Author Archives: Tyler Warhurst

What to see & do along the southern Great River Road

Monday, June 06, 2022

The southern Great River Road is a region rich in history, culture, music, and outstanding food—here’s a closer look at some of the welcoming cities, towns and unique attractions you should visit as you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Kentucky

Columbus Belmont State Park Kentucky Great River Road

Kentucky is home to the shortest stretch of the Great River Road, but there is still plenty to see and do along the route. Head to Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site to see earthen mounds created by the ancient people who inhabited the region in the 12th through 14th centuries. Take in amazing views of the Mississippi River and learn about the area’s Civil War history at Columbus-Belmont State Park.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Wickliffe: Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, Wickliffe is the seat of Ballard County and traces its founding to the 1880s, but people have lived in this scenic region overlooking the Mississippi River for nearly a thousand years

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Kentucky.

Tennessee

Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee

Photo: Tennessee Tourism

Tennessee’s section of the Great River Road offers a trip through outstanding scenery and engaging history. In the northwest corner of the state, visitors will find a state park at Reelfoot Lake, a 15,000-acre lake that is in actually a flooded forest (violent earthquakes in the region in 1811-12 formed the lake) and is a popular fishing and birdwatching spot. And don’t miss Memphis, which has long been a hub for music and culture in the country. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Henning: This western Tennessee community has a strong connection to African American heritage (visit the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center to learn about the “Roots” author) and is also home to great recreation options like the Mississippi River Corridor and Champion Lake
  • Memphis: Music history (Sun Studio, Graceland, Beale Street, the Stax Museum of American Soul are just a few of the attractions you’ll find), delicious food (Memphis is famed for its barbeque), and recreation options abound in this Mississippi River hub in southwestern Tennessee

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Tennessee.

Arkansas

Lake Chicot State Park Arkansas Great River Road

Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

As the Great River Road passes through the Delta, you’ll see plenty of reasons Arkansas is known as “the Natural State.” From National Forests to wildlife refuges to hundreds of lakes—not to mention the Mississippi River itself—Arkansas’ Great River Road offers plenty of recreational opportunities. Visitors will learn plenty about the Delta’s history, too, whether they’re visiting Johnny Cash’s boyhood home or learning about the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Helena-West Helena: Formed when two existing towns merged, Helena-West Helena offers visitors a trip through Southern history; visit the Delta Cultural Center to learn more about the region and don’t miss the King Blues Biscuit festival in October
  • Marianna: This small town southwest of Memphis is not only home to the scenic Mississippi River State Park and St. Francis National Forest, but also where you’ll find Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, a James Beard award-winning restaurant that’s one of the oldest black-owned restaurants in the country

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Arkansas.

Mississippi

Mississippi River bridges in Natchez

Photo: Visit Mississippi

Take a trip through the history of the American South as you travel the Great River Road in Mississippi. Stop in Natchez—the oldest city on the Mississippi River—to tour antebellum homes and learn about the events that shaped this part of the country at Vicksburg National Military Park. Mississippi is a mecca for blues fans, too, who can find iconic attractions like Dockery Farms, the Delta Blues Museum, the B.B. King Museum and more.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Clarksdale: This can’t-miss destination for blues lovers is home to great live music venues and festivals, the engaging Delta Blues Museum, and the iconic “Devil’s Crossroads,” where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly swapped his soul for his otherworldly talent
  • Natchez: The oldest city on the Mississippi River was founded more than 300 years ago, and that history is evident today in its large collection of antebellum homes and traditional events like the Spring Pilgrimage and the Natchez Balloon Festival 

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions

Learn more about the Great River Road in Mississippi.

