Where to find outdoor dining on the Great River Road

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

There’s nothing better than outdoor dining with a picture-perfect view of the Mississippi River and its surroundings. Here are a few great recommendations from Great River Road travelers on where to grab a bite on the Upper Mississippi River.

Harborview Cafe in Pepin, Wisconsin, is located on the marina on the shore of Lake Pepin, a naturally occurring lake on the Mississippi River. Known for outstanding food made with fresh ingredients, Harborview’s atmosphere, views, and friendly service make it the perfect stop along the Great River Road. 

Bayside Tap & Steakhouse in Red Wing, Minnesota, is a gem of a place for steaks, burgers, handcrafted martinis, and other cocktails. Take a seat outside and make sure to order the seasoned fries with gouda cheese.

Huck Finn’s on the Water in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is your go-to place for a classic Midwest fish fry—all you have to do is choose between walleye and catfish. 

Reads Landing Brewery, located in a historic, two-story storefront building along the Mississippi River in Reads Landing, Minnesota, offers great views—you may just see bald eagles soaring above while you sample handcrafted beer and scotch eggs.

Grafton Oyster Bar in Grafton, Illinois, serves up unexpected Cajun and Creole cuisine from their unique floating restaurant. Check their live music schedule and pick a day to visit.

Crane & Pelican Cafe in LeClaire, Iowa, will fulfill your need for classic comfort food. It promises a one-of-a-kind dining experience in a historic 1850s home.

Circa 1888 is a Great River Road gem located in Savanna, Illinois. The menu promises something for everyone, and the outdoor deck offers a sunset to remember.

Go Fish Marina Bar & Grill in Princeton, Iowa, is a casual restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River where you can watch boaters while relaxing with good food and a fun atmosphere.

Finn’s Food and Spirits in Hannibal, Missouri is a family-friendly stop that offers outdoor dining, pub-style food, and live music.

The Cinder House, located in downtown St Louis, is the perfect restaurant for your next night out. It offers incredible views of the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch from the eighth floor of the iconic Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis.

Photo credit: Crane & Pelican Café/Facebook

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Monday, August 21, 2023

 

Drive the Great River Road Photo Contest

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Where to cool down along the Great River Road

Monday, July 17, 2023

Summer heat got you beat? Don’t worry—there are plenty of places to keep it cool along the Great River Road this summer, from waterparks and beaches to exploring the waters of the mighty Mississippi River itself. Here’s a closer look.

Waterparks & other attractions

Located in Grafton, Illinois—just a short drive from St. Louis—Raging Rivers Water Park covers 24 acres and boasts multiple waterslides, a 700-foot-long lazy river, an 18,000-square-foot wave pool, and the Tree House Harbor interactive play area. 

Those looking to beat the heat in Memphis can head to Shelby Farms Park—a 4,500-acre natural area in the eastern part of the city—to find the Water Play Sprayground, a 4,000-square-foot play area perfect for kids that features a water tunnel, interactive jets, geyser boulders and more. There are also more than 20 bodies of water to explore in the park itself.

Parks, lakes & beaches

While you’ll obviously see the mighty Mississippi and other rivers as you cruise the Great River Road, the region is also home to some notable lakes that are great places to explore on a summer day. One must-see stop is Itasca State Park in far northern Minnesota, where you can walk across (or wade into) the headwaters of the Mississippi River. 

Wyalusing State Park is one of western Wisconsin’s most scenic sites, offering stunning views of the Mississippi River from the towering limestone bluffs, but head just a few minutes south and you’ll find a popular public beach along the river in the town of Wyalusing.

Head to Deep Lakes Park—the site of former sand and gravel pits that now boasts more than 120 acres of water for boating and other watersports—in Muscatine, Iowa, to find a large swimming beach on the shores of Lake Chester

Located in northeastern Arkansas, Mississippi River State Park is home to stunning Delta scenery and lots of opportunities for fun on the water, including canoeing, kayaking, and fishing, as well as two swimming beaches on Bear Creek Lake and Storm Creek Lake.

Canoeing & kayaking

Want to get out on the Mississippi River itself? Quapaw Canoe Company has locations in Clarksdale and Vicksburg in Mississippi and offers guided canoe adventures along the Lower Mississippi River, including day trips (where you can have a picnic lunch on a sandbar in the river), multi-day camping trips, public trips and more.

