The Mississippi River, the third-largest watershed in the world, flows over 2,300 miles through the United States, from Lake Itasca in Minnesota south into the Gulf of Mexico. Traveling the Great River Road Scenic Byway, which follows the course of the river, is on my bucket list. However, lacking the time to do it “right,” seeing everything there is to see along the byway in one trip, I am doing it piecemeal. During a recent travel bloggers conference, TBEX, which was held in Minnesota at the Mall of America, we had an opportunity to explore part of Minnesota’s portion of the Great River Road, from Kellogg to Red Wing.
Kellogg: LARK Toys
Our first stop on the tour was LARK Toys in Kellogg, which has made list after list of top ten toy stores in the world. Part toy store and part museum, the 45 minutes we had to wander through the store wasn’t nearly enough time for this kid-at-heart.
At every corner I turned throughout the 20,000 square foot store, I saw more surprises: hand-made wooden toys, puppets, puzzles, lunchboxes—both nostalgic and modern—dress-up clothes, books, a candy store, mini golf course, and so much more. Oh, to be a kid again.
Wabasha: National Eagle Center
The National Eagle Center is located on the banks of the Mississippi River directly across the river from the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, making the deck on the back of the center an ideal spot from which to observe eagles. Ed Hahn, Marketing Manager for the center, told us that in the winter months you can see literally hundreds of eagles congregated in the trees. There aren’t as many in the summer, and of course, with the tree foliage, they aren’t as easy to see, but we did see a few.
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For a close-up view of eagles we stepped inside and met the eagle ambassadors, the stars of the National Eagle Center. These eagles are unable to live in the wild, often due to an accident that has left them unable to fly. One exception is the eagle named Was’aka, who was discovered in Florida with a tumor over one eye. Surgery left him blind in that eye and unable to hunt for food.
Staff is always on hand to provide information about the eagles. The National Eagle Center also offers live eagle programs three times a day. During summer months, mid-June through Labor Day, children age 15 and under can participate in the Fishing for Eagles program. The National Eagle Center provides life jackets, fishing rods and lead-free tackle. For newbie child anglers, staff is on hand to assist in whatever way is needed. Fish that are caught become the eagles’ meals.
Red Wing: St. James Hotel
Lunch was at The Veranda in the historic St. James Hotel in Red Wing. I would have loved to have dined outdoors, but it had begun to rain. Fortunately, despite its name, The Veranda offers plenty of indoor seating as well.
I noticed the St. James Wild Rice Soup on the menu and thought about ordering that since wild rice is a product of Minnesota. I decided instead on the South of the Border Walleye Sandwich. Walleye is the Minnesota state fish. The fish sandwich was a good choice, with a crispy batter encasing the mild, flaky fish and topped with a carrot-cilantro slaw.
You can pick up a brochure for a self-guided walking tour of the hotel at the hotel’s front desk. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor
Red Wing: World’s Largest Boot at Red Wing Shoes
No visit to Red Wing would be complete without a visit to the flagship Red Wing shoe store to see the world’s largest boot. The boot’s size? 638-1/2 D (US). There is also a small museum upstairs.
Red Wing: Barn Bluff Hiking Trails
Since the rain had stopped, we were able to go ahead with the planned hike on the Barn Bluff Hiking Trails, our last stop of the excursion along the Great River Road. It began to rain again just as we were finishing our hike. We never did find our way to the scenic overlooks. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the hike through the woods.
Disclosures: Thank you to TBEX and Explore Minnesota for hosting the Meet Minnesota’s Great River Road trip. As usual, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
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