We move up the river — always through enchanting scenery, there being no other kind on the Upper Mississippi.
— Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883
Life on the Mississippi has changed considerably since Twain penned these words, but the statement remains as true as ever.
Below its confluence with the St. Croix River, the “Father of Waters” quickly expands, spanning up to five miles across, while towering half-dome bluffs hedge it in along the rest of its Minnesota  journey. Highway 61 hits the bluffs as it approaches Red Wing  and meets the river at Lake City , and from this point on you’ll have unrivaled scenery.
There is ample opportunity to turn inland and climb the mountain-like terrain for glorious valley views. Though you are never far from one of the historic river towns, the floodplain and impossibly steep hills thwart development, allowing moments where you can imagine yourself deep in a lost wilderness.
Wildlife, best enjoyed from a canoe in the river’s backwaters, but quite often seen from behind the wheel, abounds all year long. Each fall waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors follow the valley south to warmer wintering grounds. For bald eagles  the river is their winter residence—well over a thousand of them fish in the open waters along Minnesota.
Though the age of paddlewheel steamboats peaked even before Mark Twain did, for many they remain synonymous with the Mississippi. A few paddlewheelers still ply these waters, though today you are much more likely to view one of the river’s many massive barges.