Louisiana

 Capitol Park Museum Baton Rouge Louisiana

Photo: Louisiana Office of Tourism

The Great River Road runs along both sides of the Mississippi River as it passes through Louisiana on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, travelers will encounter historical river towns like Plaquemine and St. Francisville, as well as iconic cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In the state’s far southeastern corner, you’ll find the unincorporated community of Venice, which marks the end of the Great River Road. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Baton Rouge: Louisiana’s capital city was founded more than 300 years ago and its central location in the state still attracts legions of visitors who seek out the city’s great food, iconic history, and unique arts and culture
  • New Orleans: No trip along the southern Great River Road is complete without a visit to New Orleans—whether you’re looking for historical sites, mouthwatering food, classic cocktails, great recreation options or pretty much anything else, you’ll find it in the Big Easy

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Louisiana.

Estimated travel times along the northern Great River Road:

  • Wickliffe, KY to Tiptonville, TN: 1.25 hours
  • Tiptonville, TN to Memphis, TN: 2 hours
  • Memphis, TN to Clarksdale, MS: 1.5 hours
  • Clarksdale, MS to Lake Village, AR: 1.75 hours
  • Lake Village, AR to Vicksburg, MS: 1.75 hours
  • Vicksburg, MS to Natchez, MS: 1.5 hours
  • Natchez, MS to Baton Rouge, LA: 1.5 hours
  • Baton Rouge, LA to New Orleans, LA: 1.75 hours
  • New Orleans, LA to Venice, LA: 1.5 hours

Take a trip along the northern Great River Road

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

It’s a great time to take a ride along the Great River Road—the weather is getting warmer, and the scenery can’t be beat. Here’s a look at what to see and do along the northern half of the Great River Road All-American Road, from Minnesota to Missouri. 

Minnesota

The Great River Road starts in Minnesota at the same place the Mississippi River does: Lake Itasca in the far north-central part of the state. At Itasca State Park, visitors will find the headwaters of the Mississippi River, shallow enough here to walk across with the help of a few steppingstones. From there, the Great River Road heads north to Bemidji, where it turns south to make its long voyage through the Twin Cities and historic river towns like Red Wing and Winona.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Bemidji: Known as “the first city on the Mississippi”, Bemidji actually sits north of the headwaters of the Mississippi River and is where the river (and the road) starts its turn south
  • Minneapolis and Saint Paul: Minnesota’s Twin Cities have something to offer everyone, from outstanding recreation on the Mississippi River and surrounding lakes to rich history and culture to the largest shopping mall in the western hemisphere

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Minnesota.

Wisconsin

The Mississippi River meets the St. Croix River in northwestern Wisconsin, and that’s where the Wisconsin Great River Road starts. Travelers will discover more than 30 historic river towns and villages and 250 miles of scenic bluffs, lakes, and stunning scenery. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Alma: This historic village—about a 90-mile drive from the Twin Cities—offers one of the best overlooks of the Upper Mississippi River at Buena Vista Park
  • Potosi: Located at the southern end of the Wisconsin Great River Road, Potosi is a great place for exploration—raise a glass at the historic Potosi Brewery after a day of adventure

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Wisconsin.

Iowa

The scenery continues to stun as visitors follow the western banks of the Mississippi River through Iowa. Marvel at the view atop soaring bluffs, explore historic and charming small towns, and discover the area’s rich agricultural history at interesting attractions in the Quad Cities and beyond.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Dubuque: Located in far northeastern Iowa, Dubuque offers great options for outdoor fun, including the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, and unique attractions like the Fenelon Place Elevator
  • Quad Cities: The Quad Cities (Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois) is a great place to explore, providing visitors with everything from casinos and minor-league baseball to John Deere factory tours and outstanding bike paths

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Iowa.

Illinois

The longest stretch of the Great River Road can be found in Illinois. Travelers start in the iconic small town of Galena in the northwest and follow a winding route for hundreds of miles, passing wineries, state parks, and the remains of the largest prehistoric settlement in North America.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Galena: Often mentioned as one of the best small towns in America, Galena’s historic charm, beautiful scenery, and great dining and shopping options keep people coming back year after year
  • Alton: Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the city of Alton is also the meeting place of three iconic road routes: The Great River Road, Route 66, and the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Illinois.

