Sunday, July 25, 2010

Road Trip: Day 6; Hiking trails at the Great River Bluffs State Park, Minnesota

There is just one word to use when describing the hiking trails that I will always remember when I think back about Minnesota; mosquitoes! The swarms of mosquitoes along the hiking trails were the worst that I have ever experienced in my life. We had planned on spending the morning hiking on the 7+ miles of trails throughout the park before finishing off our weeklong road trip and heading back to Denver, but the bugs put a halt in those plans. We woke up at 7am and I was ready to check out the bluffs and Mississippi River Valley. The park provides a well marked trail system with maps at the ranger station and several maps along the trails.

Getting there; Approximately 20 miles southeast of Winona at the junction of U.S. Highway 61 and Interstate 90. Park entrance is accessed off of County Road 3. Coming from the west or southeast via I-90, take exit 266 and follow park signs. Coming from Winona, south on Hwy 61 (just past mile marker 15), take a right on County Road 3 for 4 miles to the park entrance.  The entrance fee is $5 per car for the day or buy an annual park pass. Drive into the park and park at any day use parking lot, there is one just a short drive in the park by one of the trailhead signs.  For entertainment take a walk on some of the hiking trails; there is also birdwatching, viewing the fall colors, and more in the park. 
The Journey; Our first destination was to the east river scenic overlook, just a .3 mile trip up the trail to watch the sun hit the Mississippi river in the morning. The mosquitoes swarmed all of us, including the dogs, as we hiked to the overlook. We barely were able to enjoy the beauty of the bluffs, river and light fog lifting as the sun rays hit the water for the first time that morning. The view from high up on the bluff shows the boats below already out on the river enjoying the water; the temperature was already 80 degrees and it was just past 7am. After a few minutes of picture taking we turned around and walked back to the main trail system to walk to the other scenic overlooks in the park. We hiked through the shaded forest that climbed and fell up and down the hills under the oak trees, trying to swat the mosquitoes which were thick around us as we hiked.

The trail continues next to the park road and crosses over it several times before reaching the intersection for the south and north overlooks. We hiked out to either of these which provided great views of the river and bluffs beyond; the views span across the river into Wisconsin. If the bugs weren’t so bad we would have enjoyed sitting and watching the boats and barges along the river, but each time we stopped the bugs swarmed even more and we were just miserable. It was at this point that we decided to abandon our original plan of hiking out to Kings Bluff an additional 1.3 miles each way, to get back to the campsite and pack up and go. The lack of bug spray made us prime targets and we just couldn’t stand it anymore! Our morning hike turned into just a 2 mile hike to three very pretty viewpoints, we continued walking through the trails on the inner part of the park which had fewer mosquitos when we walked through the flowery meadows.  We made it back to our tent in about an hour after a 2 mile hike. The park maps provide very good mileage between points and the park itself has over 7-8 miles of trails with 8 scenic overlooks.

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