It’s only about an hour heading south down the Minnesota Great River Road from Minneapolis/St Paul; the town with the name that makes you think of classic American-made leather work boots, or maybe of red-winged blackbirds.
The day before the TBEX online travel media and bloggers conference, a small group of us were hosted on a free half-day trip to Red Wing MN, thanks to the folks at Minnesota Tourism and the Red Wing VCB (Visitors & Convention Bureau.)
I’d never been to Minnesota at all, so it was a treat to stand on Sorin’s Bluff in Red Wing’s Memorial Park, looking out over the town below and the Midwest’s version of the Big Muddy that I’d last seen flowing past the banks of Warfield Point during the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival in Greenville, MS.
You can also see Lake Pepin, which might sound familiar to fans of the Laura Ingalls Wilder pioneer novel, Little House in the Big Woods.
If you visit, spend a little while walking around the park. Look for the placards that explain why the town calls itself the “birthplace of US ski jumping” and why the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Red Wing.
I had to do some Googling to figure out one placard with historic photos about a Snus Box Trail that led to and helped market a 1928 ski jumping competition – snus is a Swedish “moist powder tobacco product” sort of like dip or snuff – more evidence of local Scandinavian settlers in the area.
There is also a very nice disc golf course…
Head down off the bluffs into the downtown, which is full of sturdy Midwestern brick historic buildings.
We walked past the Buchholz-Hadler-Moeller block that has a fancy ironwork fire escape – I love it when people turn everyday utilitarian objects into works of art.
There are green spaces scattered about, like this pocket park with a fountain.
See that big boot sculpture to the left in the photo of the park?
The biggest visitor attraction in Red Wing is an even bigger leather boot at Red Wing Shoes Headquarters downtown, because that’s their specialty – making all kinds of work boots. It’s kitschy, but really, you have to see a 20 foot long, 16 foot tall boot that weighs 2,300 pounds.
Climb the open stairs next to it for a close-up of the giant laces. The upstairs landing above the boot has a surprisingly entertaining exhibit about company history, boot-making, and customer anecdotes about where they wear their Red Wing work boots, like the construction worker who wore his 877 boots while building places like the John Hancock Building and Sears (now Willis) Tower.
Another must-visit (because you’ve gotta support local small businesses, right?) is Fair Trade Books.
It’s not a big place, but the owners have MASSIVE hearts and they obviously love their town and their state. Big bonus: they will select and give you a free book (after a chat about your interests) if you’re a first-time visitor.
The only catch is that you have to say a little chant out loud back to them, “Books make great gifts.” Seems like a fair trade to me.
More reminders of the region’s many Scandinavian and Norwegian settlers – browse around the Uffda Shop (uff da – originally a Norwegian exclamation of surprise, puzzlement, or dismay) for ceramics, jewelry, household items, holiday decorations, and of course, my favorite Dale of Norway sweaters …
There are several places to eat downtown, including a nice restaurant at the historic St. James Hotel where we had brunch.
I bought a bag and we all shared on the way out of town, for a buttery-sweet way to end our day trip.
Do you have a favorite small town along the Mississippi River? Tell us about it down in the comments!
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