New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours offers—what else?—guided kayak tours of New Orleans and its surrounding waterways, including the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, Manchac Swamp, and the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area.

Celebrate Pollinator Week along the Great River Road

Thursday, June 01, 2023

June 19-25 is National Pollinator Week along the Great River Road, a celebration of the pollinators—birds, insects, and other animals—that are vital to the health of the Mississippi River region’s farmlands, forests, and other habitats.

Here’s some more information about pollinators and what you can do to help them in your own backyard:

What are pollinators?

Pollinators are animals that pollinate plants by transferring pollen from one plant to another. Examples include birds, bats, bees, insects, and some small mammals.

What kind of plants are helped by pollinators?

Pollinators bring us the plants that:

  • Produce fruits, vegetables, and nuts
  • Are responsible for half the world’s oils, fibers, and raw materials
  • Prevent soil erosion
  • Increase carbon sequestration

What can I do to help pollinators and celebrate Pollinator Week?

  • Attend a 2023 Pollinator Week event (see listings by state here)
  • Build a native bee house
  • Plant a pollinator habitat (see guides here)
  • Populate your garden with native plants

Where can I learn more about Pollinator Week?

Find more information about Pollinator Week 2023 here.

(Photo: Jenna Lee/Unsplash)

Summer events along the Great River Road

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Summer Fun on the Great River Road logo

Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s a great time to drive the Great River Road. You’ll find a lot to see and do along the Mississippi River, from exploring parks to visiting museums and unique attractions, but there are also a lot of great summer events you shouldn’t miss—here’s a closer look.

We’ve asked organizations up and down the river to share some of their best summer events; see a searchable listing here.

Farmers’ markets & foodie events

The Great River Road cuts through some of the most fertile agricultural land in the county, so it’s no surprise that the 10 states along the Mississippi are home to outstanding farmers’ markets, food festivals, and more. Food Truck Fight comes to three Great River Road destinations this summer and fall (Galena in Illinois and Bettendorf and Muscatine in Iowa) and offers tasty food from local food trucks. In mid-May, the annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest takes place as part of the annual Memphis in May celebration in Tennessee. (The event also includes the Beale Street Music Festival and the Great American River Run.)

During growing season, Great River Road travelers will find delicious offerings from local producers at farmers all along the river from the La Crosse Farmers Market in Wisconsin to the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans.

Festivals & other fun events

Visit the charming river towns along the Great River Road on the weekend in the summer, and you’re likely to find some sort of fun festival or community celebration. Take the upcoming Mayfest in historic downtown Blytheville, Arkansas, which features a chicken wing competition, live music, and more. Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the famous Civil War siege this year with lectures, cannon firing demonstrations, and walking tours. Or, head to Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site in Kentucky in September to celebrate Kentucky Archaeology Month.

Live entertainment

A trip along the Mississippi River is a trip through America’s musical history, and you’ll find plenty of options for live music pretty much everywhere you go. Many of the river towns along the Great River Road offer free concerts during the summer—for instance, you can pull up a chair outside the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, and take in live music at the museum’s Music Under the Stars series. There are also music festivals aplenty, like Weekend at the Cave in Murphysboro, Illinois, where you can enjoy live music in an open air, natural rock-formed amphitheater in the Shawnee National Forest

But it’s not just music—keep your eyes peeled for arts fairs and other events. Theater lovers shouldn’t miss the annual Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota, which offers performances of The Bard’s work throughout June and July.

(Photo: Shawnee Cave Amphitheater)

4 historic sites you should visit on the Great River Road

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

The Great River Road’s network of nearly 100 Interpretive Centers shares the history of the Mississippi River, its people, and its cultures at museums, Civil War battle sites, national parks, and more. Here are four you shouldn’t miss on your next road trip.

Mill City Museum, Minnesota

This might be the best-smelling museum along the Great River Road. Located along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis—in the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill—this unique museum tells the story of the Mississippi River and how it shaped the people and industry of Minneapolis through multimedia exhibits, hands-on displays, and yes, even baking classes and demonstrations. 

Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

Initially founded in 1935 as a national memorial to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s dream of westward expansion, this iconic St. Louis attraction—which includes the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, and the park grounds along the Mississippi River—was dedicated as a National Park in 2018. Take a tram ride to the top of the Arch to get a bird’s-eye view of downtown St. Louis and the river or visit the Museum at the Gateway Arch to learn about the city’s role in westward expansion.

Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

Another National Park Service in west-central Mississippi highlights one of most consequential campaigns in Civil War history. Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the battle of Vicksburg, which took place from March 29 to July 4, 1863, and was a key event in determining control of the Mississippi River between Union and Confederate forces. The park includes the largest burial site for Union soldiers and sailors, historic monuments, a museum, a cannon display, battle fortifications, and more.

Louisiana Great River Road Interpretive Center and Museum

Drive west of New Orleans along the Great River Road, and you’ll come to the Great River Road Interpretive Center and Museum, located on the grounds of the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens in Darrow. The museum educates visitors on what life was like along the Mississippi River through the centuries, from native tribes and early explorers to enslaved peoples to wealthy plantation owners. Exhibits include information on ships and steamboats, river folklore, Civil War and Reconstruction, and more.

(Photo: Chris Hardy/Unsplash)

Explore the northern Great River Road states on this 5-day trip

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Spring is just around the corner, so it’s a perfect time to discover the scenic sights, historical attractions, and charming cities and towns along the northern Great River Road states. Use this itinerary for a quick trip through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri on our All-American Road.

Day 1 – Minneapolis/Saint Paul

Start your northern Great River Road adventure in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, which offer tons of opportunities for recreation and fun along the Mississippi River. Explore the wonders of the river at the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, snap some photos of the iconic Minnehaha Falls at Minnehaha Regional Park, or hop on a river cruise and see the sights.

History lovers should check out the riverside Mill City Museum, which makes its home in an old flour mill and uses an engaging multimedia presentation to tell the story of the region. Another iconic attraction is Historic Fort Snelling, a National Historic Landmark that was built in 1825 and is located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. 

If you’re up for a bit of a road trip, head north for about 200 miles to reach Itasca State Park and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Here, the river is narrow enough to walk across with the help of some strategically placed stepping stones.

Day 2 – Minnesota river towns and Wisconsin

Head southeast out of the Twin Cities along the Great River Road to find a series of charming Minnesota river towns, Red Wing and Winona among them. Red Wing (yes, it’s the namesake for the famous boot brand and the iconic pottery company) has a historic downtown filled with shops, restaurants and even the flagship Red Wing Shoe Store and Museum where you’ll find the largest boot ever produced. Winona is home to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and stunning views of the river at places like Garvin Heights Park.

On the Wisconsin side of the river, you’ll find great places to explore like Perrot State Park north of Trempealeau and Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien. The La Crosse Region offers outstanding recreation along the Mississippi River Trail and fantastic views from the top of Grandad Bluff.

In the southwestern corner of the state lies Potosi, home to the historic Potosi Brewing Company (don’t miss the transportation museum and the National Brewery Museum on site, too). All along the Wisconsin Great River Road you’ll find unique roadside stops, too, like the one-of-a-kind Dickeyville Grotto.

Day 3 – Galena and Iowa

Head across the state line into northwestern Illinois and you’ll find Galena, routinely named one of the most charming towns in the country. The Galena River—which empties into the Mississippi River—passes through the historic downtown that’s home to tasty restaurants, unique gift shops, and more. And you can take in views of the Mississippi River at places like Chestnut Mountain Resort, which is home a scenic ski hill in the winter and offers an alpine slide, zip lining, river cruises, and more in the spring, summer, and fall.

Drive west across the river into Iowa on U.S. Highway 20 and you’ll hit Dubuque, which is home to several interesting attractions. Head to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, a Smithsonian affiliate museum that’s home to more than 200 species of fish, mammals, reptiles, and other animals that can be found along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Just south of downtown Dubuque, you’ll find the Mines of Spain Recreation Area and E.B. Lyons Interpretive and Nature Center, a 1,400 acre park that offers outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities, great recreational trails, and panoramic views of the Mississippi River.

Another great view of the river can be found at Bellevue State Park, which is about a 30-minute drive south of Dubuque. The park—split into northern (Nelson) and southern (Dyas) units—is home to scenic overlooks, a nature center, a butterfly sanctuary, and more than 7 miles of hiking trails.

Keep heading south along the river and spend your night in the Quad Cities of Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side of the river and Rock Island and Moline on the Illinois side.

