See the spring migration along the river

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Spring is an incredible time to go birdwatching along the Mississippi River! Check out some of our favorite stops to watch the spring migration in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge is actually 240,000 acres and 261 miles long, running through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois and lies within the Mississippi Flyway, the migratory path for birds.

An excellent spot to visit is Lake Onalaska, just north of La Crosse, Wisconsin. The lake is actually a pool of the Mississippi River, and the river’s the widest spot. Bald eagles are frequent visitors, as are tundra swans, and If you’re lucky you’ll catch the migration of canvasback ducks – there have been reports of 75,000-100,000 of them using Lake Onalaska as a springtime staging area (approximately one third of their North American population).

Pikes Peak State Park

Photo by Travel Iowa

Another great stop in the Wildlife Refuge is Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa. Here you can make the trek up the 500 foot bluff for views of where the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers meet. You’ll find plenty of songbirds here – eastern bluebirds, warblers, catbirds, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, but eagles and pelicans too. Be sure to explore the effigy mounds while you birdwatch.

National Eagle Center

Photo by National Eagle Center

The observation deck at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota is a great place to view eagles in the wild as they soar above the Mississippi. They even offer eagle viewing field trips that will take you to hotspots along and near the river. Inside the center are two floors of interactive exhibits where you can climb inside a nest and test your strength against our national bird’s. Be sure to stay for the daily demonstrations where you can meet bald and golden eagles face to face.

Barn Bluff

Photo by Miranda Mae via Facebook

Barn Bluff is another beautiful spot to see eagles, located in Red Wing, Minnesota. If you make the 340-foot climb up to the top of the bluff, you’ll see them soaring over the river and bluffs, along with turkey vultures and pelicans too. Barn Bluff is a hotspot for nature photography too, so bring your camera!

See what’s happening on the Great River Road

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Great River Road has scores of iconic attractions, impressive vistas and natural wonders, and it’s possible to get a preview of many of these places online. Webcams up and down the Great River Road provide a live view of America’s greatest scenic drive. If you’re planning a trip—or just dreaming about one—these webcams are a great way to see what you can discover.

Here are just a few webcams along  the route.

Mississippi Headwaters

Want to see where the Mississippi River starts? At Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, you’ll find Lake Itasca, the starting point of the mighty Mississippi. Here, the river is less than 20 feet wide and can be walked across via a series of stepping stones. Check out the webcam in the summer to find visitors wading in the shallow waters of America’s most iconic river.

St. Paul City Hall Cam

Minnesota’s capital city of Saint Paul sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, and this webcam scrolls through several different cams throughout the metro area, including several that overlook the river. 

Mississippi River Flyway Cam

The Iowa-based Raptor Resource Project is a non-profit organization that helps preserve and protect habitats for eagles, falcons, hawks and other birds throughout the Midwest. This webcam is located in Brice Prairie, Wisconsin, and shows avian activity along the Mississippi River near La Crosse.

Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center

Located near another one of the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers, this webcam shows traffic on the Mississippi River near the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

St. Louis Arch Cams

One of the most iconic sights along the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch overlooks the river and downtown St. Louis. Gateway Arch Park and Gateway Arch National Park recently underwent a multi-year renovation and expansion, and the park’s cams give visitors several vantage points of this iconic attraction.

Graceland Cam

Get all shook up with this Memphis-based webcam, which gives viewers an up close and personal look at the estate of the late, great King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

Bourbon Street Cam

Get a glimpse of one of America’s liveliest streets with this webcam, which shows the good times rolling in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Chasing blossoms on the Great River Road

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring officially arrives today on the Great River Road and new blossoms are opening daily! Now is the perfect time to take a trip to a botanical garden or embark on a wildflower walk in a natural area. The Great River Road will take you to some gorgeous spots to enjoy the spring flowers. Beautiful blossoms can be enjoyed now in southern states on the route; northern states will be in full bloom before we know it.

Here’s a sample of great flower spots near the route.

Memphis Botanic Garden

There’s a lot to take in every spring at this beautiful garden in Memphis, Tenn., which covers 96 acres and has 31 specialty gardens.  See a carpet of yellow daffodils on daffodil Hill—over 300,000 are planted! Follow the Michie Magnolia Trail and take in the spectacle of 300 beautiful trees. Or admire the delicate cherry blossoms, stroll through crocuses and smell the winter Jasmine. You won’t be disappointed!

