Scenic spots on the Great River Road

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Great River Road was named one of the country’s newest All-American Roads this year, meaning it’s one of the very best of America’s National Scenic Byways. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the region’s rich history, culture and heritage, but don’t miss this simple fact: the drive is incredibly scenic. Here are some photo-worthy stops along the route you should visit on your next trip.

big river crossing AR -credit-big river strategic initiative llc

Big River Crossing, Arkansas/Tennessee

Take in views of the Mississippi River from the Big River Crossing, a railroad bridge-turned-pedestrian walkway that connects Memphis, Tennessee, with West Memphis, Arkansas. Big River Crossing is nearly a mile long, making it the longest public pedestrian bridge across the mighty river. It’s open daily from 6am to 10pm and accessible to walkers and bicyclists. Keep your eyes peeled for the nightly light show, held hourly from sunset to 10pm.

Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, Illinois

This site in Hartford marks the location of Camp River Dubois, which served as the winter home for the explorers from December 1803 to May 1804 as they prepared for their famous journey. The site includes a 14,000-square-foot Interpretive Center and reconstructed cabins and other buildings. A great view of the area can be found at the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower about a mile to the north of the historic site.

Mines of Spain & E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, Iowa

This 1,400-acre property just south of Dubuque was where Native Americans and European settlers mined lead for hundreds of years (the name comes from a land grant European settler Julien Dubuque received from the Governor of Spain in 1796) and is now a popular site for outdoor exploration. A monument honoring Dubuque overlooks the Mississippi River, and the spot offers outstanding views of the surrounding region.

Jackson Square, Louisiana 

New Orleans is alive with history and culture, and it’s got some can’t-miss photo opportunities. In the heart of the city’s French Quarter, Jackson Square—originally known as Place d’Armes—faces the northern banks of the Mississippi River, where visitors can see paddle wheelers, barges and more making their way along the river. Jackson Square is surrounding by iconic buildings, including the St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere and Cabildo Museums, as well as the Pontalba Apartments, the oldest apartment buildings in the United States (now a combination of shops, restaurants, galleries and yes, apartments).

buena vista WI

Buena Vista, Wisconsin 

The town of Alma on the Wisconsin Great River Road is filled with rich history (it was established in the 1840s, became a village in 1868 and is designated as a National Historic District), but it also offers one of the best views of the Mississippi River. Head to the top of the 500-foot bluffs that loom over this charming river town to find the Buena Vista Overlook, a small park that offers outstanding views of the river from a natural viewing platform.

Explore natural beauty along the Great River Road

Friday, April 16, 2021

Some of the most beautiful scenery in America can be found in the Mississippi River Valley, and the Great River Road is the route that will take you there. You’ll pass scores of gorgeous parks and natural areas—here are some of the finest that offer a chance to experience nature on and off the water.

Reminder: Local and state safety regulations may lead to reduced hours or changes in operations. Please contact specific businesses or attractions for more information before you visit.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

In this important national park in Iowa, you’ll find more than 200 earthen effigy mounds. Taking the shapes of a bird, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle or panther, these mounds were built by Native Americans 750 to 1,400 years ago for ceremonial purposes. The best way to tour the 2,526-acre park is to hike along the 14 miles of trails that wind their way through the landscape of forests, tallgrass prairies and wetlands. Along the way you’ll see some dramatic views of the Mississippi River.

Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky

Discover a mix of natural beauty and history at this gorgeous Kentucky state park. The park is uniquely educational, standing as a National Trail of Tears Site, and featuring a museum highlighting Civil War history—it was once a civil War hospital. Visitors can enjoy the natural wonders of Kentucky by camping out at one of the park’s 38 sites and hiking along picturesque bluffs of the Civil War Heritage Trail. 

Mississippi River State Park, Arkansas

Adventure awaits in this family-friendly park in Marianna. The park is popular for fishing, boating and kayaking excursions. The park is located within the 3,000-acre St. Francis National Forest, and there are seven bodies or water to explore. You’ll also find scenic hiking trails, welcoming picnic facilities and two swimming beaches.

