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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Lake Pepin Winter Road
Mississippi River Ice Road At Maiden Rock
Maiden Rock, Wisconsin

Lake Pepin Winter Road

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 779.8.
• River Elevation: 667 Feet.
• Highway: N/A.
• Daily Traffic Count: ??? (Seasonal).
• Bridge Type: Frozen Water Ice.
• Length: 12,700 Feet Overall (Estimated).
• Width: 18 Feet, 1 Lanes.
• Navigation Channel Width: 5,280 Feet (Estimated).
• Height Above Water: 0 Feet.
• Date Built: Reopens Each Winter.
The main channel of the Mississippi River is often ice-free in the winter, and at other locations, the ice has open spots and thin spots. The reason is that the wing dams and control structures cause the water to flow year around in the navigation channel. At Lake Pepin, a wide spot in the Mississippi River, the water slows down and allows ice to get relatively thick in the winter.

There are several locations on the Minnesota side of the river where public access boat ramps provide access to the river in the winter. Sportsmen use this access to haul ice fishing shelters and RVs out onto the river. There are several thousand of these seasonal structures on Lake Pepin. Access from the Wisconsin side is limited, but at Maiden Rock, the locals have plowed an access road to reach the ice fishing villages on the west side of the river.

Lake Pepin is about 2 miles wide, with the shipping channel being about a mile wide. The lake averages 18 feet deep, but it is notorious for having several very deep spots. The ice road extends about 1.75 miles to the west from the Wisconsin side of the river. There is then about a 1/4 mile gap before the road picks up again on the west side of the river, and continues the final 1/2 mile to the western shore. While I did not attempt to drive the unplowed section, I watched a number of SUV and 4-wheel drive pickups make the crossing. It appears that some locals are using this route as a short-cut to cross the river.

Ice roads on Lake Pepin are not a new invention. Farmers used to wait until the river froze so they could cross the river to haul their cash crops to market. There was once a railroad bridge at Reed's Landing at the south end of Lake Pepin. This bridge was a pontoon bridge. It was built across a series of small boats. When a river tow would approach the bridge, a tug boat would pull the pontoon bridge out of the way. Once the tow passed, the tug boat would pull the pontoon bridge back into place to allow trains to cross. During the winter, this pontoon bridge was pulled out of the water to prevent it from being crushed. Once the river froze, railroad tracks would be laid across the ice to allow trains to operate in the winter.

The photo above is a view looking west across the frozen Mississippi River from highway WI-35 in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, towards Old Frontenac, Minnesota, on the west bank of the great river. This photo is looking directly into the afternoon sun.


Lake Pepin Winter Road
The photo above is looking northeast from highway WI-35 towards Maiden Rock Village Park. The dark line leading to the river is the village boat dock, which has been pulled out of the water for the winter. The boat landing used by the ice road is behind the dock. The photo below is the railroad sign pointing out the village of Maiden Rock. The BNSF tracks at this location are very busy, with trains traveling through the village at speeds of up to 60 MPH.

Lake Pepin Winter Road
Lake Pepin Winter Road
The photo above is a view looking southwest down the boat ramp and out onto the ice. The photo below is a lighted buoy that marks the east side of the navigation channel. The navigation channel is a mile wide at this location in Lake Pepin, while the river itself is just over 2 miles wide.

Lake Pepin Winter Road
Lake Pepin Winter Road
These two photos are views heading eastbound on the ice road towards the Wisconsin shore. The photo above is about a mile and a half from the east riverbank, while the photo below is from about a mile from the east riverbank.

Lake Pepin Winter Road
Lake Pepin Winter Road
The photo above is a view heading eastbound about one-half mile from the riverbank on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. Note that there is much more snow on the ice as we near the east side of the river due to the shore area being sheltered from the prevailing winds by the river bluffs. The photo below is a view of homes along the bluff in Maiden Rock.

Lake Pepin Winter Road
Lake Pepin Winter Road
The photo above is heading eastbound off of the ice and up onto the boat ramp at Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. Note that the ice on the ramp is very rough compared with the river surface. The photo below is the road leading out of Maiden Rock Village Park heading towards highway WI-35. A steep icy grade makes it difficult to turn onto WI-35.

Lake Pepin Winter Road
Lake Pepin Winter Road
The photo above is a summer view looking west from the Maiden Rock boat landing across the Mississippi River roughly where the ice road crosses the river in the winter. The photo below is looking southwest down the boat landing where the ice road begins on the east shore of Lake Pepin.

Lake Pepin Winter Road
Lake Pepin Winter Road
The photo above is looking back towards shore from a boat dock that extends into the Mississippi River at the Maiden Rock boat landing. The area just to the north of the boat landing is a public camping area during the summer. The photo below is a view looking towards the village of Maiden Rock from the boat dock.

Lake Pepin Winter Road
Lake Pepin Winter Road
The photo above is the busy BNSF railroad crossing on the road leading to the boat landing. The photo below is a summer view of the Maiden Rock sign along the railroad tracks, looking north in this view. In contrast, the winter photo of the railroad sign above is looking to the south.

Lake Pepin Winter Road

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