Mississippi River Valley from Red Wing to Winona

Autumn is a feast for the senses
By Holly Galbus
Illustration by Leanna Gerry

Crisp temperatures perfect for hiking or biking, the beauty of golden and russet leaves on the trees and the scents of freshly-baked apple pie, cinnamon-laced cider and ooey-gooey caramel apples found at the local orchard. All of these will remind you that fall in the Midwest is something to be savored and celebrated. The snows of winter will soon be at our door, which makes it the perfect time for a day trip.

Red Wing

There is much to see and do in this historic town along the Mississippi River. Whether you are looking for outdoor adventure, unique shopping experiences or a relaxing night of dinner and theatre, Red Wing has it all. Often called “the crown jewel of Lake Pepin and Southern Minnesota,” downtown Red Wing has a lot to offer. For unique finds, stop in to the UFFDA store, Duluth Trading Company, Red Wing Confectionery and the Red Wing Shoe Store and Museum.

The St. James Hotel, established in 1875, provides an elegant dining experience at The Veranda and newly-renovated Veranda Patio. Renovations of the Veranda Patio began last winter, and the results are stunning. The Patio has a modern atmosphere and features an outdoor bar, gas firepit, a combination of dining and lounge chairs, two pergolas and new and unique lighting. The menu has also been updated and now showcases local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients. The Veranda Patio is a great place to catch a lovely panoramic view of the Mississippi River.

Renovations to the St. James Hotel continue. The Portside Room, their new wedding venue with a charming old-world atmosphere, will open in December. And, renovations to the interior of The Veranda are scheduled to be completed by Mother’s Day 2020.

If you’re an art lover, you may want to plan your visit to Red Wing during the Red Wing Arts Fall Festival, October 12 and 13. More than 100 artists will be showcasing their work at this juried art festival, located downtown along Bush and Third Streets. A variety of artwork—painting and drawing, metalwork, jewelry, glass, ceramic, 2-D and 3-D mixed media, wood, leather and fiber—is on display and available for purchase. New this year, the work of three emerging artists will be displayed. They are able to do so because of an emerging artist grant in honor of the memory of Larry Veeder, who recently passed. Veeder, a painter who advocated for pursuing art as a profession, founded the art festival 53 years ago. The event also includes a Youth Art Fair, as well as crafts and other activities in the Kid Zone, music performances and food trucks.

Frontenac and Lake City

Leaving Red Wing and traveling 12 miles south, you will arrive at the small community of Frontenac and nearby Frontenac State Park. A great place for a fall hike, the park is also known for being one of the best places to watch birds migrating in the spring and fall. More than 260 bird species have been seen there.

If you are craving a freshly-picked, juicy Honeycrisp or SweeTango, stop at Pepin Heights Orchard, just off Highway 61 in Lake City. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the orchard store stocks a nice selection of apple varieties. It also carries regional goods, seasonal decor and home goods. Pick up one of their delicious caramel apples and sip fresh apple cider.


SeptOberfest, Wabasha and Kellogg’s celebration of fall, runs September 6 through October 26. Artistic displays of fall splendor—bursting with colorful pumpkins, cornstalks, flowers, hay bales and gourds—decorate the historic river town of Wabasha. There are many fun activities scheduled throughout the seven-week event, including pumpkin races, scarecrow contests, carriage rides and a petting zoo. Each weekend, enjoy the Meet Me Under the Bridge Concert Series.

A short distance to the south is Kellogg, home of LARK Toys, a special place for the child in all of us. It is a toy store and so much more. Take a trip down Memory Lane, where you will see thousands of toys from eras past. Play mini-golf and visit the bookstore, gift shop and cafe.  And don’t leave without taking a ride on the carousel. Each piece is hand-carved from Minnesota basswood and has amazing detail; the Lark Carousel is a rideable work of art.


If you have never visited Winona in the fall, it really is a must-do, as the view from Garvin Heights Scenic Overlook of the rolling hills and river valley below is breathtakingly beautiful. Another place to get an exceptional view of fall color is at John Latsch State Park,12 miles northwest of Winona. There, the bluffs tower 500 feet above the river and a strenuous half-mile hike (via stairs) up to the top of Mount Charity nets you extraordinary fall color views.

Another must-do in Winona is a visit to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, a real treasure for art lovers, located along Riverview Drive. The museum was recently honored with a Visit Winona Tourism People’s Choice Award. Opened in 2006, the MMAM, which has been visited by tens of thousands of people, is known worldwide for its collections that include works from some of the world’s greatest masters: Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse and Picasso.

Plaza Hotel and Suites was recently awarded by Visit Winona Tourism for its commitment to a quality visitor experience. If you prefer the charm and historic grandeur of a B&B, then the Alexander Mansion, located in the heart of Winona, will surpass expectations. Innkeeper Richard Grabau, ensures a restful stay in one of the five guest rooms and serves an unforgettable five-course brunch, finished with homemade ice cream.

Holly Galbus is a news reporter and Rochester freelance writer.