There’s a lot more to explore along the Great River Road than just scenery and history—the cities and towns along the Mississippi River host engaging events that bring visitors back year after year. Here are some of the top recurring events you shouldn’t miss along the Great River Road in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.
- Saint Paul Winter Carnival – Held in Minnesota’s capital city from the end of January to early February, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival has celebrated the season for more than 135 years. This 10-day festival features a wide array of events and attractions, including an ice sculpture garden, parades, kids’ activities and much more.
- Great River Shakespeare Festival, Winona – Enjoy the classic works of William Shakespeare under the Mississippi River bluffs in the charming river town of Winona in southeastern Minnesota every summer. The Great River Shakespeare Festival features three main stage shows during its seasonal run in June and July, as well as other activities, including free concerts and a sonnet competition.
- Potosi Brewfest – Beer lovers: Head to Potosi on the Wisconsin Great River Road, and you’ll find a historic brewery that dates to the 1850s. Potosi Brewing Company was once the fifth-largest brewery in the state and is now home to the National Brewery Museum, a restaurant and brew pub, an event space, and more. Every August, more than 60 vendors (craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries and specialty food vendors) come to the area for the annual Potosi Brewfest, which features games, live music, and food.
- Oktoberfest, La Crosse – Celebrate German culture and the oncoming fall season at the Midwest’s longest-running Oktoberfest celebration in the Midwest every September in La Crosse. Feel the spirit of Gemütlichkeit (that’s German for friendliness and good cheer) as you enjoy traditional German food and beverages, dance along to German music, or catch some of the fun events like the wiener dog races.
- Great Galena Balloon Race, Galena – Look to the skies over the historic town of Galena in northwestern Illinois every June to marvel at the display of colorful hot air balloons. It’s all part of the Great Galena Balloon Race, an annual fundraiser that’s during the third full weekend of June and includes balloon races, kids’ activities, a car show, and live music.
- Christmas Wonderland, Alton – When the holiday season rolls around, don’t miss this impressive light display, which starts after Thanksgiving and runs through the end of December at Rock Spring Park in Alton. The drive-through display features more than 4 million lights.
- Snake Alley Art Fair, Burlington – This annual art fair (held every Father’s Day) has taken place for more than 50 years in the welcoming river city of Burlington. Artisans and crafters from across the Midwest set up their booths on the city’s famous Snake Alley—“the crookedest street in the world”—and the event also features art activities for kids, live music, and local food vendors.
- Dubuquefest – This August festival celebrating music, art, and culture has been held in downtown Dubuque (where else?) every summer since 1979. The free event features live music, food from local restaurants, and a weekend art fair.
- Art in Bloom, St. Louis – One of St. Louis’ signature events, Art in Bloom is held every March at the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. Dozens of local florists use their creativity to reinterpret art from the museum’s collection, resulting in stunning arrangements that spark the imagination. In addition to displays, the festival features special events, family activities, and food and drink.
- National Tom Sawyer Days, Hannibal – Head to Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal—about an hour’s drive north of St. Louis along the Mississippi River—over the Fourth of July holiday week to join the fun at this festival that’s been going strong since the 1950s. Tom Sawyer Days features and abundance of family-friendly events, from fence painting and frog jumping competitions to live music and a carnival.
Photo Credit: Travel Wisconsin