I was now clean of the Whitewater State Park mud and back on the road heading towards Winona, Minnesota. This historic town is located along the banks of the Mississippi River and almost every canoe paddler in the world knows the canoes that have made this small town famous: Wenonah Canoes. I was excited to find what this town held for a canoe paddler like myself.
I came into town and exited the heavy road construction to skirt the downtown area next to the Mississippi River. A strong cup of coffee was my focus but I did stop at Levy Park to view the river.
I drove to 3rd street and parked. I was already eyeing the cafe across the street but my eye caught a historical marker first and since the building was on the National Historical Building register I walked inside to view the interior. It was an old department store that now was a really cool store that contained all sorts of goodies for a person on vacation to unleash the wallet. I waited and asked about the historical marker and the owner pointed out the sign with the history of the building and told me when I was done reading she could answer any questions I had.
After reading history the store owner took me on a tour of the building and the remodel of the store they completed before opening the store. It was a real pleasure to have an unexpected private tour. The name of the store is Heart’s Desire and it was a wonderful building and store to visit. Yes, I ended up buying some cool stuff in the store for our Dutch camper.
Finally, coffee… across the street from the Heart’s Desire at a wonderful place called Blooming Grounds Coffee House. A huge cup of very strong coffee and a homemade pastry killed all my disappointment of not catching a trout.
I did wonder why I didn’t see any canoes around town. I guess I expected Winona to be much like Ely, MN since it was the home to the international canoe maker Wenonah. I had already looked at the website. I was interested in this area that created such a famous canoe paddler and builder. Follow the link to their website, where you can learn more about the history of this canoe giant.
I knew they didn’t give tours of the manufacture facility so I made a plan to roam a bit around downtown then head towards my next destination Great River Bluffs State Park.
That is when I got sidetracked a bit while walking around. There is a cool yarn shop that I walked into and it was the OMG of yarn shops! Yarnology is this huge store that has some wonderful yarn within its walls. Once again I had to check my wallet as I knew immediately I was not walking out of this store without parting with some of my vacation money buying yarn and knitting goodies. In the end, I had a wonderful conversation with the store owner. She told me fun facts about Winona and gave me some information on my next stop on my river road trip.
When I finally exited Winona I was feeling pretty special. A friendly, warm community that loves canoe paddling. Sounds perfect to me!
I had immediate road trip plans and my dream future in Winona would have to wait. I headed back down the Great River Road. It wasn’t long before I saw the sign that took me off the Great River Road and onto Interstate 90 heading west to the entrance of Great River Bluffs State Park.
The exit from I90 took me into farm and grassland. I started to think maybe I had made a wrong turn when I finally spotted a small sign that pointed me to turn to the right. Now a narrow dirt road was going straight towards where I knew the river bluffs to be located. This was starting to look like another State Park adventure. I have found in the past, these dirt roads usually indicates something is cool where the road ends. The bluff grassland prairie at the entrance hides the parks true treasures, the breathtaking overlooks that are nestled in the bluff woodland trails. I parked and hiked into the trails concealed in the cooler canopy. I was now heading towards the best views of the Mississippi River Valley of my river road trip!
Standing looking over the Mississippi River I could see birds riding the wind thermals heading to some unknown destinations to the South. I was again thankful for this vacation at this time of the year. The park was near empty and the wildlife was plentiful to see, as I hiked along the trails.
Once I exited the park I headed towards Iowa. This was going to be my last stop in Minnesota, so I thought. That is the cool thing about not planning everything, I was opening myself up for discovering something new.
A few miles down Hwy 61 turned into Hwy 14 and meandered through small towns just like the river that was next to me on the left. Then I saw it, almost like a garage sale sign that makes your car have a mind of its own. A canoe launch sign! I slowed and pulled into what looked like a wildlife protected area. I found that this was the point where the Root River and the Mississippi River join and there was a canoe launch with some great canoe route signage.
The recent rains and flooding made it one of the muddiest canoe launches I have seen in a while and I would not have wanted to try to get my boat in or out of this location. But, in dryer times of the year, I am sure it is an easy to access location for exploring the Root and Mississippi Rivers by canoe or kayak.
Just before the boarder of Iowa I had another canoe launch sign jump in front of my car that made me pulled off the road to investigate. This one is located on the Mississippi River. It looked to me, to be a very long portage to the launch site. See the Reno Walk in the photo below. I documented the location with the photo then made my way to the borderline with Iowa.
Still Day 4 and more to see on the other side of the boarder in Iowa coming in our next blog…
Do you have an adventure/road trip bucket list? Have you found some place cool when on vacation and just know you have to start planning your next visit? Share your thoughts with us below.
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