Read 'em and ride
The Great River Road Scenic Byway is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. A yearlong jubilation is taking place in communities directly on and surrounding the rambling route that clings close to the Mississippi River.
What road? You ask
Nearly 3,000 miles long and running through 10 states along the Mississippi River, the Great River Road offers a gateway to the river valley's rich history and the blending of culture.
The byway hugs each side of the Mississippi River in our area - better known as Wisconsin State Highway 35 and U.S. Highway 61 on the Minnesota side.
"In 1938, the river state governors developed the concept of a transcontinental Great River Parkway along the Mississippi River," Susanne Thiede-Barnet said. She is the managing director of the National Mississippi River Parkway Commission.
Choosing to conserve precious resources, among them land, time and dollars, they decided that rather than building a new continuous road that the existing network of rural roads and then-fledgling highways that meandered and crisscrossed the river would become the Great River Road.
The green "Pilot's Wheel" road sign that marked the route of the byway more than seven decades ago still heralds the road today.
As one of the oldest, longest and most unique scenic byways in North America, Barnet said, the Great River Road offers respite to millions of travelers seeking a getaway from a leisurely day's drive to an extended vacation.
Plan a day trip or a monthlong excursion along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway with the help of www.experiencemississippiriver.com.
The list ...
In honor of the 75th anniversary and near perfect road trip travel timing, we've put together an unofficial list of 75 things to get out and do along the Great River Road.
Read on to find eateries, local treasures and worthwhile events all within a few wandering miles of the Great River Road Scenic Byway trail.
1. Do the loop. From Red Wing, travel south on Highway 61 to Wabasha. Then hop on the bridge to Nelson, Wis., and drive north on Highway 35 back home. Stop in every town along the way.
2. Take in the lake. With so many places to stop along the water, including Lake Pepin, there is no excuse not to stop and get your feet wet.
3. Try a slice of pie. Stop at the retro Stockholm Pie Company to taste award-winning desserts. Traveler tip: make this a must-stop during autumn's apple season and treat yourself to owner Janet Garretson's heavenly apple dumplings.
4. Pretend you are in a motorcycle gang. If you don't have a bike, drive with the windows down.
5. Visit the memorial plaque at Sea Wing Memorial Park commemorating the 1980 Sea Wing steamboat that sank. The view of the Mississippi is a hidden treasure.
6. See neat old stuff at Old Stuff in Bay City.
7. Count how many eagles you see.
8. Go global at Cultural Cloth in Maiden Rock.
9. Pack a picnic and eat at a park along the water.
10. Meet Rosie, the Saint Bernard at Flat Pennies while enjoying scrumptious ice cream. Traveler tip: Find her under the cabooze train
11. If your timing is right, listen to live music at Gelly's Pub and Grille in Stockholm.
12. Come up with your explanation of the Bow and Arrow's origin at the historical site just south of Bay City.
13. Eat squeaky fresh cheese curds from the Nelson Cheese Factory in Nelson.
14. Get a round of golf in atop the bluffs at Lake Pepin Golf Course.
15. Check out the view at Lock & Dam 4 in Alma.
16. Visit Smiling Pelican Bakery in Maiden Rock. If it's open, you must stop.
17. Cool off with a swim in Nugget Park in Maiden Rock.
18. Travel back in time by visiting the Laura Ingalls Wilder wayside and replica cabin in Pepin.
19. Play at Merrick State Park in Fountain City.
20. Explore Stockholm on a pedal bike. It's free -- honor-system style.
21. Refresh yourself at the Eau Galle Lake Recreation Area in Spring Valley, Wis.
22. Mingle with the mom and pop business owners.
23. Feel the rumble of a choo choo train.
24. Walk the gallery at art hotspot Abode Gallery in Stockholm.
25. Take a trip and get your jazz on at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival Aug. 1-4 in Davenport, Iowa.
26. Give your car a break and catch a flick at the Great River Road Theatre in River Falls.
27. Stretch your legs and learn something interesting at one of the many way stops or historical markers on the route.
28. Sail away. Sailboat excursions are available in Lake City.
29. Rev up for River City Days Aug. 2-4 in Red Wing.
30. Catch live tunes and hang like you're part of the gang at Six Strings Saloon in Maiden Rock.
31. Buy some funky art.
32. Get your fix of history at the Prescott Bridge Gear House.
33. Send yourself a postcard from your favorite river town.
34. Taste locally brewed beer at Reads Landing Brewing Co.
35. Party with your puppy at the Dog Days of Stockholm Aug. 3 in Stockholm, Wis.
36. Embark on a weekend trip to the Mississippi headwaters and enjoy the Lake Itasca Family Music Festival Aug. 2-4. The state park is one of 12 along Minnesota's Great River Road.