Black Hawk State Historic Site, Illinois

Along the Rock River in Rock Island, Illinois, you’ll find the Black Hawk State Historic Site. It’s a wooded, steeply rolling 208-acre park that has a scenic 3-mile hiking trail that will take you along the Rock River and through a nature preserve. Prehistoric Indians and 19th century settlers made their homes here, but the area is most closely identified with the Sauk Nation and the warrior-leader Black Hawk. Discover the history of Black Hawk and the Sauk and Meskwaki people by visiting the park’s John Hauberg Museum.

Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana

Hike through time, history and natural beauty at this important site in Louisiana. Poverty Point is the location of a massive earthen structure that was built thousands of years ago. Archaeologists are still uncovering its secrets, but it’s believed to be an ancient residential, trade and ceremonial center. The site features a 2.7-mile trail that will take you through this amazing place and past carpets of seasonal wildflowers.  

Discover ancient cultures and engaging history on the Great River Road

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

To travel the Great River Road is to travel through the history of the people and cultures of the Mississippi River. Marvel at a once-massive ancient city created by the mound-building people of southern Illinois, see the agricultural settlement where a young Johnny Cash spent his formative years, and learn about an important battle in Civil War history.

Reminder: Local and state safety regulations may lead to reduced hours or changes in operations. Please contact specific businesses or attractions for more information before you visit.

Lakeport Planation

Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism

Lakeport Planation

Built in 1859, Lakeport Plantation sits just a short distance from the banks of the Mississippi River in Lake Village, Arkansas. It’s the last remaining Mississippi River plantation home in Arkansas and is considered one of the state’s top historic structures. Exhibits in the home tell the stories of the people who lived and worked on the plantation, as well as how the home was restored to its original condition. Tours are available Monday through Friday year-round and also on Saturdays in the winter.
Learn more.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

(Photo courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Drive to Collinsville, Illinois—just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis—and you’ll find one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the Great River Road. Cahokia Mounds was inhabited for about 700 years from 700 to 1400 AD, and it its peak, was home to 10,000 to 20,000 people. The inhabitants built more than 120 mounds on the site, which covers more than 6 square miles. An interpretive center and tours help visitors learn more about this fascinating site.
Learn more.

Historic Dyess Colony

Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism

Historic Dyess Colony

The Dyess Colony in northeastern Arkansas was created as a federal agricultural settlement as part of the New Deal in 1934, giving a new start to hundreds of poor farming families in the state. One of those families, the Cashes had a son, Johnny, who went on to become one of the most notable names in American music. Several of the colony’s buildings have been restored and are open to visitors, including the Johnny Cash Boyhood home.
Learn more.

Columbus-Belmont State Park
Columbus-Belmont State Park

This 156-acre site in Kentucky is the site of a Confederate fortification, and the Battle of Belmont—fought here in 1861—marked the beginning of the Union’s Western campaign. The battle for the fort, which had blocked the Union forces looking to travel south on the Mississippi River, was the first real action for Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. The site is also home to a Civil War Museum, and visitors can see the massive chain and anchor that was meant to prevent Union ships from passing.
Learn more.

Delta Cultural Center

Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism

Delta Cultural Center

The Arkansas Delta has made immense contributions to American culture, blues music and more—hear the stories of Delta residents at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas. Exhibits and guided tours educate visitors about the people and history of this region. The Delta Cultural Center is also home to “King Biscuit Time,” a live daily blues broadcast that has been on the air for nearly 80 years.
Learn more.

Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site

Discover the history of the Mississippian—or mound-building—native culture that called this area home at Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site in Kentucky. This site was home to a Native American village from about 1100 to 1350, and visitors to the historic site can walk interpretive archaeological trails, learn about the culture that lived here and see artifacts and tools at the Wickliffe Mounds museum, which has been open to the public since 1932.
Learn more.

Fort de Chartres State Historic Site

This French fort was constructed nearly 300 years ago on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, south of St. Louis. It served as a base for French soldiers during their occupation of what is today Illinois.. Interpretive signage guides visitors around the site, and on weekends, costumed interpreters offer additional information and reenactments.
Learn more.

