Fantastic Fall Drives
8 amazing trips for enjoying autumn colors, apple pie, eagles, hiking, crafts, shopping, smoked fish, and more
(page 1 of 3)
Mile by Mile
Start: Downtown Red Wing. Stop for baked goods and coffee at Braschler’s Bakery and Coffee Shop (410 W. Third St.). If it’s late and you’re already hungry for lunch, try Smokey Row Café and Jenny Lind Bakery (1926 Old West Main St.).
Mile 12.2: Head southeast on Highway 61 to Frontenac State Park. Frontenac is one of the best places around to spot migrating songbirds. Trails wind through patches of prairie, lowland forest, and upland hardwoods. The Point-No-Point overlook towers 400 feet above the mighty Mississippi River.
Mile 18.7: Buy apples for the road at Pepin Heights’s retail store at the south end of Lake City. Pepin Heights orchards raise the University of Minnesota-bred SweeTango, one of the tastiest apples you’ll sink your teeth into.
Mile 30.8: Peak viewing at the National Eagle Center in downtown Wabasha (50 Pembroke Ave.) is in winter, when bald eagles congregate around open water. But not to worry: you’ll still find a few bald eagles on the river in autumn. Daily programs offer close-up views of the center’s captive eagles, taken in due to injuries or other handicaps making them unable to survive in the wild. Lunch is just a short walk away, down the block at Flour Mill Pizzeria (146 W. Main St.).
Mile 37.3: Whether you have kids along or not, you’ll be impressed by LARK Toys on County Road 18 in Kellogg. The centerpiece of the 20,000-square-foot store is a hand-carved carousel, which runs every half-hour and costs $2 to ride. The rest of the store is filled with toys of every kind for every age, from trolls to tea sets.
Mile 57.9: Backtrack and cross the Mississippi at Wabasha. Then head south down Highway 35 along the Wisconsin shore. If you’re traveling in late October, stop at Riecks Lake, three miles north of Alma, where more than 1,000 migrating tundra swans stage until freeze-up, usually in November. If the swans haven’t arrived yet, continue on to Buena Vista Park in Alma, with a parking area and overlook 540 feet above the Mississippi.
Mile 59.7: Sample fruit and wine in the tasting room of Danzinger Vineyards and Winery (S2015 Grapeview Ln.) on the bluff above Alma.
Mile 77.9: Backtrack north up Highway 35 to Pepin, a compact town on its namesake lake. Savor a surprisingly sophisticated dinner (a rare treat in small towns) at the Harbor View Café. Note: Hours are limited, and the restaurant is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call ahead to verify the café is open.
Mile 86: Continue up Highway 35 just past the tiny town of Stockholm, and stay the night at the River Road Inn. The inn, with refurbished carriage houses and a new main lodge, is located on an old apple orchard with views of Lake Pepin.
Rural Arts Near Decorah
Driving through through the hills and valleys of southeastern Minnesota, my wife, Susan, and I climb and sail down undulating backroads. To flatlanders from the Twin Cities, all this up and down is exotic and seductive. Whenever I visit, I want to move here, which puts my entire existence in disequilibrium.
It’ll pass. We’re on our way to Decorah, a picturesque college town nestled in the hills of northeastern Iowa. We’re trying to establish a theme, one that encompasses making the most of a few warm days in autumn; seeing colorful woodlands, farm fields, and prairie grasses—a picture of old-time rural America (at least as we imagine it); dallying with the Amish, visiting galleries, and buying some Christmas presents. And so we settle on something like, “Holiday Shopping for Rural Arts and Crafts.”
We spot our first buggy outside the town of Harmony, where the shoulders of Highway 52 (dubbed the Amish Byway) are marked with horse pucky and thin tracks of steel-buggy wheels. We drive on to tiny Canton and our appointment with Charlie Staub, owner of Old Crow Antiques, who hops in our car and leads us on an afternoon tour of Amish farms and businesses.
Members of the Schwartzentruber sect, among the most conservative Amish, began settling the area in 1975. Many have been here a generation. The men still wear flat-crowned straw hats and full beards without mustaches. The women wear long dresses and tuck their hair beneath plain bonnets. Throughout the afternoon we chat with farrier Levi Yoder. We buy fresh tomatoes and pickled green beans and beets at Menno Mast’s roadside stand. We pick up homemade pastries, a handmade rug, and canned cherries and egg noodles. The Amish way is slowly changing, says Charlie. They rely more on rides from the “English” to conduct business. More use cell phones. More work off the farm and in the community as carpenters or roofers. Rebellious teens crank up head-banger rock or country music on forbidden boomboxes as they ride alone in their buggies. Says Staub, “The hardest thing is preserving the traditions.”
That evening we drive down a gravel road to Amish Country B & B, where we meet Jerry Youngkin and a young Amish woman, who chooses to remain anonymous because working so closely with the “English” is frowned upon in the community. Once owned by the woman’s sister and brother-in-law, the house is simple and open. When the young family needed more land, they found no buyers in the Amish community. Youngkin, a retired widower from Indiana, bought the place and decided to open a bed and breakfast. The young woman decided to stay and help. She arrives by buggy at 6:30 each morning to start the wood-fired cookstove, make breakfast, clean the house, and cook dinner. Youngkin is 50 years older than she, yet they joke and quarrel like an old married couple. After arriving, we talk for more than an hour before she shows us to a spartan-yet-spacious bedroom upstairs. The next morning, we feast on seasoned beef patties, boiled eggs, homemade bread and cinnamon rolls, and “coffee soup,” a pudding of milk, coffee, and soda crackers. We linger for two hours, talking about Amish and “English” ways.