Breweries, wineries & distilleries on the Great River Road

Monday, June 24, 2019

Cheers!

Whether you’re looking for unique microbrews, handcrafted spirits or a winery with an amazing view, you’ll discover some great places to raise your glass along the Great River Road.

Here are a few spots to spend your next happy hour.

North

  • Minnesota: Beer lovers are in luck when they visit the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. There, you’ll find literally dozens of breweries, from sprawling complexes with on-site restaurants to tiny taprooms. Local favorites include Surly, Fair State Cooperative, Indeed Brewing, Bad Weather Brewing and Summit.
  • Wisconsin: You might think you’re in Napa Valley as you enjoy a crisp white or full-bodied red on the patio at Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau and gaze over the awe-inspiring landscape of nearby Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Iowa: A true “grain to glass” distillery, Mississippi River Distilling Company creates its small-batch gin, vodka and more with grain harvested within 25 miles of their facility in downtown LeClaire. And don’t miss the vineyards of the Iowa Wine Trail, which passes through towns like Clinton, Marquette and Guttenberg.
  • Illinois: In the charming town of Galena, you’ll find great shops, a historic downtown, and tasty restaurants. You’ll also find Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., one of the state’s #IllinoisMade businesses—makers, creators and artisans that show off the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. Stop by for a tour and a taste of their gin, vodka, bourbon and other spirits.

Middle

  • Missouri: Sure, St. Louis is famously home to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, but there are plenty of other beermakers in “The Lou,” as well.  Take a tour and stop for a tasting at award-winning breweries like Schlafly, Urban Chestnut and Perennial Artisan Ales.
  • Tennessee: The Volunteer State’s claim to spirits doesn’t just come from Mr. Jack Daniel in Lynchburg. Memphis is home to Old Dominick Distillery, founded in 1866 by Domenico Canale. Five generations later, business is still booming—Memphis visitors can tour the factory, sample Old Dominick’s whiskeys and vodkas in the tasting room and grab a bite at the on-site restaurant.

South

  • Mississippi: Founded in 1716, Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi River. Amidst all that history, visitors will find great food and drink, too, including the Natchez Brewing Company, which offers tours and tastings at its facility downtown, and Charboneau Distillery, home to the first legally distilled rum produced in Mississippi.
  • Louisiana: Where to start? (New Orleans. New Orleans is always the answer.) OK, so the Big Easy might not technically be “the city that invented the cocktail,” but you’ll find several drinks that were perfected here, including the Hurricane, the Rum Punch and the Pimm’s Cup. Thirsty to learn more? Visit the Museum of the American Cocktail, which offers education programs, tastings and more.

(Photo: Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena, courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)

The best barbecue on the Great River Road

Monday, June 17, 2019

Where there’s smoke, there’s… some of the best barbecue in the United States.

Sure, you might automatically (and correctly) think of St. Louis and Memphis as barbecue hot spots on the Mississippi River, but the truth is, you can find delectable BBQ at restaurants up and down the Great River Road—it’s just a matter of knowing where to go.

Here’s a region-by-region breakdown of where you can find the best brisket, ribs and more along America’s greatest drive.

North

Even if they don’t have the traditions of their Southern cousins, the states of the northern Great River Road still have plenty of restaurants that produce delicious barbecue. In the Twin Cities, visitors can find authentic Carolina barbecue at Revival, which has restaurants in Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and also sells smoked meats at the Keg and Case Market in Saint Paul).

Head to La Crosse—the biggest city on Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road—for great bites at Piggy’s (and don’t miss live blues music in the Smokin’ Blues Lounge downstairs on Saturday nights). Across the river in Bellevue, Iowa, you’ll find another barbecue-and-blues restaurant at Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ, housed in a historic grist mill on the banks of the Mississippi.

A short drive from St. Louis, Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville, Illinois, has won lots of awards since it opened in 2015, including nods from Thrillist (who called it one of the 33 best BBQ joints in America) and Food & Wine magazine (Illinois’ best barbecue).

Middle

Now this is barbecue country. We could do a whole article—or several, in fact—on the offerings in St. Louis and Memphis alone, but we’ll pick a few that you must check out. In St. Louis, don’t miss Pappy’s Smokehouse near Saint Louis University; while you’re waiting in line for their award-winning ribs, check out the autographed menus plastered on the walls.

In the tiny town of Bardwell, Kentucky, locals flock to Prince Pit BBQ (which also has a store in nearby Barlow). Further south in Memphis, you’ll find delicious barbecue almost anywhere, but be sure to visit the iconic Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, which has welcomed rock stars, presidents and regular folks alike to its alley-front location since 1948.

South

Did you know that Arkansas’ only James Beard Award-winning restaurant can be found in a town of just 3,500 people? Well, that’s how good the reputation is for Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, which has been serving customers since at least 1910 and may be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the state.

Clarksdale, Mississippi, is home to the infamous Crossroads—the place where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul in exchange for his unearthly musical talent. Just a few steps away from the marker commemorating this location is Abe’s Bar-B-Q, which has been serving locals and visitors to unfettered acclaim for decades.

Louisiana is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, so it only makes sense that you’ll find po’ boys and fried chicken in addition to the barbecue favorites on the menu at The Francis Smokehouse & Specialty Meats in St. Francisville. What started out as a specialty meat shop now serves hundreds of sandwiches daily; don’t miss their fancier relative, The Francis Southern Table & Bar, next door.

Celebrate June Dairy Month along the Great River Road

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Summer is here, June is National Dairy Month, let’s talk about the (very) serious subject of cheese and ice cream.

Photo via The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor Facebook

For an old-timey ice cream experience, hit up The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor in La Crosse, Wisconsin. This charming stop is a “Best of La Crosse County” winner for both its ice cream and old fashioned candy. Located in the historic downtown of this beautiful river town, the store looks almost like a museum, beautifully preserved. They make their ice cream in house (nearly two dozen flavors from real Wisconsin cream) along with fresh baked waffle cones. The Pearl is located a couple of short blocks from the Mississippi River so you can take your ice cream and stroll down by the water on a warm afternoon.

Photo via Nelson Cheese Factory Facebook

Feeling cheesy? Head to the Nelson Cheese Factory in Nelson, Wisconsin. Not only do they sell real Wisconsin cheese, but varieties from all over the world, so it’s a great place to pick up a rare or hard-to-find cheese for the connoisseur in your life. They also sell to-die-for garlic cheese curds and homemade ice cream (we recommend rum cherry!). While you’re in the area, make a stop at the National Eagle Center across the river in Wabasha, Minnesota to watch our national bird!

Photo via Red Wing Confectionery Facebook

Another worthy stop in Minnesota is the Red Wing Confectionery in Red Wing. They have tons of rotating flavors of ice cream (try the hand-dipped waffle cones!) and happen to make some of the best root beer floats you’ve ever tried. Not related to dairy, but still delicious, are their homemade candies, including salt water taffy, chocolate-covered fruit and nuts and gourmet truffles. Take your treats across the street to LaGrange Park and sit by the fountain, or walk a quick block to take in views of the Mighty Mississippi.

Photo by Tripadvisor.com user DawnH007

Last on our list is the Hastings Co-Op Creamery in Hastings, Minnesota. Known as the “shake place,” you can get an unbelievable milkshake for an equally unbelievable price here. They’ve been in business for more than 100 years, so they know their dairy! They’re also famous for their soft serve ice cream, fresh milk and cheese curds. It’s a great place to stop after a hike or a bike ride!

Notes from an epic adventure

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

While many people travel part of the Great River Road every year, a select group drives the entire 3,000-mile route. Here are some stories and photos from people who have taken on the whole 10-state route. Sound like fun? Order the free Great River Road 10-State Map, the Drive the Great River Road App and start planning your own adventure. And let us know when you’re done – we’ll send you a certificate!

 

I received the map and I thought that this would be a nice trip, so I got in my car by myself and took off on one of the most enjoyable trips in my 82 years. I could write a book on this trip all good things about the trip. This summer I am going to finish the trip from St. Louis down to Venice, LA.. To sum it up, FANTASTIC,” – Robert B, St. Louis

 

We have visited the USA on many occasions and our plan was to visit those state we had not visited. Our road trip started in Nashville, TN. We then traveled through KY, WV, OH, IN, IL and WI before commencing our adventure down the Great River Road in MN. The river was covered in snow for many miles through MN, WI, IA, IL, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS and LA – despite the extreme weather, there were many wonderful sights and places to visit. We have now visited all 48 states and Hawaii – only Alaska to go!” – David and Cathie M., Queensland, Australia

My favorite part of the drive involved travel on the levees… from the area between Baton Rouge & Natchez, up the Mississippi Delta, from Memphis to Cairo, IL, the Cahokia mounds, and the Driftless Area.” – Lucas P., New York, New York

My husband and I spent periods of time in several river towns when he was working temporary jobs in them and were enchanted by the river. Decided to one day drive the Great River Road. He passed away before we could, but I drove it accompanied by our little rat terrier, Buck. It was a beautiful drive and I loved visiting with people and learning the history of different areas. I have a 50,000 words journal with pictures of the trip and am looking for a publisher.” – Pat W., Manhattan, Kansas

I drove the entirety of the GRR from North to South – covering almost every mile on both sides (a few were underwater thanks to the flooding last Autumn). I can be mobile for work, so I’ve started driving the long roads in the Lower 48 in an RV – it was your 80th, so I took the opportunity to explore. It was a 90-day trip, including all the loop backs – I started on the 7th of Sept at the Headwaters and wrapped it up south of the Venice Marina on the 6th of Dec.” – Sara N., Land O Lakes, Florida

I traveled the first half of the GRR in 2016, from Venice, LA to St Louis, and back to NOLA… then in 2017, from St Louis to Grand Rapids, MN and back to Chicago. I have spent the past five years documenting the scenic backways of the United States. My favorite part of the drive was finding dirt roads, old abandoned routes, remote places, and especially driving up on levees. Mississippi Delta, Driftless Area and Cahokia Mounds were some favorite parts.” – Randy R., New York, New York

We traveled the Road last Summer from 8/9/18 to 8/25/18. The reason – just wanted to experience the whole trip from North to South. Plus, we like road trips that include lots of 2 lane highways…from the beautiful Headwaters of Itasca State Park, where we could walk across the Mississippi, all the way down to Venice, LA where it ends into the Gulf of Mexico, it was a spectacular road river ride!” – Howard B, La Quinta, California

“I love road trips. Having done Route 66 a few years ago, this seemed like a natural. At the end of each day, I did a thumbnail sketch of the day which I shared with friends via email and FaceBook…BTW: This epic journey was done by myself, my wife, and my sister. We drove the entire length, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf. – Ronald B., Clovis, California

See the spring migration along the river

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Spring is an incredible time to go birdwatching along the Mississippi River! Check out some of our favorite stops to watch the spring migration in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge is actually 240,000 acres and 261 miles long, running through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois and lies within the Mississippi Flyway, the migratory path for birds.

An excellent spot to visit is Lake Onalaska, just north of La Crosse, Wisconsin. The lake is actually a pool of the Mississippi River, and the river’s the widest spot. Bald eagles are frequent visitors, as are tundra swans, and If you’re lucky you’ll catch the migration of canvasback ducks – there have been reports of 75,000-100,000 of them using Lake Onalaska as a springtime staging area (approximately one third of their North American population).

Pikes Peak State Park

Photo by Travel Iowa

Another great stop in the Wildlife Refuge is Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa. Here you can make the trek up the 500 foot bluff for views of where the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers meet. You’ll find plenty of songbirds here – eastern bluebirds, warblers, catbirds, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, but eagles and pelicans too. Be sure to explore the effigy mounds while you birdwatch.

National Eagle Center

Photo by National Eagle Center

The observation deck at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota is a great place to view eagles in the wild as they soar above the Mississippi. They even offer eagle viewing field trips that will take you to hotspots along and near the river. Inside the center are two floors of interactive exhibits where you can climb inside a nest and test your strength against our national bird’s. Be sure to stay for the daily demonstrations where you can meet bald and golden eagles face to face.

Barn Bluff

Photo by Miranda Mae via Facebook

Barn Bluff is another beautiful spot to see eagles, located in Red Wing, Minnesota. If you make the 340-foot climb up to the top of the bluff, you’ll see them soaring over the river and bluffs, along with turkey vultures and pelicans too. Barn Bluff is a hotspot for nature photography too, so bring your camera!

See what’s happening on the Great River Road

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Great River Road has scores of iconic attractions, impressive vistas and natural wonders, and it’s possible to get a preview of many of these places online. Webcams up and down the Great River Road provide a live view of America’s greatest scenic drive. If you’re planning a trip—or just dreaming about one—these webcams are a great way to see what you can discover.

Here are just a few webcams along  the route.

Mississippi Headwaters

Want to see where the Mississippi River starts? At Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, you’ll find Lake Itasca, the starting point of the mighty Mississippi. Here, the river is less than 20 feet wide and can be walked across via a series of stepping stones. Check out the webcam in the summer to find visitors wading in the shallow waters of America’s most iconic river.

St. Paul City Hall Cam

Minnesota’s capital city of Saint Paul sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, and this webcam scrolls through several different cams throughout the metro area, including several that overlook the river. 

Mississippi River Flyway Cam

The Iowa-based Raptor Resource Project is a non-profit organization that helps preserve and protect habitats for eagles, falcons, hawks and other birds throughout the Midwest. This webcam is located in Brice Prairie, Wisconsin, and shows avian activity along the Mississippi River near La Crosse.

Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center

Located near another one of the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers, this webcam shows traffic on the Mississippi River near the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

St. Louis Arch Cams

One of the most iconic sights along the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch overlooks the river and downtown St. Louis. Gateway Arch Park and Gateway Arch National Park recently underwent a multi-year renovation and expansion, and the park’s cams give visitors several vantage points of this iconic attraction.

Graceland Cam

Get all shook up with this Memphis-based webcam, which gives viewers an up close and personal look at the estate of the late, great King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

Bourbon Street Cam

Get a glimpse of one of America’s liveliest streets with this webcam, which shows the good times rolling in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Chasing blossoms on the Great River Road

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring officially arrives today on the Great River Road and new blossoms are opening daily! Now is the perfect time to take a trip to a botanical garden or embark on a wildflower walk in a natural area. The Great River Road will take you to some gorgeous spots to enjoy the spring flowers. Beautiful blossoms can be enjoyed now in southern states on the route; northern states will be in full bloom before we know it.

Here’s a sample of great flower spots near the route.

Memphis Botanic Garden

There’s a lot to take in every spring at this beautiful garden in Memphis, Tenn., which covers 96 acres and has 31 specialty gardens.  See a carpet of yellow daffodils on daffodil Hill—over 300,000 are planted! Follow the Michie Magnolia Trail and take in the spectacle of 300 beautiful trees. Or admire the delicate cherry blossoms, stroll through crocuses and smell the winter Jasmine. You won’t be disappointed!

Natchez Spring Pilgrimage

The oldest city on the Mississippi bustles with visitors this time of year. The annual Spring Pilgrimage takes place from March 16-April 16 in Natchez, Miss., a time when historic homes open their doors for visitors. Natchez has been described as a living museum of southern history and beautiful spring blossoms grace the impressive Antebellum homes on the tour.

Cohn Arboretum, Baton Rouge, La.

Fruit trees explode with color in this relaxing 16-acre arboretum that features more than 300 species of native and adaptable trees and shrubs. Walking trails wind through the park, along the edge of a small lake. It’s an ideal place for a spring walk.

New Orleans Botanical Garden, New Orleans City Park

The Big Easy is in bloom this month! Head to the Botanical garden to see impressive Azaleas, coral honeysuckle, Chinese Ground Orchids and more. These carefully cultivated gardens have been a fixture in the city since the 1930s and are open daily. Take a stroll and take your time – this is the Big Easy!

Four fabulous foods to try on the Great River Road

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The best drive in America leads travelers to some of the best meals in America. Local and regional delicacies can be found up and down the river, fueling travelers with dishes that are entwined with the region’s culture and people. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find on the Great River Road.

Cheese curds, Wisconsin

The Dairy State loves its cheese and that will be clear when you stop into a Wisconsin restaurant on the Great River Road. Brew pubs, fast food restaurants and upscale establishments all have something in common on the menu: cheese curds. You’ll find them breaded, deep fried and served with a side of ranch salad dressing. Enjoy! This summer, be sure to check out the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival.

Barbecue Ribs, Tennessee

Memphis declares itself the Barbecue Capital of the World for good reason—its ribs are in a class of their own. There’s an ongoing debate on where to find the best ribs, but one place that has legions of fans is a downtown restaurant called Rendezvous. As one Great River Road foodie put it, “Best. Ribs. In. The. World.”

Hot tamales, Arkansas

This Latin American classic has been an Arkansas food staple for generations. Filling and portable, Tamales were once common lunches in the cotton fields. Today you’ll find delicious versions along the Great River Road. One favorite spot: Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village, on the shore of Lake Chicot.

Beignets, Louisiana

You can’t visit New Orleans without sampling this classic French doughnut, which happens to be the state doughnut of Louisiana. Served with a dusting of powdered sugar, these are best enjoyed hot and fresh with some chicory coffee. One famous place to sample this delicacy is Café Du Monde. One traveler said she recently waited 40 minutes in the rain to get her beignet.

“Worth it,” she reported.

Feeling hungry? Find more traveler tips on where to eat on the Great River Road here.

Winter bald eagle viewing on the Great River Road

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Some of the best places to see the national bird of the United States can be found along the Great River Road. Travelers on northern stretches of the Great River Road are treated to a majestic sight as the birds spend time in winter hunting grounds along the Mississippi. The prime season for viewing these majestic birds runs from December through March, so now is the perfect time to take in the spectacle. Here are some great places to see bald eagles.

bald eagle mississippi riverMinnesota

National Eagle Center – Wabasha

This interpretive center is one of the best places in the country to learn about eagles. At the center you can watch wild bald eagles in comfort—the center has a wide bank of windows overlooking a pool on the Mississippi River. You can also see live bald eagles up close during daily educational programs at the center. Exhibits provide information about the bald eagle’s behavior, nesting habits, diet and history.

Wisconsin

Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center – Prescott

This interpretive center offers a beautiful vista of the Mississippi River Valley—on winter days, you might see a few eagles soaring on the wind currents. Inside the center you’ll find a life-size eagle’s nest and other exhibits that give you a sense of the majesty of this impressive bird.

Illinois

Illinois Mississippi River Visitor Center – Rock Island

Eagles are a common sight around the Quad Cities, and a good place to see them is the Mississippi River Visitor Center on the Rock Island Arsenal. Located in Rock Island at Lock & Dam #15, the center provides a good viewing spot of the bald eagles that travel to the locks and dams of the Mississippi to feed during the winter. In early spring, the river opens to commercial navigation and visitors come to the locks to see boats pass by.

Iowa

Effigy Mounds National Monument – Harper’s Ferry

This 2,526-acre park contains more than 200 ceremonial earthen mounds constructed in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtles and panthers. Some of these mounds were built more than 1,400 years ago. On Feb 22-23, the park will hold Bald Eagle Appreciation Days, a chance to see and celebrate this beautiful birds at an incredible riverside location.