Travel the Northern Mississippi River Valley – Episode 658

categories: USA Travel

Travel the Northern Mississippi River Valley (Podcast) -Minnesota and Wisconsin

Hear about travel to the Northern Mississippi River Valley in Minnesota and Wisconsin as the Amateur Traveler talks to Dean Klinkenberg from about this stretch of America’s mightiest river.

Dean says, “It’s kind of hard to pick one stretch along a 2,000-mile-long river to highlight, but I think people already have some familiarity with the lower part of the river because of New Orleans, Memphis, and Vicksburg. I think it’s time to talk a bit more about the upper half of the river. I am recommending about a 200-mile loop drive that you could do starting from Minneapolis or St. Paul going down to Lacrosse Wisconsin. You go down the Minnesota side and back the Wisconsin side. It’s about 200 miles but we are going to figure out how to do it in a week.”

This part of the Mississippi is not as wide as it is downstream but it is framed by limestone bluffs that rise anywhere from 300 to 500 feet above the river. In many places, the river has a braided channel with side channels, islands, and flood plain forests thick with vegetation. The outdoors is one of the main attractions along this part of the river with hikes, kayaking, biking, and boating.

Dean starts in Red Wing which is only about 45 minutes from the Minneapolis airport. Red Wing is a popular day trip for twin cities residents. Red Wing is an attractive old industrial river town. You can hike up Barn Bluff for some great views of the city or bike up the bike trails on the Cannon River tributary. It has a couple of small museums including the Aliveo Military Museum and the Goodhue County History Center. You can also find the Red Wing boot company and the world’s largest boot. The local Prairie Island Indian community has a summer pow wow in July.

Just south of Red Wing is the old resort community of Frontenac and the nearby Frontenac State Park which has good campsites and hiking trails.

Lake City is a resort town that will triple in population on the weekends and in the summer. There is a natural lake in the river called Lake Pepin which is 3 miles wide. It is a popular spot for boating and recreation. Lake Pepin is where water skiing was invented.

Reads Landing is an old logging boomtown. Wabasha has a festival in February which is the Grumpy Old Men Festival based on the movies of the same name. So if you are looking for a festival that includes an ice fishing contest this might be for you. Wabasha is also home to the National Eagle Center.

At the Chippewa River delta where it meets the Mississippi, there is a complex of backwaters and islands which Dean recommends for a kayak trip.

After a few stops and overlooks, the next stop would be Winona which has a surprisingly good art scene for a town of around 20,000 people. Make a stop at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. They have a summer Shakespeare festival. 

At La Crosse, we will cross over to the Wisconsin side of the river for the return trip. You can drive the nearby Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway which is particularly beautiful in late spring but delicious in autumn. Hike or drive to the top of Grandad Bluff for the best views. The Great River State Trail near there is a great biking trail. Or you can see the world’s largest 6-pack near downtown at the Old Style brewery.

On the way back north stop at the Rock in the House. Do more kayaking and hiking and make a stop at a “pizza farm” or see the medieval collection at the Castlerock Museum.

Dean recommends a number of places to stay including some historic B&Bs and also recommends some great places to eat and places to find craft brews.

Come see why an expert on Mississippi would name this as one of his favorite parts of the river.

