The expansive view of the Mississippi River Valley from the crest of Barn Bluff has always stirred the souls of those who scale this iconic symbol of Red Wing. Jonathan Carver, the 18th-century explorer, described it as "The most beautiful prospect that imagination can form." Henry David Thoreau, Zebulon Pike and thousands of other visitors have shared similar sentiments throughout the seasons. Yet it's autumn that lingers in memory. From river bank to bluff top, Red Wing puts on a show when the leaves turn.
Red Wing's essence is its pleasing marriage of river and bluffs. The main channel of the Mississippi River curves through the heart of town and the city's handsome park system highlights both the river and the dramatic limestone bluffs that tower above it. In 2008, the city was honored for its "impressive architecture and enviable natural environment" when it was designated a Distinctive Destination by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Enjoy nature: In a city of natural beauty, four parks reflect the best of Red Wing in the fall. Levee Park is the city's riverboat landing and a shady spot for a stroll and a riverside picnic. Nearby is the attractive train depot with an art gallery, visitor center and Amtrak service. Bay Point Park boasts a grand view of downtown Red Wing, Barn Bluff and the steel truss Eisenhower Bridge.
For a hawk's-eye view of Red Wing and the Mississippi River Valley, it's worth the time to hike to the top of Barn Bluff, 343 feet above the city. Fall colors add a stunning accent to a view that exceeds its reputation. The 43-acre park is one of the premier rock climbing spots in Minnesota. If time doesn't permit a hike, drive up to Memorial Park on Sorin's Bluff for a different lofty perspective. The park features hiking and biking trails and a 9-hole Frisbee golf course.
Shopping: If autumn provides a pleasant backdrop, but shopping is your real priority, you've come to the right place. Treasures abound in the downtown of arts, antiques and specialty shops. Venture into the Uffda Shop (Main and Bush Street) to browse Scandinavian housewares and gifts. The Red Wing Shoe Store (Main Street) features a variety of shoes, clothing and accessories.
Red Wing, once the country's largest stoneware manufacturing center, is still a hot spot for buying quality pottery and stoneware. To see for yourself, visit the Red Wing Stoneware factory store (Hwy. 61 and Moundview Drive west of downtown), the Pottery Place mall and Red Wing Pottery (both on West Main Street).
Take a tour: The Red Wing Trolley offers tours on Wednesdays through Sundays through mid-October (406 Main St.; 1-651-380-3220; www.redwingtrolley.com). Red Wing River Rides offers boat tours on the Mississippi through October (292 Levee Road; 612-859-6655; www.rustysriver rides.com).
Enjoy the arts: The Anderson Center features a sculpture garden, permanent art collection and ongoing events (163 Tower View Dr.; 651-388-2009; www.anderson center.org). The Red Wing Arts Association sponsors its 46th Annual Fall Festival of the Arts on Oct. 13-14 (418 Levee St.; 651-388-7569; www. redwingartsassociation.org). The Sheldon Performing Arts Theatre presents year-round music, drama, comedy, films and other events (443 W. 3rd St.; 1-800-899-5759; www. sheldontheatre.org).
Go biking: You have to supply the energy on this paved 20-mile bicycle trail between Red Wing and Cannon Falls along the scenic Cannon River.
For great variety and atmosphere under one roof, head for the St. James Hotel and one of its three restaurants (406 Main St.; 1-800-252-1875; www.st-james-hotel.com): The Veranda features patio and indoor dining, both with views of the Mississippi River; The Port is the place to go in Red Wing for fine dining; and Jimmy's Pub serves pub fare in a British-style setting and has live entertainment every Friday night.
For a casual meal, visit the Brickhouse Pub & Grille (433 Main St.; 651-388-9999; www.thebrickhousepubandgrille.com). Liberty's (303 W. 3rd St.; 651-388-8877; www.libertysonline.com) offers free shuttle service and a view of Barn Bluff.
It's been 60 years since beer was brewed in Red Wing. That changed this summer when the Red Wing Brewery began brewing two historic brews as well as Good Old Zimmie's Root Beer (1411 West Main St.; 1-262-325-7505; www.redwingbrewing.com). The Falconer Vineyards will tempt you to linger on its bluff-view deck while sampling wines (3572 Old Tyler Road; 651-388-8849; www.falconer vineyards.com).
Red Wing has many fine lodging options. Perhaps the most unique of its B&Bs is the Round Barn Farm (28650 Wildwood Lane; 1-866-763-2276; www.roundbarnfarm.com). The famous St. James Hotel has been an elegant destination since 1875.
The visitors and convention bureau: 1-800-498-3444; www.redwing.org.
Jim Umhoefer is a travel/outdoor writer and photographer from Sauk Centre, Minn.