Introducing Imbibe Lake Pepin: eating and drinking the great river road
Growing up, I would roll my eyes when my mom would declare we were “taking the scenic route,” a little too enthusiastically moments after a wrong turn somewhere decidedly un-scenic. “The Scenic Route” may conjure memories of a slow, uneventful ride home to more than just me. But It will surprise the average Minnesotan to know that the upper Midwest, right where Minnesota meets Wisconsin, is home to one of the most remarkable scenic routes in the United States.
The Great River Road winds along both shores of the Mississippi from Itasca to the Gulf. It is a National Scenic Byway celebrating 80 years this year. The route touches 10 states, stretches about 3000 miles, and has its own app (but you can still order a free map if you want to keep your road trip old timey). The route is unparalleled, and some of the most breathtaking views are in Minnesota and Wisconsin. If you’ve ever called the Midwest flat, prepare to be shocked. The area is dotted with small towns, beautiful farms and orchards, and some of the area’s most notable small businesses.
I’m not here to pick a fight with the North Shore. It’s got a remarkable fan base and for good reason. I am here to proclaim, however, that the eastern shore is terribly underrated. I won’t waste time on the topography, as I am no expert. Suffice it to say that the area I’m quickly falling in love with is where the St. Croix River meets the Mighty Mississippi and becomes only the latter, widens into Lake Pepin (not a lake at all), and leans out again near the bluffs of Wabasha.
I had heard of The Great River Road. I can recall trailing portions of it once in a while, following the green and white metal signs for miles but eventually losing the scent across a cornfield or on the border of a state park. Years ago, I watched and read as Alton Brown traveled the majority of it by motorcycle, all the while eating — my hero. And maybe some seed was planted then. But it was only a year ago that I first explored the area, quite appropriately with my family, taking The (actually) Scenic Route. It was Peak Fall and I fell hard.
Follow along as I visit some well-known and some nearly unknown destinations along the way, taking in the bites and sips of just one small portion of The Road. In the first installment, shown below, I arrive in Prescott and continue to Bay City. There will be cider, honey, wine, road food, table food, and, of course, beer. Have a suggestion that I may have missed? I’ve still got a few visits to make (including a pizza farm!) so comment below. I’m looking forward to taking you along on my journey as I imbibe Lake Pepin and beyond.