Tips for a Weekend Trip to Lake Pepin

Birding, fishing, and more await in this scenic section along the Mississippi

Sailboats on Lake Pepin.
Sail Pepin

photo by Bruce Christianson

Nestled between Minnesota and Wisconsin about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities, Lake Pepin’s banks offer  beautiful landscapes and hospitable destinations.

Frontenac State Park sits along the western shore of the lake, which is formed by the widest naturally occurring stretch of the Mississippi River. The landscape varies: forest to the east, and rolling hills and bluffs to the west.

In spring, more than 100 bird species migrate to the area, including warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers. The park is home to 263 bird types in all, the largest diversity in Minnesota. Sand Point Trail is ideal for bird lovers—almost a mile of flat plain that leads to, well, a sandy point on Lake Pepin.

Back inland, the accurately named Lake City features two marinas for fishing, plus sightseeing cruises on the Pearl of the Lake, a boat modeled after the 1800s Mississippi cruisers. On land, made-from-scratch restaurants include Nosh Restaurant and Bar for western Mediterranean and American fare and two levels of lake views.

Kick back at any of three golf courses, or shop 20 boutiques, including the antique and gift shop Pearl Button Factory, complete with historical displays of the area’s industrial past. If you’re visiting in the late summer or fall, stop by Pepin Heights Orchard. It’s the first orchard outside of the University of Minnesota to grow the Honeycrisp apple.

On the river’s Wisconsin side is Stockholm, with a population less than 100. Still, its bustling Spring Street is reminiscent of larger northern getaway towns. If you make one stop, make it Stockholm Pie and General Store for unrivaled slices featuring tart raspberries, cherries, and double crust.

A women holding a pie baked at Stockholm Pie and General Store.
Stockholm Pie

photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Nearby, at Ingebretson’s av Stockholm boutique, you’ll find hand-blown glass, hand weaving, Scandinavian cookware, cookies, books, and more. An artisan collective called the Purple Turtle highlights local and regional work. A few minutes inland, the Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery hosts tours and tastings. At the Black Cat Farmstead, see  sheep and learn about spinning, weaving, and other farm activities.

About six miles southeast of Stockholm sits the city of Pepin, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. At the city’s museum dedicated to her (open May through October), you can trace her journey across the Upper Midwest. And in the nearby Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area, the kaleidoscope of green trees and blue sky provide the backdrop to a refreshing hike you didn’t know you needed.

Sail Pepin offers sailboat tours to view the wooded bluffs and vacation homes lining the shore—not to mention eagles, the stars, and the Northern Lights, if you’re lucky.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of a five-ton yacht gliding along under wind alone—it’s a superb mix of quiet, serenity, and power,” Sail Pepin guide David Sheridan explains. “We tell folks that the best [sailing] trip is the one that fits their schedule for the day, but late afternoon and sunset offer unique ambiance, and our starlit trips feature stunning views of the night sky.”

Grab a meal at the Harbor View Cafe or the waterfront grill (known as the Pickle Factory), and in the evening, sip wine on the patio at Villa Bellezza, the city’s award-winning winery.

Before you leave Pepin, here’s a final, golden recommendation. “One of my favorite things is watching the sunset,” says Katie Foshay, assistant manager at Frontenac State Park. “You’re actually facing away from it, but when the sun sets on Maiden Rock across the river in Wisconsin, the bluffs light up.”

Eat, Play, Stay

All standard and superior suites at Alaskan Lodge come with at least a mini-kitchen in the knotted-wood interiors. Also in Lake City, Willows on the River Condominium Resort lets you dock your boat and enjoy the amenities of home. Both lodgings offer spectacular views of the lake from every room—Willows on the River with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Harbor Hill Inn, a Victorian home built in Pepin in 1870, is a 10-minute walk from city attractions, and downtown Stockholm is five minutes away by car. The inn offers its own afternoon sunset and starlight cruises, too.

Stockholm has the Spring Suite Inn, with its Amish, Shaker, and traditional American interior, and the Historic Stockholm Hotel, which includes a porch, patio, grill, backyard, and laundry facilities. Just up the road is the Maiden Rock Inn, a 16,000-square-foot bed and breakfast featuring high ceilings, and four colorful rooms. Stop by the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop in Maiden Rock, too.