Fort Jefferson Hill Park and Memorial Cross

Fort Jefferson was established in 1780 on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River a mile south of the present-day city of Wickliffe, Kentucky. The fort, which was only occupied for a short time, was intended to protect the western border of the then-newfound United States. The cross towers 95 feet high above the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers andcan be seen from three states. Fort Jefferson is also a Lewis and Clark Expedition historic site.
Learn more.

Sultana Disaster Museum

Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism

Sultana Disaster Museum

The greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history occurred on the Mississippi River in Arkansas in 1865. The Sultana, a Civil War-era steamboat, exploded on April 27, 1865, killing more than 1,200 people aboard. Among the dead were Union soldiers who had been released from prison camps in Andersonville and Cahaba. Learn about this oft-overlooked disaster at the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion.
Learn more.

Great River Road receives All-American Road designation

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Great River Road, the National Scenic Byway dedicated to the Mississippi River, has received notice that eight of its states’ byways have been designated “All-American Roads” by the Federal Highway Administration.

To receive the All-American Road designation, a byway must be nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. The road or highway must also be considered a “destination unto itself.” It must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make it drive a primary reason for their trip. These roads are considered the very best of America’s National Scenic Byways Program.

The Great River Road claims eight of this year’s 15 All-American Road designations across the country.

See a full list of All-American Road and National Scenic Byway designations here.

“The Great River Road enables travelers to access the stories of America,” said Anne Lewis, Mississippi River Parkway Commission Pilot and board chair. “From big cities to small river towns, through historic sites and interpretive centers, the Great River Road holds the history of America, from native people and immigrant communities to river industry and transportation, and from agriculture to river life ecology. This designation gives credence to why so many people choose to experience the Great River Road every year.”

The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC), a non-profit organization founded to preserve and improve the resources, viability and amenities of the Mississippi River Valley, says the All-American Road status will bring new attention to the Great River Road.

“More attention means more visitors to the 10 great states that line the Mighty Mississippi,” Lewis added. “More travelers equal more money spent in stores, restaurants, hotels and attractions. That economic boost is absolutely vital to the communities of the Great River Road. We look forward to more road trips than ever in 2021!”

More Information about the Great River Road

Created in 1938 and stretching for 3,000 miles through and beside 10 states, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway is the longest such designated roadway and one of the oldest. The 10-state Mississippi River Parkway Commission works to promote and preserve the byway. Travelers planning a journey along the road can order a free 10-state Great River Road map from the Commission or download its free Drive the Great River Road app. Travelers can also find The Great River Road on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

More coverage:

Great River Road in Minnesota wins new distinction from federal government

 

(Photo courtesy of Arkansas.com)

History comes alive on the Great River Road

Friday, January 29, 2021

A trip on America’s greatest drive is a trip through time. Up and down the Mississippi River, historic sites beckon—iconic music venues and the birthplace of blues in Mississippi, the Missouri river town that inspired America’s most famous author, and the historic home of a war hero and president, just to name a few. There’s so much to discover.

Reminder: Local and state safety regulations may lead to reduced hours or changes in operations. Please contact specific businesses or attractions for more information before you visit.

Dockery Plantation

Dockery Plantation was a massive cotton plantation near Cleveland, Mississippi, that employed as many as 2,000 people at its peak. It’s considered to be the place where blues music was born—the plantation was home to such greats as Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. It’s home to several well-preserved buildings, including a vintage service station.

Ground Zero Blues Club

Ground Zero Blues Club

Clarksdale is as close to the epicenter of Blues as you can get in Mississippi. The city’s Delta Blues Museum honors Mississippi as the birthplace of the blues, and you can see amazing live performances at the Ground Zero Blues Club. Following the juke-joint tradition, the club makes its home in the former Delta Grocery and Cotton Company building.

Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum

Mark Twain Boyhood Home Hannibal Missouri

The fascinating life of America’s most famous author can be found in Hannibal, Missouri. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum is in the building once where Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as author Mark Twain, lived from 1844 to 1853. The museum contains artifacts from Twain’s life and interactive exhibits that tell the story of his childhood and the paddleboat era on the Mississippi River, where he took much of his inspiration. 

