Category Archives: Auto & Motorcycle Tours

Discover the Great River Road’s greatest hits

Thursday, August 26, 2021

September is Drive the Great River Road Month, so that means it’s time to get out and explore one of the country’s newest All-American Roads. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, so there’s plenty to see. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.

The headwaters of the Mississippi River

If you’re exploring the Mississippi River and the Great River Road, why not start at the beginning. The Mississippi River gets its start at Lake Itasca in far northern Minnesota, and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway starts its journey there, too, at Itasca State Park. The park spans more than 30,000 acres; head to the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center shares the history of the park and northern Minnesota. From there, it’s just a short walk to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, which is only about 20 feet wide and can be easily traversed via a series of stepping stones. (People also like to wade in the shallow river on warm days.) See a live webcam of the Mississippi River headwaters here

Scenic overlooks and parks

September is a wonderful time to start your travels on the Great River Road, since you can follow fall color as you head south from Minnesota through the Midwest and into the central and southern states. Peak fall color usually hits at the very end of September into early October for the northern states, with the southern states seeing peak color mid-October into November. But where to see it? It’s easy enough to enjoy along the bluffs in the northern states (explore Highway 61 in Minnesota, Highway 35 in Wisconsin, and Highway 52 in Iowa), and the route is lined with scenic overlooks and state and local parks from north to south.

Historic sites

One of the reasons the Great River Road was selected as an All-American Road is because of the Mississippi River region’s rich history—it tells the story of the country for thousands of years, from the earliest Native American inhabitants to the Civil War to the present day. Great River Road trippers can visit dozens of Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites and more—along the route to learn about the people, places and historical events that shaped the region.

Music

There’s no shortage of great music along the Great River Road—the route will take you through iconic music destinations like Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. Here’s a look at some music attractions you shouldn’t miss on or near the Great River Road

Food

What’s a trip along the Great River Road without sampling some of the very best local cuisine? Walleye in Minnesota, fresh cheese curds in Wisconsin, Memphis barbeque and more—each state along the Mississippi River has its own unique dishes and flavors. Explore the Flavors of the Great River Road section of our website to find fan recommendations on great places to eat, the top spots for wine, beer, and craft cocktails, and more.

Getting on the water along the Great River Road

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

A trip along the Great River Road—recently named one of America’s newest All-American Roads—is a great summer adventure, but sometimes you need to find a spot to cool off. Here’s a look at some great places you can dip your toes in the Mighty Mississippi or hop on a boat and explore the waters yourself.

Lake Village, Arkansas

Lake Village is located on the shores of Lake Chicot, the largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America. Lake Chicot was formed three centuries ago by the meandering of the Mississippi River but has since been cut off from the mighty riverway, resulting in a 20-mile-long oxbow lake that’s a popular recreation destination. Lake Chicot State Park has 14 cabins and more than 120 campsites for rent and is a great place for fishing, boating, and birdwatching.

Lake Itasca, Minnesota

Lake Itasca

Photo: Sandra Dempsey on Unsplash

Did you know you can walk across the Mississippi River? It’s true: If you visit the headwaters of the mighty river at stunning Itasca State Park in north-central Minnesota to see where the Mississippi River starts, you can cross from one side of the river to another, a trip of only about 20 feet. If you’re feeling daring (or it’s hot), you can wade in the shallow waters of the river as it empties out of Lake Itasca on its journey south. Itasca State Park—Minnesota’s oldest—is also a great place for boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and stand-up paddleboarding.

Clements Fishing Barge, Wisconsin

Clements Fishing Barge

Photo: Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission

Located just upstream from Lock & Dam #8, Clement’s Fishing Barge has been inviting anglers to cast their lines for walleye, bluegill, catfishing, bass and more in the Mississippi River since 1936. Park along Highway 35 (the Wisconsin Great River Road) in Genoa, raise the flag on shore, and wait for the small boat to ferry to you to the barge. Fishing runs from 7am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday and 7am to 6pm Saturday to Sunday from mid-March through mid-November. Single-day prices are $20 for adults and $5 for kids; three-day, seven-day and season passes are also available.

Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center, Iowa

Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center

Photo: Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission

Explore the backwaters of the Mississippi River in a canoe or kayak or hop on a pontoon boat for a guided tour at this engaging, educational center in Camanche, about a 45-minute drive from the Quad Cities. The Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center educates visitors about the natural history of the Mississippi River in Iowa and is home to an 8,000-gallon aquarium filled with local fish species. Launch your canoe or kayak from the campground or climb aboard the Blue Heron, a 26-passenger pontoon boat, for a guided tour of fish and wildlife habitat through backwaters, sloughs and the main channel.

National Great Rivers Museum, Illinois

Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River near Alton at the Melvin Price Locks & Dam #26, the National Great Rivers Museum tells the story of the people and natural process that have shaped the river. Interactive exhibits illustrate the impact of the Mississippi River on the region.

Confluence of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers, Kentucky

Confluence of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers

The Mississippi and Ohio rivers come together where three Great River Road states intersect: Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. This scenic confluence can be seen from a couple different spots, including Fort Defiance Park in Cairo, Illinois, and Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site in Wickliffe, Kentucky.

Mud Island River Park & Museum, Tennessee

Mud Island River Park & Museum

Photo: Tennessee Tourism

True, this park sits pretty much in the heart of the Mississippi River in Memphis (it’s accessible from a skybridge off Front Street downtown), but you can also walk along a scale-model version of the lower Mississippi River here to see how the Big Muddy weaves its path through the southern Great River Road states. The museum features 18 galleries with exhibits on the culture and history of the river, and Mud Island is also home to a 5,000-seat concert venue. Admission is free to the park, but amphitheater events are ticketed.

Locks and dams of the upper Mississippi River

Monday, June 22, 2020

Travelers along the Great River Road will encounter a marvel of engineering. There are 29 lock and dam structures built along the upper Mississippi River, creating a “stairway of water” that allows pleasure boats, tow boats and barges to travel from St. Louis to St. Paul (or vice versa). These impressive structures help these boats and barges deal with the change in altitude on the northern section of the river (a 420-foot drop from Minneapolis to Granite City, Illinois, according the Applied River Engineering Center.)

You won’t find locks and dams on lower sections of Mississippi River. Why? The Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Ohio, and other rivers flow into the Mississippi, making the river naturally wider and deeper downstream.  The barges need a lot of river to operate. According to the Applied River Engineering Center, a “full tow” includes a tow boat and 15 barges, arranged three wide and five deep. Together, these connected barges stretch as long as 1,200 feet!

Here’s a look at the locks & dams you’ll see as you’re driving along the northern Great River Road from north to south. (Interested in a tour? See which locks & dams offer tours here.)

Minnesota

Wisconsin

To see what it’s like out on a barge (and perhaps catch a big fish) check out the Clements Fishing Barge near Lock and Dam #8 in Genoa, Wisconsin. The business offers a fun and affordable way to experience some river fishing.

Iowa

Illinois

Lock & Dam 15 at Rock Island is home to the Mississippi River Visitor Center, where visitors can learn about the geologic and industrial history of the Upper Mississippi River, as well as flood control efforts along the river and the mechanics behind the locking-through process for boats and barges.

Missouri

 

Historic photos: sights along the Mississippi River

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

It’s hard to visit America’s greatest river without wanting to take a few photos—and the same was true a century ago. Here’s a collection of historic photos from along the Mississippi that show what the river looked like in days past. While a lot has changed on the route since these photos were taken, the river is as impressive today as it was in the steamboat era. If you’ve traveled the route before, you may even recognize some of these spots.


Steamboats in New Orleans, 1890

Steamboats in New Orleans, 1890


Eagle Point Bridge, Dubuque, Iowa, 1960s.

Eagle Point Bridge, Dubuque, Iowa, 1960s.


