Unique roadside attractions along the northern Great River Road

Friday, August 05, 2022

A trip along the Great River Road means not only great scenery, fantastic food, and engaging history—it means a chance to discover some of the unique attractions that travelers can find along the route. Here’s a closer look at a few places to visit along the northern stretch of the byway.

Minnesota

Head to Bemidji—“the first city on the Mississippi”—to find a larger-than-life (or maybe not) statue of two Northwoods legends. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox have a long, storied history dating to the lumberjack camps of the early 20th century, and visitors to Bemidji will find giant statues of the famed duo outside the Tourist Information Center, 300 Bemidji Ave. The center is open year-round and features Paul Bunyan memorabilia as well as information about local attractions. 

The Big Fish Supper Club and Resort, located just east of Bemidji on U.S. Highway 2, certainly lives up to its name. Visitors who pull up to this iconic roadside attraction between Leech Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish will be greeted by a giant musky, its mouth open wide.

Wisconsin

The “big fish” theme continues in Wisconsin, with several communities along that state’s section of the Great River Road boasting oversized aquatic creatures. Trempealeau, which is home to an annual Catfish Days celebration every July, has a giant catfish on its welcome sign along Highway 35, and Onalaska (about 15 miles to the south) has its own aquatic icon: Sunny the Sunfish, who overlooks Lake Onalaska from a roadside park.

Further south in Dickeyville, just north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border, road trippers will find the Dickeyville Grotto, a unique stone creation on the Holy Ghost Parish grounds. Father Matthias Wernerus served at the parish from 1918 to 1931 and crafted the grotto and shrines, which consist of stone and mortar and are adorned with an array of unique objects, from colored glass and gems to seashells and petrified wood.

Iowa

Visitors to the city of Burlington in southeastern Iowa will find one of America’s crookedest streets in the heart of downtown. Snake Alley, initially built in the 1890s to connect the residential district at the top of the bluff with the commercial district below, consists of five half-curves and two quarter-curves, covering 275 feet and rising nearly 60 feet along a 21% grade.

Another short route that’s worth the ride is Dubuque’s Fenelon Place Elevator, which was also built to solve the problem of getting from the homes at the top of the bluffs to the businesses below and vice versa. The Fenelon Place Elevator is billed as the shortest and steepest railroad in the world, traveling just shy of 300 feet from street level to the top off the bluff. The elevator is open from April 1 through November 30 and costs $4 round-trip for adults and $2 round-trip for children 5-12.

Illinois

Great River Road travelers might not know they’re passing a UNESCO World Heritage site when they drive through Collinsville in northwestern Illinois, but nearby Cahokia Mounds has had the notable distinction since 1982. Cahokia Mounds was home to the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico and was occupied between approximately 800-1400, with a population of 10,000 to 20,000 residents at its peak in the 11th and 12th centuries. Today, visitors can see Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas, which rises more than 90 feet over the surrounding landscape.

Motorists along Route 100 near Alton could find themselves face-to-face with a mythological beast. On the bluffs above the Mississippi River in southwestern Illinois, visitors can discover a painting of the Piasa bird, a feared creature among the Illini Native Americans who inhabited the area. First seen by Jacque Marquette in his voyage down the river in 1673, the Piasa (pronounced pie-uh-saw) bird was repainted on the bluffs in the 1990s and greets Great River Road travelers today. 

Missouri

Learn about the life of one of America’s most famous authors in the city of Hannibal in northeastern Missouri. Mark Twain called Hannibal home in his youth, and inspired many of his later tales, including serving as the setting for Tom Sawyer’s adventures. Today, visitors can stroll the historic downtown and visit the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum to learn about the writer’s early life and his experiences in Hannibal, tour the Mark Twain Cave Complex (where the outlaw Jesse James once hid out), and celebrate events like the Twain on Main Festival and National Tom Sawyer Days.

It wouldn’t be a legitimate list of roadside attractions without a “world’s largest” something, so head to Cape Girardeau in southeastern Missouri to find the World’s Largest Fountain Drink Cup outside the Rhodes Convenience Store on Mt. Auburn Road just off Interstate 55. The giant cup stands more than 13 feet high and holds more than 4,700 gallons.

Photo: Travel Wisconsin

Find summer fun along the Great River Road

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

There’s a lot to see and do along the Great River Road all year long, but summer offers an experience Mississippi River road trippers won’t soon forget. Here’s a closer look at some of the outdoor attractions, unique museums, and tasty summer treats you can find along the route.

Beaches, parks & boating

Just south of Wyalusing State Park in western Wisconsin, beachgoers will find the town of Wyalusing’s boat landing and beach, a popular spot for cooling off in the waters of the Mississippi River. The wide beach is also the perfect spot for a riverside picnic on a summer day. Note that there is a slight current and there is no lifeguard on duty, so beachgoers should exercise caution when swimming.

Lake Bruin State Park is a 53-acre park located between the Mississippi River and Lake Bruin in northeastern Louisiana that offers more than 3,000 acres of water to explore, making it a perfect destination for fishing, and watersports. The park also has lakeside camping opportunities, a swimming area, and a water playground.

Shelby Farms Park in east Memphis is massive—it spans more than 4,500 acres and is one of the largest urban parks in the country—and is home to more than 40 miles of trails and 20 bodies of water, as well as a zip line course, playgrounds, horseback riding and much more.

Want to get out on the Mississippi River? Hop on a Padelford Riverboats tour in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and enjoy the scenery along the Upper Mississippi River. Padelford offers several sightseeing and lunch/dinner cruises, as well as themed and holiday cruises.

Attractions & museums

Road trippers traveling along the Great River Road in Missouri shouldn’t miss one of the most iconic attractions along route—Gateway Arch National Park. In addition to the 600-foot arch, visitors can learn about the country’s growth at the Museum of Westward Expansion, which includes unique items from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Country music fans: Make plans to stop in Dyess in northeastern Arkansas to visit the Historic Dyess Colony, a federal agricultural settlement community that was part of the New Deal and happened to be the boyhood home of a country star named Johnny Cash. 

Looking for more music? Clarksdale in northeastern Mississippi is home to the Delta Blues Museum, a facility dedicated to the history of this most American of art forms. Visitors can see the home Muddy Waters lived in as a sharecropper, marvel at the instruments played by legends like John Lee Hooker and B.B. King and learn about the Delta’s most iconic musicians.

Cool treats

Fans of old-time ice cream parlors will hit the jackpot at Lagomarcino’s in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Established in Moline, Illinois, in 1908, Lagomarcino’s is still family-owned to this day, and the store boasts delicious handmade chocolates and other treats, as well as a soda fountain that serves up classic confections and ice cream. Head across the river to find another Lagomarcino’s location in Davenport. 

Another Quad Cities institution, Whitey’s Ice Cream has locations in Moline, Rock Island, and East Moline in Illinois and Davenport, Bettendorf, and Eldridge in Iowa. Chester “Whitey” Lindgren (so nicknamed because of his white-blond hair) opened his first ice cream shop in Moline in 1933, and the franchise has expanded to eight locations throughout the Quad Cities. The menu includes more than 40 flavors of ice cream, as well as shakes and malts, sundaes, and Bostons (a malt or shake with a sundae on top). 

The twin towns of Fulton, Kentucky, and South Fulton, Tennessee, come together every year to celebrate the almighty banana at the annual Banana Festival. (Why bananas? The area was an important railroad stop in the age of refrigerated railcars, and Fulton had the only icehouse on the route to Chicago, meaning fruits like bananas could be more easily transported from New Orleans to destinations in the northern United States). If your summer travel stretches into early fall, head to the Banana Festival in September, which culminates with the creation of a gigantic banana pudding.

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.

22 reasons to drive the Great River Road

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

It’s a new year, the perfect time for a new adventure on the Great River Road. This All-American Road offers everything you need in a road trip, from amazing scenery to engaging history to delicious cuisine. Here are some reasons why you should hit the road along the Mississippi River this year.

