A long and skinny town wedged between Lake Pepin and the bluffs, Maiden Rock has a few surprises that make it worth a stop.
Contact the village office (715.448.2205).
Maiden Rock village and bluff get their names from a long-standing legend about a young, Native American girl called Wenonah (first born daughter), who jumped to her death from the bluff rather than agree to an arranged marriage to a man she didn’t love who was from a rival Indian nation…or he could have been a French voyageur, or possibly an English trader. The story has many versions, something noted sarcastically by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi. Whatever the true story, the legend has been around for generations, at least since the 18th century, and it undeniably resonates with our romantic ideals: this story inspired Perry Williams to compose a libretto for an opera and Margaret A. Persons to write an epic poem.
The first folks to settle at the future village site were brothers Amos and Albert Harris and John Trumbell. The village was initially called Harrisburg but after Trumbell bought them out and platted a village in 1857, he changed the name to Maiden Rock. Trumbell was pretty much the go-to guy in early Maiden Rock. He tried to start a number of businesses and was probably the first European to sail on Lake Pepin. Maiden Rock did not have a regular steamboat stop because the main channel was on the Minnesota side; this was a major factor in the town’s slow start. Early businesses included a sawmill, a shingle mill, a grist mill, a lime kiln, and a ship yard that built boats ranged from 16-foot sailboats to steamboats. Trumbell moved to Albany, Oregon in 1899 when the town had about 300 residents.
Maiden Rock lacked road connections to nearby communities for many of its early years, prompting someone to call it “a good place to live but a hard place to get out of.” The village got a boost in 1886 when railroad connections to St. Paul and La Crosse were completed, but repeated fire disasters were not helpful; six fires ravaged the community just between March, 1911 and August, 1912.
This small village knows how to throw a big party, though. The town’s centennial festival drew a large crowd, especially for the 55-unit parade. The centennial celebration included a beard judging contest with categories including best full beard and best trim. The major industry today is the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company, which has an underground mine where they dig out sand for the oil and gas exploration industries.
Maiden Rock Village Park (W3535 Highway 35; 715.448.2205) is a pleasant location for a picnic.
**Maiden Rock is covered in Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Vol. 1. 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.
Culture and Arts
Linda Harding offers cooking classes through The Kitchen Sage (612.964.9050); lessons emphasize using seasonal, sustainable ingredients.
Entertainment and Events
The local Farmers Market is on Saturday mornings near the art galleries on Highway 35.
Maiden Rock Summerfest (third Saturday in June) includes a parade and tours of the sand mine.
Sports and Recreation
Rush River Delta State Natural Area is a 341-acre floodplain hardwood forest; there are no groomed trails, so it can get soggy, but is still a fun place to explore. Park at the lot at the junction of Highway 35 with County A; the natural area is south of Highway 35.
Eating and Drinking
The Smiling Pelican Bake Shop (W3556 County Highway 35; 715.448.3807; open from mid-March–Dec.) is reputed to have fine breads, torts, pies and other baked goods that inspire otherwise sensible people to drive hours on end to get their fix.
The Maiden Rock Inn (N531 County Road S; 715.448.2608; open weekends, call ahead at other times to find out if they are open), housed in the former schoolhouse just one block inland from the River Road, has a small café that uses local ingredients for the freshly-prepared dishes. The Inn also has a wine bar serving their exclusive collection of Alsatian wines.
For something completely different, dine at Vino in the Valley (W3826 450th Ave.; 715.639.6677; open from mid-May–late Sept), where you will enjoy fine Italian food al fresco in a scenic rural setting among the grapevines. The menu typically includes dishes like rigatoni rustica, antipasto salad, and pasta caprese; enjoy it with a glass of their wine.
Maiden Rock Village Park (W3535 State Highway 35; 715.448.2205) has a few primitive sites next to the river, and a few electric sites next to the woods; no showers.
Bed and Breakfast
The Journey Inn (W3671 200th Ave.; 715.448.2424; WiFi) is a 21st century country inn built in 2006 to have a minimal impact on the surrounding environment. The inn is located on property that borders a large state natural area, so there are many nearby places to hike or snowshoe or meditate (try the labyrinth). The three nature-themed rooms in the house each has its own bathroom and patio). There is also a two-bedroom cottage on-site that has a full kitchen, spa tub, and wood-burning stove that can sleep up to six.
Located next to a working pottery shop, the Pepin Farm Pottery and Guesthouse (3706 110th Ave.; 715.448.3300; WiFi) is a quaint older home that has been through a complete renovation; it has a modern kitchen, screened porch, a large tub, and walking paths on the property where you can enjoy the sounds of nature.
★ Author’s Pick: The Maiden Rock Inn (N531 County Road S; 715.448.2608; WiFi in the dining room) has four guestrooms in a 1906-era schoolhouse that has been through a skillful and classy 15-year renovation. Each of the four rooms has individual climate control, an elegant bathroom, wainscoting, and tin ceilings. Common areas include a recreation room with TV and billiards, grotto and courtyard, sauna, and massage room. Follow the circular stairs to a rooftop deck with great views of the village and river.
There is a small monthly publication called the Maiden Rock Press that circulates around the village.
Post Office: N517 County Rd S; 715.448.3771.
Heading upriver? Check out Bay City.
Heading downriver? Check out Stockholm.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011,2017
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