Flavors of the Great River Road: Iowa

Saturday, June 30, 2018

You might associate Iowa with corn fields and cows, and the state sure does have a lot of those. But there’s a lot more to Iowa, including countless local flavors that extend far beyond the realms of corn and dairy. We put together a list of stops along the Mississippi that show just how diverse and delicious the flavors of Iowa are.

North

Places to eat:

Schera’s (Elkader)

Schera’s offers an array of Mediterranean favorites and Iowan classics. The Mediterranean dishes pay homage to the town’s namesake, Algerian leader Emir Adb El Kader. At Schera’s you can get your falafel with a side of fried pickles. Now that’s the best of both worlds.

The Wild Carrot (Waverly)

The upbeat yet cozy atmosphere of The Wild Carrot makes it the perfect place to stop for breakfast or lunch. The menu features American favorites including burgers, cheesesteaks and the dish that made the restaurant famous, carrot cake.

Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ (Bellevue)

Who says Iowans can’t do spicy? If you can’t wait to get down South, Flatted Fifth has you covered. This unique spot offers Southern-inspired dishes like jambalaya, pulled pork and gumbo to keep you on the edge of your seat while you tap your foot to live music.

Things to do:

Osborne Welcome Center (Elkader)

The Osborne Welcome Center is the perfect place to stretch your legs after a trip in the car. Peruse the Native Wildlife Exhibit and learn about Iowa’s many species of plants and animals. Then, take a walk down one of the scenic nature trails for a breath of fresh air before stopping in the gift shop for a souvenir to remember your adventure. Osborne Park is located 5 miles south of Elkader on Highway 13.

Froelich 1890s Village Museum (McGregor)

Step back in time with a tour through this historic gem. See turn-of-the-century inventions, a country store and an old schoolhouse as they were over a century ago. Tours available daily (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Find hours and ticket information here.

South

Places to eat:

Atlas Steak & Smokehouse (Fort Madison)

Atlas Steak & Smokehouse wrote the book on farm-to-table dining. This steakhouse sources its beef from a farm just six miles from its front door. It doesn’t get fresher than that! Located across the street from Riverview Park and Old Fort Madison, Atlas is the perfect place to wine and dine before a sunset walk along the Mississippi. See the menu here.

Wide River Winery (Clinton)

Enjoy live music on the water’s edge. Take in the scenery as you experience wine made on the Mississippi. Check out their website to get info on events and offers. You won’t want to miss their seasonal specials. While you’re there, get a behind-the-scenes look at the facility and learn the art of wine-making.

Rastrelli’s Italian Restaurant (Clinton)

This Italian bistro is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. In fact, people love it so much that Rastrelli’s offers overnight delivery of its pizzas anywhere in the United States. That means you can relive your trip with a taste of one of Iowa’s best Italian restaurants long after your vacation ends. View menu options and learn more about Rastrelli’s on their website.

Things to do:

Blue Hyll Dairy (Clinton)

This dairy farm is home to 1,200 cows and goes through 75 tons of feed every day to keep the animals fed and happy. The family-owned facility has been providing dairy products to restaurants and grocers all over the area for over 50 years, and they are proud to welcome visitors. Check their Facebook page for hours and plan your visit to see the farm in action.

The Sawmill Museum (Clinton)

This one-of-a-kind interpretive center pays tribute to the United States’ lumber industry and emphasizes the pivotal role Clinton played in developing the Midwest. The museum features vintage sawmill equipment and, in July, will open a virtual reality lograft simulator for visitors to experience the Mississippi the way loggers did in the 1800s. Visit their website for hours and ticket information.

 

Flavors of the Great River Road: Tennessee

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Savor the flavors of the South when you explore the Great River Road through Tennessee. From barbecue to bananas—yes, bananas—and everything in between, there’s plenty to whet your appetite.

When it comes to cuisine along Tennessee’s Great River Road, the undisputed king has got to be Memphis. (All apologies to Memphis’ other king, Mr. Presley.) Memphis is a city that boasts history, culture and personality in a bundle that can’t be beat. It has everything to offer from stellar live music venues to can’t-miss historical spots. Among these one-of-a-kind traits are the flavors of Memphis—especially barbecue. Locals have been perfecting their craft for centuries here, making a science out of sweet-and-spicy combos that you can now find in a variety of Memphis-born dishes.

