From the first winter snowfall to the last summer swim, residents of the growing Rochester area make the most of Mother Nature.
“We embrace all four seasons,” Jenna Bowman, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, says. “You appreciate each one differently.”
Regardless of the temperature or time of year, people here don’t spend much time being inactive. With a large park system, the Mississippi and Zumbro rivers, and more than 85 miles of paved trails, they don’t have to.
From swimming, boating, bicycling and hiking to skiing, ice-skating and snowmobiling, Rochester offers a large variety of outdoor activities. When the temperature falls well below zero, indoor fitness centers, arts activities, and regional day-trip destinations await.
Vibrant Downtown Rochester
To bring more of its growing population to the city center, Rochester is in the process of improving upon an already thriving downtown core.
“Downtown Rochester is a vibrant and active place in the daytime, evening and on the weekends,” Bowman says. “People come out to enjoy shopping, dining and events.”
Rochester’s “Trails and You” system winds throughout the city, with access points at the Mayo Civic Center, Silver Lake and downtown. Locals use the trail for recreation and to commute to and from work.
Other popular activities include outdoor ice skating at Soldiers Field Park, Zumba on the Plaza, special events at the Rochester YMCA, and SocialICE, an outdoor ice bar and ice sculpture garden held in mid-February.
Recreation Around the Region
The year-round sense of adventure can be found in smaller communities throughout the region, as well.
Wabasha residents walk and bike along the Mississippi River trail. They also participate in events such as SeptOberfest, which draws thousands to this charming town.
From early September through late October, Wabasha-Kellogg’s SeptOberfest Celebration showcases all things fall. Guests enjoy pumpkin races, scarecrow contests, live music, carriage rides and more in a town decked out in fall decor. Jane Glander, interim executive director for the Wabasha-Kellogg Chamber of Commerce, says that last year’s event drew 19,000 paying customers.
In February, Wabasha, site of the films Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men, hosts the Grumpy Plunge. Participants jump into the icy Mississippi River to raise money for charity. Plunging is apparently a “thing” in southeast Minnesota. Rochester hosts the “Polar Plunge,” one of 20 plunges in the state.
When it’s not frozen, the Mississippi hosts boating and fishing, with sandbars ideal for picnics and camping. Golfers take to The Bluffs, an 18-hole course perched atop Coffee Mill Bluff.
The National Eagle Center attracts locals and visitors year-round to watch the majestic bald eagles. Each season brings a different viewing experience.
“What you see in June is different than what you’ll see in December,” Glander says. "You focus on what there is to do in the season."
Lanesboro's Leisurely Pace
Historic Lanesboro has no chain stores, fast food, or stoplights, but it does have outdoor adventure opportunities. Ride part (or all!) of the 60-mile Root River & Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail. In the winter, the town grooms the trail for cross-country skiing. Cheryl Krage, director of tourism for the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce, says Lanesboro hosts a number of candlelight skis in the winter.
Off-road, locals canoe or kayak down the Root River and admire more than 40 species of birds. Adventurous souls can ski or geocache at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.
“Residents are out all the time,” Krage says. “If they can’t get outside, they’ll go to Coffee Street Fitness and Dance. They’re dedicated.”
More Places to Explore
Like Lanesboro, Red Wing offers miles of trails for walking, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and rollerblading. A group is also pushing to build an Olympic ski jump training facility in Red Wing.
Trails wind through Winona forests for excellent hiking. The Mississippi River attracts boaters, swimmers, and paddlers. When the snow falls, Winona’s cross-country skiers come out to play on numerous groomed trails. Families can take the kids to the Olympic-size pool at Bob Welch Aquatic Center, scamper up a bouldering wall at Winona State University’s climbing wall, or throw a strike or two at Westgate Bowl or Winona Bowl.
Lake City residents spend their leisure time biking, boating, hiking, golfing, snowmobiling and window-shopping. Thousands visit the area annually for events such as Water Ski Days, the Tour de Pepin cycling event, and Junk Crush, a market for vintage, repurposed and handmade goods.