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Driftless Day Trips: Elkader, Iowa

Main Street Elkader 09 009

By Shannon Dallenbach Durbin • Originally published in the Spring 2013 Inspire(d)

ArtInThePark>>> Check it out! This weekend is Elkader’s Art In The Park celebration. Saturday & Sunday, August 22-23, 2015. Enjoy Art, music, kids’Tent, Food & wine,and FUN!!! It all takes place in Founders Park (right across the street from the Elkader Whitewater Park!), in downtown Elkader. <<<

It’s another beautiful day in the Driftless Region! If you’re like us, you find yourself thinking, “We should take a little road trip!” Who wants to stay inside tapping away at computers or tidying the house when there’s exploring to do? Where should you head? Well, Elkader, of course. This little town by the Turkey River is full of life. If you love shopping, eating great food, a little nature exploration, and taking in a show (live or on the big screen) you’ve come to the right place!

There are many entrances into this lovely little town of 1,300. If you are a mystery fan, you’ll even find a sign indicating your arrival to “Maitland,” the pseudonym for Elkader used by best-selling mystery crime novelist Donald Harstad. Harstad still resides in Elkader, and if you take the Bridge Street exit, you will pass the beautiful Jail House Inn – the old county sheriff office-turned bed and breakfast – where Deputy Sheriff Harstad used to work.

Keep going on Bridge Street and you will experience the magic of crossing the historic Keystone Bridge as you enter downtown. Take a peek to your right as you pass over and you will see the waters of the Turkey River rushing over the dam.

Main Street Elkader 09 010

Coffee
Start your day with a coffee at Treats just down a bit on Bridge Street. This little café has a vibrant atmosphere and friendly staff. The coffee beans are locally roasted and have fabulous flavor. They serve breakfast, plus daily lunch specials, soup, and homemade pie. My favorite combination is the cashew chicken wrap, a white chocolate mocha, and maybe a truffle…or two.

Archive2

Shopping
Let the retail therapy begin! Adjoining Treats is The Copper Frog, a fun little resale shop with lots of spunk, moved into their former digs. You’ll love their great collection of fun jewelry.

Cross the street pop into Bridge Street Boutique for the latest trends and head around the corner to Archive for Iowa wines and cool architectural finds. Next door you will find Common Clay Studio, with pottery by local artist Kate Chandler.

If you are still going strong, get into the thick of it at The Turkey River Mall. This place occupies an old hotel on the corner, and inside there are roughly 100 rooms all filled with different shops.

Across from the Theater is Willow Creek, featuring wine, garden decor, and paintings by local artist Jillian Webb Herrmann.

Sightseeing
Elkader was named after Abd elKader, an Algerian freedom fighter in 1846. In 1983, Elkader became Sister Cities with Mascara, Algeria (the birthplace of Abd elKader).  This friendship is displayed throughout the town. For instance, in the small walking park, Mascara Park, situated near the Elkader Opera House, you will find a peace pole made in 2008 by local luxury lighting company, Fire Farm. An identical peace pole resides in Mascara. And in City Hall, housed in the basement of the Opera House, you can find a display of items that Elkader and its residents have been gifted from Algerians through trips and visits from ambassadors and so forth. Find other interesting Elkader documents and artifacts displayed at the Carter House Museum, across the street from the Court House.

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Dining
By now your tummy surely is starting to grumble and Elkader is not short on places to dine. From burger stands to buffets, pizza joints to pubs, Elkader has over a dozen places to grab some grub. However, my favorite will always be Schera’s Restaurant.

Schera’s is an Algerian/American Restaurant that was started by a couple drawn to Elkader based on its namesake. Schera’s is a great place to try something new, but even their cheeseburgers are beyond compare. If you’re interested in quality beer, you are in luck. Schera’s takes their beer seriously. They have a rotating lineup of 18 craft beers on tap, with a specific glass to match each beer. When the weather is nice, you can enjoy your meal on the patio that overlooks the Keystone Bridge and Turkey River – make sure to try something that comes with the fabulous harissa!

And just across the river is a great place for dessert. The Burger Barn (open the first weekend in April until October) serves over 14 flavors of Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, as well as other delicious ice cream treats. You’ll love their sandwiches that come on huge slices of Texas toast and your kids will love playing on the slides while you wait.

Burger Barn

If you’re undecided on where to fill your belly, time to take out your smartphone and look up DishnTunes.com. An Elkader native created this website as a one stop shop for locating great dining venues and entertainment in the area. They even have many of the menus on their site so you can peruse them before you go. And while you’re on the site, check out what is available for evening entertainment.

Entertainment
Like many small Midwest towns, Elkader has golfing, bowling, churches, schools, and community clubs to keep the town hopping, but few can truly boast about their theaters (both live and big screen).

