Minnesota Scenic Drives: Bluff Country Scenic Byway

Highlights of the Bluff Country Scenic Byway
Traditional Midwestern farms punctuate the landscape and provide nostalgic scenery along Bluff Country Scenic Byway.
Traditional Midwestern farms punctuate the landscape and provide nostalgic scenery along Bluff Country Scenic Byway.

Minnesota's Bluff Country is a land of rolling hills, pastoral fields, and scenic rivers. Several places along the Bluff Country Scenic Byway highlight the beauty of a river valley or a hardwood forest. The colors of the landscape change with each season to provide rich greens, beautiful golds, and a winter white.

Each season has its own spin on the scenery, but you'll find the same scenic place whenever you drive the Bluff Country Scenic Byway. And when you aren't enjoying the scenery from your car, you can be out on the byway experiencing it.

Historic buildings, bridges, and walls along the byway only enhance the scenery, making it one of the most picturesque corners of the country. As civilization has developed in this natural prairie, industrious cultures and families left churches, homes, and parks for future generations to enjoy. Their efforts create an added sense of pastoral perfection as the fields and forests are accented with classic buildings that stand the test of time. 

Use this itinerary to enjoy some of the distinctive geologic and historic attractions on and near the Bluff Country Scenic Byway.

Spring Valley Tourism Information Center: Begin your journey near the western edge of the byway at the Spring Valley Tourism Information Center. Here you will be able to pick up maps and additional information about area attractions, including historic sites, recreation, state parks and forests, lodging, and dining.

Mystery Cave: Mystery Cave is the longest cave in Minnesota with more than 12 miles of passageways in two rock layers and is the state's best example of karst features. In dry years the entire South Branch of the Root River sinks into the cave through gravel crevices in the river bottom. Mystery Cave is a constant 48 degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to bring a jacket.

Forestville: While at the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, be sure to also tour the vestiges of historic Forestville. All eight of the remaining buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and historians will guide you through the experience, explaining in authentic real-time what life was like for the original settlers of the area.

Fountain: The town of Fountain is known as The Sinkhole Capital of the United States. A sinkhole can be seen at the entrance to Fountain near the welcome sign, and there is a viewing platform near the Root River State Trail. Sinkholes are common throughout the Historic Bluff Country as evidence of the ground water percolating through the geography, dissolving away carbonate rock, limestone, and salt beds.

Niagara Cave: Well worth the detour off the byway is Niagara Cave. From Fountain follow Highway 52 south (it will join the byway road of Highway 16 briefly) beyond the byway about four miles to the town of Harmony. At Harmony take county Highway 139 south 2-1/2 miles to Highway 30. Turn west on Highway 30 for approximately 2-1/2 miles, and follow signs for Niagara Cave. It is one of the largest caves in the Midwest with a 130-foot rock-vaulted dome, a 60-foot waterfall viewable from a bridge 70 feet in the air, a wishing well, and a wedding chapel.

Harmony: On your way back to the byway, be sure to stop in Harmony. At the Visitor Information Center near the picturesque Village Green in downtown Harmony you can pick up a free 32-page Visitor's Guide and abundant information about Historic Bluff Country, tours of the area's Amish culture, regional bike trails, and arts, entertainment, dining, and shopping venues.

Mangelssen Park: Just before entering Rushford on the north side of Highway 16 is Mangelssen Park atop a bluff offering a sweeping panorama of the city of Rushford and the Root River Valley. Mature trees, including a bur oak estimated to be 175 to 200 years old, outline scenic views.

Rushford: After returning to the byway on Highway 16, enjoy the southeastern Minnesota scenery as you head east toward Rushford. About 2-1/2 miles before you arrive in Rushford, within the Richard J. Dorer Memorial State Forest, is the Rushford Sand Barrens, a distinctive Scientific Natural Area. Thirteen rare plant species reside here with a dry-sand oak savanna and a jack pine savanna as dominant features of this environment.

Como Falls: Inspired by the bluffs and steep sides of the Root River Valley, continue east to the last of this sampling of geologic formations of southeastern Minnesota. Como Falls is a peaceful part of the quiet village of Hokah near the eastern edge of the byway. Located in Como Falls Park at the east end of Falls Street just off of Main Street, Como Falls is on Thompson Creek and signage explains the history of the falls, Thompson Creek, and Edward Thompson, the town founder who established a dam and a mill there. The forces of time and erosion are clearly visible as one views the falls.

Enjoy Minnesota's rich and rolling farmland as you travel along the Bluff Country Scenic Byway. And don't forget to get out of your car to check out a cave or two!

Find more useful information related to Minnesota's Bluff Country Scenic Byway:

  • Minnesota Scenic Drives: The Bluff Country Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Minnesota. Check out the others.
  • Preston, Spring Valley: Find out what there is to do in these cities along the Bluff Country Scenic Drive.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Minnesota? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

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