Felix Vallé House State Historic Site

Felix Vallé House Ste. Genevieve Missouri

Ste. Genevieve in southeastern Missouri is rich in French history. Explore the American influence on this French community at the Felix Vallé House, a carefully preserved Federalist home that’s decorated in the style of the 1830s. It’s part of a collection of historic buildings that are part of the Felix Vallé House State Historic Site.

Ulysses S. Grant Home

Ulysses S. Grant Home Galena Illinois

The Ulysses S. Grant Home in Galena, Illinois is the former home of Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War general who later became 18th President of the United States. The people of Galena gave Grant the home in 1865 in thanks for his service in the war. He became president four years later, cementing the future of the home as a historic site. It’s been open to the public since 1904.

American history awaits on the Great River Road

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Native Americans, European settlers, and Civil Rights struggles—the stories of the 10 states along the Mississippi River are the stories of America, including its triumphs and tragedies. The museums, historical sites and other attractions along the Great River Road preserve this history and share it with visitors.

Reminder: Local and state safety regulations may lead to reduced hours or changes in operations. Please contact specific businesses or attractions for more information before you visit.

Historic Prairie du Chien

Head to the southwestern corner of Wisconsin to find the scenic and historic city of Prairie du Chien. (The city’s name, French for “Prairie of the Dog,” comes from a Fox chief of the same name who lived in the area.) Located just above the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, Praire du Chien was established as a settlement in the 1600s and 1700s and was even the site of Wisconsin’s only battle in the War of 1812. Today, history fans can find historic sites throughout the city, including Villa Louis (the mansion home of Hercules Louis Dousman, Wisconsin’s first millionaire) and the Fort Crawford Museum, which celebrates the historic fort that stood guard over the city from 1816 to 1856.

Jackson Square and The Cabildo

New Orleans’ famous Jackson Square is filled with many historic sites, including the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, but visitors shouldn’t miss The Cabildo. This structure, constructed in the late 1700s after a fire destroyed the original building, was the home of the Spanish municipal government in New Orleans. It served as the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803 and hosted the Louisiana Supreme Court for more than 50 years. In 1994, the Cabildo was reopened to the public and now houses extensive exhibits and collections highlighting the history of New Orleans and Louisiana. 

St. Anthony Falls Historic District

Did you know that there’s only major waterfall on the Mississippi River? It’s true—St. Anthony Falls, which sits just northeast of downtown Minneapolis, was an important site for the region’s Native American tribes and achieved fame in the Western world when Father Louis Hennepin wrote about it in the late 1600s. The river—and the falls—played a key part in establishing Minnesota’s flour milling industry, once the city’s most important industry. Today, visitors can view the falls (after the collapse of the original falls, the Mississippi currently flows over a concrete spillway) and other historic sites around the area, including the Stone Arch Bridge, the Mill City Museum—built into the ruins of a former mill—and Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

One of the most powerful museums in the country can be found at the site of one of its greatest tragedies. Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968, now pays tribute to the slain Civil Rights leader—and the generations before him engaged in the same fight—at the National Civil Rights Museum. A Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum uses interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations to tell the story of the Civil Rights movement from the 17th century to the present. Visitors will get a new perspective on historical icons and movements through more than 250 artifacts, dozens of films, interactive media and more, including the preserved rooms at the motel where King spent his last hours.

Thank you for entering!

Monday, January 11, 2021

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A virtual trip down the Great River Road

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

There’s a lot to discover on America’s greatest driving route. At every bend of the river you’ll find something special—beautiful wildlife and scenery, incredible history, lively attractions and more. While there’s nothing quite like a trip on the open road, virtual experiences can give you a good taste of what it’s like to travel the route from the comfort of your home. So “pack your bags” and check out these virtual experiences on the Great River Road.

Follow Muddy Waters

The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, has a series of virtual exhibits that spotlight the history of this important American musical genre. The exhibits include fascinating details about icons like McKinley Morganfield, best known as Muddy Waters. The museum’s exhibits are of very high quality and have drawn the praise of international travel writers. See the exhibits here.

What bird are you?

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Paul, the Science Museum of Minnesota features 370,000 square feet of exhibit space. It includes a 10,000-square-foot temporary exhibit gallery, five permanent galleries, acres of outdoor space and an Imax Convertible Dome Omnitheater. The museum has a variety of virtual offerings that appeal to science lovers of all ages. The “Which Minnesotan bird are you?” quiz will help you determine if you’re a loon or chickadee!