If you’re looking for a twist on some classic barbecue, head over to Central BBQ for their signature BBQ nachos. That’s right—these chips are loaded with your choice of chicken, beef or turkey and topped with barbecue sauce, assorted cheeses, jalapenos and a dusting of BBQ Shake. This favorite has been featured on several foodie blogs and has the local seal of approval.

A critic’s favorite is the dry-rub ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, a diner located across the street from the famous Peabody Hotel. The cooks here have perfected the Memphis tradition of using dry rub instead of barbecue sauce for ribs you’ve only tasted in your dreams.

A food tour through Tennessee wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the sweeter side of the menu. You might be familiar with Elvis Presley’s favorite lunch, a peanut butter and banana sandwich. But did you know that Tennessee actually has a connection to the banana industry? The Kentucky-Tennessee border cities of Fulton and South Fulton were once home to the only facility for distributing bananas to the northern states, so it became known as “The Banana Capital of the World.” Locals are so proud of their role in bringing bananas to the United States that they still celebrate the Annual Banana Festival every September.

If you’re looking to catch a few flavors of your own, head westward from South Fulton to Reelfoot Lake. It’s home to Reelfoot Lake State Park, a nationally renowned fishing destination for anglers going after crappie and bluegill. Plus, Reelfoot Lake—the only natural lake in Tennessee—welcomes visitors at lodging properties like Blue Bank Resort, which offers delicious cuisine at its Fishhouse Restaurant.

Between barbeque and biscuits, sweet teas and sugary treats, Tennnessee is the perfect place for a food tour you won’t forget. Add these stops to your trip and your taste buds will thank you all the way home.

(Photos: Charles Vergos Rendezvous/Facebook)

Experience the flavors of Minnesota’s Great River Road

Monday, June 18, 2018

Celebrate the flavors of the Minnesota Great River Road’s Mississippi River on your next road trip—wild rice and walleye straight from the river are among just a few classic Minnesota flavors. Bonus: you can fish for the state’s treasured walleye in many locations and experience the beautiful Minnesota outdoors at the same time. Choose one of the days below or choose them all… Just leave a “gone fishin’” note and hit the road!

Before you go: Place your order for Native American-harvested wild rice online from the White Earth Nation and gather inspiration from the recipes. For community information by region, including local tourism guides to help you find delicious local restaurants where someone else will cook the wild rice and walleye for you, visit the Minnesota Great River Road online. For farmers’ markets and more local flavors along the way, look to Minnesota Grown to guide you. And, the Minnesota DNR has a great online list of outfitters and boat rentals to help you plan before you leave home.

Day 1: Begin the day at the Mississippi River headwaters in Itasca State Park, get your fishing license at the Jacob Brower Visitor Center, and pick up a copy of the state’s fishing regulations or check them online. Then, launch your own boat or rent kayaks and canoes right at the park. Sleep under the stars in the park’s campgrounds or enjoy the rustic historic architecture of Douglas Lodge.

Day 2: Follow the Great River Road to beautiful Lake Bemidji State Park, where you can continue to try for walleye from the shore or your boat, then camp at the park or find many lodging opportunities in nearby Bemidji or at surrounding river and lake resorts. Don’t forget to try a local restaurant! Find public water access maps and safety tips here.

Day 3: Fish for walleye in lakes the Mississippi River runs through as it journeys east, including Andrusia, Cass, Winnibigoshish, Ball Club and Pokegama. Restock your wild rice supply at the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Main Office at 15756 State Hwy 371 NW in Cass Lake or online, where you can also find recipes and history. For members of many Native American cultures, wild rice is not just a crop; it’s a sacred component of their culture.

Day 4: Museum Day in Little Falls! Start at the Minnesota Fishing Museum, featuring over 10,000 artifacts related to Minnesota fishing. Grab some lunch downtown and head over to Charles Lindbergh State Park and State Historic Site to soak in the beautiful setting and rich history.

Day 5: Below the St. Cloud dam, choose from over a dozen boat landings and fishing piers on the Mississippi between here and the Twin Cities to try your luck at fishing for walleye, or learn why this area is home to some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the state. Find details about this stretch of the river here.

