10 Fall Weekend Escapes Along the Mississippi River

I love fall. I love every season in its own right (you’re all special!), but I treasure the end of the summer heat and humidity. Comfortable fall days invite us back outside. If you’re anything like me—and I understand why you wouldn’t want to be—you go looking for ideas about good places to catch some leaf color but end up settling on the places you’ve been before. Don’t let it get you down, though. While it’s true that there are only so many places with trees that show off in fall, we’ve got a lot of options about what else to do once we’re there. I can help with that.

I’ve put together some suggestions about places along the Mississippi River you can visit for a quick fall getaway—two days and one night. It pairs leaf peeping with getting to know a little more about the people and communities you’re visiting. Fall is a great time for a trip like this, as pretty much everyone is in the mood to slow down and savor the last warm days before winter settles in.

Fall is an ideal time of year for a hike through the woods, so every tour below includes a place to hike where you’re likely to see good color palettes. Temperatures are comfortable, and there are usually fewer bugs to annoy you, if you’re the kind of person annoyed by bugs.

When you’re done, settle in for a glass or two of locally-crafted wine or beer. Enjoy a nice dinner at a local restaurant, then relax in a room that has some character. In the morning, enjoy a homemade breakfast at your lodging or go out for breakfast or brunch. That’s the basic itinerary. Heck, I’ve even given you some ideas about what to do if your hike gets rained out.

I’ve stayed away from the big cities for these trips. This is about getting away from home to take it easy for a night, getting outside, and getting a taste of the local life. Feel free to use my ideas literally or just as a starting point. It’s your trip, after all. Just take your time. This isn’t a contest.

If you want more information on these places, my guide—Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Volume 1—can help. You can also check the river town profiles on my website for more information about these places. Click the link above for more. Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.

1. Mississippi Headwaters

Where to Base: Bemidji—the First City on the Mississippi!—and a small town with a lot to offer.
Where to Hike: Itasca State Park. Start at the Headwaters; depending upon what week you’re there, you might see the yellow leaves of birch tree or the deep golden hues of tamaracks. At the Headwaters, you can take a short hike on Schoolcraft Trail through a tamarack swamp, which you should if those trees are in full glory. When you’re done, take your time looping through the park on Wilderness Drive. Stop and climb the Aiton Heights Fire Tower for a wider perspective of the colors.
If it rains: In Bemidji, visit the Beltrami County History Center and the Watermark Art Center. If you have more time, drive up to the Rabideau CCC Camp and tour the Depression-era work camp, but call ahead before making the half-hour drive to make sure they’re open (218.335.8600).
A Local Drink: Sample a few beers at the Bemidji Brewing Company.
Where to Eat: Enjoy casual fine dining at Sparkling Waters or casual pub fare at Brigid’s.
Where to Stay: Stay on the northern shore of Lake Bemidji at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge.
Where to Breakfast/Brunch: Get some wild rice pancakes at Minnesota Nice Café, or whatever breakfast options grabs your attention.

2. Lake Pepin: Wisconsin Side

Base: Use the small river town of Maiden Rock as your base.
Hike: Maiden Rock Bluff. Just a 15-minute, mostly flat walk from the parking lot ends at top of a bluff-top prairie with great views of Lake Pepin. If you’re more ambitious, you can follow the trails to other overlooks.
If it rains: You have options! You could visit the shops in Stockholm, then go on to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha or visit the museums in Red Wing (see below).
Drink: Sample the range of traditional ciders produced by the Maiden Rock Cidery and Winery.
Eat: Get a taste of Italy at Il Forno at Villa Belleza in Pepin.
Stay: The rooms in the old schoolhouse at the Maiden Rock Inn are exquisite and so comfortable that they may tempt you to relax at the inn instead of going out to explore.
Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at the Inn.

3. Lake Pepin: Minnesota Side

Base: Red Wing is a good place to use as a base to explore the Minnesota side of Lake Pepin.
Hike: Follow the bluffside trail at Frontenac State Park; if you feel ambitious, follow it up and down and all around, otherwise stick to the upper trail and its views of the river valley.
If it rains: Red Wing has several good museums. If you only want to visit a couple, go to the Goodhue County Historical Society and the Aliveo Military Museum. If you’re interested in the history of a couple of local industries, check out the Pottery Museum of Red Wing and the Red Wing Shoe Museum.
Drink: Sample local craft beer at the Red Wing Brewery or wine at Falconer Vineyards.
Eat: Head to the St. James Hotel where you can enjoy fine dining at The Port or the more casual, gastropub fare at Jimmy’s.
Stay: Spend the night at the historic St. James Hotel or pick a B&B.
Breakfast: If you aren’t at a B&B, head down to Bev’s Café for breakfast.

4. La Crosse

Base: La Crosse has much to offer for a weekend getaway, just plan far ahead if you expect to visit during one of the busy Octoberfest weekends.
Hike: Hixon Forest has miles and miles of trails, several of which lead up the bluffs to dramatic views of the river valley.
If it rains: Visit the Hixon House, the Mississippi Valley Archeology Center, and the Maria Angelorum Chapel at St. Rose Convent.
Drink: See what’s on tap at Turtle Stack Brewery.
Eat: La Crosse has some good dining options, but none is better than the Waterfront Restaurant.
Stay: Spend a night at the charming Charmant Hotel or the unique Lustron House.
Breakfast: Mingle with the locals for Sunday brunch at Fayze’s Restaurant.

