Situated between the waters of Lake Winona to the south and the finger-like channels of the Mississippi River to the north, the city of Winona, Minnesota, is best experienced outside. And while out-of-staters might assume this dynamic changes during the winter months, nothing could be further from the truth. Visitors to and locals in Winona know the joys of bundling up, grabbing a warm beverage, and communing with the season’s outdoor wonders.
Winona has plenty of personality any time of year: It’s the subject of a viral social media campaign declaring itself the Miami of Minnesota (on account of its southern position in the state). It’s renowned as the Stained Glass Capital of the US. And don’t forget this is the eponymous hometown of Winona Ryder. But if you’re going to learn just one thing about the city, make it this: Winona owns winter. Here’s what awaits you on your trip.
HOW WINONA OWNS WINTER
It’s all ice, all the time at Winona Ice Climbing Park and Ice Fest.
The yearly Winona Ice Fest (Feb 22-25, 2024) takes place in the second-largest ice park in the United States. Ice climbers from beginner to expert can register to climb at the Winona Ice Climbing Park solo or as part of a group. Registration costs $30 and includes local restaurant discounts and a raffle ticket. Climbing clinics — there are sessions titled Family Intro to Ice Climbing, BIPOC Intro to Ice, Women/Trans/Femme Intro to Ice Climbing, Advanced Movement Skills, and more — cost $120 and include all equipment required to climb.
The manmade ice climbing park has 100 climbing routes and is free and open to the public. Situated near the Sugar Loaf Bluff, the views alone will make any winter hater’s heart thaw a couple of degrees.
There are plenty of places to skate, snowshoe, and more, with rental equipment provided.
Snowshoes, ice skates, hockey sticks, and pucks are available to rent from the Lake Lodge Recreation Center on Lake Winona. The Lake Lodge Ice Rink hosts free public ice skating seven days a week from 8am to 9pm. Another spot to skate is the Bud King Ice Arena. Day passes cost $3 per person with a $2 add-on for skate rental. Check out their website for public skate scheduling and other details.
That goes for ice fishing, too.
Water is plentiful in and around Winona, which means there are many ice fishing sites to choose from when the weather is cold enough. In town, Lake Winona features docks that make it simple to bring little ones along on a fun family activity. Other locations include Lock and Dam 7 on the Mississippi River, Schneider’s Lake in Minnesota City, Bartlet Lake, and Mertes Harbor. You can also open-water fish along some 720 miles of designated streams in this part of the state.
For a guided trip, Blown Away Guide Service runs airboat ice fishing trips that take a maximum of five people and cost $175-200 per person. Brave the cold and get out there!
You can even play disc golf in the snow!
A little snow and ice doesn’t stop disc golfers at the Prairie Island Disc Golf Course. The 18-hole, 4,000-foot public disc golf course stays open all year round. And in the winter, there are additional holes for an added challenge. Winter tent camping is also available on the island if you’re looking to fully immerse yourself in the season.
Winona indulges your sweet tooth.
Since 1924, Bloedow Bakery has served homemade baked goods to locals across southeastern Minnesota. Many recipes haven’t changed during those 100 years and are still baked fresh daily. Loaves, buns, and rolls are only the tip of the iceberg here — the long list of sweet treats ranges from their famous doughnuts to cookies, pies, bars, and pączkis (filled doughnuts).
There’s so much goodness to choose from, you’ll probably want to include at least two visits in your itinerary. After all, you’ll need to fuel up for all that outdoor fun.
You can take an indoor break at only-in-Winona museums and art galleries.
Okay, we all need a break at some point when the wind starts blowing just a bit too fiercely or temps drop just a bit too low. Not to worry — Winona has you covered with the fascinating Minnesota Marine Art Museum, which showcases artists and art inspired by our experiences and relationships with water. Featuring youth programs, lectures, and live music performances by the Winona Symphony Orchestra, the events calendar is packed with happenings. On Free Student Thursdays, kindergarteners through college students receive free admission. And Toddler Tuesdays welcome children plus their grownups from 10:30am to noon with interactive learning and play.
And you shouldn’t leave Winona without taking a tour of the beautiful stained glass around town. There are six stained-glass studios with works spanning the globe — see the top spots by following this self-guided map.
MORE WINTER FUN IN SOUTHEASTERN MN
In Wabasha, experience the 3 Bs: bed, breakfast, and beer.
The small city of Wabasha, about 30 minutes upriver from Winona, is where you’ll find Turning Waters Bed, Breakfast & Brewery. You’ve probably been to a B&B before, but one that offers a complimentary pint from the onsite brewpub? Well, this is the place!
The bed and breakfast serves a five-course feast chock-full of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables in the morning. The emphasis on ethically raised chicken and pork makes eggs and bacon taste like a simple luxury. But here’s the magic: Hoppy Girl Brewing resides directly behind Turning Waters. You’ll get a complimentary pour during your stay, though the 15+ homemade and guest taps will likely pull you in for a few more than that.
Feel like a kid again in Kellogg.
Handmade wooden toys to delight the young and young at heart are available to purchase and play with at LARK Toys in Kellogg, another great down-day option. Going above and beyond a standard toy store, LARK has mini llamas to meet, a hand-carved carousel you can ride, mini golf courses, a cafe, and much more. Take a leisurely walk down Memory Lane and marvel at nostalgic toys in the unconventional indoor exhibit. And don’t forget to try the homemade fudge!
Find human-powered bliss on the Root River State Trail.
The Root River State Trail is a 42-mile route with multiple access points from Fountain to Houston, which makes it easy for you to build a custom itinerary. The trail is extra tranquil in winter, as snowmobiling is prohibited. Cross-country skiers are the only ones who’ll have to pay for access — it’s $10 daily or $25 yearly, with the fee helping support grooming resources for the trail.
Marvel at Wabasha’s up-close eagle encounters.
The National Eagle Center in Wabasha hosts birdwatching habitat tours, live eagle programs, and engaging exhibits for all ages. Observe the nesting places for hundreds of eagles that return home to this area for the winter. The center’s winter eagle map is available online to print so you can drive down the coast on a self-guided tour. Wintering bald eagles are often visible to the naked eye, but binoculars are recommended for the best experience.
If you don’t take it from us, take it from America’s national bird: Southeastern Minnesota is the place to be in winter. For even more travel ideas or to get your free travel guide, visit ExploreMinnesota.com.