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Even if you’ve chosen a random day to make your way to Elkader, you can always cap your night off with a movie at the Elkader Cinema. A beautiful, vintage neon sign invites you into the recently renovated cinema, which boasts a single, state-of-the-art digital projection screen. The movies are current, the concessions include beer and wine, and tickets are around $5. I usually finish up the night with something sweet from Pedretti’s Bakery which opens again late at night when the baker starts the morning’s bread.

If you happened to come to town on a night when the Elkader Opera House has an event, life couldn’t get much better. The Opera House is gorgeous and the entertainment is high quality. Musical acts and comedy appear a regular basis. The Opera House Players, a volunteer theater group, puts on shows at least twice a year. This fall will feature SHREK The Musical.

MSI Awards, Freedom Bank, Ladies Day Out 029

Nature
If you still have time to explore, check out the Clayton County Tourism Office and Iowa Welcome Center at its new location by the bridge. They can hook you up with brochures on everything from Spook Cave to Motor Mill. The Motor Mill’s historic building and just-completed restoration of the nearby bridge (it washed out in the 2008 flood) is a fun outskirt destination – you might recognize the mill from the 2013 Iowa Tourism Guide. You can get there by going back up Bridge Street and heading straight out onto the windy gravel, or if it is a nice warm day you can call up Turkey River Outfitters.  They rent out canoes, kayaks, and tubes with all the necessities and even provide shuttle service. And don’t miss checking out the new Elkader White Water park (image: Travel Iowa) on the Turkey River at the south end of town. This is the real deal for active kayakers, and has been drawing great attention since its completion.

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If you’re just looking for a little jaunt, when you leave the Tourism Office take the River Walk for a stroll along the river. The path is paved with many resting areas for enjoying the beauty of the river. Once you reach the bottom of the path you have couple options:
1. Continue your hike onto the Pony Hollow Trail, which brings you deeper into nature on an unpaved path. Here you will find cyclists, runners, and even horseback riders enjoying the woods and limestone cliffs.
2. Explore the City Park, featuring a large playground, disc golf course, swimming pool, ball fields, horse barn, picnic shelters, George Maier Rural Heritage Museum, and a fitness trail around the perimeter of the park.

Lodging
Wow, there is way more to Elkader than you thought possible, right? Maybe you haven’t tried Fennellys’ Irish Pub yet or taken a Clip Clop Carriage Ride so you’re thinking about extending your stay. There are several places to lie your head – check out the Elkader Lodging Association’s website for all the details (website to follow), but here are a couple of tips: If you’ve got a large party, think about taking the group to the Barn of the Bluff. Their dorm-style spaces are perfect for family reunions and friend getaways.

We hope to see you in Elkader this fall!

Main Street Elkader

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Shannon Dallenbach Durbin grew up on a farm just outside the area and always admired the Elkader community. She moved to the town seven years ago with her husband, Bryce, and here they are raising their six-year-old son, Link and one-year-old, Felix. Shannon has served many roles in the community from newspaper editor to President of the Sister Cities Friendship Club. She currently is employed at the Clayton County Extension Office as the Program Coordinator.

Food:

Treats
110 W Bridge St
563-245-2242

Burger Barn
688 Sunburst Ln

Pedretti’s Bakery
101 N Main St
563- 245-1280

Fennelly’s Irish Pub
105 N 1st St
563-245-3663

Schera’s
107 S Main St
563-245-1992

Check out more options at dishntunes.com

Shops:

Copper Frog
118 West Bridge St

Archive
104 First Street NW, Elkader, IA.
563-245-3429

Bridge Street Boutique and Gift
107 W Bridge St
563-245-3939

Turkey River Mall
102 S Main St
563-245-3995

Entertainment:

Carter House Museum
101 2nd St SE  Elkader, IA 52043
563-245-3708

Elkader Cinema
108 N Main St
563-245-2666

Elkader Opera House
207 N Main St
563-245-2098

Spook Cave
13299 Spook Cave Rd, McGregor
563-873-2144

Motor Mill
Galaxy Rd

Turkey River Outfitters
456 High Street SE
563-245-3802

Clip Clop Rides

Lodging:
elkaderlodging.com
elkaderjailhouseinn.com
barnonthebluff.com

General Information:
elkader-iowa.com
claytoncountyiowa.com

 

 

Driftless Day Trips: Winona, Minnesota

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By Benji Nichols • Photos by Inspire(d) unless noted
Originally published in the Summer 2012 Inspire(d)

The sprawling Mississippi River tapers her current just before Blackbird Slough and Lock and Dam #5A above Winona, Minnesota. There, the giant river flows humbly through a high and wide valley that in 1805 Zebulon Pike called “a prospect so variegated and romantic that a man may scarcely expect to enjoy such a one but twice or thrice in the course of his life.”