Missouri

Discover “the gateway to the west” along Missouri’s stretch of the Great River Road. Head back in time to see what life was like during the riverboat days of Mark Twain, visit St. Louis’ iconic attractions, and learn about America’s westward expansion.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Hannibal: This historic town north of St. Louis is proud of its most famous resident—author Mark Twain—and visitors will find everything from Twain’s old home to the caves he explored to breweries with his name on it
  • Ste. Genevieve: Another Mississippi River city that’s steeped in history, Ste. Genevieve was founded in 1735 and was the first European settlement west of the Mississippi River 

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Missouri.

Estimated travel times along the northern Great River Road:

  • Lake Itasca to Minneapolis/Saint Paul: 3.5 hours
  • Minneapolis to Winona, MN: 2.25 hours
  • La Crosse, WI to Dubuque, IA: 2.5 hours
  • Dubuque, IA to the Quad Cities: 2 hours
  • Galena, IL to the Quad Cities: 2 hours
  • Quad Cities to Hannibal, MO: 3.25 hours
  • Hannibal, MO to St. Louis: 2.25 hours
  • St. Louis to Ste. Genevieve, MO: 1 hour
  • Ste. Genevieve, MO to Cairo, IL: 1.5 hours

Can’t-miss parks and natural areas along the Great River Road

Thursday, March 31, 2022

It’s a great time to get out and explore the Great River Road. Here’s a state-by-state look at parks and natural areas you shouldn’t miss on your next Mississippi River road trip.

Minnesota: Itasca State Park

While it’s most well-known as the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota has a lot more to offer, including nearly 50 miles of hiking trails, hundreds of campsites, historic lodges, and four lakes to explore (including Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River).

Wisconsin: Wyalusing State Park

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, Wyalusing State Park is one of Wisconsin’s oldest and most scenic state parks. Visitors will discover outstanding views from the 500-foot-tall bluffs overlooking the river, as well as 14 miles of hiking trails, more than 100 campsites, canoe and kayak rentals, great fishing, and much more.

Iowa: Effigy Mounds National Monument

This National Park Service site, located just north of Wyalusing State Park on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, preserves more than 200 American Indian mounds that were constructed thousands of years ago along one of the most scenic stretches of the river. Enjoy the natural beauty of the area with a hike along the trails or go on a ranger-led tour to learn more about the natural and cultural history of the region.

Illinois: Pere Marquette State Park

This scenic state park–Illinois’ largest–is located just north of St. Louis at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Pere Marquette State Park is a popular destination in all seasons, known for its great views of the Illinois River and plentiful recreational opportunities, including camping, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and boating.

Missouri: Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park

Also located just north of St. Louis, this small Missouri state park can be found at the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where the Lewis & Clark Expedition began their famous voyage at the turn of the 19th century. A short trail that takes visitors to the confluence point is also a great place for birdwatching in the spring.

Kentucky: Columbus-Belmont State Park

Overlooking the Mississippi River in western Kentucky, Columbus-Belmont State Park is s home to an interesting Civil War museum located in a farmhouse that once served as a Confederate hospital. The park also includes a campground, hiking trails, and a picnic area.

Tennessee: Reelfoot Lake State Park

Reelfoot Lake is a popular destination for outdoor recreation and is home to great fishing and birdwatching (especially during the spring and fall migrations along the Mississippi River Flyway). Three hiking trails along the lakeshore are great for waterfowl viewing. The park’s nature center includes captive raptors and other wildlife from the area.

Arkansas: Mississippi River State Park

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the St. Francis National Forest in central Arkansas, this park features dramatic and beautiful scenery. Explore the park’s trails or go fishing for largemouth bass, crappie and channel catfish. The park is part of the Audubon Great River Birding Trail and offers a diverse array of birds and wildlife. 

Mississippi: Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge

The Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge is the oldest wildlife refuge in Mississippi and is a popular spot for wildlife observation and birdwatching. Visitors are encouraged to check out the refuge’s two dedicated wildlife observation areas–the Holt Collier Boardwalk and Observation Tower on Lizard Lake and the open-sided observation tower at Alligator Pond.

