Downshift on the Bluff Country Scenic Byway

By Explore Minnesota

mississippi bluff

Take it slow and lose track of time in Southeastern Minnesota's historic bluff country. Paddle down the Root River, cycle through small towns, cool off in a 48-degree cave, or simply enjoy the drive.

Take Highway 16, now the 88-mile Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway. It begins at Dexter off Interstate-90 and heads across farmland thick with wind turbines before rolling toward bluff country. The road wiggles through the Root River Valley until reaching La Crescent on the Mississippi River.

Ancient glaciers missed much of the byway area, leaving intact its towering bluffs and deep coulees lush with hardwoods preserved in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Forest. In this easily erodible karst topography, spring-fed trout streams bubble up or disappear underground. Farmers find sinkholes in open fields, and caves reveal underground wonders.

Historic Forestville

Find out more at Forestville/Mystery Cave, one of the Minnesota's most unusual state parks. The visitor center offers lessons on the area's geology while tours of Minnesota's longest cave show off delicate stalactites, stalagmites and underground pools. (The cave even has a bat door.)

Horses trot above ground along the park's wooded trails, and you'll likely spot anglers gracefully casting fly fishing rods and hoping to fry trout for dinner.

A walk across the old bridge spanning the Root River is a step back to 1899. Costumed interpreters with the Minnesota Historical Society re-enact Forestville's days as a pioneer town. Wander through the Meighen Store with original inventory of everything from corsets to colic cures, then tour the home and smell bread or savory stew cooking in the wood-fired stove. Hired hands work the gardens while heirloom chickens bustle through barns.

With historic B&Bs and a variety of restaurants, Lanesboro offers another great hub for seeing the byway. Outfitters offer canoes, bikes and shuttle services for exploring the Root River Trail or the spur that runs south to Harmony.

Amish buggy_squareOccasional horse-drawn buggies trot through town where you may find handmade baskets and fresh-baked sweets for sale along with fresh produce. The area's many Amish families carry on the old-fashioned farming lifestyle that started more than 150 years ago when Norwegians immigrated here with hopes for a better life.

At Inspiration Point wayside just west of Lanesboro you can admire rich, rolling farmland stretching in every direction. Listen for the countryside chorus of birds and a stray moo or two.

This is definitely the place to downshift.

 Find more Minnesota Scenic Byways.