He Mni Caŋ / Barn Bluff (Red Wing, MN) 13-Feb-2023


In one sense, He Mni Caŋ (“hill, water, wood” in Dakota) or Barn Bluff is to Red Wing as Minnehaha Falls is to Minneapolis – a short hike to an iconic, spectacular sight. A tall waterfall in one case and sweeping views of the Mississippi River in the other.

It was the iconic nature of this bluff (and the view) that possessed us to do a 2 hour round-trip drive for a very short (2.2 miles / 3.5 km) out-and-back hike. True, there was a little climbing involved, but it’s still short.

We were spurred along by today being another absurdly (for mid-February) beautiful day 😎 ahead of a forecast for a few days of winter-like weather – certainly rain and maybe even some more snow. ❄

Plus this is the quiet season in Red Wing, so we wouldn’t be weaving around too many others on the hike or searching mightily for a place for lunch post-hike.

Getting There

There are several different ways to reach Red Wing. You just need to be on U.S. Highway 61 as you approach Red Wing’s city center.

From Highway 61 in downtown Red Wing, turn west on to Plum Street, then east on East Fifth Avenue. Continue on Fifth, under Highway 61, to a large parking lot on the right. The Northern States Power (NSP) steam plant will loom above you to the north and the eastern prow of the bluff will do the same to the west. Note that you cannot reach this parking lot directly from Highway 61.

The original access point (still in use) is a set of stairs back along Fifth Street toward the underpass. Another access point is also available – along with informative signage about the importance of the bluff to the Dakota people – almost directly across from the parking lot. Either will take you to the start of the South, Midland, and Quarry Trails.

The bluff is considered sacred because of the presence of many Dakota burial mounds. We stayed on the established trails to avoid inadvertently impacting these culturally important and sacred locations.

This is Hike #29 in the 2018 (4th) Edition of Watson’s 60 Hikes within 60 Miles guidebook.

The Hike

Our Plan A had been to circle the bluff on the South, North, and Quarry Trails. But the North Trail – a narrow, primitive track with a steep drop-off on one side over active railroad tracks – is only open between May and October. 😕

So Plan B became up the South Trail and out to the West Overlook, then across the bluff on the Prairie Trail to the East Overlook. From there, we doubled back on the Prairie Trail to the Central Trail, descended that, then took the South and Midland Trails back to the trailhead.

All these trails still had snow on them but there were only a few truly slippery icy spots. The stairs – particularly the 114-step Kiwanis Stairway – were mostly melted out but, again, there were a few icy spots to potentially levitate the inattentive.

The eastern prow of the bluff looms over the parking lot, with the new access stairs directly below
South Trail, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
Up the original access stairs
South Trail, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
Ascending the South Trail
One of the abandoned limestone quarries
Kiwanis Stairs, South Trail, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
Up the Central (old Kiwanis) Stairway
Red Wing and the Mississippi River from the West Overlook, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
Out to the West Overlook
Red Wing and the Mississippi River from the West Overlook, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
The Mississippi River, the Highway 63 bridge, and Wisconsin from the West Overlook
Doubling back on the Prairie Trail
Across the native bedrock bluff prairie on the Prairie Trail
The Mississippi River from the East Overlook, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
At the upper part of the East Overlook
The Mississippi River from the East Overlook, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
View from the lower East Overlook: Mississippi River (arrow), Little River (L), Carlson Island (C), the NSP steam plant, and the parking lot/trailhead (P)
Going back on the Prairie Trail
Central Trail, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
Descending the Central Trail
Down the Kiwanis Stairway
Midland Trail, Barn Bluff, Red Wing, Minnesota
And back on the Midland Trail
Hike Map
Our route to the west and east overlooks (warning symbol indicates that the North Trail was closed)
After the Hike

We’d still like to do our original Plan A – circle the bluff – and have made a note to return in early May after the North Trail opens and before the summer crowds start flocking. This would also give us a chance to visit the historic Carlson lime kiln site on the bluff’s northeast end.

After this arduous 🙄 hike, we went into Red Wing and had lunch at the Bayside Tap & Steakhouse – and it was good. 🍔😋 This is where, on our first visit to Red Wing, we’d first met the “Cali” burger. We’ve encountered these since – most notably (and deliciously) at the Trail Stop Tavern near Lebanon Hills Regional Park.

In California, “Cali” would likely mean your burger came with the classic fixings – lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles – plus avocado (or maybe mild green chile). Out here it means you get those classic fixings rather than simply a patty between buns and a pickle.

Yet another tiny, but important, adjustment on our part to interesting regional differences. The lure of ice fishing may, however, always remain a mystery. 😁


4 thoughts on “He Mni Caŋ / Barn Bluff (Red Wing, MN) 13-Feb-2023

  1. Barn Bluff is apparently well know around Red Wing (and on AllTrails) but we found out about it from our hiking guide. It’s a short hike to great views at any time of the year.


  2. I’m laughing at your closing sentence about ice fishing. But back to Red Wing. That’s a lot of steps up to Barn Bluff. But good for you to tackle them, ice, snow and all. I’ve never been to the top. My focus on Red Wing has been primarily on Red Wing Shoes and Red Wing Pottery (visit the museum if that interests you). It’s a fun town to explore, just like all the Mississippi River towns in Minnesota and along the Wisconsin side.


  3. Red Wing is a beautiful place. I didn’t know this hiking area was here, have to put it on our list. The West and East Overlooks are gorgeous. Thanks for adding land markers to the East Overlook.


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