Natchez Spring Pilgrimage

The oldest city on the Mississippi bustles with visitors this time of year. The annual Spring Pilgrimage takes place from March 16-April 16 in Natchez, Miss., a time when historic homes open their doors for visitors. Natchez has been described as a living museum of southern history and beautiful spring blossoms grace the impressive Antebellum homes on the tour.

Cohn Arboretum, Baton Rouge, La.

Fruit trees explode with color in this relaxing 16-acre arboretum that features more than 300 species of native and adaptable trees and shrubs. Walking trails wind through the park, along the edge of a small lake. It’s an ideal place for a spring walk.

New Orleans Botanical Garden, New Orleans City Park

The Big Easy is in bloom this month! Head to the Botanical garden to see impressive Azaleas, coral honeysuckle, Chinese Ground Orchids and more. These carefully cultivated gardens have been a fixture in the city since the 1930s and are open daily. Take a stroll and take your time – this is the Big Easy!

Four fabulous foods to try on the Great River Road

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The best drive in America leads travelers to some of the best meals in America. Local and regional delicacies can be found up and down the river, fueling travelers with dishes that are entwined with the region’s culture and people. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find on the Great River Road.

Cheese curds, Wisconsin

The Dairy State loves its cheese and that will be clear when you stop into a Wisconsin restaurant on the Great River Road. Brew pubs, fast food restaurants and upscale establishments all have something in common on the menu: cheese curds. You’ll find them breaded, deep fried and served with a side of ranch salad dressing. Enjoy! This summer, be sure to check out the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival.

Barbecue Ribs, Tennessee

Memphis declares itself the Barbecue Capital of the World for good reason—its ribs are in a class of their own. There’s an ongoing debate on where to find the best ribs, but one place that has legions of fans is a downtown restaurant called Rendezvous. As one Great River Road foodie put it, “Best. Ribs. In. The. World.”

Hot tamales, Arkansas

This Latin American classic has been an Arkansas food staple for generations. Filling and portable, Tamales were once common lunches in the cotton fields. Today you’ll find delicious versions along the Great River Road. One favorite spot: Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village, on the shore of Lake Chicot.

Beignets, Louisiana

You can’t visit New Orleans without sampling this classic French doughnut, which happens to be the state doughnut of Louisiana. Served with a dusting of powdered sugar, these are best enjoyed hot and fresh with some chicory coffee. One famous place to sample this delicacy is Café Du Monde. One traveler said she recently waited 40 minutes in the rain to get her beignet.

“Worth it,” she reported.

Feeling hungry? Find more traveler tips on where to eat on the Great River Road here.

Winter bald eagle viewing on the Great River Road

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Some of the best places to see the national bird of the United States can be found along the Great River Road. Travelers on northern stretches of the Great River Road are treated to a majestic sight as the birds spend time in winter hunting grounds along the Mississippi. The prime season for viewing these majestic birds runs from December through March, so now is the perfect time to take in the spectacle. Here are some great places to see bald eagles.

bald eagle mississippi riverMinnesota

National Eagle Center – Wabasha

This interpretive center is one of the best places in the country to learn about eagles. At the center you can watch wild bald eagles in comfort—the center has a wide bank of windows overlooking a pool on the Mississippi River. You can also see live bald eagles up close during daily educational programs at the center. Exhibits provide information about the bald eagle’s behavior, nesting habits, diet and history.

Wisconsin

Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center – Prescott

This interpretive center offers a beautiful vista of the Mississippi River Valley—on winter days, you might see a few eagles soaring on the wind currents. Inside the center you’ll find a life-size eagle’s nest and other exhibits that give you a sense of the majesty of this impressive bird.

Illinois

Illinois Mississippi River Visitor Center – Rock Island

Eagles are a common sight around the Quad Cities, and a good place to see them is the Mississippi River Visitor Center on the Rock Island Arsenal. Located in Rock Island at Lock & Dam #15, the center provides a good viewing spot of the bald eagles that travel to the locks and dams of the Mississippi to feed during the winter. In early spring, the river opens to commercial navigation and visitors come to the locks to see boats pass by.

Iowa

Effigy Mounds National Monument – Harper’s Ferry

This 2,526-acre park contains more than 200 ceremonial earthen mounds constructed in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtles and panthers. Some of these mounds were built more than 1,400 years ago. On Feb 22-23, the park will hold Bald Eagle Appreciation Days, a chance to see and celebrate this beautiful birds at an incredible riverside location.

