Fall drives are an annual Minnesota tradition, and the ones we’ve selected include everything you need to make the most of the season.
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Road Trip Reverie
Along the Great River Road, the journey is the destination
I approach road trips with equal parts preparation (Twizzlers: check! iPod: check!) and happy anticipation of something I don’t often employ in my daily life: spontaneity. Usually, I’m heading out the door “packed heavy,” as my dad would say, with my family (including two dogs) in tow. This time, however, I packed up and hit the road, solo.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to do. No negotiating iPod playage? No one with whom to share an Icee, then argue over who got more? No one to quiz with trivia? I felt myself starting to hurry out of pure habit: making to-do lists, tapping on the steering wheel, hunching forward. Basically, acting like I was commuting.
But as I hit my stride on Wisconsin’s scenic Highway 35, between Maiden Rock and Trempealeau, it all started to fall into place: this is the vacation. This is the relaxing. You aren’t hurrying anywhere. You’re going for the sake of going; to see the trees, orange and red fireballs, cascading to Lake Pepin—to witness the fiery display before it’s lights out for the winter.
I pulled up to Pepin’s storied Harbor View Café just as it grew dark. The festive outdoor string lights, windows emitting a warm yellow glow, and laughing diners created a postcard-perfect picture. I sat down to my first nice solo dinner. Ever. Lingering over my fish and wine, eavesdropping on other diners’ conversations, I felt perfectly snug and contented.
As late got later, I headed back to Maiden Rock to Journey Inn to embark on a mini wellness eco-retreat. Co-owner Charlene Torchia met me at the door then led me to the spa for my massage, which was followed by a nice long herbal soak in a Japanese tub. Once again, I fought the urge to hurry, and reveled in the moment: I’m out in the country, under a million stars, breathing in the crisp air. This is what I’m here to do.
I slept better that night than I had in months.
The next morning, I ate breakfast at Journey Inn and left with Charlene’s granola recipe. On my way home, I stopped in Stockholm to peruse the shops. After I bonded with Juno the dog, the namesake for Juno & Me, owner Mike Jensen insisted on buying me a slice of coconut-cream pie from the famous Stockholm Pie Company. We three sat enjoying the late-fall afternoon before it slid, irretrievably, into winter.
Where to Stay
The eco-retreat Journey Inn, where, in addition to relaxing in the complete silence of western Wisconsin, you can take part in life coaching, meditation or couple’s retreats, or spa treatments (W3671 200th Ave., Maiden Rock, WI, 715-448-2424, journeyinn.net).
Where to Eat
Don’t miss the from-scratch, home-cooked meals at the Harbor View Café (314 First St., Pepin, WI, 715-442-3893, harborviewpepin.com). A slice of pie from the Stockholm Pie Company is the best way to end any meal, any time of day (N2030 Spring St., Stockholm, WI, 715-442-5505, thestockholmpiecompany.com).
What to Do
Drive! But be sure to stop in all the small towns along the way—especially Alma, the entirety of which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Watch boats go through the locks at the Buena Vista Park overlook, stop to pick apples, and buy cheese at Nelson’s (nelsoncheese.com).