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.

Four reasons to travel the Great River Road

Friday, September 01, 2017

September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a perfect time to explore the best scenic driving route in America. The seasons are changing and the beauty on the road is simply unforgettable. In the northern stretches of the route, fall is in full swing and leaves are turning brilliant shades of red, yellow and gold. Further south along the route, humidity of the summer is giving way to perfect fall weather. 

And don’t forget: you can enter the Drive the Great River Road Month Sweepstakes for a chance to win $500 for your next road trip!

Need any more reasons to drive the route this month? Here are four:

Interpretive centers

Along the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase the culture and history of the river. Learn about the area’s rich Native American history, explore the boyhood history of Mark Twain, sample the nation’s brewing traditions, see majestic eagles in flight and more. Learn about the route’s interpretive centers here.

This Labor Day weekend, be sure to check out Snapchat filters at select interpretive centers and attractions along the Great River Road. You can find them at:

  • Itasca State Park, Minnesota
  • Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin
  • Villa Kathrine, Quincy, Illinois
  • Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
  • Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky
  • Arkansas Welcome Center on Lake Chicot in Lake Village, Arkansas
  • Discovery Park, Union City, Tennessee
  • Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana

Birdwatching

Migratory birds are on the move, heading south along the Mississippi Flyway, a migratory route that follows the Mississippi River through the United States. The river offers rich habitat for birds, and birders flock to the route every fall to take in the show. Learn about planning your Great River Road birding adventure here.

Fall color & agritourism

The Great River Road offers some of the heartland’s most spectacular scenery. It’s lined with parks and overlooks that are wonderful places to take in the season’s beauty. River bluffs are popular photography spots this time of year. It’s also an ideal time to stop by one of the many wineries and apple orchards along the route. See a listing of agritourism attractions here.

Events

There’s a lot happening along the Great River Road in the fall. Catch an NFL game in Minnesota or Louisiana, a blues concert in Tennessee or Mississippi, a farmers’ market in Iowa, a hoedown in Kentucky, a fall festival in Wisconsin, an Oktoberfest celebration in Illinois or a music festival in Arkansas. The options for fun are almost limitless this fall!

Where to watch the solar eclipse on the Great River Road

Monday, August 07, 2017

On Aug. 21, a large swath of the Great River Road will go dark in the middle of the day. This year’s total solar eclipse is a remarkable natural phenomenon that’s drawing people from around the world to states along the Mississippi River, and events are planned for many communities on or near the Great River Road in the “path of totality”—that is, where a total solar eclipse is visible.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in some communities along the Great River Road and in nearby counties.

Illinois

Waterloo: Solarbration, Monroe County Fairgrounds. Live music, food and more.

Carbondale: Variety of events planned; learn more here.

 

Missouri

Chesterfield: Head to the Chesterfield Amphitheater for the TOTALITY Solar Eclipse event. Live music, food trucks, a micro brew village, vendors, games, educational sessions and more.

Arnold: The community of Arnold has a weekend of events planned at its Total Solar Eclipse Party on Aug. 19-21.

Festus: Travel to West City Park for a special eclipse event on Aug. 21, including informational presentations and more. More information here.

Cape Girardeau: Witness the first total eclipse visible in Cape Girardeau in more than 750 years (yes, really) from the Cape Sportsplex. Learn more here.

Perryville: Perryville welcomes visitors at its Solarfest event on Aug. 18-19 before the main event on Monday. Find more information here.

Kentucky

Kentucky Great River Road: Communities like Barlow, Wickliffe, and Columbus are offering events all weekend long leading up to the eclipse. Head to the Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site for a fun weekend of events. Find more events along the Kentucky Great River Road.

A Mississippi River musical adventure

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A drive along the Great River Road will take you through a region steeped with musical history and tradition. Head into the southern states along the river to discover rich musical heritage that is preserved in the Great River Road Interpretive Centers, local festivals and lively venues. Sound like a good time? Here are three states to hit on your next musical adventure.

Louisiana

Louisiana is a rich gumbo of musical traditions, including Cajun, Dixieland, Jazz, Blues, Country and Rock ‘n Roll. Head to the heart of New Orleans for a big helping of Louisiana’s musical offerings.

This famous hot spot is as famous for partying as it is for its live Jazz. Join the crowd and sample live music from great clubs like Fritzel’s European Jazz Club, Funky Butt, and Palm Court Jazz Café and iconic Preservation Hall.

Mississippi

The State of Mississippi gave birth to of Delta Blues, a style which is widely considered to be the progenitor of all other forms of the Blues.

Mississippi is Blues country and you’ll find Blues-related attractions, including Tunica’s Bluesville Showcase Night Club. A good place to begin your Mississippi Blues journey is the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale.

Tennessee

Tennessee is another state steeped in musical history. Memphis is called the “Birthplace of the Blues” and is home to Beale Street, Tennessee’s most-visited attraction. See live blues music while enjoying a beverage and eating some of the region’s best ribs. Before leaving town, head to Graceland to see the famous estate of Elvis Presley.

