Barn Bluff overlook in Red Wing along the Mississippi River

Take the Ultimate Family Road Trip on the Great River Road

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Barn Bluff overlook in Red Wing along the Mississippi River

Take the Ultimate Family Road Trip on the Great River Road

By Lisa Havelka

After a long winter, I buckled up my kids for a quick spring road trip to stretch our legs and see the landscape as it started to bloom along the Mississippi River. For impressive scenery within a few hours of our home in Southern Minnesota, we drove from Red Wing to Winona along the Great River Road. Not only is this road trip one of my family's perennial favorites, the route is also an official All-American Road and National Scenic Byway!

Red Wing Shoes' flagship store and museum in Minnesota

Red Wing Shoes' flagship store and museum  

Hiking & History in Red Wing

Our first stop was Barn Bluff Regional Park in Red Wing. The 2.9-mile hike took us to the top of a limestone bluff with panoramic views of the river and historic downtown. Back on Main Street, we visited the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum — home to both the beloved Minnesota brand and World’s Largest Boot.

Twelve water skiers in the process of making a human pyramid

Waterskiing was invented in Lake City, and is celebrated there every June during Water Ski Days / Ben Threinen

Garage Sales & Waterskiing in Lake City

Traveling south to Lake City, we couldn’t resist stopping along the way to find treasures from the 100 Mile Garage Sale. The annual event occurs the first weekend in May and includes sales in 15 historic river towns along the river. We popped into the quintessential Chickadee Cottage Cafe for a coffee to go as we set out to explore the lakefront.

Lake City sits on the shores of Lake Pepin, which is the widest spot of the Mississippi River. As the birthplace of water skiing, celebrated with the town’s annual Water Ski Days in June, we had to take a family selfie with the giant bronze statue of Ralph Samuelson the inventor of water skis.

colorful carved wooden dragon on a carousel

The carousel at LARK Toys features exquisitely hand-carved animals. 

Antique Toys & Carousel Rides in Kellogg

Back in the car, we continued south to the Wabasha-Kellogg area for a stop at LARK Toys, an eclectic store that’s part amusement park and part antique toy museum. No visit would be complete without a ride on the hand-carved wooden carousel, where each animal is a rideable work of art. 

National Eagle Center eagle feeding Wabasha

National Eagle Center / Jackie Scherer

Visiting the National Eagle Center in Wabasha

Heading into downtown Wabasha, bald eagles soared above us along the river. Eager to learn more, we hit the National Eagle Center. We loved standing by the floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the incredible view of the river and nesting ground to hundreds of bald eagles. The kids loved the Center’s Ambassador Avenue where we were up close to the resident bald and golden eagles.

The Build-A Nest interactive activity in the Center was a great way to build up an appetite for lunch at Slippery’s. Known for its appearance in the movie "Grumpy Old Men," one of the most famous movies filmed in Minnesota, it filled our bellies and gave us more spectacular views of the eagles along the banks of the Mississippi.

A variety platter of doughnuts from Bloedow's Bakery in Winona

Try all the doughnuts at Bloedow Bakery in downtown Winona / Visit Winona

A Day’s Climb to Find a Sweet Stop in Winona

Finally, as we wrapped-up our little family road trip in we made a sweet treat stop at Bloedow Bakery in downtown Winona. Easily my favorite doughnut shop in Minnesota, these donuts are not just for breakfast! The kids grabbed some doughnuts from the bakery case, and I bought a frosted cookie.

With more great river views, we took our treats to Levee Park where the kids burned off their dessert delirium by climbing the man-made boulders in the park.

Woman biker Mississippi Headwaters Itasca

Bring your bike along to explore the fantastic trails in and around Itasca State Park

More Great River Road Adventures

The Great River Road is brimming with incredible adventures for every type of traveler. Take a road trip to dozens of charming Mississippi River towns right here in Minnesota, head to Itasca State Park to ride the Mississippi River Trail as it winds across Minnesota and continues south to the Gulf of Mexico, or plan a camping trip at Great River Bluffs State Park, where awe-inspiring views of the Mississippi will leave you breathless. 

Lisa Havelka

Lisa Havelka is the southern regional coordinator for Explore Minnesota. Born and raised in southern Minnesota, Lisa loves antiquing, visiting Minnesota wineries, riding motorcycles, and catching live shows at Minnesota’s many music venues.