by Dusty & Kelly Ratcliff
@diningduster on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
17 June 2021
The Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway stretches 287 miles and offers something for everyone in the car. Take in natural history, birding and wildlife, interpretive centers, museums and parks, hiking and biking, historic towns, shopping and restaurants, hotels or camping, or simply just driving. Pick your adventure!
This drive offers multiple historic sites that played an important role to the Dakota People and the Dakota War of 1862. To learn more, keep an eye out for historical markers and important locations along this scenic byway.
The Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway begins at the southern tip of Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota Border in Browns Valley which is located along the Laurentian Continental Divide, continuing to Belle Plaine, Minn.
At the southern tip of Big Stone Lake in Ortonville, along the South Dakota border is where the headwaters of the Minnesota River lie.
Check out Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge in Odessa, just east of Ortonville. This refuge is over 11,000 acres of tall grass prairie, wetlands, granite outcrops, and river woodlands. 11 miles of the Minnesota River flow through this refuge.
The upper portion of the Minnesota River flows through a chain of lakes from Big Stone Lake to Lac Qui Parle Reservoir near Montevideo. More wildlife viewing opportunities can be found here so bring your binoculars!
Visit Lac Qui Parle Mission in Montevideo, where missionaries helped create the first written Dakota alphabet. In the re-created chapel learn how the alphabet was used to translate the Bible into the Dakota language.
Military History buffs will want to stop at the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum outside of Granite Falls. Fully restored aircraft and vehicles that played a significant role in WWII are on display. Check out the library full of leaflets and operating manuals for military vehicles. Plan to spend a couple of hours here!
Grab lunch in Granite Falls and check out the Granite Falls Suspension Bridge and take a walk around downtown.
Stretch your legs In Redwood Falls at Ramsey Park, the largest municipal park in Minnesota. The park includes a trout stream, scenic overlooks, the picturesque Ramsey Falls, and the Ramsey Park Zoo. The zoo is home to buffalo, elk deer, prairie dogs, game, and waterfowl.
New Ulm is a city full of German charm and history. You could easily plan to spend the day here and you might want to consider spending the night in order to take it all in.
Beer lovers will want to visit Schell’s Brewery, the second oldest brewery in the U.S. Tours are offered of the historic grounds and brewery and include beer samples. Climb the 102-foot Herman The German for views of New Ulm and the Minnesota River Valley. The Glockenspiel is a 45-foot clock with 37 bells that can be heard daily at noon, 3pm, and 5pm.
Enjoy a German meal at Veigel’s Kaiserhoff. Wet your whistle with a cocktail at the oldest bar in Minnesota, New Ulm Turner Hall.
Don’t miss Domeier's German Store. It’s eclectic and filled from wall to wall with cuckoo clocks, German treats, and goodies.
Step back to 1871 at the Harkin Store. Costumed guides will give tours of the mercantile and you’ll be treated to views of the Minnesota River from the porch.
Stop for a glass of wine at the beautiful Morgan Creek Vineyards and Winery.
Heading toward Mankato stop at Minneopa State Park to see the bison. There are just over 20 bison freely roaming 331 acres of land. Don’t miss the view from Seppman Mill. Cross the highway to Minneopa State Park and check out the waterfall.
Mankato has hotels, breweries, restaurants, parks, and shopping. Walk Historic Old Town Mankato for food, wine, and local shopping.
Heading north to St. Peter, stop by the Treaty Site History Center to learn more about Dakota history. Take a self-guided tour to learn more about Dakota history inside or follow the Traverse de Sioux trails near the river.
Prince fans will want to make a stop in Henderson as parts of the movie Purple Rain were filmed there. A statue and mural downtown memorialize the musician. Speaking of downtown, an entire block is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and small-town shops to visit and meander through. Stop for lunch or a beverage!
If you’re feeling adventurous, get views of the Minnesota River from the air! Take a zipline tour or high ropes course at Kerfoot Canopy Tour.
Visit Ney Nature Center which is a 446-acre nature center overlooking the Minnesota River Valley. This brings you about 10 miles south of Belle Plaine, where the Scenic Drive ends.
You made it this far so you might as well drive about 13 miles north to Jordan, home to Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. The big yellow building is full from floor to ceiling with candy and sodas. It is not to be missed.
The Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway offers a nice array of small prairie towns, beautiful river views, and picturesque farmlands with wooded groves. This wonderful Scenic Byway is absolutely gorgeous in every season and throughout the year!
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