Quick hike is worth it for a view from the bluff
Towering more than 330 feet above downtown on the banks of the Mississippi River, Barn Bluff has been a part of Red Wing's story for centuries.
Hikers can ascend the bluff in a strenuous but fairly brief walk using the steps. Climbers also have discovered Barn Bluff in recent years.
Ten thousand years ago, the bluff was an island during the massive outflow of the five-mile-wide glacial River Warren, which carved much of today's Upper Mississippi Valley.
A native Dakota Indian legend tells a different story about a mountain twice as big that once stood in the place of Barn Bluff. Two Dakota villages disputed possession of the land. As a compromise, the Great Spirit divided the mountain into two parts. One remained in Red Wing, and the other half was moved downstream to Winona, where it is known as Sugarloaf.
During the 19th century, explorers and travelers used the bluff as a visual reference. The 43-acre bluff is 3,100 feet long, 800 feet wide and about 334 feet above the river, which makes it 1,001 feet above sea level.
The French named Barn Bluff, calling it "La Grange" or "the barn" because of its prominent shape, which makes it conspicuously visible for many miles.
In recent times, Barn Bluff was used as a limestone quarry for about 40 years until citizens protested that the industry was defacing the bluff. Quarrying operations shut down in 1908.
In 1910, the land was donated to the city as a park.
A sign erected by Red Wing Lions in 1978 tells how stone from Barn Bluff was used as a building material, rip rap by the railroad and for the production of lime. Several abandoned quarries and the G.A. Carlson Lime Kiln - at the northeast corner of the bluff - remain as reminders of Red Wing's limestone industry.
Barn Bluff today is thickly forested with deciduous trees. It is ringed by limestone cliffs except at the northern end, where steps have been built and carved into the bluff.
In 1989 the Minnesota Historical Society erected a sign near the Kiwanis Stairway, which is reached from East Fifth Street.
It quotes 18th century explorer Jonathan Carver, who described the view from Barn Bluff as "the most beautiful prospect that imagination can form. Verdant plains, fruitful meadows and numerous islands abound with the most varied trees ... But above all, reaching as far as the eye can extend, is the majestic, softly flowing river."