As the mighty Mississippi River slips away through Minnesota, it merges with the St Croix River, south of St Paul, and steadily grows, forming a long stretch of the Wisconsin border. On the journey down to the Gulf of Mexico, the river weaves past towns like Red Wing and Winona, paralleled by the Great River Road, before surging on into Iowa. In spring, this stretch of country is known as the 100 mile garden, and hosts, the first weekend of May, a 100 mile garage sale, one man's trash they say!
Red Wing, one of the first stops on the route south of the Twin Cities, is home to both Red Wing Shoes and Red Wing Pottery and plays host to a charming historic downtown. Pick up souvenirs here, maybe even a comfortable pair of walking shoes, and drive on to Wabasha, a picturesque time-forgotten river town with a large winter gathering of bald eagles that augments the human population and adds excitement to quaint 19th-century city center.
Those with children in tow (or the young at heart) should plan a stop at the amazing LARK, an expansive toy store in Kellogg, then expend a little energy on trails in the Whitewater State Park on the way to Winona.
Winona, near the southern end of the Great River Road, is swept by smooth currents, framed by gentle rolling tree-carpeted hills and river carved bluffs. Graceful Victorian homes, historic buildings and colorful stained glass windows make this an attractive destination in and out; this is, after all, America's stained glass capital and one of Minnesota's prettiest cities.
There are many miles of hiking and biking trails in the region, and numerous state parks, including, below Winona, the Great River Bluffs State Park, and Beaver Creek Valley State Park. Because this is bluff country, expect to find a mix of trail type here, from stiff climbs to easy strolls. With this much water around, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are plenty of places to paddle here, with and low-key rapids on the Cannon River suitable for the whole family.
Red Wing is 63 miles up the Mississippi River from Winona, and 46 miles north of Rochester.