Category Archives: Itineraries

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.

Four things to love about the Great River Road

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale, Miss.

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale, Miss.

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway traces the mighty Mississippi River through the heart of the America, from the snow-frosted forests of the north to the moss-covered groves of the Mississippi Delta. There are more than 3,000 beautiful miles of open road to explore, so no two trips are alike, and there are always new views to take in, new people to meet and new surprises to discover. 

Here are a four things to love about this unforgettable route:

Historic sites

The Mississippi River is drenched in history. Along the Great River Road, you’ll encounter beautiful architecture, impressive native history and the legacy of early settlers and adventurers. The route features sites like Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa and  the New Madrid Historic Museum in Missouri.

Scenic overlooks

The Great River Road has scores of inspiring vistas. Pull over and take time to relax at these beautiful spots. Watch the sun set, see eagles drift on the wind or take in the sight of massive barges hauling freight. Check out Sunset Park, Wyalusing State Park and the Old Mississippi River Bridge Scenic Overlook.

Fascinating museums

The Great River Road will take you to memorable museums that share the story of this great river, from the days before European settlement to the time when it became a center of industry that helped fuel a fast-developing world. Museums on the road include the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa , the Delta Blues Museum and the Louisiana State Museum.

Natural areas

The Great River Road will also take you to some beautiful parks and recreation areas. They are fantastic places to take a short nature stroll or a longer and more ambitious hike. Wildlife is abundant in these parks and you’ll encounter habitat unlike anyplace else on earth. Some great parks on the route include Reelfoot Lake State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve.

Find more museums, scenic overlooks and natural areas along the Great River Road here. Also, be sure to download the free Drive the Great River Road app to help guide you on your trip.

Exploring the Mississippi River Wine County

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The rich soil and rolling hills of the Mississippi River Valley produces some outstanding heartland wines. The Great River Road is a route that will take you through the beauty of this country, which stretches from Minnesota to Arkansas. It’s an ideal route for wine lovers – you can visit several great wineries in a single day and fine restaurants and accommodations are plentiful. All you need to complete the trip is a taste for new discoveries, a love of wine and a little space in your trunk for the cases that are simply too good not to bring home. Harvest time is fast approaching and the vines are growing heavy along the route – some wineries will be harvesting grapes in August. It’s a beautiful time visit the vineyard. Plan your trip today!

Below is a sample of the wineries you’ll find on the Great River Road. To see more winery details – and other fun agritourism spots – go here.

Buffalo Rock Winery

Buffalo, Minnesota

Located west of the Twin Cities, this winery opened in 2010, the dream of winemaker/owner Nicole Dietman. The winery has weekend tasting hours and a grape stomp event Sept. 24.

Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery 

Galena, IL

In historic Galena, tour the beautiful vineyards, taste a sample of the winery’s 40 wines and take in the impressive view from the winery’s deck.

Wide River Winery 

Clinton, Iowa

This winery takes its name from the wide stretch of the Mississippi, located just below the winery. Its wines are as big as the river, produced with grapes grown from the heart of the Midwest.

Old Millington Vineyard and Winery 

Millington, Tennessee

This small country operation is located just 14 miles north of downtown Memphis. Its fruit wines include peach, strawberry and sweet watermelon.

Serenity Winery

Fulton, Missouri

Just east of Columbia, this boutique winery produces over 20 delicious wines, all produced in small quantities.

Your Twin Cities adventure, by bike

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

mn 2People often forget how easy it is to traverse the Minneapolis and St. Paul downtown areas by bike. In fact, Bicycling.com rated Minneapolis the best American city for biking in 2015. To see why, make a day of traveling between the two cities on two wheels (which is guaranteed to save you big bucks on parking). Plus, you’ll get to see pretty stellar spots along the Great River Road. Plan to make several stops along the way — you won’t believe how much you’ll be able to pack into 25 miles of trail.

