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. With over 3,000 acres of land available, you'll have plenty to explore.
The nearby city 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 33 back-in, primitive RV sites with 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 exploring this beautiful anomaly of geology.
Great River Bluffs State Park is conveniently located just off of I-90 and is roughly 17 miles from downtown Winona, MN, and La Crosse, WI. RVers traveling from Winona or LaCrosse won't need to worry about encountering any height restricting obstacles along the route. If you are looking for a shorter drive to pick up supplies during your stay at the park, the town of Dakota is about six miles from the park, and you're sure to find what you're looking for there.
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. 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.
Only a couple of parking spots are available at this park. These can be found at the trailhead to the south and north overlooks, as well as at another trailhead closer to the park's entrance.
Great River Bluff State Park offers 33 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 to give visitors a comfortable sense of privacy. Being deep in the woods, you’ll want to bring bug spray and materials for leveling your rig on the sometimes-uneven ground.
Two of the 33 spots, sites 6 and 8, are ADA-accessible and located near the bathhouse. The bathhouse is centrally located within the campground, and features flush toilets and hot showers. This is a pet-friendly campground, and visitors are welcome to bring along their domestic pets. Be aware of what areas they are allowed to be in and those they aren't, like the beach. Keep them on a leash at all times and clean up after them so that others can also enjoy the park after you.
Quiet hours are from 10 PM to 8 AM, and only camping visitors are allowed to be in the campground for that period of time. In order to prevent the spread of non-native insects and bugs, only approved firewood may be burned and is available to be purchased in the park by the bundle. 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.
Bikers visiting the park can enjoy five bike-in sites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The sites are only accessible from Hwy 61 at mile marker 12, so make sure to pay close attention to the road signs. These pet-friendly, tent-only sites are each equipped with a picnic table and a fire ring. Each site can sleep up to six people a night. These sites are very basic, so make sure to bring along everything that you will need on your camping trip (keep it light as you'll have to carry it in!).
If part of your group wants a more earthy experience, the park also has four cart-in sites (for tents only, with pit toilets) roughly 0.5 miles to the west of the RV campground. Campers will need to park their vehicles at the main parking area and hike to their site while carrying all their equipment, so try and pack light. Sites are approximately 200-800 feet from the parking area, depending on which site you book. They are very basic with no hookups or water spigots on site. You'll find water in the parking area, so be sure to full up your bottles before you set off.
Each site can accommodate up to six people a night and features a picnic table and a fire ring and grill. These are pet-friendly campsites, so bring along your furry friends. Just make sure to keep them on a leash no longer than six feet. Should campers want to shower, they can walk the short, 0.5-mile stretch to the neighboring RV campground and make use of their facilities.
The park lies along the famous Great River Road - a collection of 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.
There are also six miles of trails for hikers to enjoy when visiting the park. The six miles are divided between several different trails that are short and easy to walk. A lot of the trails connect, so you can carry on walking if you'd like to. During the winter months, some of the hiking trails are transformed into skiing trails.
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 piques your interest, try sipping wine on a sailboat around nearby Lake Pepin. You're sure to find something that suits your needs while enjoying the stunning views along the Mississippi.
Within the park, there are several short walks and out-and-back hiking options that offer 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.
The park is the perfect place to enjoy nature and take photos of the breathtaking views and sights on offer. 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.
You are sure to catch sightings of waterfowl, eagles, hawks, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, or one of the over 200 species of birds in the area during your visit to the park. Be sure to bring along your handy binoculars and a printed-out version of the park's bird checklist in your motorhome. 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.
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 landscapes that only grow on hills with an angle of 40-50 degrees and facing south to southwest - so steep that only goats could enjoy them!