It’s one thing to ride the river and quite another to let it lull you to sleep.
One of the more unusual overnight options along the Mississippi River is on a 1946 towboat that for 30 years moved barges of petroleum 1,000 miles at a time. Now the vessel is Covington Inn, four suites of lodging and docked at Harriet Island, a lovely bridge walk from downtown St. Paul, Minn.
In each bed-and-breakfast accommodation is a private bathroom, private patio, fireplace and air conditioning, but no television. Expect compact but not cramped quarters in the refurbished boat, and a hot breakfast.
Floors slant a little, but the three-level boat is hard to rock. It weighs 300 tons.
Stay on a Tuesday (during agreeable weather) for a free evening serenade by The Eddies, who rehearse folksy ballads with a nip of Irish soul. They practice here because one member is the Covington’s former owner.
Watch the laid-back musicians at work or simply listen from the boat’s roomy rooftop lounge, where views of the St. Paul skyline are unobstructed and especially pretty at sunset. Peeks at everyday river activity — be it barges, rowing teams or seagulls — enrich at any time or season.
“A world away from the heart of the city” is how Liz Miller, owner since 2004, describes it. Her introduction to the Covington was as a waitress at the boat’s former café. Now the B&B is her home, and she’d sell it to the right buyer but isn’t in a hurry.
Overnight rates are $165 in summer, $140 in winter. covingtoninn.com
Also in the neighborhood
Padelford Riverboats, a short walk from Covington Inn, offers seasonal steamboat rides of 90 minutes to four hours. Some choices include a meal or music. Narration is taped. What you see depends on cruise length. Tickets start at $18. riverrides.com
Where Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet is Minnesota’s first National Historic Landmark, Fort Snelling, a restored fort from the 1820s. Explore the 300 acres and visitor center, which makes note of the diverse populations — native Americans, freedom fighters, immigrants, military and more — who arrived with unique challenges and dreams. Available are guided tours, historical re-enactments and interpretive exhibits. Admission is $12; open until late October. mnhs.org/fortsnelling
Built among the riverfront ruins of what used to be the world’s largest flour mill is Mill City Museum, Minneapolis. Hear stories of labor and danger, told by average mill workers, while riding an eight-story freight elevator that periodically stops to show different stage of flour production. Add a nostalgic look at once- and now-popular flour products and commercials. Observation deck views provide wonderful river views. Admission is $12. mnhs.org/millcity
A quick walk from the museum is the beautifully blue and architecturally sleek Guthrie Theater, a premier performance venue with a long, prestigious history in Minneapolis. Building tours happen on two Saturdays per month. The cost is $17. Or drop in on your own: The 174-foot, cantilevered “Endless Bridge” magically stretches out over the water. guthrietheater.org
Minnehaha Regional Park, among the Twin Cities’ oldest, is a mix of gardens, trails, fine art, a universal-access playground, green space and limestone bluffs with dynamic river views. The star attraction on the 167 acres is a 53-foot-tall waterfall. From the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is a life-size bronze sculpture of characters in Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” poem. minneapolisparks.org
Five more unusual lodging options
For genteel Southern hospitality, head to Natchez Grand Hotel, open since 2008 in Natchez, Miss., and perched on a river bluff in this historically rich city of 15,000. Some rooms and suites face the river. Others overlook the community, awash with antebellum mansions, lovely churches and Civil War landmarks along the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway, a national scenic trail between Natchez and Nashville. Rates start at $92. natchezgrandhotel.com
The biggest live-in celebrities at Peabody Hotel, Memphis, are five mallard ducks that share a rooftop suite and learn to march to and from the hotel’s indoor water fountain. The red-carpet procession began in the 1930s as a joke. Now hundreds show up each day to witness the short but unique and cherished routine. Ducks stay three months, then return to their natural environs. Room rates start at $205. peabodymemphis.com
Ten miles from the Mississippi and near the Illinois River confluence are the stone cottages and sturdy, historic lodge at Pere Marquette State Park, open since 1940 and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Look for the 50-foot-tall stone fireplace, a people-sized chess set and Mary Michelle Winery, whose lodge location sells wine made nearby. The 8,050-acre park is a magnet for migratory birds, especially bald eagles in winter. Rates start at $109. pmlodge.net
Pzazz Resort Hotel, Burlington, Iowa, aims to please multiple generations with its casino slots and table games for adults and massive family-friendly activity center. Think laser tag arena, go-kart racing, 24 bowling lanes, indoor-outdoor waterparks and 100-plus arcade games. Add spa services at adults-only Catfish Bend lodging, under the same roof, and casual to gourmet dining outlets. The giant entertainment complex emits a have-it-all vibe: sports bar with 40 mega TVs, to buckets of sweet choices at Candy Alley. Rates start at $89. thepzazz.com
A narrow and steep climb in low gear gets you to Tara Point Inn, Grafton, Ill., where overnight guests are rewarded with stunning blufftop views of the Mississippi-Illinois confluence. What began as an executive’s retirement home today is a roomy bed and breakfast, big enough for four couples. Newer are the Tara Point Cottages. Rates start at $179. tarapoint.com
The Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway, follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles and through 10 states. Work to identify, promote and preserve the Mississippi River’s natural and cultural assets began 80 years ago. Download an app to help pinpoint the route and its highlights at experiencemississippiriver.com.
Next week, the final installment: food.
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