Right or left, it doesn’t matter what direction you choose to go from Great Bluffs’ wooded, secluded picnic area. Both offer easy, beguiling trails through the maple-basswood forest and onto landings with sprawling views of the Mississippi River Valley.
This state park southeast of Winona understandably draws the most visitors during October, when 31 drive-in campsites fill up on the weekends and leef-peekers crunch through 3,067 leaf-strewn acres. As if the autumn colors and nearby apple orchards and wineries aren’t alluring enough, the area is also ideal for watching birds along the Mississippi Flyway. In May during the spring migration, hop on the Apple Blossom Scenic Byway near La Crescent to glimpse the orchards in bloom.
Great Bluffs State Park encompasses two scientific and natural areas on King and Queen’s bluff, and includes patches of Minnesota’s so-called goat prairies—elevated and often isolated areas harboring rare plants. About 9 miles of marked trails thread through the park for hiking or cross-country skiing, and the rolling bluffs provide a huge winter sledding hill. Keep binoculars handy for deer and wild turkey sightings in the woods and bald eagles along the bluffs.
A $5 daily pass is required for entrance to the park; secluded picnic spots that include grills invite lingering.