Behind-the-scenes art tour

Another Minnesota experience of interest to art lovers is the Walker Art Center’s Garden Stories. Through short interactive narratives, this ongoing series created by the famous Minneapolis museum presents behind-the-scenes tours of your favorite outdoor sculptures.

Stroll Oak Alley

On the west bank of the Mississippi River, in the community of Vacherie, Louisiana, is a historic plantation called Oak Alley. It was named after a double row of live oak trees that leads from the mansion to the river. The plantation is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Visit Oak Alley virtually here.

Visit Vicksburg

Vicksburg National Military Park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg. The park, located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, along the Mississippi River, also commemorates the Vicksburg Campaign which led up to the battle. A virtual tour offers a look at the landscape and offers important details of this significant site. Take the Vicksburg Virtual Tour here.

Say hello to a hippo

The popular Memphis Zoo is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 different species. The zoo has been a Memphis fixture for more than a century, welcoming 1.2 million visitors annually. The zoo has live webcams of some of its most popular exhibits. See what the pandas, flamingos, elephants and hippos are up to here.

See birds take flight

The Great River road traces the Mississippi Flyway, a major migratory path for many species of birds. A good place to see these birds on their journey is the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a 261-mile long protected area in and along the Upper Mississippi River. It runs from Wabasha, Minnesota, in the north to Rock Island, Illinois, in the south. There are webcams placed in the refuge so you can see the winged action any time you like. See the webcams here.

Enjoy more scenes from the road

Webcams up and down the Great River Road provide a live view of America’s greatest scenic drive. We’ve assembled a collection of some popular views—see them here.

Why we’re thankful for the Great River Road

Friday, November 06, 2020

America’s greatest scenic drive has introduced generations of travelers to the natural beauty and vibrant culture of the Mississippi region. Everyone who travels this route has their own Great River Road experience and this month, we’re taking time to reflect on some of our favorite things about the byway.

Here are just a few of the things we’re thankful for.

Sweeping vistas

Scenic views of the Mississippi never get old and travelers along the route are treated to some dramatic scenes. All you need to do is pull over and get out your camera. In Trempealeau, Wisconsin, Perrot State Park is located where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River. From the top of 500-foot cliffs you can see for miles. Stunning views can also be found downriver at Pikes Peak State Park in  McGregor, Iowa. A drive will take you up to scenic overlook areas at the top of the park’s 500-foot bluffs. You can see a broad expanse of river and numerous small islands. The park is one of the most photographed spots in Iowa.

Unforgettable meals

Food lovers: the Great River Road will lead you to some of America’s great cuisines. There are so many delicious things to savor on the route. In Wisconsin, a state that celebrates all things dairy, cheese curds rule at roadside restaurants. Order them with the local condiment of choice: ranch dressing. In Arkansas, hot tamales, a Latin American staple, has been the go-to meal for generations. It will be perfect fuel for your road trip in this beautiful state. In Louisiana, you can’t beat a beignet, the state doughnut. It’s best enjoyed slowly, between sips of hot chicory coffee. Learn more about these byway staples here.

Historical wonders

All along the route, you’ll encounter impressive historical sites, including many that predate European settlement. In Arkansas, Parkin Archeological State Park was the site of a former American Indian village from A.D. 1000 to 1600. The village visited by explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. In Illinois, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the remains of the largest and most sophisticated native civilizations north of Mexico. See more historic sites along the routes and other attractions here.

Incredible Interpretive Centers

Along the whole stretch of the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. These Interpretive Centers provide information about the river and the people who call the region home and include historical museums, impressive parks and national monuments. Some interpretive centers you’ll encounter on the route include the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Minnesota, the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi and the Mark Twain Museum Home & Museum in Missouri. Learn more about the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers here.

Support the Great River Road!

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Do you love traveling the Great River Road? So do we! The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC) is a 10-state non-profit organization that helps preserve, promote and enhance the scenic, historic and recreational resources of the Mississippi River, including the Great River Road.

Please fill out the form below to make your tax-deductible donation to the MRPC.