Day 6: Experienced paddlers can go low on the water to try their hand at fishing walleye in the Twin Cities stretch of the Mississippi River by renting a kayak at Mississippi River Paddle Share, which provides access to the river within the Twin Cities’ very own national park, the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area. Fishing piers, boat landings and marinas also offer river access throughout this stretch.

Day 7: From Hastings to the Iowa border, this section of Mississippi River offers three riverfront state parks and multiple DNR and local boat landings and marinas. The Mississippi Bluffs region is also home to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, an angler’s paradise. Charming river towns along the way will tempt you to extend your exploration of the Great River Road’s flavors by offering great restaurants, farmers markets and more!

Discover more to see and do along the Minnesota Great River Road here.

Flavors of the Great River Road: Wisconsin

Monday, June 11, 2018

Discover the flavors of the Dairy State—and beer, too

More than 250 miles of the Great River Road traverse Wisconsin, traveling through lush farmlands and beautiful Mississippi River scenery. Take some time to explore the delicious flavors of the Dairy State.

Dairy

When we say Wisconsin’s the Dairy State, we’re not kidding. No matter where you travel on the Wisconsin Great River Road (aka state Highway 35), you’ll find tasty treats, from farm-fresh milk to squeaky, delightful cheese curds (or fried ones you’ll find at most any bar or restaurant). A popular stop on the Great River Road is the historic Nelson Cheese Factory, where you can stock up on gouda, cheddar and parmesan or grab a seat outside and enjoy an ice cream cone.

June is also Dairy Month in Wisconsin, and the state goes all out, hosting farm breakfasts and other events throughout Wisconsin. Visit the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin to find great recipes, videos and more.

Other agriculture

It’s not just cows in Wisconsin—farming is the lifeblood of Wisconsin, and you’ll discover tons of other farm-fresh foods at farmers’ markets, festivals and other agritourism attractions in the charming communities along the Great River Road.

Sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River means good fishing too, and in addition to fresh catches at local restaurants, several communities along the river celebrate this bounty—visit Trempealeau for its annual Catfish Days celebration in July or snap a selfie with the larger-than-life Sunny the Sunfish statue in Onalaska, “the sunfish capital of the world.”

Want to learn a little bit about the state’s agricultural history? Pay a visit to Stonefield State Historic Site in Cassville, where you’ll encounter historic farm implements and discover what it took to make Wisconsin the farming capital it is today.

Beer

Let’s not forget perhaps Wisconsin’s most important contribution to the country’s palate—beer. Travelers along the Great River Road will find plenty of ales, lagers and stouts to sample, whether you

And beer lovers shouldn’t miss the Potosi Brewing Company in the southwestern corner of the state. Potosi Brewing was founded in 1852 and was once the fifth-largest brewery in the state before eventually closing in 1972. Thanks to strong community support, the brewery reopened in 2008, and the site is also home to a restaurant as well as the National Brewery Museum and the Potosi Brewing Company Transportation Museum. Stop in for a pint—all proceeds go to charity!

Sample the flavors of the Great River Road

Monday, June 04, 2018

From fresh produce at farmers’ markets to mouth-watering regional recipes, from food-themed community celebrations to scenic views at riverside wineries, there’s something for every palate along the Great River Road.

This summer, we’re encouraging travelers along the Great River Road to share their favorite flavors from the 10 Mississippi River states as part of our Flavors of the Great River Road campaign. Submit your favorite flavor—a restaurant, a recipe, an event or pretty much anything else—or click here to browse all of our fans’ entries.

Check back here every week, because we’ll be sharing state-specific itineraries to tell you where to find the best flavors from along the Mississippi River.

You can also enter to win $500 to launch your own food adventure along the Great River Road with the Flavors of the Great River Road Giveaway. Enter here before Aug. 24 for your chance to win.

(Photo credit: Jason Lindsey)

Traveling the Great River Road in Minnesota

Thursday, May 24, 2018

One of the most memorable trips on the Great River Road will take you to where it all begins. The headwaters of the Mississippi River can be found in Minnesota, in a small glacial lake called Lake Itasca. The Great River Road travels 575 miles through Minnesota, so there’s a lot of country to explore. The route will take you through impressive northern forests, past the homes of American icons and through rich farmland, charming river towns and vibrant urban centers. You’ll encounter 10 Interpretive Centers – pay them a visit to learn about the fascinating history and heritage of this region.