  1. Nearly 3,000 miles of road that passes through 10 states’ worth of history, culture, food and beautiful scenery
  2. A chance to visit charming river towns and big cities
  3. The Great River Road is now an All-American Road, a distinct honor from the Federal Highway Administration that acknowledges the road’s significance and one-of-a-kind attractions
  4. A network of nearly 100 Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites & more that tell the story of the river
  5. Stunning scenery all along the drive
  6. See the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where the Mississippi is so narrow you can walk across it
  7. Great music sites like the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi, Beale Street and Graceland in Memphis and New Orleans’ Frenchman Street
  8. National Park sites: Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri); Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota); Effigy Mounds National Monument (Iowa); Arkansas Post National Memorial; Natchez National Historic Park (Mississippi) and more
  9. Chances to get out on the water all along the Great River Road
  10. Head out in September to celebrate Drive the Great River Road Month, one of the best times of the year to make the drive
  11. Incredible local parks and scenic overlooks
  12. Can’t-miss history museums like the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis,  The Cabildo in New Orleans and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis
  13. Local flavors at restaurants, farmers’ markets and more—see some of our fans’ favorites here
  14. Great birdwatching—more than 300 species of birds make their migratory round trip every year via the Mississippi River Flyway
  15. Impressive civil engineering at the more than two dozen locks and dams on the northern Mississippi River
  16. Hidden gems like Arkansas’s World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest & Wings Over the Prairie Festival and Mike the Tiger—a real-live tiger that lives on the campus of Louisiana State University (see more hidden gems here and here)
  17. River cruises—you can find daylong excursions on the backwaters or weekslong cruises on the northern and southern sections of the river
  18. Amazing opportunities to see fall color
  19. UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Cahokia Mounds (Illinois) and Poverty Point (Louisiana)
  20. Opportunities for outdoor recreation all along the route
  21. Great places to learn about the river region’s natural history, like the National Eagle Center and the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
  22. Tasty wineries and breweries all along the route

That’s just a quick look—plan your Great River Road getaway today and find your own reasons to take America’s greatest drive.

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 more cultural attractions along the Great River Road

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Great River Road was recently designated an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration, in part because of the National Scenic Byway’s historic and cultural significance. Here are a few places to visit where you can learn about the people and places that shaped the Mississippi River Region.

Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site, Kentucky

Learn about the sophisticated cultures that called the Mississippi River Valley home at this state historic site just across the river from Cairo, Illinois. The Mississippian (or mound-building) culture called this area home between the years of about 1100 and 1350, and present-day visitors can see several mounds built by these Native peoples at this scenic site. There is also a museum that features exhibits of items excavated from the archaeological site, including Mississippian pottery, stone tools and other artifacts. The Ceremonial Mound—the largest at the site—offers a spectacular view of the Mississippi River and surrounding bluffs.

Learn more about Wickliffe Mounds here.

Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin

One of Wisconsin’s oldest state parks, this stunning natural area sits 500 feet above the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers just south of Prairie du Chien. The park is well-known for its natural beauty, with several stunning vistas of the river valleys below, and dozens of animal and bird species, including deer, beaver, fox, eagles, owls, and songbirds, make their home in the park. Wyalusing State Park—the name means “of the warrior” in the Lenape language of the tribes who lived in the region—is also home to the Wyalusing State Park Mounds Archaeological District, a collection of several Native American burial mounds that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Learn more about Wyalusing State Park here.

Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas

Located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, this historic site is the home of the first semi-permanent French settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley—a trading post called “Poste de Arkansea” established in 1686 at the Quapaw village of Ostouy. Arkansas Post has served as a gathering place for the French, Spanish and Americans in the centuries since, and by 1819, it was a thriving river port and was selected as the first capital of the Arkansas Territory. Today, travelers can explore the visitor center and museum to view exhibits on the site’s history, explore Arkansas Post’s historic town site via walking trails and even see historic weapons demonstrations.

Learn more about Arkansas Post National Memorial here.

Mississippi River towns, Minnesota

A trip along the southern part of Minnesota’s section of the Great River Road is a trip through history. These cities depended on the Mississippi River for their livelihood, and signs of these towns’ prominence in the late 19th and early 20th century can still be seen today. Hastings is home to two historic districts: the East Second Street Commercial Historic District, which includes 35 structures built between 1860 and 1900, and the West Second Street Residential Historic District, consisting of more than a dozen homes built in the 19th century. Red Wing—home to the famous boot company of the same name—has five historic districts, and the St. James Hotel, which was built in 1874, is one of the only hotels of its size and character still in operation along the river in Minnesota. Other river towns of note include Wabasha (Minnesota’s oldest city) and Winona (known for its historic downtown and attractions like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum).