Originally conceived as a single, continuous road along the banks of the Mississippi River in the 1930s, the Great River Road in reality is a network of existing roads that lead through hundreds of riverside towns from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. A large chunk of its nearly 3,000 miles is contained within Minnesota, and there’s plenty of local flavor to be found in the 21 cities it winds through. Ahead of the summer road trip season, here are some local highlights to consider—from St. Paul on down.
St. Paul: With the constant influx of new restaurants into downtown and a wealth of historical sightseeing on Cathedral Hill, Minneapolis’ sister city may be smaller, but no less cultured. Stop by Saint Dinette for brunch, and spend the afternoon exploring the rest of Lowertown. Make sure to grab dinner at the Commodore, a newly refurbished art deco-inspired eatery just off Summit Ave. Spend the night at the St. Paul Hotel (their high tea is legendary) and grab a coffee at Nina’s on your way out the next morning.
Red Wing: This artsy city’s high-quality ceramics have resulted in unique partnerships that celebrate their home state’s cultural touchstones. During your stay in Red Wing, visit the eponymous shoe store and pottery manufacturer for handmade artisan goods. Ahead of your overnight stay at the historic St. James Hotel, grab a bite at their inventive underground restaurant, The Port.
Lake City: Camping season is upon us, and Lake City’s Hok-Si-La campground is a hidden gem (just make sure to bring a tent if you camp). After a night under the stars, there’s nothing like a day on the banks of picturesque Lake Pepin, the birthplace of water skiing. Get out on the water to water ski or sail, followed by some lunch at nearby restaurant Nosh. Head across the water to Stockholm, Wisconsin for a stay in one of many delightful B&Bs—and don’t miss the notorious Pizza Farm before you go.
Wabasha/Kellogg: Wabasha’s National Eagle Center tracks the movements of local Bald and Golden Eagles, and its access to the birds has allowed the center to become a destination for unparalleled educational programs. A few miles down the road in Kellogg is LARK Toys, a family-owned store known for its hand-carved wooden toys and carousel, as well as its mini golf course, freshly made fudge, and other trinkets.
Winona: Along with a focus on the arts evoked by its preserved architecture, Winona’s waterfront location is celebrated throughout the city in various ways. The Minnesota Marine Art Museum, home to classics by Picasso, Monet, and more makes a great first stop. After lunch at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, swing by the Mid West Music Store and bone up for its music festival on April 28-30. If you choose to stay the night, check out the Victorian-era Carriage House B&B. The beloved Bloedow’s Bakery should be your first stop the next morning.
Learn more at mnmississippiriver.com