March, whether it comes in like a lion or a lamb, is a great month to grab some friends or your family and travel east of Rochester to Mississippi River and Lake Pepin. Businesses that have been closed all winter fling open the doors and let the sunshine—and customers—back in.  Even those that are open year-round often have a new feel to them as the shopkeepers are gearing up for the busy summer season ahead.

TROPICAL ISLAND NORTH OF RED WING

 If you are looking for a bit of the tropics right here in Minnesota, check out The Lagoon Water Park and Wave Spa at Treasure Island Resort & Casino. Just upriver from Red Wing, the casino’s new offerings are sure to be fun for the whole family. The Lagoon even includes hot tubs and a swim-up bar for the adults. The Wave Spa offers a variety of services, and you can reserve it for private parties.

LAKE PEPIN

Lake Pepin is really a wide spot on the Mississippi River surrounded by bluffs and is one of the best recreational areas in the upper Midwest. Whether you like to shop, drink, eat, ski, fish or sit around the fireplace catching up, the towns around Lake Pepin have a lot to offer.

EAT AND DRINK AROUND THE LAKE

Many restaurants are open year-round, and the waits are a lot shorter in the early spring. Staghead Gastropub in Red Wing reopened last year under new ownership, and Oliver’s Wine Bar is the new hot spot down the block.

In Lake City, try NOSH for fine dining. They serve a seasonal menu, sourced locally to ensure the freshest possible food. The Railhouse Grill has a wood-fired pizza oven. There’s a newly opened coffee shop next door which features acoustic music on weekends. 

Cucina Ceci is the new Italian place in Pepin, serving authentic Northern Italian year round. The iconic Harborview Café opens mid-April to begin their 36th year of its “best from scratch” fine dining menu. 

Wineries are plentiful around the lake, and most are open year-round as well. In Pepin, make a stop at the Villa Bellezza winery where if there’s still snow on the ground you can take a spin around their groomed cross-country ski trail looking for spring activities before relaxing by the fireplace with a nice glass of wine. Add on Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery, Falconers and Lake Pepin Winery, and you have a fine stop-and-taste adventure.

WHERE TO STAY

While the Mississippi is close enough to day trip, it also has a myriad of great places to stay overnight. Big hotels like Treasure Island or the St. James in Red Wing offer all the amenities. 

For a friends’ weekend, it’s often more desirable to rent a whole house with sleeping options and a kitchen and yard for the group to mingle and mix together. Pepin Cottage is one such retreat center, located in Pepin, Wisconsin, just four blocks from the lake. The house is available year-round, sleeps nine in four areas, and with a large living room that includes a gas fireplace, it’s a great spot to use as your home base. Insider tip: Lay claim to the twin bed on the porch, a favorite spot to curl up regardless of the weather outside.

On the Minnesota side, Dragonfly Dreams Retreat Center in Lake City caters to scrapbooking, quilting and other crafting retreats with large tables and ergonomic chairs. They sleep eight and are located a block off the main street so walking to local shops, bars and restaurants is easy. Both places have a B&B atmosphere but with full access to the kitchen. Bonus: No one on property will ask you to quit giggling at 1 a.m. 

No matter your interests, you and your friends and family are bound to find some fun on the river this spring, so venture east and enjoy the natural beauty of the mighty Mississippi. 

Beth Anderson is a freelance writer.

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