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Red Wing Minnesota is a great town for people that like to spend time outdoors. They boast biking trails, boating, and hiking. But the most well-known hike is at Barn Bluff. The Bluff is 434 ft tall as it towers over the Historic Downtown Red Wing and the Mississippi River.
The hike is completed by hundreds a day. And while the Barn Bluff hike in Red Wing MN may not be like hiking a mountain, in southern Minnesota, it’s the next best thing.
He Mni Can-Barn Bluff History
Barn Bluff in Red Wing is their most famous landmark. Forming over a half billion years ago with the help of glacial meltwaters. Prehistoric humans lived in the area and even built burial mounds atop the bluff.
Sometime around 1815, the Mdewakanton Dakota camped near the base of the bluff. The bluff made for a great lookout.
It actually got its name Barn Bluff due to its shape. Today the community recognizes its impact on people’s lives and how spiritually connected people are to it. The Dakota even considered it sacred ground.
Red Wing has been doing its best to bridge the gap between everyone, first by renaming it to its Dakota name, He Mni Can-Barn Bluff. They also moved some of the trails around to bypass the sacred areas.
Barn Bluff Hike in Red Wing MN
Pulling up to the Barn Bluff Trail Head, we see all these younger hikers dressed in their workout gear, ready to hit the trail. It was at this moment that I got a little concerned I was not prepared for this hike.
I just got down scarfing down a donut from Hanisch Bakery. And while I was confident, I had the energy reserves to make it up, I’m sure these were people who all had their natural gluten-free breakfast of champions.
It wasn’t long before another couple showed up behind us in flannel and denim jeans too. They were my people and set my mind at ease. This was for average folks planning on Day Tripping.
The initial part of the bluff talks about its history. When you get to the first fork in the road, there is a sign with different trail options. Unlike other trail markers I’ve seen, this didn’t tell you much about the trail at all.
There was no map or anything, just a warning. Take the south trail if you have children or are inexperienced hikers, the north trail was difficult and for “advanced hikers only”. It had me thinking, “what makes someone advanced?” “Is there a test”.
They advise hikers to use the rope cable for safety, I’m guessing it had steep ledges that I wouldn’t want to risk with the kids. We stuck to the south loop.
For an official map of Barn Bluff, Click Here.
How long is the Barn Bluff hike?
The most popular route is the Summit Trail, which is approximately 1.2 miles long and takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete.
This trail is the shortest and steepest route to the top of Barn Bluff, offering scenic views of the Mississippi River and the surrounding bluffs. This is the easier of the two hikes.
The Mental Game
My kids were very enthusiastic during the entire hike. After about a quarter-mile of what felt like non-stop uphill, I was taking stock of the group’s energy level.
I had a long day of activities planned and I wasn’t sure how an early morning hike would impact the rest of the day.
It was at this point, that I started questioning if I was even prepared enough to go up the bluff. There was still a long way to go. There was a quick team huddle and we decided to keep on going.
I’m not sure if it was just intimidation from the other hikers, or the sun beating down that started to psych me out. Then we go to the part I had been dreading.
The Kiwanis Stairs were one of those elements that everyone mentioned when they talked about the hike online. These 114 steps lead to the top. I laugh when it comes to stairs because they always seem to be killers. Any ounce of energy just gets drained.
I actually didn’t tell my husband about them because I didn’t want to sway him away from the hike. He just laughed when we got to them. They actually were not that bad.
If you want to have some fun with the stairs, have one person in your group go to the first bench and sit. Then let the next person go to the next available bench.
Once everyone’s sitting, the last person has to go by all the people before they can sit. Leapfrogging made it a game, breaking up the monotony of it all.
See Related: Hiking the Legendary John A Latsch State Park
Above the Eagles
At the top of the stairs is another fork, to the prairie loop, the north loop or the south loop. Don’t stress out, they all go to the same place.
This is where a trail map up there would have been nice. Any way you go, it connects with the prairie, which connects to the two overlooks.
We took the trail to the Prairie Grass and swung left to the West Scenic Overlook. Immediately after getting to the top, it was well worth it. They have the most spectacular views in the city here.
You can see for miles in every direction. You are also at the height of the birds of prey, like bald eagles hovering in the jet stream.
On the west overlook you’ll see all of Historic Red Wing along with the Mississippi River Valley, the Great River Road, and Highway 63 crossing.
As my husband and I crossed the bridge into town we spotted this overlook and laughed wondering if that was what we would be hiking to. Sure enough, it was.
This end of the trail also connects with the North Loop. From what I can tell, the north loop is missing from the trail map, so you are just going to have to trust us on this one.
Heading back my husband convinced me to go over to the East Overlook. I wasn’t sure it would be worth it. I actually enjoyed it better than the West. While downtown Red Wing is beautiful, it’s also industrial. The East Overlook is where Lake Pepin shines.
Diverse Eco System
One of the most fascinating parts about Red Wing’s Barn Bluff trail is that it houses all kinds of different micro-climates. Bluff prairies are along the south and west-facing slopes.
The northern exposures are cooler and moisture supports woody vegetation. It explains why the west side, where we were hiking was incredibly hot and exhausting.
All along the bluff are runoff trails from where water was finding its way down the bluff. They are clearly marked as not official trails. And going down them puts you at great risk. Stick to the marked hiking trail to help preserve the area.
Alternative Bluffs you can drive to in Red Wing
If you do want to hike, try Sorin’s Bluff. It’s right across the street and there are many overlooks you can drive right up to. Another option is to drive 13 miles south to Frontenac State Park. You’ll need a State Parks Pass, but you can drive up to their bluff overlooking Lake Pepin.
Make sure to explore the other great things to do in Red Wing MN.
Would I do the Barn Bluff Hike in Red Wing again?
While I may talk up that this was a very difficult hike, it in fact was really fun. I think my initial reluctance was all mental and it made the reward at the top so much better.
I recently had someone tell me on another post where I described my personal struggle with Devil’s Kettle Falls on a 95-degree day, carrying a 30lb blind pug on my back, as overstating the difficulty. Everyone’s athletic abilities are different.
Depending on the day, it could be incredibly hot, and walking around the block can be exhausting. On cooler days you can go for miles without breaking a sweat.
If mentally you are not prepared, the first few steps can be intense. Please do not let this discourage you. It’s totally worth it.
Now that I’ve done the Barn Bluff Hike in Red Wing MN, I’m itching to do the north loop! The kids will love it. Make sure to spend some more time exploring the great things to do in Red Wing MN.