  1. Start your journey in St. Paul, the older and sleepier of the twins. Spend the morning touring the majestic basilica or exploring a new exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Hop on the path just behind the museum, on the other side of the river from Harriet Island.
  2. You’ll be able to see the historic base of Fort Snelling on the other side of the river as you bike under Highway 5. If you like military museums, this is a must-see; just take the pedestrian path adjacent to the highway. If not, continue to follow the path without crossing the river.
  3. Minnehaha Park is a fantastic stop on the West side of the river. Once in the park, check out the beautiful Minnehaha Falls and grab a bite to eat at Sea Salt, a cute little seafood cafe.
  4. If you continue on the east side of the river, check out the picturesque views at the lookout point where Summit Avenue intersects with the bike path.
  5. Hop onto the East River Parkway via the Lake Street bridge to bike through the University of Minnesota campus. The shiny deconstructionist building you’ll see is the Weisman Art Museum by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.
  6. Once you reach downtown Minneapolis via the West River Parkway, marvel at the Mill City Museum and Guthrie Theater, two cultural landmarks with very different architectural styles, before crossing the iconic Stone Arch Bridge into northeast Minneapolis. Stop and take a picture with the Minneapolis skyline as your backdrop!
  7. Once in Northeast, you’ll have your pick of breweries. Try Dangerous Man just a few blocks down from the river.

Once you’ve concluded your adventure, you can bike back or bring your bike with you on the light rail return trip to downtown St. Paul.

Find fresh flavor on the Great River Road

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

This summer, experience the Great River Road one bite and one sip at a time. The Mississippi River Valley is not only a rich land that helps feed the world; it provides fresh and delicious offerings to travelers on the route. The Great River Road will lead you to straight to this bounty. Discover why some of the most delicious food on earth is grown along the Mississippi.

Here are some fresh ideas for your trip:

Pick your own

One for the mouth, one for the basket? It can be tempting to eat a few when you’re enjoying a little time on a pick-your-own farm. Grab a pail or a basket and reap the season’s rewards. The Great River Road passes dozens of berry patches and orchards.

Head to market

There’s a bounty to be found this season in the fields, parks and parking lots along the Great River Road. Local vendors offer farm-fresh fruits and vegetables as well as locally made crafts and baked goods. See where to find markets here.

Pop a cork

Generations of wine growers have capitalized on the fertile soil and steep hillsides of the Mississippi River Valley. Toast their success at one of the wineries along the Great River Road. Take in beautiful views of the vineyards, do a tour and tasting and pick up a special vintage to remember the day. Find wineries here.

Say cheese

The northern stretch of the route passes dairy country and there are some award-winning cheeses made right along the route. Plan ahead and bring a cooler along; you will taste some amazing cheese that might have to come home with you!

Pick an apple

Climb a ladder, or just go for the low-hanging fruit. Either way, apple, cherry and peach orchards offer plenty of delicious reasons to go picking this season. Fruit never tastes better than when it is fresh off the branch. Keep an eye out for heirloom varieties that you’ll never find in a supermarket. See a list of orchards here.

 

Downtown St. Paul Farmers Market_LeslieAnderson

Photo: Leslie Anderson / Explore Minnesota

Must-see birding on the Great River Road

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Roseate spoonbill

Roseate spoonbill

The Great River Road is one of the world’s premier spots for birding. The road traces the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route followed by 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. The Great River Road is flanked by vast refuges, expansive forests and beautiful parks that provide rich habitat and protection for these beautiful creatures.

Travelers on the Great River Road have the opportunity to encounter an abundance of species and there are endless places to relax and take in the beauty of the flyway’s birds.

Here are some great places to start a birding adventure on the Great River Road:

Itasca State Park. The home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in Minnesota, hosts birds in its boreal forests and mixed hardwoods. Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest park. With 222 species found here, it’s also one of Minnesota’s premier birding locations.

