,320 people, 21,428 households and 9,691 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,501.5 per square mile (965.6/km²). There were 22,628 housing units at an average density of 1,102.7 per square mile (425.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.8% White, 2.3% African American, 0.6% Native American, 4.9% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 0.4% from other races, and 2.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.0% of the population.

There were 21,428 households of which 19.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.6% were married couples living together, 9.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 54.8% were non-families. 37.7% of all households were composed of individuals and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.86.

16.2% of the population were under the age of 18, 26.5% from 18 to 24, 23.1% from 25 to 44, 21.0% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 89.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.4 males.

Riverside Park, La Crosse, Wisconsin
View of the Mississippi River from Riverside Park


Cass st bridge
View of the Cass St. and Cameron Ave. Bridges, which both cross the Mississippi River, from Riverside Park in Downtown La Crosse.

The La Crosse Regional Airport provides direct scheduled passenger service to Minneapolis, Detroit, and Chicago through Delta Air Lines link Endeavor Air, as well as American Airlines link Envoy Air. Sun Country and Xtra Airways provide charter service to Laughlin, Elko, Nevada, and other destinations. The airport also serves general aviation for the La Crosse region.

In 2012, the City of La Crosse was the first city in Wisconsin to pass a Green Complete Streets ordinance. This ordinance requires that when roads are reconstructed the needs of stormwater management and the safety of bicycles and pedestrians are taken into account in the new design. The city is served by several major highways and Interstate, including Interstate 90, U.S. Highway 14, U.S. Highway 53, U.S. Highway 61, Wisconsin State Highway 35, Wisconsin State Highway 16, Wisconsin State Highway 33.

The City of La Crosse's MTU bus service with routes reaching out to the suburbs served over one million users in 2007.

La Crosse transit map

On the Mississippi River, cargo is transported to and from this area to St Paul and St Louis, using towboats, primarily moving dry bulk cargo barges for coal, grain, and other low-value bulk goods.

The Mississippi River Bridge, also known as the Cass St. bridge and the newer Cameron Street bridge (photo with blue arch) both connect downtown La Crosse with La Crescent, Minnesota. These two bridges cross the Mississippi River, as does the Interstate 90 bridge located just northwest of La Crosse, connecting Wisconsin and Minnesota.

La Crosse Wisconsin Amtrak station
Amtrak station in La Crosse, Wisconsin

Railroad tracks owned by Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) pass through La Crosse providing freight service. The former Milwaukee and La Crosse Railroad/Milwaukee Road/Soo Line and now Canadian Pacific Railway runs through the city as well. It provides the track on which the La Crosse Amtrak station is located, and is a stop for the Empire Builder providing cross-country passenger rail service.


La Crosse has over 30 active arts organizations. The Pump House Regional Arts Center hosts visual arts exhibits throughout the year plus its own series of jazz, folk, and blues performers. The La Crosse Symphony is the city's regional orchestra and the La Crosse Community Theater has won both regional and national acclaim. The city is home to the Blue Stars Drum & Bugle Corps, a Drum Corps International member corps. Other arts sites include Viterbo University Fine Arts building, UW–La Crosse Art Gallery and Theater, and the La Crosse Center, which hosts national performers. Local sculptor Elmer Petersen has created sculptures that are exhibited throughout the downtown area, including La Crosse Players and the Eagle in Riverside Park.

Bars and clubs

La Crosse has many bars and nightclubs in the downtown central business district, as well as many neighborhood bars and grills.

Annual events

  • La Crosse Oktoberfest
  • La Crosse Riverfest
  • St. Elias Mediterranean Festival
  • Freedom Fest
  • Midwest Banjo Fest
  • Irish Fest
  • Wienerfest
  • Downtown Mardi Gras
  • Downtown Cameron Park Farmers Market
  • Historic Downtown La Crosse Days
  • Winter Rec Fest
  • New Year's Eve Celebration with The Skyrockers
  • Hmong New Year Parade
  • Rotary Lights Display
  • La Crosse Labor Day Parade and Celebration
  • La Crosse Storytelling Festival

Riverside Park

A Simpler Time Statue and Riverside Park levee
A Simpler Time Statue and Riverside Park (La Crosse) levee.
A Simpler Time Statue at sunset
A Simpler Time Statue in Riverside Park (La Crosse) at sunset.

Riverside Park is situated on the riverfront of downtown La Crosse near the Blue Bridges and across the river from Pettibone Park. It hosts events such as Riverfest, Fourth of July fireworks, Oktoberfest, and the Rotary Lights. The steamboats American Queen, La Crosse Queen, and Julia Belle Swain make stops along the river in the park. The park has walking/running trails.

Gallery of Historic Places

Buildings, sites, structures, districts, and objects in La Crosse listed on the National Register of Historic Places


Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Workman La Crosse
Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Workman


Guadalupe Shrine
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

La Crosse is the episcopal see for the Roman Catholic Diocese of La Crosse. The Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Workman is the mother church of the Diocese. St. Rose of Viterbo Convent, the mother house of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration is in La Crosse. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in La Crosse. Commissioned by Cardinal Raymond Burke while he was Bishop of La Crosse, it was designed by architect Duncan Stroik.


Protestant churches include Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Vineyard, Presbyterian, independent and non-denominational.

The La Crosse Area ELCA Synod includes 43,600 members from 81 congregations in 10 counties in western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.

Christ Church of La Crosse is the city's Episcopal church.


St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church is the city's Eastern Orthodox Church.


The Congregation Sons of Abraham is in La Crosse.

Unitarian Universalist

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of La Crosse has held services since 1951.


Islamic Society Othman Bin Afaan is the city's Islamic mosque.

Awards and rankings

  • 2002 – National Trust for Historic Preservation Great American Main Street Award
  • 2003 - Milken Institute Best Performing Cities of the 96 Smallest Metros (20th Overall)
  • 2005 – Inc. magazine's 4th Best Small City for Doing Business
  • 2005 – Inc. magazine's 15th Best City in America to Do Business
  • 2005 – Forbes 25th Best Place
  • 2006 – 7th Safest Metropolitan Area in the Nation – Morgan Quitno Press
  • 2006 – Kiplinger's Personal Finance ranked La Crosse 16th "Smartest Place to Live in U.S.
  • 2007 – Country Home magazine ranked La Crosse 12th Best Green City in America and second among small cities, behind Corvallis, Ore.
  • 2009 – U.S. News ranked La Crosse one of the 10 best places to live in the country.
  • 2009 – Farmers Insurance Group ranked La Crosse – Winona, Minnesota area the 20th most secure place to live in the United States among small towns.
  • 2010 – Most Secure Places to Live in the US (Small Towns) – Sperling's Best Places
  • 2014 – 42nd in the Forbes list of Best Small Places for Business and Careers; and ranked 11th on Outside magazine's 16 Best Places to Live in the U.S.
  • 2015 – named La Crosse the 15th Coldest City in the Nation
  • 2016 - named La Crosse the 6th Drunkest City in America

Sister cities

La Crosse has sister city relationships with six foreign towns and cities:

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