Tag Archives: State Park

A Hike Up John A. Latsch State Park

Written and photographed by Nicole Girgen

The sky was overcast on Sunday afternoon, and a light fog started to wrap around the bluffs as I drove towards my destination for the second time this weekend.

John A. Latsch State Park sits along highway 61 on the Mississippi River, roughly 20 minutes north of Winona, Minnesota.

The site was founded in 1925 when Winona businessman, and a supporter of conservation work John A. Latsch donated 350 acres to the state of Minnesota for park use. Latsch also donated land in Whitewater State Park and Perrot Sate Park in Wisconsin.

Mounts Faith, Hope and Charity are the three bluffs included in the park, named by steamboat captains in the 1850s who used these peaks as landmarks while traversing the Mississippi.

The development of the park was slow, due to the landscape the only level ground was in small ravines which separate the three bluffs. In 1933 the Mount Charity Riverview Trail was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps and remains the only developed trail in the park to this day.

An analysis of the park in 1971 recommended the area be reclassified as a scientific and natural area, no action has been taken to reclassify the area and it remains a state park.

A parking area nestled in a small clearing opens to a small picnic area at the bottom of the bluff and a short walk leads to the trailhead.

Wood steps embedded into the hill sets the path winding through the forest and up the bluff, the half-mile trail is rated difficult by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and not even a third of the way up it was clear why.

The entire trail rests at varying stages of an incline that gradually gets steeper the higher you go, and I was already slightly out of breath.

About half way into the hike there was a break in the steady stream of cars along the highway and the entire atmosphere of the park changed, a stillness echoed over the bluff, not a single leaf rustled in the wind and no bird calls descended from the trees.

A view of the peak from a small out crop.
A view of the peak from a small out crop.

The crunch of my boots against the snow-covered steps and the dull roar of the highway was a constant reminder of human presence in those woods, but in that moment of peaceful stillness I felt truly alone.

It was over in an instant.

The low rumble of a car just rounding the corner of the next bluff broke the stillness and, shaken from my moment, I continued to climb.

When I reached the peak, a light mist began to set in, an early sign of the coming fog I could see over the panoramic view of the ice-covered Mississippi, and as much as my legs burned from the hike up it was nothing compared to how I’d feel after the trip down.

Photo from top of the trail
A panoramic view from the peak of Mount Charity.

Though the park is open all year the stairs were not cleared of snow on my trip. This was my first time on this trail in the winter and I am unsure if the trail condition is normally this way or if the recent cold snap prevent usual trail maintenance

Because of the warmer weather, melting snow and extra condensation in the air the stairs became slick and the snow covering compacted into a slippery surface.

The slipery path
The trek down should be done with caution in the winter as the melting snow creates a slick surface, making it easier to slip.

Each step was taken slowly and one at a time, foot placement was key, and I still slipped several times with one resulting in a fall. The long stretches of stairs with no railings or support also made the trip down much more difficult.

I would recommend this trail in any season, but extra precaution should be taken in the winter to avoid dangerous situations.

Winona County: Helping Complete your Bucket List

Most people I know have a bucket list, you know that list of things that you want to do before you kick the bucket. And for some, their list may be filled with things they will probably never get to do. However, for those of us who live, work, and go to school in Winona County there are activities to experience, that someone may never have thought of, to add to their list.

One of these is hiking up the bluff in John Latsch State Park, near Lock and Dam 5, just north of Winona. This might not sound like a big deal, but if you take into consideration that you have to hike 405 feet straight up the hill it becomes a little more of a challenge, something each Winona County resident has to do at least once in their lifetime. This is the challenge that I took up, on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Yes, I have done this hike before, however unlike some things on my bucket list, this was not a been there done that situation. On this day it was a I have been there and done that but I’m going to do it again situation.

Over 550 stairs wooden stairs make up the “Riverview Trail” in John Latsch State Park.

The sign at the beginning of the “Riverview Trail” said that this journey would be difficult and would take about an hour, I was ready. The trail consists of over 550 stairs and after 30 or so I began to get tired. A reason for doing this hike more than once is that you never see the same thing twice.

Ripe berries, are one of the things that, can be seen in the late summer along the “Riverview Trail.”

Different times of the year bring different stages of life to the forest, from seedlings to blooming flowers to leaves changing color in the fall. I get to see a lot of new things each time I hike up this trail. However, the best part is reaching the top, one because of the sense of accomplishment and two, the view of the river valley below.

The view of the Mississippi River valley from the bluffs overlooking John Latsch State Park make all the hard work worthwhile.

After I soaked in the view, took some pictures, and caught my breath I began the trip down the hill, which in some cases is even harder, on the legs, than the climb up. By the time I got back to the car, my legs were in pain and I was soaked with sweat, yet I was glad that I had once again made the journey. Because that is what life is, a collection of journeys.