Take sightseeing to new heights with a hike in southeast Minnesota bluff country. Several trails offer scenic views of the Mississippi River, valleys, rugged bluffs, and spectacular fall colors. Bring a pair of binoculars to spot eagles, hawks, and other birds that soar along the river flyway. Where to start? From Red Wing to Winona, here are three destinations to get you started.
An hour’s drive from the Twin Cities, the historic town of Red Wing is home to several bluffs, the most prominent being Barn Bluff. This landmark looms over downtown, the Mississippi River, and the river valley. Hikers can choose from a south trail (considered easy) and a north trail (slightly more difficult) to reach the two scenic overlooks and additional trails. A trip to the top and back takes one to two hours. Serious rock climbers ascend the bluff’s north face, considered among Minnesota’s best climbs.
In Frontenac, where the Mississippi widens into Lake Pepin, Frontenac State Park is another rewarding bluff country destination. The park has over 14 miles of hiking trails, including sections along the cliff edge that feature river overlooks. Another trail landmark is the natural limestone arch, called In-Yan Teopa (Dakota for “rock with opening”), perched on top of the bluff.
Farther downriver in Winona, Great River Bluffs State Park is named for the sheer-sided bluffs that rise 500 feet above the river and valley. The park has more than six miles of easy hiking trails. Four trail overlooks—the North, South, and East Overlooks and the King’s Bluff Overlook—offer spectacular views of the Mississippi. Get an expansive view of the park’s interior from the Hill of Many Timbers and Kearn’s Valley overlooks. Hiking trails wind through forests, fields, and prairies that are home to wildlife ranging from wild turkeys to grouse and coyotes.
With plentiful lodging along the byway, including hotels, motels, B&Bs and state park campgrounds, take a weekend to enjoy this area’s spectacular scenery and invigorating hikes. For more information, visit livehealthyredwing.org/maps.htm or mndnr.gov/parks.