Set on towering bluffs on the mighty Mississippi River, Great River Bluffs State Park (formerly O.L. Kipp State Park) in Winona, Minnesota is a gorgeous getaway for any season of the year. The high bluffs are a wonderful place to get in touch with nature by watching the trees change colors, studying the geology of the river valley, or checking out the unique topography and vegetation - this park is home to the unusual “goat prairies”. Walk along the tall ridges and marvel at the stunning views of the river and the valley that it carved over many, many years.
The nearby town of Winona is a bustling area with many activities for visitors to take part in. Kayak, museum-hop, or check out an outdoor concert, all within the confines of this quaint but happening city.
Offering 31 back-in primitive RV sites and convenient flush toilets and shower facilities, camping in the Great River Bluffs State Park is a comfortable adventure available March through October. There are also cart-in and bike-in spots available.
Whether visiting the park for relaxation or the pursuit of adventure, you will have a great time in this beautiful anomaly of geology.
Great River Bluffs State Park is conveniently located just minutes off of I-90 and is 25 minutes from downtown Winona, MN and LaCrosse, WI (although you don’t have to worry about noise from the road - the park is as quiet as a church!).
Within the park, it is easy to navigate your rig through the wide and accessible road leading to the one loop with all the camping. There is little gravel on the road, however, so during dry weather, the dust is significant and any washing you did ahead of time will be for nought. Stop by the self-registration station on the way in and then continue on the main road to the camping.
You won’t have any need to leave your spot to explore the park - it is small, and the trails and a playground are all within walking distance. The paths to the two lookouts are at the entrance of the camping loop and on the far end of the loop.
Great River Bluff State Park offers thirty-one back-in RV spots in a single loop. The spots are rustic and do not offer hookups of any kind, however, within the park there are water sources available. Accepting big rigs of up to 60 feet in length, each spot is spacious and has a table and fire pit, with ample foliage between spots so as to give visitors a comfortable sense of privacy. Two of these spots are wheelchair-accessible and located near the bath house.
Being deep in the woods, you’ll want to bring bug spray and materials for leveling your rig on the sometimes-uneven ground.
Within the campground, there are flush toilets and a bath house with hot showers.
If part of your group wants a more earthy experience, the park also has 4 cart-in sites (for tents only, with pit toilets) and 5 bike-in sites (only accessible from Hwy 61 at mile marker 12).
Reservations can be made up to a year in advance and include a fee for making them online or by phone, but are free if made the day-of.
Only approved firewood may be burned and is available to be purchased in the park by the bundle.
The park lies along the famous Great River Road - a collection of state and local roads that follow the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to its terminus in Louisiana through ten different states. Biking the Great River Road is a popular activity among local and visiting cyclists. Great River Bluffs State Park caters to this two-wheeled crowd by offering five bike-in sites accessible from Highway 61 at mile marker 12. For those staying in RVs who don’t need the bike-in spots, it’s still a treat to bike along the pleasant roads in the area which offer spectacular views of the river.
Speaking of the famous Mississippi, in nearby Winona, riverboat cruise companies compete to offer the most exciting float down the river. You can join a guided tour through high-walled ravines and under scenic bridges, listening to explanations of local and geological history or sign up for a sunset dinner cruise. If neither of those pique your interest, try sipping wine on a sailboat around nearby Lake Pepin.
Within the park are several short walks and out-and-back hiking options which afford stunning views. The two overlook walks can be located at the entrance of the camping loop and at the far end of the loop. Either hike the Great River Bluffs State Park Trail (two miles) alone or combine it with the King’s Bluff Loop (four miles). No matter where you walk to, you’ll have breathtaking views of distant lakes, the river, and excellent trees and wildlife.
Two of the park’s bluffs, King’s Bluff and Queen’s Bluff, have been designated as official Scientific and Natural Areas due to their geological singularity and fragility. These bluffs and others are interesting examples of how this area escaped the “glaciation” that smoothed out most of the area nearby ages ago. Looking down at the rock faces leading to the river, visitors can observe layers of sandstone topped by more recent layers of dolomite rock. The area is also home to unusual “goat prairies” which are a landscape that only grow on hills with an angle of 40°-50° and facing south to southwest - so steep that only goats could enjoy them!
To catch sightings of waterfowl, eagles, hawks, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, or one of the other 200+ species of birds in the area, be sure to bring along your handy binoculars and a printed-out version of the bird checklist available on Minnesota State Parks and Recreation website. Your real-life scavenger hunt will keep you busy all day and can take place from a cozy chair in your campsite or on a hillside, overlooking the vast river basin.
Fall is a glorious time to visit this region full of oak-hickory and maple-basswood forests. Watch as the slopes are set ablaze with oranges, reds, and yellows as far as the eye can see. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate and your camera, because this is a sight you’re not going to want to leave and will hope to remember forever.