Founded in the mid 1800s by Captain Orrin Smith, Winona was the site of a native village called Keoxah. It was Henry Huff who named the stake after a Native American tale involving a Dakota Chief’s daughter, “We-no-nah” (which translates to first-born daughter), who made the ultimate lover’s leap from Maiden Rock on Lake Pepin just up the river. By the late 1850s Winona was on the map as lumber, wheat, and milling operations grew leaps and bounds, with plenty of rail and steamboat traffic to support them. Through the years the community has seen a lot come and go, but an entrepreneurial theme seems to be strong – from grain and milling operations that still exist, to manufacturing and businesses such as J.R. Watkins and the Hal Leonard Corporation. Winona State University (which was the first normal school for teachers west of the Mississippi in 1858) and St. Mary’s University also add crucial lifeblood to this great river town’s fabric – in addition to culture, sports, and a fun college vibe.

In more recent years, Winona has also become home to a number of annual festivals. The Great River Shakespeare Festival has become well known across the Midwest as a top-notch summer staple, and in just a couple short years both the Mid West Music Fest and Boats and Bluegrass have claimed their place on the musical map, not to mention the popular winter Frozen River Film Festival, the Dixieland Jazz Festival, the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, Steamboat Days…you get the idea. There’s definitely festival fun to be had in Winona.

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In addition, Winona is home to cool museums like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Winona County History Center, and the J.R. Watkins Museum and Store. The Marine Art Museum is a more recent addition and has an impressive collection of water-themed art from masters such as Monet, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Renoir, and Van Gogh, plus great rotating exhibits as well. And the Watkins Museum and Store is a fun stop whether you’re a lifelong Watkins fan or have only just heard the name. From the iron entrance gates outside the enormous factory, to the Winona diorama and complete historical collection of Watkins products, you’ll get a peek into the life behind the man who invented the “money back guarantee”!

DowntownWinona

Downtown Winona is charming and historical, with the largest collection of Victorian commercial architecture in Minnesota outside of Saint Paul. You can even take a virtual tour of over half a dozen of the most prominent buildings at winonamntours.org/tour, including the Joan Soranno-designed Laird-Norton addition of the Winona County History Center. It’s worth a look both inside and out as this museum is not only an architectural pleasure, but also features great artifacts and displays from the town’s history.

BlueHeron

While you are downtown, don’t miss out on a quick bite to eat or a pint at one of the several fine, local establishments. The Blue Heron Coffee House is a favorite for a homemade treat or lunch, and the Bluff Country Co-op is just down the street if you need quick supplies for a picnic or adventure (or a Mon Petit cupcake!). The Acoustic Café is also a great spot to hang out and grab a house-roasted coffee or sandwich. The bustling café atmosphere and free wi-fi brings in the college crowd, and weekend evenings often host acoustic music. For a throwback-dining affair, don’t miss the popular Lakeview Drive Inn. It holds all the retro appeal of a typical drive-in – you park, someone takes your order at your car window, and then brings your tasty food on a tray that attaches to the door – with some more modern twists added in – there’s a walnut burger on the menu, for example. It’s a busy spot, so make sure you’ve scheduled time, and while you wait, sit back and enjoy the views of – what else? The Lake! (And Sugar Loaf too!)

GranddadsBluff

If it’s the river view you’re looking for, check out local favorite The Boathouse. Their menu features fun, new American cuisine and tasty drinks to boot! (Check out our Chef on the Block feature on them from last year!)

While on the topic of food – we here at Inspire(d) HQ may have been known to go the distance for a really good donut. And it just so happens that Winona is home to the Bloedow Bakery on East Broadway, where, since 1924, they’ve been perfecting the Long John in addition to other delicious donuts. (They even sell a giant “Party Long John! Sold!”)

Bloedows

Then if you’ve worked up a thirst, you’ll find no shortage of watering holes in Winona. Being a river town, Winona holds a long-standing tradition of small taverns and neighborhood spots – many that feel almost like a time warp upon entrance. Check out the Mankato Bar (Mankato St.) or the Handy Corner Bar (East 5th) for some serious local flavor. And if you love good beer, art, and music, Ed’s (No Name) Bar on 3rd Street is perfection. Owner and local artist Ed Hoffman opened his doors in 2007 and has found a loyal following ever since with fantastic beers on tap, local art on the walls, and the best of the Midwest music scene stopping through his funky establishment.

