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12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Red Wing, MN

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Aug 18, 2021

For such a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River, Red Wing is an integral part of the development of the state of Minnesota. The historic, red-brick river port town is a restored cultural jewel, with so many wonderful things to see and do, and hundreds of years of history behind it.

Red Wing got its start in the 1800s with the wheat industry, but eventually became known for Red Wing Shoes - you've probably heard of them! Today the town still shows off its 19th-century vibe, with its many historic brick buildings near the riverfront, and the charming downtown that is brimming with restaurants and shops.

Peppered with parks, public spaces to showcase art and music, a historic theater, and many walking and cycling trails that overlook the Mississippi River, there is always a good time to go and get to know Red Wing. The city is known for its annual music festival, as well, which brings together top musicians from all around the region.

Start your adventure with the sweeping bluffs that overlook the river and downtown to get the lay of the land. From here, you'll be ready to explore the best things to do in Red Wing, MN.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Enjoy the View from Barn Bluff

View of Red Wing from Barn Bluff
View of Red Wing from Barn Bluff

Red Wing has one of the best locations in the state - perched right along the upper Mississippi River, surrounded by cliffs and deep forests. In fact, the river is one of the most famous and beautiful features of the town.

Why not get acquainted with Red Wing with a bird's-eye view over the entire town and surrounding area? Climb up the cliff to the viewpoint known as Barn Bluff - it's the massive rock formation right on the river. You can't miss it.

The cliff has been important for the native and prehistoric people in this region, but it also was an important lookout point during the age of exploration in the early 1800s.

Today the lookout point provides one of the best views in the area. It's a steep climb up, so be sure to wear proper shoes and take your time. It will be worth it for the views, and you'll definitely have the lay of the land by the time you reach the top.

2. Pay Tribute at the Red Wing Marine Museum

Red Wing Marine Museum
Red Wing Marine Museum | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Just across the street from the banks of the Mississippi, the Red Wing Marine Museum is one of the most historic structures in the town of Red Wing. Because of Red Wing's reliance on the Mississippi River, it's only fitting that the town would have an entire museum dedicated to life on the water.

The Marine Museum tells the story of one of the motor and boat businesses in Minnesota, which got its start in Red Wing. The enterprise began in 1902, and the products that were created in Red Wing went international. These included fishing boats, Red Wing Cabin Cruising Motor Boats, and more - all powered by Red Wing engines.

Today the museum is near the original factory site. Within the museum, you will be able to see restored Red Wing Thorobred engines, as well as outboard motors and other river memorabilia and photos. Be sure to walk down to the river to catch a glimpse at the American Queen, one of the largest river steamboats.

Address: 935 Levee Road, Red Wing, Minnesota

Official site: https://redwingmarinemuseum.com/

3. Stroll around Downtown Red Wing

Red Wing Shoe Store and Museum on Main Street in Red Wing, MN
Red Wing Shoe Store and Museum on Main Street in Red Wing, MN | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

The lifeblood of Red Wing is, without a doubt, the Mississippi River, but when it comes to experiencing daily life in the town, it has to be Main Street. Red Wing's Main Street is the commercial hub, always buzzing with activity, restaurants, entertainment, and shopping.

It also happens to be one of the more historic sections of the town. In fact, many buildings along Main Street date back to the mid-1800s. To walk down Main Street is to walk back in time, even though today the shops and restaurants are thoroughly modern. Still, the brick buildings and glimpses of the river easily set the scene for what it must have been like when Red Wing was a burgeoning river town on the Mississippi.

Red Wing's Main Street has more than two dozen boutiques, antique shops, and cafés, but you will want to stop first at Red Wing Shoes. More than 100 years old, Red Wing Shoes is one of the original all-American footwear companies, and they are still turning out the iconic shoes today. The store and museum are a must on Main Street.

You'll also want to visit Fair Trade Books and the Red Wing Confectionery - especially if you've got a sweet tooth. On Wednesdays, Red Wing's Central Park has free live music, as well.

4. Shop at the Pottery Museum of Red Wing

Pottery Museum of Red Wing
Pottery Museum of Red Wing | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If the name "Red Wing" sounds familiar to you, it may be because you've heard of Red Wing Pottery. And, yes, it originated right here in Red Wing. Red Wing Stoneware and Red Wing Pottery trace its roots back to 1861 when German immigrant, John Paul, discovered a pocket of red clay and began to use it to create stoneware and pottery. By 1877 the Red Wing Stoneware and Pottery was officially established.

Today the Pottery Museum of Red Wing fills in the gaps between back then and today. It is also the most extensive collection of Red Wing clay products in the world. More than 6,000 vintage objects of dinnerware, art, stoneware, and pottery are on display.

Of course, you can also get quite a bit of modern day shopping done in the pottery complex, as well. From bowls and crocks to planters, vases, entire dinner sets, and everything in between, Red Wing Stoneware & Pottery is a shopper's paradise for local pottery products.

Address: 240 Harrison Street, Red Wing, Minnesota

Official site: https://potterymuseumredwing.org/

5. Explore Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin
Lake Pepin

Minnesota is the land of lakes for a reason. When they say the state has 10,000 lakes, it is no exaggeration. But the largest lake on the Mississippi River can be found not far from Red Wing.

Lake Pepin is a naturally formed lake that was created from the backup water from the Chippewa River delta - it shares its borders with both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Its first mention in history can be traced back to the 18th century with documentation of the French fort, Fort Beauharnois, built in 1727. The sprawling lake is 21 miles long and an average of 1.7 miles wide.

