America's Scenic Byways

Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway

287 miles - Three to seven days depending on number and length of stay at individual sites

Along the byway you will find a wide variety of history, agriculture, and culture. Located along the Minnesota River, the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway is a destination in itself. Although time has brought changes, the river valley remains as beautiful as ever. Hardwood forests, 3.8-billion-year-old granite outcrops, and lush prairie grasses remain for you to enjoy. State and local parks dot the valley, inviting you to get out-of-doors all year long, while museums and historic sites offer vivid stories of prairie life.

Close your eyes and imagine becoming an explorer for a day. Relax in the tranquility of big bluestem prairie grasses. Watch for Dakota skipper butterflies among purple cornflowers. Scan the expansive blue sky for Bald Eagles or wait quietly at the river’s edge to catch a glimpse of a deer at sunset.

Too much quiet for you? How about a threshing show with chugging and puffing turn-of-the-century steam engines? A 19th-century musket demonstration? Cross-country skiing? Power shopping in unique specialty stores? Take home one of our stories. We’ve got plenty to share!

Search the river of stories for your own experiences and memories. Along its winding path you will find remnants of prairie, the pre-settlement vegetation. While most speak of any open grassland area as prairie, once you learn what exists in a true prairie, you will never mistake it again. Those traveling the byway can expect unique opportunities and experiences. Take the time to listen for the call of the Red Tailed Hawk deftly hunting for its sustenance or retreat to a quiet grassy place to lie down on your back facing the brightness of the emerald blue sky while wisps of clouds float by. Relax and allow the chipping sounds of the resident Bobolink to settle into your memory. Breathe deeply and inhale the fragrance of the carpet of lavender, shaggy blooms of the native blazing stars, or the intense scent of the common milkweed, much like the lilac. Some of the native grasses grow so tall you could get lost in an expanse of it. Become mesmerized by the waves of grass rippling in the breeze. Study the scattered, gnarly burr oaks and their individual characteristics, as most of these majestic oaks have lived here for well over a hundred years.

Respect the voices that come to you as time wafts away, for they may be voices of those who came before you. People have lived here for thousands of years. Everything the original people had was a part of the land, and they respected it. The original inhabitants used various plants for medicine, nourishment, tools, and shelter. They also deftly hunted the bison. The thundering of the thousands of heavy hooves with the billowing dust clouds from the herds are now just records in history books. This nation was built on the backs of pioneers like those who settled this land. If you take the time you can still see the traces of their lives in many places along this beautiful valley.