Louisiana: Barataria Preserve

Part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in and around New Orleans, the Barataria Preserve covers 26,000 acres of Louisiana wetlands, hardwood forests, swamps, bayous, and marshes. Visitors will encounter a variety of wildlife, including alligators and more than 200 species of birds, as they explore the preserve’s trails and waterways. Ranger programs are offered daily, and admission to the preserve is free.

What makes the Great River Road an All-American Road?

Friday, March 04, 2022

The Great River Road was named an All-American Road in 2021, which means it’s considered one of the country’s very best National Scenic Byways. So why is this 3,000-mile route along the Mississippi River so special? Here’s a look at some of the historical sites and other attractions that make the Great River Road so great.

Engaging history

The Great River Road passes through 10 states and tells the story of the Mississippi River region and the country at large at dozens of museums, historical sites, and attractions along the route. Travelers will discover everything from iconic music clubs to the boyhood home of America’s most famous author.

Here’s a look at a few historic attractions along the northern Great River Road:

And some historic attractions along the southern Great River Road:

Find more historic attractions along the route here and here.

Rich culture

Another reason the Great River Road was named an All-American Road is because of its strong connection to the culture of the Mississippi River region. Cultural attractions dot the landscape and include bustling arts districts, iconic architecture, and charming river towns.

Cultural attractions along the northern Great River Road:

Cultural attractions along the southern Great River Road: 

Find more cultural attractions along the route here and here.

Four things to love about the Great River Road

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

The Great River Road—named an All-American Road in 2021—traces the mighty Mississippi River through the heart of America, from the snow-frosted forests of the north to the moss-covered groves of the Mississippi Delta. There are more than 3,000 beautiful miles of open road to explore, so no two trips are alike, and there are always new views to take in, new people to meet and new surprises to discover. 

Here are four things to love about this unforgettable route.

Historic sites

The Mississippi River is drenched in history. Along the Great River Road, you’ll encounter beautiful architecture, impressive native history and the legacy of early settlers and adventurers. Learn about the history of the river region at nearly 100 Interpretive Centers—historic sites, museums and more that tell the story of the Mississippi River and its people. Sites like Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa and the New Madrid Historic Museum in Missouri are just a few historic sties worth a visit.

See more more historic sites

Scenic overlooks

The Great River Road has scores of inspiring vistas. Pull over and take time to relax at these beautiful spots. Watch the sun set, see eagles drift on the wind or take in the sight of massive barges hauling freight. Check out Sunset Park in Rock Island, Illinois, Wyalusing State Park along the Wisconsin Great River Road and the Old Mississippi River Bridge Scenic Overlook in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Discover more scenic overlooks

Fascinating museums

The Great River Road will take you to memorable museums that share the story of this great river, from the days before European settlement to the time when it became a center of industry that helped fuel a fast-developing world. These museums are also part of the Great River Road’s network of informative, engaging Interpretive Centers. Museums on the road include the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa , the Delta Blues Museum and the Louisiana State Museum.

See more museums

Natural areas

The Great River Road will also take you to some beautiful parks and recreation areas. They are fantastic places to take a short nature stroll or a longer and more ambitious hike. Wildlife is abundant in these parks and you’ll encounter habitat unlike anyplace else on earth. Some great parks on the route include Reelfoot Lake State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve.

Find more museums, scenic overlooks and natural areas along the Great River Road here.

Explore these charming Mississippi River cities & towns

Monday, December 13, 2021

All along the Great River Road, you’ll find villages, small towns and big cities rich in the culture, history and cuisine of the Mississippi River region. Here’s a closer look at just a few river communities you shouldn’t miss on your next Great River Road trip.

Red Wing, Minnesota

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River about an hour south of the Twin Cities, Red Wing has a great small-town vibe, with a welcoming downtown filled with historic buildings, as well as an impressive food and drink scene and great spots for scenery and outdoor recreation.

