Trip Around Lake Pepin – On the Mighty Mississippi

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Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake and is the largest lake on the Mississippi River. On the west is Minnesota and 1.7 miles across it is Wisconsin. It covers 29,295 acres and is 21 miles long. Its main claim to fame is that in 1922, Ralph Samuelson successfully skied on water. He was from Lake City and after five days of trying, he succeeded in being the first documented water skier. In 1925, again on Lake Pepin, he made the first water ski jump.

I took a drive around Lake Pepin to see what else it had to offer. We drove from the Twin Cities down through Red Wing, famous for its shoes among other things, and crossed the Mississippi to the Wisconsin side.

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A few years ago I was in Frontenac State Park on the Minnesota side looking over to Maiden Rock. This time I was driving through Maiden Rock village. A plaque at Frontenac Park states: “On the east shore of Lake Pepin, opposite this point, juts out a high rock. From this pinnacle, according to accounts of early travelers, a Sioux maiden of Wabasha’s band prevented from marrying the warrior of her choice, leaped to her death that she might avoid union with another and older man.”

Stockholm was our next stop. Population 66. At one time it was a thriving community of about 300. It was founded in 1856 by Swedish immigrant farmers and was connected to the railroad in 1886. Although most residents moved to more urban areas after World War II, the village did not disappear completely. In the 1970’s people were drawn to the area for its natural beauty and it has become a thriving artist community with small artsy shops like the Purple Turtle Artisan Collective and North Oak Amish Furniture and Gifts. There is a pie shop on the corner and a complete gourmet kitchen store. It is home to music and art festivals throughout the summer.

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Down the road, just outside of Pepin, is the Villa Bellezza winery. Wisconsin wine has a ways to go but we tasted a few decent wines and had a look around. The setting is stunning with vineyards all around an Italian Villa. There is a piazza with a fountain and it is a popular place for weddings and receptions. There is a self-guided tour but the main tours are on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am. The tasting room is open everyday.

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Pepin is larger than Stockholm with about 800 people. We stopped at the Harbor View Café across from the marina for lunch. The café has been coming to life every summer since 1980. It is well known throughout the area for its tasty eclectic food. The Menu goes up on the chalkboard over the bar twice daily. We were offered Alaskan Halibut, Hawaiian Swordfish, Massachusetts Striped Bass, Copper River Salmon, along with chicken, pork, risotto and pasta. We shared a chocolate buttercream pie for dessert.

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From there it was a beautiful drive to Nelson and a stop at the Nelson Creamery. The ice cream looked tempting but we were way too full. We did stock up on local cheese and beer. They have a small seating area with a fireplace that must be lovely in winter. As we arrived it started to rain so we spent some time watching a summer downpour.

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We headed out as it eased up and crossed the river to Wabasha, Minnesota and up to Reeds Landing. Reeds Landing was founded in the mid-1800’s as a trading post and became a major logging town. The Reeds Landing Brewery is housed in a building originally built in 1869 as a dry goods store. Today it is a pub and restaurant overlooking Lake Pepin. One of their beers, Cap’n Crunch Amber, is made with Captain Crunch cereal and is pretty good.

We took a quick tour of Lake City on our way back to Red Wing to close the loop. On the way home we passed through New Trier to see St Mary’s Church. The church was built in 1909, in the Beaux Art Classic Style by architect Paul Ries of St Paul. The statue of the Virgin Mary and child was cast in 1862 and sits over the main door. It was entered into the national Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is at the top of a hill and is impressive.

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