“ River boat cruises - La Cross, Wisconsin, USA. „
La Crosse River Queen Cruises
One of the things we wanted to do while on our 'Great River Road' journey through Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota was to take a trip on a paddle wheeler. Sadly there are very few of these left and those offering trips are mostly like this one, authentic reproductions, rather than old steam ships. Because of the fact that they were steam driven and has fires on board many of them met their end by catching fire so it was good to know this was not steam driven by a fire!
We spent half a day and a night here in La Crosse so we had the chance to explore a little of what the city had to offer. We went straight down to the river to see if we could find the river boat cruises and luckily just made it in time for the afternoon sailing. It was pretty windy and drizzling so as I bought the tickets my husband rushed back to the car to get our kagools, I would have preferred even more layers but it was the quickest things he could grab from the boot.
A BIT ABOUT THE LA CROSSE QUEEN
This boat is one of only a few authentic Mississippi River paddlewheel river boats which are still in operation in the USA at this time. Unlike many replica boats this one was actually built like the traditional steam ships with sternwheels that are the only means of propulsion. The La Crosse Queen has a split sternwheel and each is run by a twin diesel engine that powers hydraulic motors which turn the paddles. This is unusual as many of the replica paddle wheelers today have a wheel at the back that free wheels for decorations and does not actually do anything to help the boat move forward at all.
PRICES AND TIMES
The sightseeing cruise that we did was $14.95 per adult and $7.50 for children from aged 2 - 11 under 2s are free.
The river boat runs from May through to late October and they do run cruises with dinners and lunches but obviously they are more expensive and have to be booked in advance.
The cruise we went on goes usually at 11am, 1.30 pm and in the busier summer months a 3,30pm one runs on Saturday and Sunday.
The boat dock is obviously on the river bank and can be found at west end of State Street at the north end of Riverside Park. We found it easiest to follow signs to the park and found there was plenty of parking but we did go at a very quiet time so this may not be the case in busy times. The dock for this boat cruise is next to the big Hiawatha Indian statue in the park.
There is another boat cruise that operates on the river that boasts that it takes you up side branches and that you see more wildlife which would be nice but it wasn't a paddle wheeler which is the experience we were looking for.
We were pleased to read that the La Crosse Queen is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard for safety . The boat is licensed to carry up to 149 passengers. But on the day we went I think there were less than twenty of us so we were able to move around feely to every corner that we were allowed as passengers. This meant that taking photos was easy and we could move from seat to seat or from upstairs to downstairs without any problem as there were so many free seats.
The trip up and back down the river lasted about an hour and a half which was long enough as it was pretty chilly. I spent the return trip down inside as it was warmer and ended up chatting to agroup of ladies who then suggested we follow them after the boat trip and they would take us up to Grandad Bluff to see the city and the river from above.
On the way up the river a young girl gave a commentary about the boat and the city of La Crosse as well as some of the sites we were passing. As she talked the captain interrupted to point out some snapping turtles he had spotted crawling up the bank alongside the river. I have to say I was a lot more interested in the snapping turtles than the rich person's house that we were passing on the other side river bank.
This part of the Mississippi is said to be the most scenic in the Midwest according to the AAA with the river bluffs and the meandering river, its locks and the chance of seeing one of the huge river barges going through a lock along the way.
As we approached the Lock & Dam No. 7 at Dresbach the guide explained the process of taking a boat or barge through the lock. We did watch one of these enormous barges going through a lock in a town/city called Guttenberg further along the 'Great River Road' and it was an amazing site. These barges push containers in front of them and the one we saw had nine containers and they can have almost double that. If they have more than will fit in the lock at one time them the barge load has to be split and sent through in separate parts and rejoined after the lock.
The guide told us of the history of La Crosse which had been a booming town with sawmills, fur trading, and boat building as well as being one of the busiest steamboat ports on the Upper Mississippi River.
We got very close to an old bridge which spans the Mississippi River between La Crescent, Minnesota and La Crosse, Wisconsin. As we drove along the 'Great River Road' we constantly crossed over from Minnesota to Wisconsin and back again depending on what we thought we would like to see.
This bridge was built in 1876 and is one of the first 15 bridges across the Mississippi River. It is still used today by Amtrak rail. The swing span which is the bit that swings has a humpback truss, and then the two adjoining spans are flat topped. It has undergone a few changes in its time as originally it was built as a truss bridge in 1876. It was replaced with a swing span in 1902. That swing span was removed in 2004 and replaced with a bascule draw lift bridge and as such it is the only draw bridge on the Mississippi River.
The bridge apparently opens about 2000 a year but mainly for recreational boats as La Crosse is no longer a major river port for commercial barges.
Once I had listened to the guide upstairs i went down to see if they had any hoyt drinks in the smlall shop downstairs. Sadly they didn't as the machine was broken so I dedcided to saty down stairs in order to keep warmer.
Next to the little shop was a glass window and through this you got a great view of the paddle wheel turning and splashing water up as it did its job. It was almost mesmerising if you watched for too long.
There were also toilets downstairs as well as the shop but I didn't use them so I can't really say what they were like.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Yes it was a nice relaxing paddle up and down the river for an hour and a half but it would also have been nice to explore the side streams which the other river cruise company offer and that way you would get to see more of the wildlife.
We did see the snapping turtles and an eagle high in a tree but much too far away to get a photo.
The boat was clean and comfortable with plenty of seats and life belts in boxes around the deck. The small shop offered a few snacks and cold drinks and usually hot drinks but not the day we went sadly as I could have done with one to warm me up.
Once we had arrived back at the dock we passed through the small ticket office and souvenir shop. We did buy a couple of postcards but didn't bother with the caps, T shirts and sweat shirts advertising the La Crosse Queen nor were we tempted by the rather expensive and not very relevant knickknacks there either. I am not sure who they were aimed at as they would not have been interesting to children and were certainly not something we would have ever bought.
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