Reelfoot Lake State Park. Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake was created by a series of earthquakes in the early 1800s and today is a magnificent wildlife viewing and birding location. You’ll find many varieties of shore and wading birds here and white pelicans and eagles pay seasonal visits to the park.

National Eagle Center. Want to get up close and personal with an eagle? Pay a visit to Wabasha, Minn., where you can meet bald and golden eagles at daily demonstrations or take a look at eagles perched above the Mississippi River from the observation deck.

Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge—located in southeastern Arkansas—was created in 1935 specifically to protect migratory birds. Birders can find countless species among the beautiful forests and lakes.

Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. In western Kentucky near Benton, this 8,500-acre refuge contains bottomland hardwood forests used by over 200 species of neotropical songbirds for a migration stopover spot or for nesting.

 

Golfing the Great River Road

Thursday, March 24, 2016

ONA Golf Course 3_resultIt’s always worth making room in your trunk for some clubs when you’re driving the Great River Road. The route will take you past some of America’s finest courses and you’re never far from great golfing. The Mississippi River Valley features some spectacular terrain that makes for challenging play. Many courses offer dramatic views of the valley and the river beyond. Here are some golf courses to check out that are on or near America’s oldest and longest scenic byway:

Trempealeau Mountain Golf Club, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

This fun and challenging course is located on beautiful rolling farm land.

Galena Golf Club, Galena, Illinois

Built in 1927, the Galena Golf Club is an 18 hole, par 71 course that challenges golfers of all skill levels.

Emerald Greens, St. Louis, Missouri

This course provides beautiful views and a chance to see some of the Mississippi region’s wildlife.

Links at Riverside, Memphis, Tennessee

For more than a century, golfers have been playing this public course near the river’s edge, which is also a short drive from downtown Memphis.

River Bend Links, Robinsville, Mississippi

This par 72 links-style golf course presents the only true Scottish links course in the mid-South.

Audubon Park Golf Course, New Orleans

Located just minutes from downtown New Orleans, this immaculate 18-hole course is surrounded by century-old oak trees.

 

Travel along the Great River Road with author Gayle Harper

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Want to take an amazing road trip along the Great River Road? Order your copy of “Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River,” the latest book from travel photographer and author Gayle Harper.

gayle harper book

Harper’s award-winning book follows a raindrop named Serendipity as it takes the 90-day journey along the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Hear stories from the people who make their homes along the Mississippi and enjoy 200 color photos highlighting the voyage.

To order your own personalized, autographed copy, click here.

Also, every book comes with a free copy of the Great River Road 10-state travel map, which highlights interpretive centers and cities along America’s oldest National Scenic Byway.

Things we’re thankful for along the Great River Road

Thursday, November 19, 2015

davenportIt’s Thanksgiving next week, so we’re thinking about all the reasons we’re giving thanks this season. Here are just a few things we’re thankful for along the Great River Road.

Beautiful scenery. We’re past peak color season, but traveling the Great River Road in spring, summer and fall offers awe-inspiring scenery. Scenic areas along the Mississippi River bluffs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa provide spectacular views of the river and are especially picturesque in fall.

Delicious food. Farm-to-table delicacies. Mouth-watering barbecue. Fresh seafood. Whatever you have an appetite for, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find it in your drive along the Great River Road. If you’re headed south on the Great River Road, be sure to visit New Orleans—one of the best food cities in the world.

Interesting attractions. Up and down the Great River Road, you’ll find scores of interesting attractions, from fish hatcheries to art museums to science centers. Stop by one of the more than 70 interpretive centers along the Great River Road to learn about the culture, heritage, history and ecology of the Mississippi River Region.

Hometown hospitality. From big cities like St. Louis, New Orleans and Minneapolis to small river towns across the northern and southern sections of the river, you’ll find friendly folks all along your drive. Spend some time exploring charming Main Streets or taking in the hustle and bustle of the big city (or give both a try).

Happy Thanksgiving!