Stockholm, Wisconsin

Head across the Mississippi River at Red Wing and travel south along Highway 35 on the Wisconsin side of the river, and you’ll find the quaint village of Stockholm. Stockholm, which sits upon the shores of the impressive Lake Pepin (the largest lake on the Mississippi River), takes its Swedish heritage seriously and embraces its historic downtown, whose storefronts are filled with restaurants and shops catering to visitors.

Galena, Illinois

Consistently named one of the best small towns in America, Galena is a popular travel destination that’s a “one-tank trip” from many Midwestern cities. Visitors will marvel at Galena’s well-preserved 19th-century buildings (you can take them in while riding a trolley on one of the town’s historic tours) as well as its iconic Main Street, which is home to more than 125 shops and restaurants.  

Dubuque, Iowa

Proclaiming itself as the place “where Iowa started,” Dubuque sits along a scenic stretch of the Mississippi River in east-central Iowa. Visitors will find unique attractions like the Fenelon Place Elevator—the world’s shortest, steepest railway, which takes visitors up the bluffs overlooking downtown. Shop and dine in a downtown that was once home to a booming warehouse industry or visit the Mines of Spain Recreation Area.

Memphis, Tennessee

Well, Memphis isn’t exactly a small river town, but it is definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling along the southern section of the Great River Road. The list of places to go is almost endless—Beale Street, Graceland, BBQ restaurants and important sites like the National Civil Rights Museum all make the list—but there’s really so much to explore in the Home of the Blues.

Clarksdale, Mississippi

Speaking of the blues, Clarksdale—about an hour and a half south of Memphis along iconic Highway 61—is home to the Delta Blues Museum, which shares the stories of the legendary musicians from Mississippi and throughout the Delta who helped develop this uniquely American form of music. The blues lives on in Clarksdale to this day, too—you can find live music almost every night and fun music festivals throughout the year.

Discover the Great River Road’s greatest hits

Thursday, August 26, 2021

September is Drive the Great River Road Month, so that means it’s time to get out and explore one of the country’s newest All-American Roads. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, so there’s plenty to see. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.

The headwaters of the Mississippi River

If you’re exploring the Mississippi River and the Great River Road, why not start at the beginning. The Mississippi River gets its start at Lake Itasca in far northern Minnesota, and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway starts its journey there, too, at Itasca State Park. The park spans more than 30,000 acres; head to the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center shares the history of the park and northern Minnesota. From there, it’s just a short walk to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, which is only about 20 feet wide and can be easily traversed via a series of stepping stones. (People also like to wade in the shallow river on warm days.) See a live webcam of the Mississippi River headwaters here

Scenic overlooks and parks

September is a wonderful time to start your travels on the Great River Road, since you can follow fall color as you head south from Minnesota through the Midwest and into the central and southern states. Peak fall color usually hits at the very end of September into early October for the northern states, with the southern states seeing peak color mid-October into November. But where to see it? It’s easy enough to enjoy along the bluffs in the northern states (explore Highway 61 in Minnesota, Highway 35 in Wisconsin, and Highway 52 in Iowa), and the route is lined with scenic overlooks and state and local parks from north to south.

Historic sites

One of the reasons the Great River Road was selected as an All-American Road is because of the Mississippi River region’s rich history—it tells the story of the country for thousands of years, from the earliest Native American inhabitants to the Civil War to the present day. Great River Road trippers can visit dozens of Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites and more—along the route to learn about the people, places and historical events that shaped the region.

Music

There’s no shortage of great music along the Great River Road—the route will take you through iconic music destinations like Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. Here’s a look at some music attractions you shouldn’t miss on or near the Great River Road

Food

What’s a trip along the Great River Road without sampling some of the very best local cuisine? Walleye in Minnesota, fresh cheese curds in Wisconsin, Memphis barbeque and more—each state along the Mississippi River has its own unique dishes and flavors. Explore the Flavors of the Great River Road section of our website to find fan recommendations on great places to eat, the top spots for wine, beer, and craft cocktails, and more.

