Nestled in the curve of the Mississippi River, Barn Bluff rises just under 400 ft and offers beautiful views of the Wisconsin countryside, the Mississippi River Valley, and the city of Red Wing. Before settlers arrived, the Dakota once called Barn Bluff “khemnichan,” meaning hill, wood, and water. During times of war, the Dakota would use Barn Bluff as a lookout for potential enemies. Similarly, when early Euro-American settlers arrived and resided in the area, they would use the bluff as a lookout for the first steamboat of trading season. There is a lot of history associated to this famous landmark and if you want to learn more, literature is available at the park entrance or on the park's website.
What Makes It Great
One wouldn’t expect to find good climbing in Minnesota, but Red Wings’ Barn Bluff surprises even the experienced climber. It was in the 1970’s when locals first noticed that the pocketed Oneota dolomite and magnesium rich rock found in Barn Bluff provided such good climbing. Using old pieces of drill rod and trees next to the bluff as anchors, the original climbers started the treacherous, but fun task in making routes. Even today, people can climb “Barn Burner,” which is the classic 5.11a crack climb. It is a traditional 1-pitch and is the first route ever set in the area.
If you want to repel from the top, prepare for a strenuous 340-foot climb up the bluff. Once you reach the top, you first find yourself in grassland. Take a moment to catch your breath, sit on a bench, and enjoy the views. Continue along the Prairie Trail and appreciate the colorful wildflowers on the untouched prairie. If you continue hiking to the east side, you will not be disappointed because the views of the Mississippi River Valley are breathtaking.
Nowadays, there are over 20 different routes varying from 5.8’s to a 5.13a. Even if you are just starting to climb or if you have been climbing for a long time, Barn Bluff will have a route for you.
Who is Going to Love It
If you plan on climbing, check out Red Wing’s Mountain Project page. This site will help you figure out which route is best for you. Or if you like just winging it, head over to Barn Bluff on any sunny weekend. There are always climbers working on a route and they will most likely welcome you with open arms.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Open from dawn till dusk, you can find climbers in all types of weather battling Barn Bluff’s towering cliffs. From the main parking lot you have two options. You can take the difficult, thickly wooded North Trail, which has abandoned lime quarries to peer into, views of the Mississippi riverbank to see, and historical stairs to climb. This trail also offers most of the climbing routes at Barn Bluff. The South Trail is moderately difficult, has views of Red Wing, and offers shade from the scattered oak trees along the trail. If you wanted a more primitive path, the Midland Trail connects from the North Trail to the South Trail.