Tree with three holes in the side

Great River Bluffs State Park

Every year we go camping with my extended family. There’s usually around 10-15 people there so we have been getting group campsites when we can. This year we picked Great River Bluffs State Park near Winona, MN. The key reasons we picked it were that it is somewhat equidistant from all of us, there are hiking trails, and the group sites were actually available. Last year we went to Perrot State Park, close to nearby Trempealeau, WI. I gotta say, the hiking is better on the MN side 🙂

Hiking trail in Great River Bluffs State Park

Group camp sites are a great way to camp with a large family or group of friends. This site was $50/night so we each would have paid $10 for the whole weekend (if my uncle had not graciously paid for the whole thing). Regular campsites would have cost each of us $18/night so we saved quite a bundle by camping together. It’s true, at a group site you end up in pretty close quarters and if part of the group wants to stay up and party, you basically all will be staying up. It seems, though, that most of the time group sites are set apart from the regular sites so at least you won’t be keeping up strangers.

Several tents set up at a group campsite in the forest
This is only part of the “fleet” of tents we had on our group campsite

Husband and I went for a little hike on some of the trails they have which run atop the bluffs. There were some steep grades along the way, but it was a great hike with rewarding views at the end.

View from atop a Mississippi River valley bluff
View of Mississippi River and Wisconsin from the North Overlook
Panoramic view of Mississippi River valley bluffs
View from the South Overlook

The forest was beautiful too, but unfortunately there were a lot of mosquitoes that came out and wanted to play. We had, of course, forgotten to apply bug spray before we started, so we couldn’t stop very often to take many pictures. But there were some sights worth stopping (briefly) for.

Tree with three holes in the side
Some forest critter turned this tree into a flute!

If there are only two things my family, or at least most of us, have in common, they would be a love for camping and a love for wine. When we can, we combine these activities and for the past two years we’ve visited a nearby winery, Elmaro Vineyard near Trempealeau, WI. We have been to this particular vineyard three times in the last 2 years and they are always accommodating, hospitable, amiable and outright amazing. Not only is their wine fantastic (Husband and I walk away with a minimum of 6 bottles every time we go), the people are truly what make us keep coming back.

Rows of vines in a vineyard
Grapes ripening on the vines at Elmaro Vineyard near Trempealeau, WI

They were so nice, in fact, that they let us bring our puppy onto their patio with us while we enjoyed our wine. They would not have had to do that for us, and we would have understood if they hadn’t—they were really busy that day—but they accepted us and our puppy with open arms. They even brought out a big water bowl for him! We couldn’t have appreciated this more because our little pup sprained his foot a while ago and has a big splint on his arm. He is pretty limited to where he can go and what he can do; it was so nice to be able to take him with us so he could enjoy being with the rest of the pack.

Puppy rolling around in the grass
Our puppy enjoys playing among the grape vines

Great River Bluffs State Park Pros:

  • Very nice hiking
  • Beautiful natural surroundings (we were even serenaded by a group of coyotes at night)
  • Panoramic views of the Mississippi Valley (you don’t have to hike to get to some overlooks near the campsites)
  • During peak season, the regular sites were full the weekend we went, but we were the only occupants of any of the group sites. We could be as loud as we wanted 🙂
  • Cleanest pit toilets I have ever used in my entire life, and there was never a shortage of toilet paper

Great River Bluffs State Park Cons:

  • The firewood the DNR sells is not more than scraps and you’ll go through a lot of it pretty quickly. Not to worry, though! There is a Kwik Trip right off Hwy 61 in Winona (about 15 miles north) that sells good firewood
  • The most popular hiking trail to King’s Bluff is nowhere near the campground so you’ll need to add over a mile (one way) to your hiking plan, or drive to the parking lot at the trailhead
  • No showers for the group camp sites. This really isn’t a problem for my family, but might be a show stopper for others.

Things to do nearby:

  • Winona is about 15 miles to the north on Hwy 61 so if you need more firewood, forgot some groceries or want to get on the water a bit, it’s super easy to get to the things you need
  • Visit Elmaro Vineyard. It’s about a 30 minute drive, but oh so very worth it. Plus, there is a fresh produce stand on the way that sells delicious peaches and raspberries. While at Elmaro be sure to try the Elmaro Rosa (which is on the sweeter side, and should not be confused with the very dry Rosé), Currant Affair (pricey, but delicious; tart like a cranberry wine, but much smoother. I’d pair it with some dark chocolate if I were you), and if they have it, the Chocolate Truffle Pig, a chocolate infused port wine. If you try that one let me know how it is; they were out when we were there 😦

And as always, people, please leave your dog on-leash. Dear Fluffy does not need freedom from a leash as much as he/she needs you to watch his/her back. Whenever a dog does something regrettable, the owner is always heard to say, “I just don’t understand. Fluffy NEVER does that.”

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