Roadtrip: Meet Minnesota’s Great River Road

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.

LARK Toys along Minnesota's Great River RoadI couldn’t pass up a spin on the carousel with hand-carved animals.

Riding the carouselAt 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.

LARK Toys collage

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.

Don’t miss a Midwest Wanderer post. For a FREE subscription, enter your e-mail address in the Subscribe2 box to the right and click Subscribe.

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.

Eagles at National Eagle CenterStaff 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.

The Veranda, in the St. James HotelAfter lunch we toured the hotel, which opened in 1875, with an addition added a hundred years later. Each of the 67 rooms is decorated in Victorian style. We were able to peek into a couple of them.

St. James Hotel, Red WingVictorian Room in the historic St. James Hotel, Red Wing MNThe historic lobby is no longer used for checking in, but the original front desk remains, as does the stamped tin ceiling, the library and the original Victorian Dining Room.

St. James Hotel historic libraryYou 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.

World's Largest Boot, Red Wing MN

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.

Barn Bluff Hiking Trails, Red Wing MNBluff along the Barn Bluff Hiking Trails


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.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a hotel room through this link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie


2 thoughts on “Roadtrip: Meet Minnesota’s Great River Road

  • June 28, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Thank you Connie for this great post. You can indeed see hundreds of eagles in the winter on the ice. I had the opportunity this February to see it for myself while driving to Stockholm on hwy 35, the Wisconsin side of the river. It was a site to see and highly recommend it.

    • June 28, 2016 at 10:53 am

      The eagles in the winter would be beautiful to see, Marilyne. Now I understand why people I’ve known from Minnesota actually embrace winter rather than dread it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *