Uniquely Iowa Great River Road stops

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Great River Road travels 328 miles through Iowa, along national wildlife refuges, past historic sights and through some of Iowa’s oldest communities. Some of the Mississippi’s most dramatic lookouts are on this section of the road and there are some memorable sights along the route. Here are a few of our favorite stops.

Pikes Peak State Park

This northern Iowa state park is one of the most photographed areas in the entire state. Trek to the top of the 500-foot bluffs and you’ll see why—you’ll take in a breathtaking view of the meeting of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers.

Historic Dubuque

Just across the Mississippi River from the Wisconsin/Iowa border, the city of Dubuque offers something for every traveler. Dubuque’s charming downtown is filled with historic buildings and has gone through a revival in recent years, with a thriving arts scene and some of the region’s tastiest restaurants. Take in a dramatic view of downtown with a ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway, 296 feet in length, elevating passengers 189 feet from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

More than 200 earthen mounds are located within the boundaries of Effigy Mounds National Monument, located in Harpers Ferry. Taking the shapes of a bird, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle or panther, these mounds were built 750 to 1,400 years ago for ceremonial purposes. The best way to tour the 2,526-acre park is hiking along the 14 miles of trails that wind their way throughout the landscape. A film at the visitor center provides an excellent introduction.

Putnam Museum

Visit this Davenport museum to learn about everything from ancient Egypt to outer space. Don’t miss the Hall of Mammals–travel from an artic glacier to an African waterhole, and check out who’s come for a drink. Not only will you see these animals in their natural habitats, you’ll hear them too!

Snake Alley

Iowa happens to be home to the “crookedest street in the world.” Don’t miss Burlington’s Snake Alley, which was built in 1894 with locally fired bricks. It’s reminiscent of vineyard paths in France and Germany

The Sawmill Museum

Timber! Discover Clinton’s lumber heritage in this fascinating museum. Kids – and adults who are young at heart – can visit a recreated 1888 lumberjack camp and play the part of a lumberjack. See a restored 1920s sawmill in action, take a ride on the Midwest Lumber Train and meet Clinton’s lumber barons.

See a full list of Iowa Great River Road attractions.

Celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Great River Road

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

We’re celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Great River Road! Join us in 2018 on a trip along one of America’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byways, where you’ll discover the rich history and culture of the Mississippi River region.

The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River through 10 states, from the wilds of northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the route, you’ll find unparalleled scenic beauty, delicious regional cuisine, lively music and much more.

Planning a trip along the Great River Road in 2018? Here are a few resources to help you on your trip:

Must-see attractions in the Show Me State

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Great River Road in Missouri treats travelers to a rich mix of culture and natural heritage. This is the midpoint of the route, and you’ll find a lot to discover, from the roots of Mark Twain to the inspiring sight of an iconic national monument. Here’s a bit of what you’ll find in Missouri.

Hannibal

As Mark Twain once said (according to legend), “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A prematurely published obituary allegedly triggered Twain’s comment, but it holds true in Hannibal, a place that still celebrates the great American author who was born by the name Samuel Clemens. In Hannibal you can see where Twain lived and learn about his early days at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. And, if you’re in town on the Fourth of July, be sure to catch National Tom Sawyer Days, which features a fence-painting competition, a frog jumping contest and a “Tom & Becky” contest.

Saint Louis Art Museum

An impressive building created for the 1904 World’s Fair, the Saint Louis Art Museum (or SLAM, as it’s affectionately known) houses one of America’s great art museums. It boasts more than 33,000 works, covering everything from ancient Egypt to contemporary American art. It contains at least six pieces (including Max Beckmann and Matisse pieces) that Nazis removed from their own museums because they believed the pieces to be “degenerate”; fortunately they escaped destruction. You can see these impressive pieces and others for free; there is no admission charge for the museum, thanks to a subsidy from a local cultural tax.

The Gateway Arch

You can’t miss the opportunity to travel to the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch when you’re in town. A trip to the top of the 630-foot architectural wonder will put you at the highest point in downtown St. Louis, and, if it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view. (Be sure to take in the exhibits at the Arch to learn more about the history of St. Louis and the Arch itself, too.)

New Madrid Historical Museum

Long ago, massive earthquakes once struck in this part of the country, briefly causing the Mississippi River to run backwards. In 1811 and 1812, the river town of New Madrid in Missouri’s southeastern corner experienced three significant earthquakes, all with magnitudes of 7.5 or above. The quakes could be felt as far away as New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. You can learn more about this unique seismic event and more at the New Madrid Historical Museum, which also has an interesting collection of Native American and Civil War artifacts.

18 reasons to travel the Great River Road in 2018

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

If you’re planning a road trip this year, consider a voyage along the Great River Road, which follows the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Travelers will find delicious dining, unique attractions, welcoming river towns and more along the Great River Road, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2018.

Here are 18 reasons to drive the Great River Road in 2018.

  1. There are 10 states to explore. Whether you’re cruising through rugged northern Minnesota or exploring the Mississippi Delta, you’ll discover countless places for new adventures in the states along the Great River Road.
  2. Mouth-watering cuisine. Beignets and gumbo in New Orleans. Fish fry and cheese curds in Wisconsin. Barbeque in Memphis and St. Louis. Bring your appetite—there’s food to please any palate along the Great River Road.
  3. Educational museums. Learn about the ecology, history and culture of the Mississippi River region at nearly 80 official Interpretive Centers along the route.
  4. Outstanding outdoor recreation. The Great River Road isn’t just for driving—travelers can find good biking, fishing, paddling and more.
  5. You’ll learn about important moments in American history at sites like Vicksburg (Miss.) National Military Park or the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.
  6. Beautiful views. You’ll find beautiful scenic overlooks on both sides of the Mississippi River, especially along the northern half of the Great River Road.
  7. Music, music and more music. Whether you’re visiting Graceland and Sun Studio in Memphis or paying tribute to blues music’s founders in the Delta, music lovers will be singing a sweet song as they explore the Great River Road. Find more river attractions here.
  8. The mighty Mississippi. Along many sections of the Great River Road, you’ll be side-by-side with America’s most iconic river. Travelers will also find several parks and scenic overlooks, as well as opportunities to explore the river via boat, canoe or kayak.
  9. From farmers’ markets to specialty food shops, there are agritourism attractions aplenty along the Great River Road.
  10. Boating and cruises. It’s easy to actually get out on the Mississippi River via boat tours, canoes and kayaks.
  11. If you need help, we’ve got great resources. You can order a free 10-state map to help plan your trip.
  12. We’ve also got a free Drive the Great River Road app (recently updated) to help you navigate your route.
  13. Friendly communities. Up and down the river, you’ll be welcomed in towns and cities large and small, all accustomed to hosting visitors.Natchez Bridge
  14. Locks & dams. There are more than two dozen locks and dams on the northern half of the Mississippi River, and many of them are open for tours. It’s also fun to just pull over and watch barges as they make their way through these impressive structures. Find information on locks and dams here.
  15. It’s a trip through the heart of America. From friendly riverside communities along the northern stretch of the river to iconic cities like St. Louis and New Orleans farther south, you’ll take a voyage through the cultural, historical and culinary center of America.
  16. If you’re a birder, you’ll see plenty of feathered friends. The Great River Road cuts through the Mississippi Flyway, the migration route followed by nearly half of all shorebirds and waterfowl in North America.
  17. You can do a section of road or the whole thing. With 10 states to explore, your Great River Road trip can cover as much or as little ground as you want.
  18. You can literally walk across the start of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park.

Here’s to a great adventure on the Great River Road in 2018!

Uncover America’s story

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway is more than an iconic driving destination. It’s a route that will help you explore America’s rich story. The pilot’s wheel signs along the road will guide you along this journey, leading you to a network of Interpretive Centers, where you’ll learn about the important people and places along the Mississippi River. As you plan your next trip on the Great River Road, make plans to visit some of these centers.

History

The Mississippi River has a long and rich history. Interpretive centers detail the region’s Native American History—in Collinsville, Illinois, you can explore the remains of the most sophisticated native civilization north of Mexico at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. In Minneapolis, learn about the Twin Cities’ history as a flour mill capital with immersive, interesting exhibits at the Mill City Museum. Visit the home of Wisconsin’s first millionaire at Villa Louis.

Music

In Mississippi, explore the heritage of blues country. Visit the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale to see the sharecropper home of Muddy Waters and guitars played by many blues greats. Learn about the Arkansas Delta and its connection to blues music and American culture at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas.

Wildlife

The Great River Road is a premier birding route—it traces the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the path of the Mississippi River. About 40 percent of North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds follow the flyway, including bald eagles. Visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, to get a close look at these majestic creatures.

Geology

In northeastern Iowa, travelers will encounter impressive bluffs, hills and valleys along the Mississippi River. Learn about the geology, limnology and archeology of this unique region at the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

Find more Interpretive Centers.

Uncover America’s story

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway is more than an iconic driving destination. It’s a route that will help you explore America’s rich story. The pilot’s wheel signs along the road will guide you along this journey, leading you to a network of Interpretive Centers, where you’ll learn about the important people and places along the Mississippi River. As you plan your next trip on the Great River Road, make plans to visit some of these centers.

History

The Mississippi River has a long and rich history. Interpretive centers detail the region’s Native American History—in Collinsville, Illinois, you can explore the remains of the most sophisticated native civilization north of Mexico at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. In Minneapolis, learn about the Twin Cities’ history as a flour mill capital with immersive, interesting exhibits at the Mill City Museum. Visit the home of Wisconsin’s first millionaire at Villa Louis.

Music

In Mississippi, explore the heritage of blues country. Visit the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale to see the sharecropper home of Muddy Waters and guitars played by many blues greats. Learn about the Arkansas Delta and its connection to blues music and American culture at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas.

Wildlife

The Great River Road is a premier birding route—it traces the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the path of the Mississippi River. About 40 percent of North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds follow the flyway, including bald eagles. Visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, to get a close look at these majestic creatures.

Geology

In northeastern Iowa, travelers will encounter impressive bluffs, hills and valleys along the Mississippi River. Learn about the geology, limnology and archeology of this unique region at the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

Find more Interpretive Centers.

Four reasons to be thankful about the Great River Road

Monday, November 06, 2017

If you spend a little time on the Great River Road, you can’t help falling in love. The route traces the heart of America and welcomes travelers with the historical and cultural riches of a country unlike any other. There are probably as many reasons to be thankful for this route as there are travelers, but here are a few reasons why so many return to this beautiful byway.

Music

The Mississippi Delta is Blues country, and the route is your ticket to the show. Start by taking a trip through the Magnolia State and drive through the land of legends. Here are some of the sights you won’t want to miss.

Rural beauty

The Mississippi River Valley offers spectacular scenery that changes dramatically along the route. Northern stretches will take you through forests and past towering bluffs. As you head south into states like Kentucky, you’ll encounter historic Native American sites as well as beautiful riverside parks and natural areas.

Beautiful birds

Look up, when you’re on the Great River Road and you’ll likely find you have company. This Great River Road travels along the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route used by 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. There are abundant birding locations along the route; here are a few good bets.

Interpretive Centers

There are more than 70 designated Interpretive Centers on the route, including national museums, monuments and historical parks. Learn about the region’s rich cultural and natural history as you travel the route. See a detailed listing of the centers here.

See the Great River Road in the New York Times!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an engaging, expansive feature about the Great River Road. 

