Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River, Wabasha feels like a place suspended in time, yet buzzing with modern energy. While the National Eagle Center is certainly its crown jewel, Wabasha serves as a gateway to a myriad of experiences. This quintessentially American town draws us in with its pristine waterscapes, historic downtown, and vast outdoor recreational opportunities.
It’s all About Location
Wabasha sits along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border at the convergence of the Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers. The rich soil deposits dumped as the waters of the speedy Chippewa slow to a Mississippi speed create a broad delta–throttling the flow of the Mississippi River, creating Lake Pepin just upriver of Wabasha. It’s a unique environment, ideal for wildlife, trade, and a thriving town.
Its unique location was evident early on. The area has been continuously occupied since 1826 and is the oldest existing town in Minnesota. Officially established in 1830, Wapasha is named after the Indian Chief of the Sioux Nation, Chief Wa-pa-shaw. Many early structures remain today. 50 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, many in the scenic downtown.
One could say that Wabasha’s charm lies in its ability to balance the old with the new. The beautifully maintained old buildings that line the main street could be right off of a movie set. In a way, they are. The 1993 film Grumpy Old Men is set in Wabasha and captures a community of historic buildings and ice fishing. We stroll through the historic downtown, captivated by architecture housing eclectic shops, quaint cafes, and a bevy of art galleries.
Into the Great Outdoors
Of course, what set Wabasha apart from the beginning was its landscape, and the majestic waterfront vistas and recreational opportunities continue to draw visitors of all types to this historic hotspot. Wabasha is a year-round nesting destination for bald eagles. The speedy waters of the Chippewa keep much of that stretch of the Mississippi from icing over, even in the depths of winter. The result is convenient fishing for bald eagles and a logical location for the National Eagle Center on the banks of the Mississippi.
Beyond bird watching, Wabasha keeps up its year-round charm for outdoor enthusiasts with fishing (of the boat and ice varieties), boating, and multiuse trails. The Wabasha Riverfront Trail traces the Mississippi shoreline, along downtown Wabasha and even continues as the Upper Sand Prairie Loop, a 13-mile biking trail.
We arrive in Wabasha to see the National Eagle Center but stay for a scenic walk down the Wabasha Riverfront Trail and lunch at Slippery’s Tavern & Ristorante. Slippery’s is famously known as the home of “Grumpy Old Men,” the 1993 movie starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. We indulge in some comfort food, savoring the local flavor while soaking in the ambiance of this iconic establishment. Memorabilia from the movie adorn the walls, and it’s easy to feel like we’re stepping into a piece of cinematic history.
As we drive off, the iconic silhouette of a bald eagle soars high above, echoing the spirit of Wabasha—a place of natural beauty, historic charm, and endless adventure. And whether it’s the eagles, the river, or the warm embrace of small-town America that calls you here, rest assured that Wabasha will carve a special place in your heart. And just like the eagles, you’ll find yourself returning, year after year.