By Dusty & Kelly Ratcliff
@diningduster on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
Looking for a change of scenery? Consider the Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway, an 88-mile scenic drive stretching from Dexter, MN to just west of the Mississippi River in La Crescent, MN. You’ll be treated to bluffs to hike, green and lush rolling hills, charming villages, trails to bike, the Root River, and streams for trout fishing and all-around charm! Southeast Minnesota truly has it all, including an Amish community.
Known as the Driftless Area, meaning glaciers left this area untouched and left behind steep hills and deep river valleys, the southeast corner of Minnesota is unique and beautiful and will most definitely offer a change of scenery.
The Root River is very lush and basically the heart of this scenic byway and can be explored by bike, canoe, tube, or kayak. You’ll find quaint, artsy communities along the way to explore.
Bike riders will appreciate the Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail system as a major trail destination in all of Minnesota. This trail runs from Fountain and runs through the picturesque communities of Lanesboro, Whalen, Rushford, and Houston for 42 miles. The state trail is built on an abandoned railroad making much of the trail wheelchair accessible. So you may want to bring your bike along for this scenic byway or rent upon arrival.
Lodging options are plentiful on this scenic byway ranging from camping, cabins, a horse ranch, bed and breakfasts, and non-chain hotels.
Stop at the International Owl Center in Houston. This is the only all-owl education center in the entire United States. Check their website for special events held throughout the year.
Traveling with little ones? Let them explore the Natural Playground at Houston Nature Center. This is a one-acre playground where kids can look for buried fossils, use a hand water pump, climb through tunnels and caves or sit at a fire ring.
Preston is a cute town to stop for ice cream or rent canoes, tubes, and kayaks. Again, the Root River Trail goes right through town so it’s a quaint stop by bike, car, or kayak.
Just south of Preston, and slightly off the scenic byway discover the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. You could easily spend hours or even the day exploring this state park. The cave remains 48 degrees year-round and is a maze of corridors with over twelve miles of passages. Learn about and see stalactites, stalagmites along with underground pools.
Back on the Byway, you must stop for a slice of “world-famous pie” at the Aroma Pie Shoppe in Whalen.
Lanesboro is the heart of Bluff Country and is also the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota. Research before you go to find cozy accommodations that fit your travel needs.
You’re not going to find any chain stores or fast-food franchises in Lanesboro. You will not find a simple traffic stoplight in the charming town but you will find a phone booth! You will also encounter a wonderful cultural experience with locally grown foods, wine and dining, local art galleries, and quaint, unique shopping.
You’ll notice bikes propped up and leaning all over town, you may be riding one yourself! Bike rentals are available throughout the area. Some people just walk or even rollerblade!
Check out the Stone Dam near downtown Lanesboro. It was built in 1868 and is registered as a historic spot. Look for a beautiful waterfall in the area. With the Root River going right through town, you can expect to hear the water while exploring Lanesboro.
You won’t find any breweries in Lanesboro but you’ll find plenty of locally-brewed beer at any of the restaurants scattered throughout town.
With all the trout fishing on the Root River, consider a guided fly-fishing trip with the Root River Rod Co. They also offer lodging in Lanesboro and have fishing gear for sale, whether you book a guided fly-fishing tour or not.
Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center is a campus that hosts people of all ages to learn about life outdoors and wildlife. They host educational training experiences for all ages. There are over nine miles of public hiking trails that can be enjoyed seven days a week. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the rock climbing wall. This is also a wonderful spot for birding and scenic overlooks. Eagle Bluff offers one of the most stunning overlooks of the Root River.
Preston is also known as “Minnesota’s Trout Capital” so it’s only fitting to learn more about trout fishing and even mushroom hunting at the National Trout Center (NTC). They host events throughout the year. You can also pick up a self-guided nine-hole trout fishing course. Guided fly fishing trips are available in the area as well.
If you’re thirsty, grab a beer at Trout City Brewing. They also offer wine and hard ciders (and soda pop) as well as coffee and light sandwiches.
Up the road in Fountain is known as the Sinkhole Capital of the United States. There are over 10,000 sinkholes of various sizes near Fountain and Harmony (a town just off the scenic byway). One of the largest sinkholes is located along the Root River in Fountain so don’t miss the opportunity to see that!
Winter is also a beautiful time to visit the Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway. Bike trails are groomed for cross-country skiing. Plan before you go as there is a seasonality to the area.
Kelly and Dustin Ratcliff are from Minnesota and are the writers of a Midwest travel blog, diningduster.com. Kelly & Dustin love to dine, drink and discover new things in the Midwest, especially Minnesota and its neighbors. They’re always on the hunt for a plant-based meal at local restaurants, love a good brewery and winery and discovering unique sights along the way. They are co-authors of their first anthology, “Midwest Road Trip Adventures.”
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