The Mississippi River Playground

I have to say, living next to one of the country’s most beautiful waterways has a few perks. For starters, it’s breathtaking and there is likely no one who has ever passed this way who doesn’t vividly recall the crystalline blue Mississippi River that hugs Winona. If you haven’t seen it for yourself, trust me, it’s spectacular.

Upper Mississippi River channels boating But this river is not just eye-candy. It’s like a whole microcosm of things to do, one of those ‘something for everyone’ places, and I really mean everyone. If you doubt – let me tell you what I saw on the river Saturday:

Weathered old men and chattering families and boats full of buddies drifted in the gentle backwaters casting for the day’s catch, but with so many nooks and crannies to explore, each seemed as if  they’d found their own perfect spot. Kayakers were out too, silently gliding through the full bloom of water lilies to create a scene that would make most postcards jealous.

kayak paddle Winona Mississippi River

Faster boats stuck to the broader channels, hauling squealing kids on tubes and flashy wakeboarders doing tricks. I was on a fast boat with a flashy wakeboarder, but doing neither of these things myself because, well, I’m terrible at it. Someday perhaps I’ll post a photo of me trying to barefoot water ski once, which basically consisted of me clinging with total panic to a boom off of the side of the boat. So yeah, anyway, it’s fun to watch, but I’ll be the one with the camera in the boat.

And speaking of cameras, there is no shortage of wonder to capture out there on the Mississippi River. Besides the blooms of water lilies and plumes of wild rice and desolate swatches of uninhabited beach, blue herons dotted the shallows, eagles and flocks of pelicans soared overhead, and shy turtles on sunny logs slipped into the water by the hundreds as we cruised by. You’d think that one of the largest waterways in the world would have scared away all of that biodiversity with its barges and boats and cities. But we are blessed in these parts with one of the most serene and pristine patches of the Mississippi – a stretch that in many places looks like it hasn’t been disturbed in 1,000 years. For those looking to get closer to nature, it is a place of perfection.aerial photo islands sandbars Mississippi River

Don’t get me wrong: If you want it, there is plenty of socializing to be had on the river, with the city’s Latsch Island Beach filled with sunbathers and popular sandbars lined with cruisers and houseboats rented for the weekend. If you run out of libations or snacks or just want to pack light, there are a few watering holes along this stretch too that you can dock a boat at for a cold one and a bite to eat if you’re in the mood. My personal favorite is the fat, delicious gyro you can get at Bay’s End near Fountain City. Yeah, you heard that right, because why can’t a river bar serve Greek food?

And if you get a wild hair, some helpful souls have installed a rope swing or two on some of the islands you’ll pass by. If you decide to stop for a jump, my advice is that you are NOT holding onto the knot at the bottom when you jump out of the tree, or you will find your body being dragged across the ground before you flop face first at the edge of the water. I may or may not have done this. And it may or may not be on videotape. I have skinned knees and a heap of humiliation to show for it.

mississippi river fun boating sandbars

But even with knees plastered with Band-Aides, the river is a great time, and it’s large enough to share with all comers. It’s a big, blue blessing for Winona that cools us off, helps us unwind, and gives us a front-row seat to the nature show – and we think everybody should have a taste of it for themselves. Everyone deserves a river day, no matter what you like to do on the water, and you can even rent some stuff you need from the Winona State University Outdoor Recreation Department ( What are you waiting for?

We promise – it’s an awful lot of fun out there. But bring Band-Aides, just in case.

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