Taking in the Minnesota and Wisconsin stretches of the mighty Mississippi along the Great River Road
New England is the undisputed king of leaf-peeping destinations, but the wooded banks of the Upper Mississippi River in Minnesota and Wisconsin make a compelling case to be the Foliage Queen. One of the best ways to take in that autumnal beauty is with a drive along this portion of the Great River Road, a route that was named an All-American Road last year and that follows Old Man River from his headwaters all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
I begin my road trip in the Twin Cities—but not until I’ve spent a night at the brand-new Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis, just a couple of blocks west of the river. It’s the metro area’s first five-star property, and I enjoy every bit of it, starting by soaking up a few rays of sun and a little bit of fresh air on the rooftop pool deck, then dining at Mara, helmed by two-time James Beard Award–winning chef Gavin Kaysen. My hummus appetizer and harissa-infused seafood stew are delicious, but the real star of the show is the olive oil cake for dessert.
After a restful night, I hit the road in my 2022 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid—an appropriately green choice for my leafy itinerary. With the skyscrapers of Minneapolis and St. Paul in my rearview, I head south on U.S. Route 10 toward Wisconsin’s bluff country, crossing the state line where the St. Croix River pours into the Mississippi. My first stop is to pick up some local literature at the Great River Road Visitors Center in Prescott, where an enthusiastic elderly volunteer suggests a few spots to visit. I don’t really need the guidance, though; I grew up coming to my family’s cabin on Lake Pepin every weekend.
I stop again to snap a photo at the Maiden Rock scenic overlook, not far from my old stomping grounds, capturing the ash, oak, elm, and birch trees shedding their summer coats, the vista awash with scarlet, goldenrod, and tangerine flair. Continuing on State Highway 35, I reach the tiny enclave of Stockholm, where I savor a kimchi rice bowl made with ingredients sourced from local farms, at Hop Dish & Vine. After lunch, I wander around the corner to Scandihoo to browse the shop’s chic Nordic wares.
The nearby village of Pepin flips the usual (for these parts) Scandinavian theme for Italian influence at Villa Bellezza, a Tuscan-inspired winery and one of eight tasting rooms on the Great River Road Wine Trail. I sample three wines made from locally grown grapes, with the stone fruit–forward Cotes du Pepin White standing out as my favorite.
My final stop is just 20 minutes further along, at the impressive overlook in Buena Vista Park, above the town of Alma. Looking out across the fiery autumnal canopy and the rushing water of the river, I can’t help but think that the best journeys truly do bring you home.
2022 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Pinnacle
Want to bring the whole family on the Great River Road? Opt for this minivan, which has features such as a new high- efficiency air filter that cleans 95 percent of the cabin’s air particulates and Amazon Fire TV with push-to-talk access to Alexa. The combined electric and gas range of up to 520 miles means you’ll only have to stop when you want to, and the towing capacity of 3,600 pounds ensures that grandpa can bring his fishing boat.
From $56,172, chrysler.com