 

Plan a Great River Road getaway

Monday, December 10, 2018

There’s no better place for a driving adventure than the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, the best scenic drive in America. There’s so much to take in—the 3,000-mile route travels through 10 states, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Here are some tools to help you plan the perfect trip.

Get the app

An ideal resource for navigating the byway fits in your pocket. The Drive the Great River Road app is available for Apple and Android devices and includes scenic overlooks, museums, historical sites and more.

Get the map

The Great River Road Travel Map is a full-color map for exploring the byway. The map guides travelers along the official route and includes information about Great River Road Interpretive Centers. Order your own free copy here.

Find flavors

Some of the country’s best food can be found along the byway, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Travelers on the Great River Road have submitted some of their favorite flavors—see them here.

Tailor your travels

Are you an art lover or music fan? Are you planning a short trip, or do you want to drive the whole route? See sample Great River Road itineraries that will give you some great travel ideas here.

Discover Interpretive Centers

The byway has a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. Make plans to visit some of these centers to learn about the river and find useful travel information. See the full listing of interpretive centers.

Explore activities and recreation

There’s a lot to do along the byway. Take a road trip. Hit the hiking trails. Take a canoe or kayak trip through the secluded backwaters of the Mississippi River. Go fishing for walleye, bass and catfish or hunting for ducks. See some more things to do here.

Traveling through history in Arkansas

Thursday, November 08, 2018

A tour on the Great River Road in Arkansas will take you through a land with a long and rich history. Official Interpretive Centers on the route will help you experience this past, with exhibits and information that will take you back to earlier days in region. Here are some Interpretive Centers to visit in Arkansas and a sample of what you can explore.

Parkin Archeological State Park: (A.D. 1000+)

This National Historic Landmark protects the site of a Mississippian Period American Indian village that occupied this location on the St. Francis River from A.D. 1000 to 1600. Archeologists have uncovered evidence that Hernando de Soto visited this site in 1541. A visitor center at the site houses artifacts and interesting exhibits.

Lakeport Plantation (1830s+)

This plantation produced cotton for nearly a century. The plantation house, a Greek Revival house built in 1859, is the only remaining Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River. It serves as a museum telling the story of plantation life in the Mississippi delta.

Helena Museum of Phillips County (various time periods)

This local history museum housed in a former library today was founded with the help of Mark Twain. Today it houses American Indian Artifacts, a collection of Thomas Edison’s works, information about the Civil War Battle of Helena and more.

WWII Japanese Internment Museum (1942-1945)

This museum preserves the history and heritage of the 17,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly evacuated from their homes and interned at camps in Jerome and Rohwer from 1942-45. During the war, more than 8,000 Japanese Americans were interned at this camp, which was surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. A self-guided walking tour takes visitors along the southern boundary of the original camp.

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4 reasons to celebrate Drive the Great River Road Month

Friday, August 31, 2018

September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a celebration of America’s greatest drive. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from the northwoods of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

There are many reasons to explore one of the country’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byways, and September is a great time to do so. Here are just a few reasons you should travel the Great River Road this month.

  1. Beautiful scenery. September is the start of fall color season. Drivers on the northern portion of the Great River Road will marvel at the eye-popping views they’ll encounter along the route. Click here to find scenic stops along the Great River Road.
  2. Fall festivals, farmers markets and more. Fall is harvest season, and there’s no shortage of events and attractions highlighting local produce along the route. Click here to find agritourism attractions along the Great River Road.
  3. Museums and historical sites. The story of the Mississippi River is a fascinating one. Learn about the region’s history and culture at more than 70 Interpretive Centers. See descriptions of the Interpretive Centers here
  4. It’s our birthday! The Great River Road is celebrating its 80th year in 2018, and there’s no better time to take a trip to help us celebrate.

(Photo credit: Visit Natchez)

Enjoy the flavors of the Great River Road

Thursday, August 23, 2018

All summer long, we’ve been talking about the Flavors of the Great River Road, from farm-to-table restaurants and wineries with scenic views to classic recipes and can’t-miss dishes.

We’ve given you travelers’ recommendations for the best places to visit when you’re traveling along the Mississippi River. (Be sure to share your own here.)

And we’ve broken down the best flavors of the Great River Road state-by-state. Here’s a look at the top flavors from each state along America’s greatest drive.

Planning a foodie getaway along the Mississippi River? Order your free 10-state Great River Road map or download our Drive the Great River Road app.

(Photo credit: Dice Sales/Illinois Office of Tourism)