5. Dubuque

Base: Like La Crosse, Dubuque has a lot going on, which means you’ll want to come back to see what you missed.
Hike: Go for a hike in the woods at Mines of Spain Recreation Area. There are also great views of the river and trees at the Julien Dubuque Monument.
If it rains: Head to the National Mississippi River Museum, which you should probably visit even if it’s nice outside.
Drink: Slip into Jubeck New World Brewing for a taste of local craft beer.
Eat: Enjoy a meal with a view of the river at Catfish Charlies, which also sources some of its fish from the Mississippi River.
Stay: Spend a night at the beautiful Hotel Julien, or pick a B&B.
Breakfast: If you didn’t stay at a B&B, head down to Convivium Urban Farm for breakfast and coffee.

6. Burlington

Base: Burlington is an old river town with a lot going on.
Hike: Go for a hike along the creek and through the woods at beautiful Starr’s Cave Preserve.
If it rains: Tour the Heritage Center Museum and the Garrett-Phelps House, then browse the records and merch at Weird Harold’s.
Drink: Try a locally-crafted beer at Bent River Brewing.
Eat: Enjoy dinner with a view at Martini’s Grille; if you get there before sunset, you’ll have spectacular views of the river.
Stay: Spend the night at historic Candlelight Manor Bed-and-Breakfast.
Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at your B&B.

7. Hannibal

Base: There’s more to Hannibal than Mark Twain, which you’ll discover with a fall weekend visit.
Hike: It’s a different hike than some of the others on this list, but take a walk along the levee at Ted Shanks Conservation Area south of Hannibal. Most of the area is bottomland marsh, but there are also hardwood trees on the river side of the levee. On the way down, stop at Lover’s Leap for great views of the river valley.
If it rains: Take your time at the Mark Twain Museum and Boyhood Home and Jim’s Journey.
Drink: Check out the beer at Mark Twain Brewery.
Eat: You can have dinner at the Mark Twain Brewery, but for something beyond pub grub, head to LaBinnah Bistro.
Stay: Spend the night at the imposing Rockliffe Mansion.
Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at your B&B.

8. Sainte Genevieve

Base: Sainte Genevieve is a place that invites slow travel, so RSVP yes.
Hike: Go for a hike through Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area just north of Ste. Genevieve.
If it rains: Tour the historic homes in Ste. Genevieve.
Drink: Check out the beers at Charleville.
Eat: Enjoy dinner at the Grapevine Grill at Chaumette, which emphasizes local, seasonal ingredients for its food.
Stay: Spend the night at the log cabin at Charleville or White Cliff Manor Bed & Breakfast just south of Sainte Genevieve in St. Mary.
Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at your B&B.

9. Cape Girardeau

Base: Cape Girardeau has a lot of riverfront real estate that invites taking an easy stroll or sitting and watching the river flow by.
Hike: Trail of Tears State Park honors the memory of the thousands of Cherokee Indians who were forced out of their homes in the Southeast. It also has 3,400 acres of forest that shine brightly in fall and several hiking trails through those forests; one of those, the Peewah Trail, also has a couple of good overlooks of the river.
If it rains: Get to know Cape Girardeau with a tour of the Glenn House, the art museums on the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University, and Red House Interpretive Center.
Drink: See what’s on tap at Minglewood Brewery.
Eat: Celebrations Restaurant is housed in a historic storefront downtown and serves food that is seasonal and delicious.
Stay: Spend the night at Neumeyer’s Bed and Breakfast.
Breakfast: Enjoy breakfast at your B&B.

10. Southern Illinois

Base: Make Murphysboro your base for exploring this area, which is centrally located for exploring the sites below.
Hike: Hike the Little Grand Canyon Trail, which is a moderately difficult hike but worth every step.
If it rains: Visit the local wineries around Pomona and Alto Pass and pick a favorite.
Drink: If you’d rather try some unique beer rather than sip wine, take the 20-minute drive from Murphysboro to Scratch Brewery. They are a cash-only operation, but they have an ATM on site.
Eat: If you’re up for an early dinner, head to the Peach Barn Café (they close at 7:30 on fall weekends) where you can sample Swedish specialties. Otherwise, fill up with savory smoked meats at the 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro.
Stay: Stay in one of the rooms at the Historic Hull House or, if you prefer a country setting, at the Kinkaid Lake Cabins.
Breakfast: Enjoy a traditional diner breakfast at Cindy B’s Café in Murphysboro or head up to Harbaugh’s Café in Carbondale for a creative spin on diner favorites (be prepared to wait).

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By |2018-09-16T22:58:38+00:00September 15th, 2018|Features|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dean Klinkenberg, the Mississippi Valley Traveler, is on a mission to explore the rich history, diverse cultures, and varied ecosystems of the Mississippi River Valley, from the Headwaters in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. He is the author of Rock Island Lines, a mystery, and several guidebooks for the Mississippi Valley.

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