If there was one “easy” place to dip your toes into paddle-camping on the Mississippi River, Goose Island is it. In contrast to remote-camping on the islands and sandbars between the vast amount of sloughs, islands and bays of the Mississippi, here, you drive right onto an island into a more modern campground. Located just south of La Crosse, Goose Island is the largest County Campground in Wisconsin with hundreds of campsites – many of which are right on the water. Surrounding the island is Goose Island Trail, one of fifteen designated water trails in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge within Wisconsin’s borders.
The park offers canoe rentals and even has a bait shop, because fishing comes with the territory in these parts. As long as you don’t mind neighbors and the noise that results with a large and dense campground like this, Goose Island is a great consideration. Of course, if noise does bother you, there’s plenty of nooks and crannies to escape to all along the backwaters for some solitude.
Paddling Style: Quietwater Paddling
Best Suited For: Canoes + Kayaks
Camping Location: Riverside + Near Riverside
Availability: Reservable Designated Campground Sites
Paddle-in: No | Walk-in: Yes
Camping Fee: Yes | Camping Permit: No
Goose Island is about as luxurious as it gets for canoe-camping options in Wisconsin. It is after all, a huge County Park unlike most. With modern restroom and shower facilities, a camp store, game room, mini golf, playgrounds and even laundry, this isn’t neccessarily roughing it. But it does afford beginners the opportunity to experience riverside camping via a homebase, while they set their remote-camping goals of the future.
With a campground such as this, comes specific rules – it’s not as “free-wheeling” as one might want. By that, we mean being able to leave your boat tied up riverside for access on a whim. No, this camp does have rules about mooring boats at sites (unless shoreline parking is reserved with the campsite). As stated in the rules, “only one watercraft per camper is allowed to be secured to the shoreline when in use and when boats are not in use, all watercraft should be trailered or in designated areas.” This is to minimize other’s restriction to shoreline access, which is actually pretty fair. Despite the rules and regulations, the conveniences make this an appealing option for an easy weekend escape to shoreline camping on the Mighty Miss.
Paddling Goose Island:
Goose Island Trail is posted with green signs that mark the way along the backwaters surrounding the wooded island, so long as they haven’t been submerged due to high water or been washed away as a result. The canoe trail has been designated “moderate” skill level by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service because half of the paddle is upstream against the current, which can be strong at times. In higher water, it could take 4-5 hours to make the 7-7.75 mile trek. Of course, it’s easy to tailor to your liking since there are four different access points and many sloughs and channels to consider. You could explore off-the-trail on the eastern side and keep closer to the park if you are hesitant to commit to the full circumnavigation of the island.
Maps + Brochures:
Goose Island Canoe Trail Brochure: La Crosse County Facilities Department
Goose Island County Park Map
Goose Island County Park Campground Brochure
Goose Island County Park Campground Map
Goose Island Trail: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service