Day 4 – Iowa and Illinois

The Quad Cities offer a great mix of outdoor recreation (check out their bike paths along the Mississippi River), great shopping and dining, and unique attractions. One spot you shouldn’t miss is the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, which houses new and vintage equipment made by the agricultural manufacturer, as well as interactive exhibits.

Other Quad Cities attractions include the Mississippi River Visitor Center on Rock Island, where you can watch barges pass through Lock & Dam 15; Modern Woodmen Park, home to the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits baseball team; Rock Island’s Black Hawk State Historic Site, named for the Native American leader whose tribe made their home in the area; and the architecturally stunning Figge Art Museum in Davenport.

Engaging river towns and unique attractions line both sides of the river as you head south through Iowa and Illinois. In Iowa, take a drive or walk on Burlington’s Snake Alley, the so-called “world’s crookedest street,” or learn about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Mormon pioneers who made their homes in Nauvoo along the Mississippi River in western Illinois.

End your day in Quincy, a historic city in Illinois that’s home to iconic architecture, the Mississippi Valley Wine Trail, and much more.

Day 5 – Missouri

Finish your tour of the northern Great River Road in the hometown of America’s most famous author. Hannibal, Missouri, is located about 20 miles south of Quincy—you’ll know you’ve reached it when you see the Mark Twain signs everywhere. Hannibal was where Mark Twain spent his formative years, and the city honors their native son to this day at attractions like the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, the Mark Twain Cave Complex, and dozens of businesses, parks, and other attractions that bear the author’s name. 

Stay on the Missouri side of the river and head south for about 2 hours and you’ll arrive in St. Louis, home to everything from Major League Baseball to mouthwatering barbeque. Some sites you shouldn’t miss: Gateway Arch National Park, Forest Park (which is home to free attractions like the St. Louis Zoo and the St. Louis Art Museum), and the world-famous Budweiser Brewery Experience.

If you want to head even further south on your road trip, you can visit Ste. Genevieve, the oldest permanent European settlement west of the Mississippi River for a true taste of history. The scenic Shawnee National Forest, located between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in southern Illinois, covers nearly 300,000 acres and is home to awe-inspiring attractions like Garden of the Gods.

(Photo: Travel Wisconsin)

Visit these romantic restaurants & great gift shops

Thursday, February 02, 2023

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for that special someone or a fantastic place to go for that next date night, you’re in luck—you’ll find romantic restaurants and unique stores up and down the Great River Road. Here are a few places you shouldn’t miss.

Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery

Located on the banks of the Galena River (a tributary of the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois), Galena is often named as one of the most charming towns in America, and it’s home to an extensive collection of restaurants and shops, as well as abundant historical attractions and scenic spots. Established in 1985, Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery has two great locations to visit to sample award-winning wines: a downtown kitchen and tasting room on historic Main Street and its vineyard, located in the scenic countryside of Galena.

Uffda Shop

Take a stroll through the boutiques, antique shops, and other stores in the walkable downtown of Red Wing, Minnesota (yes, it’s the same Red Wing that lends its name to the famous pottery and well-known boots). One place you should visit—especially if your significant other boasts Scandinavian heritage—is the Uffda Shop, which sells a wide array of gifts from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Find clothing (including hand-made scarves, mittens and hats), jewelry, crystalware and glassware, and much more.

Wilson Café & Tavern

If you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Arkansas, make a stop in the tiny town of Wilson (population: 750) and visit the Wilson Café, where you’ll find delectable farm-to-table cuisine for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Using ingredients from nearby communities and farms, Wilson Café offers an upscale dining experience and an ideal place to take someone special in your life.

Flashback

Take a trip through the past (and find a great retro gift) at Flashback, a vintage department store in Memphis’ midtown that specializes in clothing, accessories, and home décor. Whether you’re looking for a new outfit, some mid-century furniture, or quirky holiday decorations, you’re sure to find something worth taking home at this fun and funky store.

Bywater American Bistro

You’re going to get a great meal pretty much anywhere you go in New Orleans, so you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose. Bywater American Bistro (located in the city’s Bywater neighborhood along the Mississippi River), the sister restaurant to the nationally acclaimed Compere Lapin in the Warehouse District, is a cozy, intimate neighborhood destination that’s perfect for a special night out.

(Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism)

One Interpretive Center to see in each Great River Road state

Thursday, January 05, 2023

The nearly 100 Interpretive Centers along the Great River Road tell the story of the people, places, and events that have shaped life and culture along the Mississippi River. Whether you’re traveling the whole Great River Road or just visiting one state, you’ll find lots of great places to explore—here’s a look at one must-visit Interpretive Center in each state along the route.

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center at Itasca State Park, Minnesota

See the start of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in north-central Minnesota. Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest state park, covering more than 25,000 acres and containing more than 100 lakes. At Lake Itasca, the Mississippi River starts its 2,500-mile trek to the Gulf of Mexico (it’s only about 25 feet wide here, and in warmer months, visitors can wade in the headwaters or use steppingstones to walk across the river). The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is open year-round and features information about the park and the area, educational exhibits, interactive play areas, a large fireplace, a gift shop, restrooms, and more.

See more Interpretive Centers in Minnesota.

Freedom Park Great River Road Visitor Center, Wisconsin

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers in northwestern Wisconsin, the Great River Road Visitor Center at Freedom Park is an Interpretive Center and city park that offers spectacular views, educational programming, community events, and wonderful birding and wildlife watching opportunities.

See more Interpretive Centers in Wisconsin.

Villa Kathrine, Illinois

This unique building, which houses the city of Quincy’s Tourist Information Center, sits amidst a 4-acre park overlooking the Mississippi River in west-central Illinois. The Villa Kathrine was built in 1900 for wealthy local resident W. George Metz and incorporates Mediterranean and Moroccan designs into its unique architecture—many of the elements came from sketches of Islamic architecture that Metz observed on his world travels.

See more Interpretive Centers in Illinois.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

About 2,700 to 3,500 years ago, nearly two dozen American Indian tribes constructed countless effigy mounds throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Today, important remnants of that culture can be found at Iowa’s Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is home to more than 200 effigy mounds on one of the most scenic sections of the Mississippi River. The park’s visitor center features exhibits and artifacts outlining the area’s natural and cultural history, and visitors can also explore several hiking trails that pass by the effigy mounds and other notable sites.

See more Interpretive Centers in Iowa.

Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

Visit one of the iconic sights along the Mississippi River and the Great River Road at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis. From the top of the arch, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of St. Louis and the surrounding area. The Museum of Westward Expansion tells the story of America’s growth as a nation during the 1800s and features several unique artifacts, including items from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

See more Interpretive Centers in Missouri.

Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky

Columbus-Belmont State Park offers outstanding views of the Mississippi River in far western Kentucky, but it was also the site of a notable 1861 Civil War battle—the first active engagement in the war by Ulysses S. Grant. Visitors to the park can explore a Civil War museum that includes artillery shells and other items, and a giant six-ton anchor (which was part of a plan to blockade the river) is also on display at the site. 

See more Interpretive Centers in Kentucky.

Chucalissa and the C.H. Nash Museum, Tennessee

Chucalissa, located in southwest Memphis, allows visitors to explore a culture that flourished before the first Europeans landed in America. This archaeological site was occupied, abandoned, and reoccupied several times between 1000 and 1500 A.D. and was part of a large political system called the Mississippian culture. The C.H. Nash Museum curates an extensive collection of artifacts recovered from excavations of the site.

See more Interpretive Centers in Tennessee.

Lakeport Plantation, Arkansas

Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village dates to the 1830s and produced cotton for nearly a century. Today, it’s an educational site run by Arkansas State University that provides a full picture of plantation life in the South, including exhibits on slavery, sharecropping, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.

See more Interpretive Centers in Arkansas.

Delta Blues Museum, Mississippi

The blues was born in Mississippi, and music lovers of all kinds will find an educational and fascinating experience at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale (which is also home to the famous “Crossroads” where Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul for his unearthly talent). The museum contains lots of interesting items, including the sharecropper home of Muddy Waters and instruments played by greats like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and Big Mama Thornton.

See more Interpretive Centers in Mississippi.

Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana

One of only 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites located in the United States, Poverty Point World Heritage Site (near the village of Pioneer in far northeastern Louisiana) contains the remnants of a complex array of earthen works that predate the Mayan pyramids. The purpose of the mounds and ridges remains a mystery, although many believe they were the site of homes. The site dates to as early as 1700 B.C. and encompasses more than 400 acres. Tram tours are offered daily.