More hidden gems to discover along the Great River Road

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Getting ready to explore one of the country’s newest All-American Roads? Here’s a look at some of the one-of-a-kind attractions you’ll find along the Great River Road.

Perrot State Park, Wisconsin

At the confluence of the Mississippi and Trempealeau rivers, Great River Road travelers will find the stunning, scenic 1,200-acre Perrot State Park. The park sits among 500-foot bluffs, offering outstanding views of the Mississippi River region, as well as outstanding options for recreation, including canoeing, kayaking and biking along the Great River State Trail. Visit the park’s nature center to learn about the area’s natural history and cultural importance to Native Americans, French explorers and others.

Metal Museum, Tennessee

National Ornamental Metal Museum sign

Credit: National Ornamental Metal Museum

Did you know that Memphis is home to a one-of-a-kind museum honoring the works of metalsmiths around the country and the world? The Metal Museum (previously known as the National Ornamental Metal Museum) features a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, a sculpture garden and an on-site blacksmith shop and foundry. Metalworking demonstrations take place every Saturday, and the museum also offers hands-on training for young artists.

Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky

Reenactment at Columbus-Belmont State PArk

Columbus-Belmont State Park in western Kentucky not only offers outstanding views of the Mississippi River, it also provides visitors with a glimpse into the area’s Civil War history. In 1861, Confederate forces occupied and fortified the area that now makes up the park to block Union ships from traveling south along the Mississippi River, even devising a massive anchor and chain that served as a barricade (the anchor can be seen at the state park today).  

Historic Fort Snelling, Minnesota

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in the state capital of Saint Paul, Historic Fort Snelling tells the stories of 10,000 years of human history, from Native Americans and the fur trade to the fort’s role as a training center for Civil War troops. Today, visitors can tour the 1820s-era fort and the grounds and learn about the area’s history through displays and interactive. Fun fact: Musket demonstrations are offered daily. 

Discover these hidden gems on the Great River Road

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

There’s a lot to discover on the Great River Road (recently named one of the country’s newest All-American Roads). Here’s a look at a few unique events and attractions you can find along the route that you might not have heard of before.

Wings Over the Prairie Festival, Arkansas

Stuttgart, Arkansas—located about an hour southeast of Little Rock—is home to a unique event every Thanksgiving week: the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest & Wings Over the Prairie Festival. This annual celebration is the largest outdoor expo in the mid-South promoting duck hunting, a popular activity in the Arkansas Delta. The event includes a Queen Mallard pageant, several duck calling contests, outdoor exhibits, games, midway rides, food, vendors and much more.

Stuttgart is also home to the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, one of the Great River Road’s official Interpretive Centers.

Popeye the Sailor Man, Illinois

Popeye statue

Photo: Great Rivers County

Travel the Great River Road in Illinois to discover the hometown of Popeye the Sailor Man. Chester, Illinois (population: 8,300) was the home of Popeye creator Elzie C. Segar, and a statue of his famous character can be found in Segar Memorial Park. Head to the Chester Welcome Center, where you can learn more about the Popeye & Friends Character Trail.

National Pearl Button Museum, Iowa

Muscatine History and Industry Center Used Shells

Photo: Paula Mayer

Did you know that the Great River Road town of Muscatine, Iowa, is the Pearl Button Capital of the World? Pearl buttons—made from clamshells found in the Mississippi River and other waterways—were a big business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, signifying wealth and prestige. By the early 1900s, Muscatine produced 1.5 billion buttons annually, accounting for 37 percent of the world’s total production. Learn about this unique industry and the history of Muscatine at this interesting museum in downtown Muscatine.

Tiger Stadium and Mike the Tiger, Louisiana

Mike the Tiger-swimming

Photo: Louisiana State University

How many college campuses have a real-live tiger on campus? That’s the case at Louisiana State University (LSU to college football aficionados), located in Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge. Whether you’re in town on a Saturday for a game at Tiger Stadium (a bucket list item for any college football fan) or just visiting the campus, you can find the habitat of LSU’s favorite feline Mike the Tiger on North Stadium Drive across from the stadium. Mike is usually outside every day between 8am and 8pm (but if you miss him, you can always check out his webcam).

Getting on the water along the Great River Road

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

A trip along the Great River Road—recently named one of America’s newest All-American Roads—is a great summer adventure, but sometimes you need to find a spot to cool off. Here’s a look at some great places you can dip your toes in the Mighty Mississippi or hop on a boat and explore the waters yourself.

Lake Village, Arkansas

Lake Village is located on the shores of Lake Chicot, the largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America. Lake Chicot was formed three centuries ago by the meandering of the Mississippi River but has since been cut off from the mighty riverway, resulting in a 20-mile-long oxbow lake that’s a popular recreation destination. Lake Chicot State Park has 14 cabins and more than 120 campsites for rent and is a great place for fishing, boating, and birdwatching.

Lake Itasca, Minnesota

Lake Itasca

Photo: Sandra Dempsey on Unsplash

Did you know you can walk across the Mississippi River? It’s true: If you visit the headwaters of the mighty river at stunning Itasca State Park in north-central Minnesota to see where the Mississippi River starts, you can cross from one side of the river to another, a trip of only about 20 feet. If you’re feeling daring (or it’s hot), you can wade in the shallow waters of the river as it empties out of Lake Itasca on its journey south. Itasca State Park—Minnesota’s oldest—is also a great place for boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and stand-up paddleboarding.

Clements Fishing Barge, Wisconsin

Clements Fishing Barge

Photo: Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission

Located just upstream from Lock & Dam #8, Clement’s Fishing Barge has been inviting anglers to cast their lines for walleye, bluegill, catfishing, bass and more in the Mississippi River since 1936. Park along Highway 35 (the Wisconsin Great River Road) in Genoa, raise the flag on shore, and wait for the small boat to ferry to you to the barge. Fishing runs from 7am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday and 7am to 6pm Saturday to Sunday from mid-March through mid-November. Single-day prices are $20 for adults and $5 for kids; three-day, seven-day and season passes are also available.

Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center, Iowa

Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center

Photo: Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission

Explore the backwaters of the Mississippi River in a canoe or kayak or hop on a pontoon boat for a guided tour at this engaging, educational center in Camanche, about a 45-minute drive from the Quad Cities. The Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center educates visitors about the natural history of the Mississippi River in Iowa and is home to an 8,000-gallon aquarium filled with local fish species. Launch your canoe or kayak from the campground or climb aboard the Blue Heron, a 26-passenger pontoon boat, for a guided tour of fish and wildlife habitat through backwaters, sloughs and the main channel.

National Great Rivers Museum, Illinois

Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River near Alton at the Melvin Price Locks & Dam #26, the National Great Rivers Museum tells the story of the people and natural process that have shaped the river. Interactive exhibits illustrate the impact of the Mississippi River on the region.

Confluence of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers, Kentucky

Confluence of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers

The Mississippi and Ohio rivers come together where three Great River Road states intersect: Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. This scenic confluence can be seen from a couple different spots, including Fort Defiance Park in Cairo, Illinois, and Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site in Wickliffe, Kentucky.

Mud Island River Park & Museum, Tennessee

Mud Island River Park & Museum

Photo: Tennessee Tourism

True, this park sits pretty much in the heart of the Mississippi River in Memphis (it’s accessible from a skybridge off Front Street downtown), but you can also walk along a scale-model version of the lower Mississippi River here to see how the Big Muddy weaves its path through the southern Great River Road states. The museum features 18 galleries with exhibits on the culture and history of the river, and Mud Island is also home to a 5,000-seat concert venue. Admission is free to the park, but amphitheater events are ticketed.