The lake has three marinas and is a prime destination for residents and visitors of Red Wing, who come to fish, swim, boat, and relax along its miles and miles of shoreline. It's also said to be the birthplace of waterskiing, which is thought to have been invented on the lake in 1922.

A highway encircles the lake and takes drivers past many of the area's top views and shopping. It is a 70-mile drive around the lake, which can be a great day trip from Red Wing.

6. Walk through Memorial Park

View of Red Wing from Memorial Park
View of Red Wing from Memorial Park | Michel Curi / photo modified

By now you're probably aware that Red Wing takes great pride in its Mississippi Location. You can soak in all the views of the river and the surrounding bluffs from the gorgeous Memorial Park. From the top of the park's Sorin's Bluff, you'll find the best views, as well as trails for biking and hiking, grills, and even a spot to play Frisbee golf. All the picnic areas have views of Lake Pepin.

Speaking of trails, some of the best hiking in Red Wing is found right here. About seven and a half miles of trails web their way through the park, ranging from easy to difficult. The trails criss-cross Memorial Park and around the golf course. The trails are open year-round and are particularly popular in winter among snowshoers.

The park was once one of the prime centers for Red Wing's lime industry, which thrived in the 19th century. The quarry work ended around the turn of the century, and the area around Sorin's Bluff was transformed into Memorial Park.

Address: 315 W 4th Street, Red Wing, Minnesota

7. Catch a Show at the Sheldon Theatre of Performing Arts

Dating back to 1904, Red Wing's Sheldon Theatre is one of the oldest operating theaters in Minnesota. Stepping inside is stepping back to a glamorous age of entertainment - take a look at the gold-splashed interior, ornate carvings, and dramatic red velvet.

The theater was built in 1904 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is named for Theodore B. Shelton, who was an industry man that contributed to the development of Red Wing.

The Sheldon Theatre welcomes about 30,000 people each year to take in its series of live music, plays, musicals, concerts, dance, film screening, and more. A recent renovation brought the theater back up to its glitzy standards, too.

Visitors can tour the historic theater, as well as marvel at its ornamentation, from the paintings and sculpture to gorgeous arches. The theater sits right in the heart of downtown.

Address: 443 W 3rd Street, Red Wing, Minnesota

8. Relax in Bay Point Park

Bald eagle at Colvill Park in Red Wing
Bald eagle at Colvill Park in Red Wing | Lorie Shaull / photo modified

Overlooking the Mississippi, Bay Point Park is a popular meeting point for locals of Red Wing. It plays host to community celebrations throughout the year, but is also one of the main launch points for boats ready to explore the Mississippi River.

In addition to being a focal point of the town, Bay Point Park features areas for picnics, a volleyball court, and a path for walking. Not far from the park is the historic Boat House Village.

If you need another park idea, Colvill Park is another green space known for its picnic areas, tennis courts, and its temperature-controlled events building. You'll even find a boat launch and volleyball court.

9. Get in Touch with the Arts

Founded in 1952, the Red Wing Arts Association has been one of the centers of the Red Wing community - especially its artists and the artists from the surrounding areas. The center began as an arts education program, but over the years it has become a space to support artists through events and exhibits.

The association today lives in the Historic Depot in downtown, just across from the Mississippi River. Today the Red Wing Art Association works to support more than 350 artists by providing them visibility in partner shops and galleries.

Through the Red Wing Art Association, art lovers can experience live concerts, festivals, public art, and gallery exhibits all over Red Wing.

Address: 418 Levee Street, Red Wing, Minnesota

10. Get Out on the Mississippi

Paddleboat on the Mississippi River in Red Wing
Paddleboat on the Mississippi River in Red Wing | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

The Mississippi River is the main artery of Red Wing. What started as an important part of Red Wing's economy has blossomed to become one of its prime tourist attractions and recreational features.

Outdoor activities abound near the river, from the many hiking and walking paths to parks and vantage points. But visitors to Red Wing can also get out on the water with the variety of river cruises that the town offers.

Take the Pearl of the Lake, for example. This is one of the most unique ways to see the river aboard a replica 19th-century paddleboat. The Pearl of the Lake takes visitors on a sail back in time to what it must have been like aboard those glamorous boats in the 1800s.

Other cruise options include Rusty's Red Wing River Rides, which is a small boat ride of no more than 40 passengers, or Magnolia Blossom Cruises, which can fit up to 125 people and is perfect for a sophisticated evening.

11. Plan for the Big Turn Music Festival

Every year, Red Wing sets the stage for one of the largest music festivals in the area: the Big Turn Music Festival. This two-day event brings regional musicians to Red Wing for 48 hours of non-stop entertainment.

The name "Big Turn" is taken from the bend in the Mississippi River as it flows through Red Wing. It is a beloved community event that gets the entire city involved.

12. Soak Up History at the Goodhue County Historical Society

The Goodhue County Historical Society is Red Wing's main center for promoting the cultural and natural history of the area surrounding Red Wing. The group formed back in the 1860s and today has developed to include a museum that showcases documents and items that represent every decade of the history of the county.

You'll find pottery, terra-cotta, and stoneware from Red Wing, as well as textiles, inventions, and local art. The historical society has a rotating temporary exhibit calendar, as well. The historical society is a great place to visit to learn about other parts of the county, from its cemeteries and churches to its abandoned ghost towns and schools.

It's through the historical society that Red Wing has put together its self-guided Red Wing Public Art Walk - a collection of artistic points of interest in the community that visitors can see on their own via the help of a walking map.

Address: 1166 Oak Street, Red Wing, Minnesota

Official site: https://goodhuecountyhistory.org/

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