See more Interpretive Centers in Louisiana.

(Photo: Louisiana Office of Tourism)

Uncover engaging stories at these museums & historical sites

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Great River Road is home to an extensive network of nearly 100 Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites, and other attractions that showcase the people, history, culture, arts, and industry of the Mississippi River region. Here are a few sites you shouldn’t miss in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Minnesota

Walk through the past at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, to discover the state’s unique and engaging history. A collection of permanent and traveling exhibits educates visitors about the state’s agricultural industry, Native American history, significant events, and much more. The museum store features a wide selection of Minnesota-inspired, products, gifts, books, and jewelry.

Want to learn more about America’s national bird? The National Eagle Center in Wabasha (about a 2-hour drive from the Twin Cities) is home to interactive, educational exhibits that teach visitors all about this majestic creature. Visitors can also meet real live eagles—the center is home to several permanently injured bald eagles that are used in educational programming. Plus, winter is a great time to see wild bald eagles along the Mississippi River outside the National Eagle Center, as they gather by the dozens to feed in the river’s open waters.

See more Interpretive Centers in Minnesota.

Wisconsin

One of the newer attractions along Wisconsin’s Great River Road is the Genoa National Fish Hatchery and Great River Road Interpretive Center, which highlights the river’s importance in historical and present-day industry, wildlife in and along the river, and the history of the people who have lived on and used the river. Two aquariums feature fish and other species that can be found in the Upper Mississippi River and Wisconsin’s streams.

Stop for a drink at Potosi Brewing Company in the southwest corner of Wisconsin and explore the brewery’s transportation museum, which shares the history of the brewery and examples of how Potosi beer was transported in the brewery’s heyday from the 1850s to the 1970s. (The brewery was reestablished on its original site in 2008.) The brewery is also home to a tap room and restaurant, a gift shop, and the American Breweriana Association’s National Brewery Museum.

See more Interpretive Centers in Wisconsin.

Illinois

The National Great Rivers Museum in Alton—which sits near the convergence of the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri rivers just north of St. Louis—offers an in-depth look at the history and impact of the Mississippi River and other rivers on the area, as well as daily tours of the adjacent Melvin Price Locks and Dam.

Fort Kaskaskia and the Pierre Menard Home are two of more than a dozen state historic sites in southwestern Illinois, many of which are located along the state’s section of the Great River Road. Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site preserves the earthen remains of a French fort that was constructed in the mid-1700s to preserve the town of Kaskaskia, which was also the first capital of Illinois from 1818 to 1820. The stie consists of four main sections: the remains of the fort (which was never fully completed), Garrison Hill Cemetery, a Mississippi River overlook and picnic area, and a campground. The Pierre Menard Home was built around 1815 in the French Creole style and was the home of Illinois’ first lieutenant governor.

See more Interpretive Centers in Illinois.

Iowa

The Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque spans 14 acres (including a dredge boat and an outdoor plaza and boatyard that can be experienced seasonally) and is home to more than 200 species of animals found in the Mississippi River watershed and the Gulf of Mexico, including ducks, turtles, river otters, stingrays, freshwater fish, and an alligator. History exhibits feature steamboat-era artifacts, a 19th-century machine shop, and more.

Science lovers will find plenty to explore at Davenport’s Putnam Museum and Science Center, where visitors will find authentic ancient Egyptian treasures (including two mummies), artifacts from Native Americans and European settlers, exhibits featuring the area’s natural habitats, and special presentations and traveling exhibits. 

See more Interpretive Centers in Iowa.

Missouri

Learn all about the early life of America’s most famous author at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, which is about a two-hour drive north of St. Louis. The author’s boyhood home is a National Historic Landmark, and the museum also features family artifacts, Twain memorabilia, and 15 original Norman Rockwell paintings.

In the southeastern corner of Missouri, head to the New Madrid Historical Museum to learn about a unique natural phenomenon that affected the Mississippi River region in the early 19th century. In late 1811 and early 1812, a series of violent earthquakes (estimated to be above 7.0 in magnitude) struck the region, rocking what was then the western front of U.S. civilization and even causing the Mississippi River to briefly flow backward. Visitors to the museum can learn about these earthquakes as well as the pre-Columbian civilization in the area and the Civil War’s impact on Missouri.

See more Interpretive Centers in Missouri.

(Photo: Explore Minnesota)