Strollin’ on a River

Our ultimate guide to the inns of the St. Croix River Valley.
Phipps Inn, a Queen Anne Victorian bed and breakfast in Hudson, Wis.

Ah Minnesota summers. It’s what we live for. We know better than most how to maximize the narrow window of summer—hiking, boating, fresh fruit picking—the bevy of activities goes on. Right in our backyard is the St. Croix River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, which draws tourists to its historic river towns, spectacular scenery and outdoor recreation. With B&Bs and inns positioned along the river valley, a quick and unique getaway has never been easier. This is your guide to finding the perfect summer jaunt.

Travel an hour north of Woodbury and you’ll find outstanding geological sites at the Dalles of the St. Croix River in Taylors Falls Interstate State Park, including glacial potholes and other rock formations. Rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking and boat tours are a few of the activities available. If you’re looking to make it a weekend excursion, The Cottage B&B offers a unique retreat. Nestled in the scenic bluff, the Cottage B&B offers a two-story suite with a 5-mile view overlooking the river valley. Unlike other inns and bed and breakfasts, it is completely private, only housing one couple at a time. “We have views of wonderful animal life below; you can see deer, turkey, birds, even a bear that will wander in,” says innkeeper Eleanore Collins who, with her husband Larry has lived in the adjacent house for more than 50 years. Built in 1929 and decorated with 18th century decor, the property is located on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River. “We are back in the woods, it’s cozy, you can really nestle in,” Collins adds.

cottage b&B
The Cottage B&B in Taylors Falls

To the southwest of Taylors Falls is charming Center City, Minn., in the Chisago Lakes Area. Sister city to Hassela, Sweden, Center City was founded in 1851 and was the first permanent Swedish settlement in Minnesota. The more than 100-year-old Summit Inn Bed and Breakfast sits high on a bluff overlooking sparkling North Center Lake. Guests enjoy local wineries, antique shops and strolling the English cottage garden.

About an hour from Woodbury on the Wisconsin side is the picturesque Cascade Falls, around which the historic town of Osceola was built. In town you can visit one-of-a-kind shops and eateries, hike the bluff, and enjoy the views via canoe or kayak. Steps from the shops in Osceola, the St. Croix River Inn offers “a place of luxury, relaxation and calm,” according to innkeeper Andrew Carlson. Slip into a luxurious robe and enjoy an in-room massage while overlooking the river. “Our guests come for the view, but usually leave talking about the food,” Carlson says. “We strive to make each meal a unique and spectacular culinary experience.” He and innkeeper/owner Ben Bruno, both chefs, utilize local organic produce to create their custom menus. The St. Croix River Inn’s intimate dining room seats 14 and is open for dinner service Friday and Saturday to the public.

For a more secluded Osceola stay, guests at Pleasant Lake B&B will feel like they’re vacationing at their own lake home in the woods. Great views from a private deck, use of one of the complimentary paddle boats, and moonlight by a crackling campfire are a few amenities of this lakeside retreat.

Even closer to home is the popular historic Stillwater area, known as the “Birthplace of Minnesota,” with history and charm leading back to the steamship and logging days. Today Stillwater is popular for its historic storefront shops, eclectic restaurants and art scene. The 41-room Water Street Inn is Stillwater’s only lodging on the waterfront. Victorian-style suites feature double whirlpool baths and gas fireplaces with breathtaking river views, and guests will enjoy live music at Charlie’s Irish Pub.

Cover Park Manor is privately located on over an acre of property one mile south of Stillwater’s Historic Main Street. Running from behind the property, there is a 2-mile scenic paved trail that traverses the woods, goes through prairie restoration areas and crosses a bridge through wetlands. Experience luxury and privacy in each of four guest suites, all with private baths, double whirlpools and fireplaces.

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Outing Lodge at Pine Point

Five miles from downtown Stillwater, the Outing Lodge at Pine Point sits inside the 300-acre Pine Point Regional Park positioned at the north head of the Gateway State Trail. The original Georgian structure was built in 1858 and was the original site of a “poor farm,” where the impoverished could stay and work the land. Today owned by Lee and Carlota Gohlike, Outing Lodge has eight rooms and can handle private events accommodating a maximum of 300 guests. “This is not like your aunt’s house,” Carlota says. “The rooms are very large. We are not the regular B&B, we are not the big inn, we are unique.” This includes lots of opportunity to customize your stay, from real candles and flowers, to ordering fruit and cheese trays, or bringing your dog on your stay. Settled in the middle of the park, surrounded by incredible gardens, Outing Lodge offers nearby trails for horseback riding, biking, roller blading, cross-country skiing and hosts unique public events such as themed dinners and art classes.

South of Stillwater, the popular river towns of Afton, Minn., and Hudson, Wis., are a destination for berry pickers, history buffs, festival goers and art lovers. The Historic Afton House Inn is the oldest hotel in the state of Minnesota, built in 1867. Restored to the original look, its 25 rooms are each decorated differently and feature jacuzzis, fireplaces and private baths. “We are really a one-stop shop,” says Kathy Jarvis, who owns the inn with her husband Gordy and sons Dave and Dan. “You can stay, dine, cruise and have an event.”

A cozy room at the Historic Afton House Inn

The Historic Afton House Inn also offers fine dining in the Wheel Room, great for a romantic anniversary, as well as the Afton-Hudson Cruise line: three riverboats that conduct private and charter cruises. Guests can enjoy a riverside picnic lunch at Afton State Park or relax on two great patios at Current and Swirl Wine Bar with live music on the weekends. “We have families that will take the kids to Selma’s Ice Cream Parlor [Minnesota’s oldest ice cream parlor] and walk back and enjoy a glass of wine on our patio while their kids eat their cones,” Jarvis says.

Across the river in Hudson, the Phipps Inn is steps from excellent locally-owned restaurants and shops that make this town popular with visitors. The largest Queen Ann Victorian B&B on the Wisconsin side, the Phipps Inn offers six rooms that each come with fireplace, whirlpool tub and private bath. The inn offers additional common areas, with a billiards room, game room and large front porch. “It’s quiet, private and we offer a great breakfast,” says Mary Ellen Cox, who has owned the inn with her husband Richard for the past 14 years. The Phipps Inn is also near the Phipps Center for the Arts, a theater that offers plays, concerts and galleries and is named for the same historic Hudson family who once made their home in the Victorian.

Grilled Norwegian salmon atop hydroponic butter lettuce with avocado, market vegetables and cilantro-lime vinaigrette from Current at The Historic Afton House Inn.


Enjoying these great natural treasures and finding the ideal place to stay is easy with The Inns of the Valley, a cooperative of inns and B&Bs in both states. “Guests can find out what rooms are available, instead of making 10 different calls,” says Mary Ellen Cox, the group’s treasurer. For links to all the locations mentioned in this guide, go to, 651.998.0185 or

Grilled Norwegian salmon atop hydroponic butter lettuce with avocado, market vegetables and cilantro-lime vinaigrette from Current at The Historic Afton House Inn.

A cozy room at the Historic Afton House Inn, located along the St. Croix River in the beautiful quaint town of Afton.

Exterior Photo courtesy of Afton House Inn