Summer biking on the Great River Road

Monday, June 05, 2017

The summer biking season is here and it’s the perfect time to experience one of the greatest places to ride in America. Cyclists from around the world explore the Great River Road for good reason – it’s a route that travels through the heart of America, following the course of the mighty and iconic Mississippi River.

And right now, we’re giving away a chance to win $250 and some Great River Road gear for your next ride along the river! Enter today!

A ride on the Great River Road will take you along country roads, trails and levees, and on the way you’ll experience the remarkable history, culture and geography of the United States. Here are a few ways to enjoy the Great River Road by bike.

Weekend tours

Looking for adventure? Go for a bike tour on the Great River Road. The route is lined with bike friendly hotels and campgrounds so you’re never far from lodging. The route covers both sides of the river so loop routes are possible via bridges or ferries.

Trail rides

Pick a path! The Great River road is flanked by numerous bike trails perfect for a summer spin. Many of these trails are built on old rail beds that connected the river to the interior of the country. They provide flat, easy riding and are appropriate for riders of all ages and abilities.

Race getaways

If you have a need for speed, you can find it in the cities that line the Great River Road. You can find criteriums, road races, as well as multisport events like duathlons and triathlons. It’s a great excuse to head south – or north – with your crew. The climate changes significantly along the route so you can find ideal riding conditions.

Family spins

The Great River Road is a perfect place for a ride with the kids. There are plenty of parks with restrooms along the route that are good places to start a ride. There are also lots of places to get ice cream along the river, so there’s something sweet to look forward to at the end of the ride!

To explore biking opportunities on the Great River Road, check out these state travel links:

Scenic views along the Great River Road

Monday, May 08, 2017

Some of the most dramatic views of the heartland can be found along the Mississippi. In Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, towering bluffs allow travelers to take in sweeping views of the river and farms and forests below. They are great places to visit to go for a hike, have a picnic or simply pause to take in the view.

Here are some awe-inspiring spots to take in the scenery.

Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

This forested Wisconsin State Park is located where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River. From the top of 500-foot cliffs you can see for miles.

Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin

From this 600-foor bluff you can take in the city of La Crosse and the rolling landscape referred to as the Coulee Region. You can see three states from this vantage point – Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona, Minnesota.

This preserve features steep-sided 500-foot bluffs. Hike the King’s Bluff trail to discover a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River Valley.

Wyalusing State Park, Bagley, Wisconsin

This park offers a 500-foor view of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers as well as Native American burial mounds.

Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa.

This park’s 500-foot bluffs offer fantastic views of the river valley from the Iowa side. It’s one of the most photographed spots in Iowa.

How to plan a Great River Road birding adventure

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Great River Road is one of the nation’s premier birding routes. The 3,000-mile National Scenic Byway traces the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the Mississippi River through the United States. Some birds that use this route travel from as far away as Patagonia to the south and the Arctic Ocean to the north. For birds, it’s an ideal long-haul route as the river provides plenty of food and habitat. For bird lovers, the route offers an unparalleled way to see a spectacular number of North American birds.

Here are some tips for planning your Great River Road adventure.

# Plan to visit the locks and dams. Eagles and shore birds can be spotted on these structures on the river so they make excellent viewing spots. See a list of locks and dams here.

# Check out the Interpretive Centers. The Great River Road’s network of Interpretive Centers offer a chance to learn about the habitat and history of the Mississippi region. Some also have invaluable local birding advice.

# Look for the lookouts. The great River Road has some spectacular scenic overlooks that are perfect spots to watch migratory flocks. Many have adjacent trails that offer additional birdwatching opportunities.

# Use the Great River Road’s navigational tools. The free Great River Road map is a full-color map with helpful information about the entire route. Order your free copy today! Download the fun and easy Drive the Great River Road app for additional information about the route.

# Enter the Birding Bonanza Giveaway. You could win $250 for a birding tip along the Great River Road!

Here are some good bets for birdwatching along the Great River Road.

Itasca State Park. The home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in Minnesota, hosts birds in its boreal forests and mixed hardwoods. Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest park. With 222 species found here, it’s also one of Minnesota’s premier birding locations.

Reelfoot Lake State Park. Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake was created by a series of earthquakes in the early 1800s and today is a magnificent wildlife viewing and birding location. You’ll find many varieties of shore and wading birds here and white pelicans and eagles pay seasonal visits to the park.

National Eagle Center. Want to get up close and personal with an eagle? Pay a visit to Wabasha, Minn., where you can meet bald and golden eagles at daily demonstrations or take a look at eagles perched above the Mississippi River from the observation deck.

Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge—located in southeastern Arkansas—was created in 1935 specifically to protect migratory birds. Birders can find countless species among the beautiful forests and lakes.

Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. In western Kentucky near Benton, this 8,500-acre refuge contains bottomland hardwood forests used by over 200 species of neotropical songbirds for a migration stopover spot or for nesting.