Photo by Guido Ebert
The Great River Road

Prescott, Wabasha & Red Wing

Distance
158 miles

Directions

Ride east out of St. Paul on I-94E; utilize Exit 244 onto US-10 E/US-61 S and continue for 20 miles; cross the Point Douglas drawbridge into Prescott, Wis.; turn right onto Broad St. / Great River Road / WI-35 S.

Follow WI-35 S for 45 miles to Pepin, Wis., and continue on WI-35 S until it turns into WI-25 S.

You are now traveling west, with WI-25 S turning into MN-25 S as you approach Wabasha, MN, over the 2,462-foot-long Wabasha-Nelson truss bridge.

Now in Wabasha, find US-61 N and follow the road north about 14 miles to Lake City, MN.

From Lake City, continue north on US-61 N for 17 miles to enter Red Wing, MN. Now in Red Wing, continue on US-61 N for 13 miles and turn right onto MN-316 N. Continue on MN-316 N for 10 miles until turning right onto US-61 N.

Travel nearly 20 miles on US-61 N and follow signs to I-94W back to St. Paul.

Scenery

This ride takes you from the Twin Cities into the Mississippi River Valley, past bluffs and sprawling rural vistas and through lush hardwood forests and charming river towns. Keep an eye out for the plethora of animals native to the upper Mississippi river valley (especially those low-flying vultures).

Road Quality

Nearly 3,000 miles long and running through 10 states, the Great River Road dates back to 1938 when President Roosevelt’s Cabinet and governors of 10 states came up with the concept of a transcontinental Great River Parkway along the Mississippi River. In an effort to preserve land, time and dollars, it was decided that rather than building a new continuous road, the existing network of rural roads and then-fledgling highways that meandered and crisscrossed the river would become the Great River Road.

Today, this portion of the Great River Road that runs along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border is kept in excellent condition and lives up to its classification as a national byway. Particularly appealing this year is the stretch of new pavement heading south out of Prescott.

Need Assistance?

Closest motorcycle dealerships include St. Paul Harley-Davidson, Hitching Post in South St. Paul, Red Wing Motor Sports and River Valley Power & Sport in Red Wing, Frontenac Honda Sales in Frontenac, MN, and 61 Marine & Sports in Hastings, MN.

Attractions

Wabasha

Records maintained by the U.S. government establish Wabasha as the oldest town in Minnesota, although the city of Wabasha was not named until 1843.

Located along the Mississippi River near its confluence with the Chippewa River and at the foot of Lake Pepin, Wabasha was named in honor of an Indian Chief of the Sioux Nation, Chief Wapashaw. Augustin Rocque, Wapashaw’s nephew, was the first white settler in this area when he built a large trading shanty in 1833. Augustin’s father, Joseph Rocque, was a Frenchman and his mother was the sister of the Chief.

Lumber and commerce were the main industries before the turn of the century, when steamboats moved up and down the Mississippi.

In 1857, the completion of the first of five state roads was the Mendota to Wabasha road. It was 75 miles long and built at a cost of $538 per mile, totaling $40,000.

By 1878 Wabasha had a population of 3,000 people and boasted a library, a button factory, parks, a tuberculosis sanitarium, and passenger trains that were on the main line of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul Railway.

Clamming, too, was once of major importance to Wabasha. In fact, in 1913, there were between 500 and 600 clammers who harvested 2,400 tons of clams, with 90 percent of the shells used for manufacturing purposes.

Wabasha had a ferryboat that was pulled by a cable across the river into Wisconsin. In 1931, the first bridge was completed between Wabasha and Nelson, Wis. at a cost of $550,000. It was torn down with the construction of a latest bridge, dedicated in 1988.

Today, a four block downtown commercial district is in the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors to the area will note that the American Bald eagle thrives around Wabasha. During the late fall, winter and early spring, it is common to see them soaring and diving for fish in Lake Pepin. As a result, the National Eagle Center, which provides interactive exhibits, classes and displays, is located on the Wabasha riverfront.

Park your bike and take a stroll around the National Eagle Center, find good food and great river views at Slippery’s Bar & Grill – featured in the film Grumpy Old Men – take a siesta in Beach Park, get a nice breakfast at Stacy’s Kitchen, or simply wander over to the Eagle Nest Coffee House to warm up.

Red Wing

The city of Red Wing was named after the Mdewakanton chief, Hupahuduta, who was one of a succession of chiefs whose name came from their use of a dyed swan’s wing as their symbol of rank.

In the early 1850s, Mississippi River steamboats brought settlers to Red Wing to farm the lush fields in Goodhue County.

The first settlers in town – immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Norway and Sweden – built small mills, factories and workshops specializing in tanning and shoe-making, bricks, furniture, boats, pottery and more.

By 1873 Red Wing led the country in the amount of wheat sold by farmers and the fields served as major contributors to the large flourmills in Minneapolis and St. Anthony.

While the port in Red Wing did lose some prominence once railroads began connecting rural Minnesota with the Twin Cities, the community continued to be an important location on the Mississippi for downstream trade of grain and coal. A constant flow of travelers meant the community also became a successful hospitality and retail center.

Today, the St. James Hotel – built in 1875 – harks back to those bygone days, and the community – on the National Trust for Historic Preservation – is home to world-renowned Red Wing Shoes, Riedell Ice & Roller Skates, and Red Wing Stoneware. The town’s train station is served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which runs to Chicago in the east and Seattle and Portland in the west.

Stop at the St. James Hotel and enjoy a meal or refreshments on The Veranda patio or the fifth-floor Jimmy’s Pub, pick up some maple bacon at the Hanisch Bakery & Coffee Shop, try the sweets at Red Wing Confectionary, or purchase some new riding boots at Red Wing Shoes. And, if you have the time, look into taking a river excursion with Rusty’s Red Wing River Rides.

MMM

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