While visiting Minneapolis, we took a little driving adventure around Lake Pepin, sampling chocolate and small town charm as we went.

Now, Lake Pepin isn’t really a lake. Actually, it’s just a section of the Mississippi River. The “lake” was formed by the delta of the Chippewa River as it enters the Mississippi. The Chippewa flows faster than the Mississippi, which is unable to carry away the sediment that the Chippewa deposits as it joins the larger river. The sediment builds up and forms a sort of natural dam, causing the Mississippi to widen above it.

Through this stretch, the Mississippi forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Our first stop was on the Minnesota side in the “big city” of the area, Red Wing. Known for its shoes and its pottery, we find Red Wing to be something of a study in contradictions. The small downtown area looks very historic, with artsy shops and quaint old buildings, but every few minutes, a big industrial truck rumbles through on its way to or from one of the factories that sit on the edges of the downtown area.

With our limited suitcase space and limited tolerance for kitsch, we decided to focus our tour on the consumable character of the area and taste chocolates or chocolatey things in all the little towns around the lake.

Our first taste: Red Wing Confectionery, a cute coffee shop slash candy store where they make some of the chocolates right in the back. We had some chocolate sea salt caramels and iced chai—both quite tasty.

As we were enjoying our chai, though, our eyes were drawn as if magnetically to a bag sitting on a display by our table. Red Wing Confectionery had created something brilliant, and we had to have it! Seriously, what could be better than chocolate-drizzled caramel corn?

Just look at it. You know you want some right now. Amazing.

From Red Wing, we crossed the Mississippi to Wisconsin and drove down the river along tree-covered bluffs and rolling hills.

We stopped to admire the “lake” and learn about how it was formed. It was a gorgeous day with vibrant colors on all sides.

Stockholm is a little tiny town in Wisconsin with a big reputation. It’s an artists community that also boasts some of the best pie in Minnesota at the Stockholm Pie Company. In the spirit of our chocolate tasting tour, we shared a piece of their triple chocolate pecan pie, which should have been called the scrumptious chocolate pecan and almond and coconut pie of amazingness. We thought it was quite tasty.

Though the pie company has savory pies as well, we chose instead to have some lunch at the Bogus Creek Cafe, sitting on their peaceful patio under the shade of overlapping umbrellas and surrounded by a lush garden. The food was nothing special (except for the outstanding cheese bread), but it was totally worth it to relax in that beautiful location.

The best part of the town of Pepin was actually at a wayside a few miles outside of town; a recreation of the “little house in the big woods” from the first book of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series.

We pretended we were young girls again were WAY EXCITED to see the tiny log cabin where Laura Ingalls lived her first years.

Crossing back over to Minnesota, we stopped in Wabasha to check out the National Eagle Center, an educational center that is home to five rescued eagles that are no longer able to survive on their own in the wild.

The eagles were quite pretty—and big—though it was sad to learn that they pretty much spend all their time on these perches and in this room. The bald eagle in front is Angel, who broke a wing when she was young and can’t fly. In back is Was’aka, a young male bald eagle who is blind in one eye. Like many birds of prey, female bald eagles are larger than the males, perhaps so that the females can better protect the eggs and baby birds.

And, of course, we had to try some more chocolate in Wabasha!

The Chocolate Escape specialized in hand-made turtles of many different varieties. There were turtles made with cashews and with almonds, the traditional pecan turtles. Sea turtles with sea salt on top (that’s what we’re getting read to devour to the right there) and spicy turtles with a hint of chile powder. We had to restrain ourselves to not eat every single turtle in the store.

From Wabasha, we drove back to Red Wing and a lovely dinner on the patio of the St. James hotel just a block from the river before heading back through the rolling cornfields to the Twin Cities.

An excellent mini-adventure.