Travel writer Peter Kujawinski’s piece, “Along the Mississippi,” recounts a family road trip along the Great River Road from Illinois to Mississippi. He highlights several stops along the route, including interpretive centers in Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and many other states.

Kujawinski also mentions the Mississippi River Parkway Commission’s free 10-state Great River Road map.

Our guide during the entire trip was a surprisingly useful – and free – foldout map of the Great River Road, published by the Mississippi River Parkway Commission. It identified interpretive centers connected to the byway in each state along the river. These were a mix of museums, historic sites, nature centers and other attractions.

Order your copy today!

Read more of Kujawinski’s reflections on his trip here, or peruse our itineraries to find one that matches your interests.

Happy driving!

Fall color hotspots

Friday, October 13, 2017

Peak fall colors are arriving in the northern states along the Mississippi River. The Great River Road will take you through the heart of this splendor, passing some spectacular lookouts along the way. See a listing of scenic overlooks here. And here are some of the spots where fall colors are spectacular this month.

Garvin Heights Park, Winona, Minnesota

Take the mile and a half road up the bluff side to get to the scenic overlook of Winona and all its beautiful fall colors. This is an ideal place for a picnic on a warmer day. Hikers can explore beautiful trails that trace the ledges of the bluffs. Or bring your bike and try to bike up the bluff – it’s such a challenging ride that Tour de France winner Greg LeMond trained here!

Buena Vista Park, Trail & Overlook, Alma, WI

This great spot overlooking the Mississippi is located 30 minutes north of Winona. Better Homes & Gardens Magazine named this one of the river valley’s “finest natural balconies.” The lookout towers 500 feet above tree-lined Alma and the Mississippi River Valley. Watch the barges and boats travel through the lock & dam, do some birdwatching, watch the sun set over the river!

Falconer Vineyards, Red Wing, MN

Here you can enjoy a glass of wine with your fall colors. There are more than a dozen varieties of wines to choose from, including whites, reds, rosé, dessert wines. The winery overlooks a gorgeous vineyard and is nestled in the bluff valleys, surrounded by beautiful fall colors. Stay for the sunset here – the bistro offers pizza for dinner!

Mt. Hosmer Park, Lansing, Iowa

This park is located on a bluff that towers 450 feet above Lansing. It offers a panoramic overlook of 50 miles of the Mississippi River Valley and its fall foliage. There’s also some beautiful hiking and biking trails here. While in Lancing, check out one of the newest Great River Road Interpretive Center – the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center.

Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque, Iowa

Here you’ll find the world’s shortest, steepest elevator ride. The elevator was originally built to help people who lived in the bluffs get home more quickly than driving their horse and buggy.  The ride is about 300 feet long but takes you 189 feet up. Below you’ll see a spectacular view of Dubuque’s historic business district, the Mississippi River and three states!

Discover Mississippi’s blues country

Monday, October 09, 2017

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale

Blues country awaits you in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Take a musical trip through the Magnolia State and discover the best of Mississippi blues country.

Here are some sights you shouldn’t miss.

  • “The Crossroads” in Clarksdale, Miss. is where blues legend Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for amazing guitar skill. Make your own deal at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49 Learn more.
  • Dockery Farms in Cleveland was founded in 1895 to produce cotton but it produced something much more important. Musical legend BB King dubbed this place the “birthplace of the blues.” African American workers here helped inspire the creation of blues music. Learn more.
  • Located in the historic Clarksdale freight depot, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale houses the sharecropper cabin where Muddy Waters lived, the sign from the juke joint where Robert Johnson was poisoned and other fascinating artifacts. Learn more.
  • Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale is alive every Wednesday through Saturday night with today’s top Delta acts. The club is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman. Learn more.
  • Want to take a deeper trip into Mississippi’s blues history? Check out the Mississippi Blues Trail, which features museums, trail markers and more that will lead you into this rich American tradition.