Expansive panoramas, stately bluffs rising against the edges of thick, forested valleys, and in the middle of it all, a city on a massive sandbar along the powerful Mississippi River. Winona is a quintessential river city rich in history, culture, arts, architecture, and natural beauty.
Home to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, the river provides a backdrop for limitless wildlife — literally millions of birds — and aquatic life on the Mississippi River Flyway. At Great River Bluffs State Park, dense hardwood forests and native wildflower prairies frame the valley below. Named one of the “Best Places to See Fall Color” by CBS Minnesota, it’s no wonder why it has also been chosen one of National Geographic’s “World’s Greatest Driving Tours.”
Looking out from the highest vantage point, 450-feet above the city, is the famous Sugar Loaf landmark, which resulted from limestone quarrying in the 1880s. Native American legend ties the site to the well-known cap of Dakota Nation Chief Wapahasha, turned to stone. Outdoor enthusiasts will be keen to hike trails up the bluff to its base, offering a dramatic view point.
Across the bluff, sits Garvin Heights Park with inspiring outlooks, hiking, and restored goat prairies. Below, encircling Lake Winona, is Lake Park, home to the C.A. Rohrer Rose Garden, Veterans Memorial Park and Bandshell. Levee Park allows an up-close encounter with the Mississippi River. Occasionally, paddlewheel and other historic riverboats still dock here.
The city’s origins and the wealth that swept the area are obvious in the lavish architecture. Walking tours of historic homes, churches, banks, and courthouse highlight the culture of early settlers. Astounding glass art within the city has earned Winona the designation of Stained Glass Capital of the U.S. Attractions such as the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Polish Cultural Institute and Museum, Watkins Heritage Museum, and Winona County History Center continue the storytelling of Winona’s past and present.
Fine and performing arts thrive in Winona. Area artisans’ diverse works are showcased in a variety of places, and many of the artists participate in the Bluff Country Studio Arts Tour. Theatre du Mississippi, a professional company, the Performance Center at St. Mary’s University, Winona State University Arts, Theatre, & Dance, and Valencia Arts Center continue to grow the development and production of arts programs.
Weekend and extended festivals have become a popular draw to Winona. Mid West Music Fest (April), Dixieland Jazz Festival (June), Minnesota Beethoven Festival (June-July), six-week Great River Shakespeare Festival (June-August), Boats and Bluegrass Festival (September), and Frozen River Film Festival (February), beckon visitors to not only enjoy the arts, but to participate. The Great Dakota Gathering, (September), honors the native people who inhabit this land. Created with sacred stonework and native prairie plantings, the site sets the stage for the Wacipi (pow wow), Akicita (warrior/veterans) Honor Ceremony, educational exhibits and demonstrations, and authentic crafts, arts, and foods celebrating the rich heritage of the people.
The Great River Road Wine Trail rests in the Upper Mississippi River Valley American Viticulture Area, the nation’s largest. A vineyard sits atop the bluff outside the city, producing choice wines from cold climate grapes grown on the farm and finished in oak barrels of native Minnesota oak. The Winona area also boasts two craft breweries.
Minnesota’s best bakery, as voted in 2013, is located in Winona. Other delightful culinary options range from baked goods to thriving coffee spots and cafés, gourmet dining overlooking a golf course, and ethnic restaurants. For fun, historic fare, visitors can’t beat a stop at the local drive-in, complete with homemade root beer and friendly carhop service.
Throughout the city, shops and boutiques offer up everything from antiques and collectibles to music and books, and specialty boutiques to recreational retailers outfitters. Ample hotels, B&Bs, cabins, cottages, lodges, guesthouses, and campgrounds make lodging in Winona a simple matter of choice.