Here an overview of the Great River Road through Minnesota.

Mississippi Headwaters – Itasca State Park to Bemidji (30 miles): Discover the river’s humble source in Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest state park. The park covers 32,000 acres and it’s a wild place; hear the call of the loon and watch bald eagles soar above the majestic virgin pines along Wilderness Drive.  Be sure to stop by the Jacob Brower Visitor Center. Visit Bemidji – first city on the Mississippi – and be sure to capture a photo memory with legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his faithful pal, Babe the Blue Ox. It’s a perfect spot for a selfie!

Mississippi Northwoods – Bemidji to Grand Rapids (100 miles):  This is a wild and beautiful drive. You’ll   follow the river past a series of iconin Minneota Lakes: Bemidji, Cass, Winnibigoshish and Pokegema. There’s plenty of culture and heritages to explore as well–discover the stories of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and its rich heritage.  Learn the history of the lumberjack.  Visit Grand Rapids to tour the paper mill, Forest History Center and Judy Garland’s birthplace.

Mississippi Crossings – Grand Rapids to Little Falls (145 miles): This is a land of travelers; by river, rail and road, people of this region have traveled the Mississippi for centuries. Today it plays host to thousands of vacationers each year who bike, golf, fish, bird or simply seek respite. Come to play and to explore the historical routes inspired by the river. One popular attraction is the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls.

Scenic Mississippi – Little Falls to Elk River (92 miles): Wild and Scenic River is the designation given to this pristine section of Minnesota’s Mississippi.  The river here is ideal for canoeing, picnicking, fishing and scenic biking.  Remarkable main street architecture, historic museums, lovely parks, magnificent gardens and scenic rural farmland provide a backdrop for a relaxing river experience.

Metro Mississippi – Elk River to Hastings (75 miles): Abundant parkland and trails invite you to the riverfront renaissance taking place in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul.  Enjoy theater, major sports venues, museums, concerts, headline entertainment and shopping. You’ll also encounter thoughtfully preserved riverfront parks, historic sites, and the falls of St. Anthony. For a good overview of the river, stop by the Mississippi River Visitor Center in Saint Paul.

Mississippi Bluffs – Hastings to Iowa Border (140 miles): Bring binoculars to bluff country because the river vistas are remarkable and the wildlife viewing – especially birding – is some of the best in the country. This is eagle country and the National Eagle Center is a good place to learn about these majestic creatures. Follow the river through more than a dozen charming river towns complete with historic main streets, riverboats, unique shopping, museums and warm hospitality.

Exploring the Magnolia State

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The great state of Mississippi was named after the great river that forms its western boundary and the river is intertwined with the history and culture of the Magnolia State. A trip on the Great River Road is your ticket to this state, which recently celebrated its 200th year of statehood. The river is wide in this state, flowing easily and steadily toward the Gulf. Like the river, the best trips here are unhurried. Take your time in Mississippi to explore the state’s heritage, history and music. Here are some must-see Interpretive Centers in Mississippi that will help you experience this special region.

Travel back to the days of Spanish conquistadors and learn about the natural inhabitants of the Mississippi who never left. The Tunica River Park and Museum features aquariums, dioramas, interactive exhibits, relics and artwork all tell the story of the Mississippi River through time. Learn more river stories, including the tale of a family that survived the 1927 flood at the Lower Mississippi River Museum in Vicksburg.

Experience the days of the riverboats with a stop at the River Road Queen Welcome Center in Greenville. The welcome center is a replica of an 1800s steamboat. The unique structure was originally built for the Mississippi Pavilion at the 1984 New Orleans World’s Fair. The second floor of the boat displays river artifacts. Natchez is home to many pre-Civil War homes and plantation and a charming downtown. Get the details at the Natchez Convention and Visitor Bureau.

The blues were born in the Mississippi Delta and no trip to Mississippi is complete without exploring this rich genre. Located in a 1918 freight depot, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale has exhibits detailing giants of the blues world – see guitars played by blues greats such as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Burns and Son Thomas. See the sharecropper cabin of Muddy Waters and more.

Learn about the region’s Civil War History and some of the important battles fought here at the Grand Gulf Military Monument Commission, aka Grand Gulf Park and the Vicksburg National Military Park Visitor Center.

Learn more about traveling in Mississippi.

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: