People from every state in the country signed into the Visit Winona Visitor Center last year except travelers from Vermont. Weird, right?
Maybe they didn’t hear about the jaw-dropping beauty here or our insanely good entertainment scene. It’s possible that nobody told them that Winona is one of the Midwest’s most beloved cities – a must-see destination that you’ll talk about moving to at least once before you leave.
So we’re on a mission to make sure Vermonters know what brought people from every other state here last year, especially in the fall when the bluffs are ablaze with color. In fact, this piece of the Great River Road is so dramatic in autumn that you could almost say it is the Vermont of the Midwest. That should get some Vermonters here, right?
Below is the shortlist of things we love to do in fall. It’s just a taste – check out our event calendar to design your own perfect getaway and please, bring someone from Vermont with you when you come.
When leaves start to turn, our bluffs are transformed into a symphony of color, and when the rest of Minnesota is done, we are still going strong down here in the southeastern corner of the state.
Bonus: The bluffs and river valley that cradle Winona are crisscrossed with more than 100 miles of trails made for meandering. Bring a picnic, a camera, and someone to hold hands with. You’re going to want to stay awhile and wander.
Pick your new favorite trail HERE or make a week out of it and hike them all.
Or swans, or any of the other hundred species of birds that travel through the Mississippi River Valley each spring and fall. Don’t have a boat? No problem. Prairie Island Campground has canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards available for rent, and you can put into the backwaters of the Mississippi River right there.
Bonus: Virtually every island and sandbar you see on our stretch of river is public land and you are welcome to pull up and sit for a spell or even pitch a tent and camp if you want to. You can thank John Latsch for that one – he bought it all up a century ago and gave it to us. Now THAT is a gift that keeps on giving.
You can paddle our pretty Lake Winona too with a watercraft from Lake Park Lodge, situated right on East Lake Winona.
Get Above it All
If you think the Mississippi River Valley is beautiful from down below, wait until you see it from the top of the bluffs. There are a few different routes up, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling, but each of them offers a spectacular vista of river and bluffs that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Winona’s easiest choice is Garvin Heights, a park and lookout above the city that has a large parking area and handicap-accessible paved trail to the overlook.
Great River Bluffs State Park south of Winona is also easy to access and offers several vantage points for viewing the river valley.
Just north of Winona, John Latsch State Park has got a 450-foot-tall bluff peak where you can gaze at the river if you are willing to brave the half-mile of stairs that will take you there.
Winona’s annual Boats & Bluegrass Festival kicks off at the end of September with another huge lineup of regional and national acts that will draw more than 1,500 people to the shores of the Mississippi River. The three-day event, now in its 16th year, is legendary for its chill, family-friendly vibe and it routinely sells out. But camping packages and single-day tickets are still available, so grab them now.
Bonus: If you don’t make it to the festival, Winona is still chockfull of live music every weekend at coffeehouses, bars, and concert venues around town. Whether you like folksy singer-songwriters or pounding indie rock, it’s here and it’s amazing.
It’s fun to taste new things, and Winona delivers a hefty dose of delicious local fare. New and long-standing eateries and drinkeries dot our fine city, each with its own unique goodness, and you’re going to find some new favorites here. From mouthwatering burgers to gourmet specialties, Winona’s food scene has blossomed during the last decade with venues that food critics call out by name.
Bonus: A downtown brewery and a collection of local wineries add eclectic flavors to our landscape. And pick up a Winona Visitor Guide when you come because a coupon page inside will get you into some of our favorite spots for a steal.