Eds

Don’t spend all your time inside while you are in Winona though! Incredible views of the Mississippi River valley that surrounds the city can be had at Garvin Heights overlook just above town (pictured at top of the page). It’s a short drive up Huff Street just past Lake Winona to the top of the bluffs and an easy paved walk to check out the impressive view – bring your camera! For those with a little more sense of adventure, Winona holds some challenging off road mountain biking and hiking action on the Holzinger Lodge Trail, Great River Bluffs State Park, Cherry Hill Trails, and Perrot State Park. For all the latest trail info check in with the folks at Adventure Cycle and Ski on Center Street; they’ll point you in the right direction. And of course, Winona is right on the banks of the mighty ol’ Mississippi with easy access to the river in many locations for boating, canoeing, and fishing – or even just a drive along its banks. A short field trip up the river will land you in Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center, and the US Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam system is also fascinating to check out along the way, especially when large barges are going through the locks. From the south, the Great River State Trail will get you out on the trail and take you all the way from La Crosse to Trempealeau and just south of Winona via some beautiful and more remote parts of the river valley.

So what are you waiting for? Get packing for a great adventure in Winona – here are a few details to get you going:

Museums & Things To Do:

Marine Art Museum • 800 Riverview Dr • (507) 474-6626 • www.minnesotamarineart.org
Features marine related works by international and local artists, including Monet, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Pissarro, Renoir, and Van Gogh.

The Winona County History Center • 160 Johnson St. • (507) 454-2723 • www.winonahistory.org
Located in the historic former National Guard Armory, this great Winona area museum features the recently opened (Joan Soranno designed) Laird Norton Addition. Great local history and fun for kids, families, and beyond.

Watkins Heritage Museum • 150 Liberty St • (507) 457-6095 • www.watkinsonline.com
Both the Watkins Administration building (a grand Prairie School specimen designed by George Maher), and the
Museum on 3rd St. are a fun trip through the history of one of the oldest companies in the nation. Step into the world that J.R. Watkins built – including the origination of “the money back guarantee” – and don’t miss the restrooms – stocked kindly with Watkins products!

National Eagle Center • 50 Pembroke Ave, Wabasha • (651) 565-4989 • www.nationaleaglecenter.org
Opened in 2007, this awesome interpretive center is home to 5 rescued eagles that you can meet up close and personal. The center is a not-for-profit entity that offers a wide variety of programs and outreach as well. Make the scenic drive up the river – you won’t be disappointed!

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Great River Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Kathy Greden Christenson. Shakespeare for Young Actors, 2014, The Tempest. 

Festivals in Winona:
As mentioned above, there are tons of fun festivals in Winona. This weekend, the Great River Shakespeare Festival opens with the WOW (Will’s ((Shakespeare, of course)) Opening Weekend) events! There are so many great things to do in conjunction with WOW, so check out GRSF site for details.

Great River Shakespeare Festival, June 24 – Aug 2, www.grsf.org

Minnesota Beethoven Festival, June 28 – July 19, www.mnbeethovenfestival.org

Dixieland Jazz Festival, June 27, winonadixieland.webs.com

Boats and Bluegrass, September 24-27, www.boatsandbluegrass.com

Great Dakota Gathering and Homecoming, September, www.dakotahomecoming.org

Frozen River Film Festival, February 24-28, 2016, www.frff.org

Mid West Music Fest, Spring 2016, www.midwestmusicfest.org

Steamboat Days, June 15-19 (2016), www.winonasteamboatdays.com

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Dining & Drinking:

Acoustic Café • 77 Lafayette St • (507) 453-0394• www.theacoustic.com

Bloedow Bakery • 451 E Broadway St • (507) 452-3682 • www.bloedows.com

Blooming Grounds Coffee House • 50 East 3rd St • (507) 474-6551 • www.bgcoffeehouse.com

The Boathouse • 2 Johnson St • (507) 474-6550 • www.boathousewinona.com

Blue Heron Coffee House • 162 West Second St • (507) 452-7020 • www.blueheroncoffeehouse.com

Bluff Country Co-op • 121 West 2nd St • (507) 452-1815 • www.bluff.coop

Bub’s Brewing Co. • 65 E. 4th St • (507) 457-3121 • Find them on Facebook

Ed’s No Name Bar • 252 E 3rd St • edsnonamebar.com

Garvin Heights Vineyards • 2255 Garvin Heights Rd • (507) 474-WINE • www.ghvwine.com

Jefferson Pub & Grill • 58 Center St. • (507) 452-3723  www.jeffersonpub.com

Lakeview Drive Inn • 610 East Sarnia St • (507) 454-3723 • www.lakeviewdriveinn.com
Cruise in nights every Wednesday!

Mon Petit Cupcakes • (Available at Bluff Country Co-op and Winona Sandwich Shop) • monpetitcupcake.com

Signature’s Restaurant • 22852 County Road 17 • (507) 454-3767 • www.signatureswinona.com

Winona Sandwich Company • 619 Huff St. • (507) 452-1170 • Find them on Facebook

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Benji Nichols is a seeker of River Town Fun and has found it on more than one occasion at Ed’s in Winona!