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Show Notes

Mississippi Valley Traveler
Mississippi Valley Division
Red Wing
Reads Landing, Minnesota
La Crosse
Red Wing
Barn Bluff
Cannon River
Cannon Valley Trail
Aliveo Military Museum
Goodhue County History
Sheldon Theater
Red Wing Shoes
World’s Largest Boot
Prairie Island
Summer Pow Wow
St James Hotel
Christ Church Frontenac
Frontenac State Park
Lake City
Lake Pepin
American Eagle Bluff B&B
Wabasha County Historical Society Museum
Turning Waters B&B
Grumpy Old Men Festival
National Eagle Center
Broken Paddle Guiding
Read’s Landing Brewing Company
Lark Toys
Town & Country Cafe
Langseth Wood Carving
John A. Latsch State Park
Upper Mississippi River Fish & Wildlife Refuge
Garvin Heights
Minnesota Marine Art Museum
Great River Shakespeare Festival
Winona Savings Bank Building
Willard Bunnell House
Lakeview Drive Inn
Boathouse Winona
Alexander Mansion B&B
Pickwick Mill
Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway
Hikes in La Crosse
Grandad Bluff
Great River State Trail
Goose Island County Park
Hixon House
Mary of the Angels Chapel
World’s Largest Six Pack
G. Heileman Brewing Company
Pearl Street Brewery
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center
The Waterfront Restaurant
Lovechild Restaurant
Bodega Brew Pub
Turtle Stack Brewery
Fountain City
Van Loon Wildlife Area
Perrot State Park
Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum
Rock in the House
House on the Rock
Suncrest Gardens Pizza Farm
Monarch Public House
Hawks View Cottages and Lodges
Castlerock Museum
Maiden Rock Bluff
Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery
Stockholm Pie Company
Laura Ingalls Wilder House
Prescott, Wisconsin
Best Riverside Dining


Hi Chris
 I am a long time listener to the podcast from England  and it puts a smile on my face during these cold winter months 
 The show has inspired me to take my first solo holiday this summer at the age of 23 
 Will there be any upcoming shows regarding the Greek islands? 
 I will be heading to some of them during the summer and I cannot wait to relax in the Sun and try out my new bikinis!
 I just wanted to say thank you for a great podcast 
 Keep up the good work 
the most recent Greece episode Travel to The Island of Samos, Greece – Episode 645 came out 5 days later 🙂

See more on Greece

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

7 Responses to “Travel the Northern Mississippi River Valley – Episode 658”

Cindy Carlsson


Hi Chris! Just wanted to let you know that I have driven the Mississippi Route covered in your most recent show a dozen times or more, but your guest identified things I’ve never heard of! But one thing he didn’t mention is that this is a FABULOUS trip in fall (probably October) when the leaves have turned. (Frontenac and Great River Bluffs are amazing in fall – and no mosquitoes!) Drive the Wis. side in the morning, and Minnesota in the afternoon if you can. I usually drive down one and and up another, but that is probably why I have missed some of the cool things Dean covered! I’ve always wanted to stay in Fountain. . . Anyway, you are always welcome in our guest room should you want to spend more time in Minnesota! I think there is much more for you to discover, including the headwaters of the Mississippi!

Robin Perry


This was an excellent show. While a regional trip, Dean did an excellent job making it very interesting. I’d like to hear more of his trip reviews – educational and entertaining. And who knows I may check out the world’s largest six pack someday- and I’m really curious about steamboat gothic architecture!

Chris Christensen


Glad you enjoyed it Robin



As like nearly of your shows, this tour of the Upper Mississippi was fantastic and it’s on my list now. Two topics you could’ve added: 1. This is a bit of a Bob Dylan trip: The Minnesota drive is down Hwy 61, which is very familiar to Bob Dylan f ans. Also he has a song “The Walls of Red Wing”, about a reform school in Redwing MN. 2.: This route cuts through the stunning Driftless Area, so named because the last glaciation did not “drift” over this area, leaving the topography a lot more rugged than the typical smoothed down midwest farmland. This topography has shaped the human population in avocation and personalities in ways I won’t go into here, but if you’re aware of it, it’s fascinating. Thank you!

Chris Christensen


Never would have made the Dylan connection! Great!

Brooks Whitmore


This was a fantastic episode, covering a route I have driven many times on summer trips from Texas to Wisconsin. Learning and experiencing history and culture and geography does not have to involve travel to an exotic locale. The upper Mississippi River valley is truly one of the nation’s most beautiful areas. Thank you so much, and I look forward to future episodes.

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