Jackson Street, St. Paul, Minn., 1905

Jackson Street, St. Paul, Minn., 1905


Riverboat near Vicksburg, Miss., 1936

Riverboat near Vicksburg, Miss., 1936


Lake Itasca - Mississippi River headwaters, 1936

Lake Itasca – Mississippi River headwaters, 1936


New Orleans levee, 1903

New Orleans levee, 1903


 Family at Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1935

Family at Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1935


Memphis sunset, 1900

Memphis sunset, 1900


New Orleans panorama, 1910

New Orleans panorama, 1910


Eads Bridge, St Louis, late 1960s

Eads Bridge, St Louis, late 1960s

Five reasons to drive the Great River Road this spring

Monday, March 02, 2020

Get out on the road this spring to explore the Great River Road, the National Scenic Byway that follows the Mississippi River from the northern Minnesota woodlands to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Here are five reasons you should take this uniquely American drive this spring.

  1. Outstanding scenery

You’ll discover incredible views up and down the Great River Road, from soaring sandstone bluffs in the north to sun-soaked cotton fields in the Mississippi Delta. Whether you’re looking for a scenic overview of the river or great spots for fall color, you’re sure to find some photo-worthy stops on your Great River Road trip. Here are a few places to start.

  1. Charming river towns and big cities

Take a stroll through a quaint downtown filled with welcoming cafes and antique shops or immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of a big city. The Great River Road runs through metropolitan centers and small towns, so take time to get out of your car and explore wherever your trip takes you. Here are just a few of the cities and towns you should check out along your drive:

  1. A tour through American history

Learn about the culture, heritage and history of the Mississippi River region at more than 80 Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites and more—along the Great River Road. Visit the boyhood home of celebrated author Mark Twain and learn how the Mississippi influenced his writings, tour a working farm that uses techniques practiced in the 19th century or learn about the origins of blues music and see the instruments used by some of its masters.

  1. Food, glorious food

A trip through the Great River Road states is a trip through the culinary heart of America. Fishing, farming, cheese factories, roadside produce stands, fairs and festivals—there’s a lot of food to explore all along the Great River Road. (See some of the area’s great agritourism attractions here.) And that’s not even to mention the award-winning restaurants, hidden gems and classic eateries where you’ll find some of the best meals you’ve ever had. (Check out some of our favorite flavors of the Great River Road here.)

  1. It’s a great drive – just ask the people who have done it

The Great River Road is a popular drive among roadtrippers, and while we encourage people to explore as little or as much of it as they like, there are lots of daring adventurers who have driven the entire route, from northern Minnesota to southern Louisiana. “From the beautiful headwaters of Itasca State Park, where we could walk across the Mississippi, all the way down to Venice, La., where it ends into the Gulf of Mexico, it was a spectacular road river ride!” writes Howard B. from La Quinta, Calif., in one of our many testimonials. Hear from more people who have completed the route.

(Photo: Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, IL – courtesy of Karis Keenan)

Five reasons to be thankful about the Great River Road

Monday, November 18, 2019

In 1938, states along the Mississippi River had the foresight to establish a driving route along America’s greatest river. The route was named the Great River Road and it spanned 3,000 beautiful miles and 10 states. For generations, people have been following the green and white pilot wheel signs to unforgettable adventures. There are probably as many reasons to be thankful for this route as there are travelers, but here are a few reasons why so many return to this beautiful byway.

Culinary adventures

The Great River Road leads travelers to some unforgettable meals. From Arkansas hot tamales to Louisiana beignets, you’re never far from a delicious local specialty. Need some recommendations? Check out our fan favorites- they’ve shared some of their favorite restaurants, bakeries, breweries, farmers markets and more. Search their tips by state to find great food stops for your trip.

Interpretive Centers

Travelers on the Great River Road will pass a network of more than 70 Interpretive Centers—these museums and historic sites showcase and preserve the incredible story of the river and its people. Centers include such treasures as the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Illinois and the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls, Minnesota.

Music

The Mississippi Delta is Blues country, and the route is your ticket to the show. Start by taking a trip through the Magnolia State and drive through the land of legends. Here are some of the sights you won’t want to miss along the route.