37. Use your binoculars.
38. Take a hike at the Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona. Camping is also available.
39. Experience the Great River Shakespeare Festival, now through Aug. 4 in Winona,
40. Eat at the not-so-secret A to Z Produce and Bakery in Stockholm. Traveler's tip: It is only open 4:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
41. Celerate Rieck's Lake Park Aug. 10 in Alma. It is one of four remaining official tourist parks along the Wisconsin Great River Road.
42. Sip on local wine at Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery.
43. Visit the Henry J. Schoolcraft State Park just south of Grand Rapids. Camping, hiking, picnicking, canoeing, fishing and unwinding all allowed.
44. Eat a Hanisch Bakery donut in downtown Red Wing. The sugar shop holds the title as "The Best Bakery in Minnesota" by the WCCO Best of Minnesota Poll. Taste for yourself why it's so good.
45. Buy music from a local musician at one of the many unique shops along the way. Let it be your soundtrack for the day.
46. Fall in love with beauty at Frontenac State Park.
47. Take your picture with the world's largest boot at the Red Wing Shoe Store in downtown Red Wing.
48. Drive the road during September, the official Drive the Great River Road Month.
49. Explore the John A. Latsch State Park for a day trip to Winona.
50. Discover the legend behind Maiden Rock's name at the historical marker just north of the tiny river town.
51. Check out the Alma Music and Art Festival Sept. 1 at the Alma Beach and Harbor. Live music all day and free admission.
52. Celebrate the Great River Road's 75th anniversary with the people of Prescott at their annual community celebration Prescott Daze. The festival runs Sept. 6 to 8.
53. Learn about eagles at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.
54. Walk the boardwalk at Lake Maria State Park in Monticello.
55. Get your bird on at Wyalusing State Park. The park may just be the best spot in Wisconsin for viewing Kentucky, Cerulean and yellow-throated warblers. Other populations include Prothonotary warblers, Bell's vireos, Henslow's sparrows, wild turkeys, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures and, of course, bald eagles.
56. Horse lovers should head to the annual Villa Louis Carriage Classic Sept. 6 to 8 in Prairie de Chien, Wis., one of the area's most lavishly appointed equine sport driving events. Horses and over 100 new and restored carriages compete in a variety of arena and cross-country events.
57. Drink a cup of custom, specialty coffee at the Great River Coffee Roasters in Pepin.
58. Mountake bike at abandoned mine-turned-park Cuyuna County State Recreation Area. The former mining pits and rock deposit stockpiles now boast regenerated vegetation and clear lakes.
59. Look at Lock & Dam 5 in Fountain City.
60. Pick your own blueberries at the Rush River Produce near Maiden Rock.
61. Get sidetracked on the Fall Fresh Art Tour -- a self-guided road to 12 studios and galleries in Pierce and Pepin counties. The tour runs Oct. 4 to 6.
62. Find a quiet piece of perfectly preserved history at Fort Snelling State Park in the heart of the Twin Cities.
63. Perch yourself 500 feet above the Mississippi River on top of Buena Vista Park in Alma for a priceless view.
64. See art inspired by water at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona.
65. Tantalize your taste buds for a superior dining experience at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin.
66. Venture into the prairie, pine and hardwood forests of Crow Wing State Park, just south of Brainerd.
67. Skip some rocks at the beaches of Hok-Si-La just north of Lake City.
68. Tube down the Cannon River - one of hundreds of tributaries - in Welch.
69. Northbound yourself to Savanna Portage State Park and let time slip away on 15,818 acres of rolling hills, lakes and bogs. Traveler's tip: Hike and explore the Continental Divide and trail and cool off in Loon Lake.
70. Belly up to Pepin Garden Pub and Grille. The appealing outdoor eating area and bar leaves you refreshed from cool Lake Pepin air.
71. Become enchanted with the surreal fall colors along both sides of the Mississippi.
72. Nerd out at the Science Museum of Minnesota, nestled along the Mississippi River in St. Paul.
73. Picnic by the stone water tower at Charles A. Lindbergh State Park in Little Falls. (Can't make the drive, picnic under the Lindbergh statue at Red Wing's Bay Point Park.)
74. Experience a big time event in a small town with the Flyway Film Festival in Stockholm and Pepin Oct. 17 to 20. Celebrate the best of independent film on the shores of Lake Pepin and bump shoulders with filmmakers from around the world.
75. Strike up a conversation about your road trip -- with friends, family, co-workers or a stranger.