Scenic beauty

The Mississippi River Valley offers spectacular scenery that changes dramatically along the route. Northern stretches will take you through forests and past towering bluffs. You’ll discover impressive vistas in places like Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, Wisconsin and Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa.

Beautiful birds

Look up, when you’re on the Great River Road and you’ll likely find you have company. This Great River Road travels along the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route used by 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. There are abundant birding locations along the route; here are a few good bets.

 

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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Must-see attractions in the Show Me State

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Great River Road in Missouri treats travelers to a rich mix of culture and natural heritage. This is the midpoint of the route, and you’ll find a lot to discover, from the roots of Mark Twain to the inspiring sight of an iconic national monument. Here’s a bit of what you’ll find in Missouri.

Hannibal

As Mark Twain once said (according to legend), “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A prematurely published obituary allegedly triggered Twain’s comment, but it holds true in Hannibal, a place that still celebrates the great American author who was born by the name Samuel Clemens. In Hannibal you can see where Twain lived and learn about his early days at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. And, if you’re in town on the Fourth of July, be sure to catch National Tom Sawyer Days, which features a fence-painting competition, a frog jumping contest and a “Tom & Becky” contest.

Saint Louis Art Museum

An impressive building created for the 1904 World’s Fair, the Saint Louis Art Museum (or SLAM, as it’s affectionately known) houses one of America’s great art museums. It boasts more than 33,000 works, covering everything from ancient Egypt to contemporary American art. It contains at least six pieces (including Max Beckmann and Matisse pieces) that Nazis removed from their own museums because they believed the pieces to be “degenerate”; fortunately they escaped destruction. You can see these impressive pieces and others for free; there is no admission charge for the museum, thanks to a subsidy from a local cultural tax.

The Gateway Arch

You can’t miss the opportunity to travel to the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch when you’re in town. A trip to the top of the 630-foot architectural wonder will put you at the highest point in downtown St. Louis, and, if it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view. (Be sure to take in the exhibits at the Arch to learn more about the history of St. Louis and the Arch itself, too.)

New Madrid Historical Museum

Long ago, massive earthquakes once struck in this part of the country, briefly causing the Mississippi River to run backwards. In 1811 and 1812, the river town of New Madrid in Missouri’s southeastern corner experienced three significant earthquakes, all with magnitudes of 7.5 or above. The quakes could be felt as far away as New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. You can learn more about this unique seismic event and more at the New Madrid Historical Museum, which also has an interesting collection of Native American and Civil War artifacts.

Scenic views along the Great River Road

Monday, May 08, 2017

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

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

Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

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

Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin

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

Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona, Minnesota.

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

Wyalusing State Park, Bagley, Wisconsin

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

Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa.

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

Great River Road Fun Facts

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s wise to have some conversation starters on hand. Check out these Great River Road fun facts!

  • From the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the grand finale in New Orleans, Louisiana, it would take 22 hours of non-stop driving to complete one half of the Great River Road.
  • But, if you were a raindrop, it’d take you 90 days to travel the same distance!
  • Minnesota has the longest portion of the Great River Road at 575 miles long.
  • Kentucky is home to the smallest section of the Great River Road, just 63 miles.
  • The Great River Road runs on both sides of the river, except between Hastings, Minnesota and the byway’s northern terminus.
  • Great River Road town Hannibal, Missouri is the hometown of famed author Mark Twain.
  • Two-thirds of Wisconsin’s Great River Road passes along or through protected natural areas.
  • Some of the oak trees along Louisiana’s Great River Road are more than 300 years old!
  • Illinois’s Great River Road is home to the confluence of three rivers – the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois.
  • River town Alton, Illinois has been named “One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America” by the Travel Channel.
  • Accolades come easy for the Great River Road. It’s been named, “Prettiest Drive in America,” one of the “U.S.A.’s Ten Best Motorcycle Roads,” one of the “1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die,” and “Best Drive in America.”