Category Archives: States

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)

Explore the southern Great River Road with this itinerary

Monday, November 07, 2022

The southern Mississippi River states offer a wide range of experiences and places to visit, from tours of important sites in the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement to iconic music venues and attractions. This five-day itinerary will take you along the Great River Road in five states—Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana—and highlight some of this All-American Road’s top offerings.

Day 1 – Memphis

Start your trip in Memphis, Tennessee, where you’ll discover outstanding live music, tons of interesting attractions, fabulous dining, and so much more.

Spend the day visiting Memphis’ iconic musical attractions, including Elvis’ Presley’s Graceland (an entertainment complex where you can tour of the King of Rock’ n Roll’s home, visit his grave, and discover countless items of Elvis memorabilia), Sun Studio (where Elvis and other iconic artists recorded), the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and more.

History buffs shouldn’t miss the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel, which features interactive exhibits and a massive collection of historic objects that tell the story of the American Civil Rights movement.

If you’re looking to get outside, you can explore unique outdoor attractions like Shelby Farms Park (which spans 4,500 acres and boasts 10+ miles of trails and its own herd of bison), Mud Island River Park (home to a scale model of the entire Mississippi River), and Big River Crossing (the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi).

After a day of exploring, head to the Beale Street entertainment district to take in a live show at iconic venues like B.B. King’s Blues Club, Alfred’s Restaurant and Bar, and Tin Roof.

Day 2 – Kentucky and Arkansas

In the morning, explore more of the Memphis attractions you might have missed or grab a bite to eat at one of the city’s amazing breakfast spots and hit the road for a day of adventure.

Head north from Memphis into Kentucky and explore historical sites like Columbus-Belmont State Park (140 miles, 2:45) or Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site (155 miles, 3 hours). Columbus-Belmont State Park is the site of a Civil War fortification built by the Confederates and later occupied by Union forces. Wickliffe Mounds is an archaeological site that was home to a Native American village from 1100 to about 1350 and still boasts impressive earthen mounds today.

On your way back south, head west into Arkansas to find things to see and do along their section of the Great River Road. Stop by the Delta Gateway Museum in downtown Blytheville (100 miles, 2 hours from Columbus-Belmont State Park) to learn about the people and history of northeastern Arkansas. Find outstanding Delta scenery and great recreation options at Mississippi River State Park in Marianna (115 miles, 1:45 from Blytheville) or head to the Delta Cultural Center in Helena (140 miles, 2:15 from Blytheville to learn all about the Mississippi River Delta in Arkansas.

Head back across the river into Clarksdale to spend the night and get ready to explore music history in Mississippi’s Delta region.

Day 3 – Clarksdale to Natchez

Clarksdale in northwestern Mississippi is “the Home of the Blues,” and it certainly lives up to that name. Here, you can explore unique attractions like the Delta Blues Museum, which boasts a massive collection of memorabilia from blues legends, and the famed “Devil’s Crossroads,” where a young Robert Johnson reputedly sold his soul to the Devil for his unnatural musical talent.

Music lovers will find live blues music 365 nights a year in Clarksdale’s clubs and juke joints. Catch a blues legend or up-and-coming act at iconic venues like the Ground Zero Blues Club, Red’s Juke Joint, the Bad Apple Blues Club, and the Shack Up Inn.

From Clarksdale, continue your trip south to Cleveland, where you’ll find the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi (40 miles, 40 minutes from Clarksdale), home to unique interactive exhibits and an outstanding collection of instruments, outfits, and more from performers across the music spectrum. A short drive from Cleveland is Indianola, home to the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center (25 miles, 35 minutes), which tells the story of King’s life and career.

Next, follow the Great River Road to Vicksburg (100 miles, 1:45). Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War—it includes the largest burial site for Union soldiers and sailors, as well as historic monuments, a cannon display, battle fortifications, and more. Vicksburg is also home to the Lower Mississippi River Museum, which features exhibits about the famous 1927 flood, a 1,500-gallon aquarium filled with native fish, and more.

From Vicksburg, head to Natchez (75 miles, 1:30) and get ready for the rest of your trip.

Day 4 – Natchez to New Orleans

Natchez is one of the oldest cities in Mississippi and home to one of the largest collections of historic buildings in the country. Historic homes like Auburn, Magnolia Hall, Stanton Hall, and the unfinished Longwood, are all open for tours, and Natchez is also the starting point of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which spans roughly 450 miles from Natchez to Nashville, Tennessee.

Spend time exploring Natchez’s historic, walkable downtown or hit the road again and head south to Baton Rouge (90 miles, 1:45), Louisiana’s capital city. Along the way, stop by The Myrtles in St. Francisville, which is known as one of America’s most haunted homes and offers daily tours. In Baton Rouge, take in the unique architecture of Old State Capitol, which is a National Historic Landmark, or tour historic buildings at the LSU Rural Life Museum & Windrush Gardens. Baton Rouge is also home classic Cajun and Creole cuisine, festivals, arts & culture, and lots more.

End the day by heading southeast to New Orleans (80 miles, 1:30).

Day 5 – New Orleans

There’s no better way to end a trip through the South without spending some time in New Orleans. Whether you’re visiting historic attractions like the French Market or the National World War II Museum, enjoying world-class cuisine in the city’s restaurants, or discovering live music in the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street, you’ve got lots of opportunities for fun in the Crescent City.

Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve has several units throughout south Louisiana in New Orleans and beyond, including the 23,000-acre Bataria Preserve; Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans; and three sites dedicated to Cajun culture and traditions. The Historic New Orleans Collection is a complex of French Quarter buildings that boasts an impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits about New Orleans’ history and culture.

(Photo: Jackson Square, New Orleans/Louisiana Office of Tourism)

Fun facts & trivia about the Great River Road

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Great River Road is an American institution—it’s been welcoming visitors for more than 80 years through Mississippi River communities in 10 states, from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Here are a few fun facts you might not know about this All-American Road.

  • The Great River Road is not a single road—it’s a collection of local, state, and federal highways that follow the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles through 10 states
  • The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (the group that oversees the Great River Road) was established in 1938 and has been welcoming travelers to the Mississippi River states for more than 80 years
  • The Great River Road in 2021 was recognized as All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration, a special designation for National Scenic Byways that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features
  • There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the Great River Road: Cahokia Mounds in Illinois and Poverty Point in Louisiana
  • Illinois (550 miles) contains the longest segment of the Great River Road; the shortest segment is in Kentucky (less than 60 miles)
  • The Mississippi River and the Great River Road pass through more than 110 parishes and counties from Minnesota to Louisiana
  • There are nearly 100 historic sites, museums, and other attractions that are part of the Great River Road Network of Interpretive Centers, institutions that tell the story of the Mississippi River and its people
  • Iowa’s stretch of Great River Road is home to the most Interpretive Centers (17); Arkansas has 15 and Minnesota has 13
  • Other states along the Great River Road and their number of Interpretive Centers: Illinois 9; Louisiana 9; Mississippi 8; Missouri 7; Wisconsin 6; Tennessee 3; Kentucky 2
  • It takes a drop of water 90 days to travel the length of the Mississippi River, from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in southern Louisiana
  • It would take about 36 hours of driving to complete the Great River Road north to south (but that only includes driving on one side of the river and does not include segments that are on both sides, e.g., Wisconsin/Iowa v. Illinois)
  • Music lovers will find lots of unique attractions along the Great River Road, including Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home, the famed Sun Studio and Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum
  • The Great River Road intersects with Route 66 near Alton, Illinois

(Photo: Great River Road near Grafton, Illinois, in fall/Illinois Office of Tourism)

Unique attractions along the southern Great River Road

Thursday, August 25, 2022

A trip along the Great River Road not only means great scenery, fantastic food, and engaging history—it also means a chance to discover some of the unique attractions that travelers can find along the route. Here’s a closer look at a few places to visit along the southern stretch of this All-American Road.

Kentucky

Kentucky’s section of the Great River Road is the shortest along the route, but there are still lots of interesting things to see and do along the Bluegrass State’s western edge. Columbus-Belmont State Park (part of the network of Great River Road Interpretive Centers) in Columbus offers great views of the Mississippi River from its campsites and trails and provides a glimpse at the Civil War history of the region. Visitors to the park will see a giant anchor and chain that was used (unsuccessfully, it turns out) to block Union ships from traversing the Mississippi, as well as Kentucky’s largest Civil War cannon. A museum on site educates visitors about Civil War history in the region, including the Battle of Belmont in November 1861.

Tennessee

Roadtrippers who explore Memphis will find a lot to love, from iconic attractions like Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum to world-famous barbeque and the sights and sounds of Beale Street. But two of the city’s more unique attractions are worth checking out, too. You can’t miss the Memphis Pyramid—this 300-foot-tall structure sits along the Mississippi River just north of downtown Memphis. Originally constructed as a sports arena, the Pyramid is now home to a Bass Pro Shops megastore, a hotel, two restaurants, the tallest freestanding elevator in the world, and many other attractions.

Just south of the Memphis Pyramid sits Mud Island, an iconic riverside attraction that’s home to the Riverwalk, a scale replica of the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois, to just south of New Orleans. Walk—or splash—along the roughly five-block route and you’ll end up at a million-gallon pool that represents the Gulf of Mexico and offers million-dollar views of the river and downtown Memphis. Admission to the park is free—take the Skybridge from downtown at Front Street and Poplar Ave. Folks interested in getting out on the river can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on site. 

Arkansas

Big River Crossing spans the Mississippi River between Memphis, Tennessee, and West Memphis, Arkansas, and is the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi. It’s also a popular destination for bicyclists and connects to trails throughout Memphis, West Memphis, and the Mississippi Delta. Big River Crossing is free and open daily from 6am to 10pm. The bridge also features more than 100,000 LED lights that are programmed nightly to commemorate special events, holidays, and other causes.

Music fans shouldn’t miss the chance to learn about country music legend Johnny Cash in Dyess, about a 45-minute drive north of West Memphis. The Historic Dyess Colony and Johnny Cash Boyhood Home—another Great River Road Interpretive Center—tells the story of the Dyess Colony, a federal agricultural resettlement community that was established in 1934 as part of the Works Progress Administration. The Cash family moved to Dyess in 1935, and the Cash home is one of the few remaining homes in the community. Visitors to the site will learn about what life was like there in the early part of the 20th century and how living there affected Cash and his music.

Mississippi

Uncover more history at one of the Civil War’s most important sites as you travel along the Great River Road in Mississippi. Vicksburg National Military Park (a Great River Road Interpretive Center), located in the west-central part of the state, educates visitors about the Battle of Vicksburg, which took place from March 29 to July 4, 1863, and the campaign leading up to this key conflict.

Another glimpse into Mississippi’s past can be found at the Windsor Ruins in Port Gibson, about a 40-mile drive south of Vicksburg. The ruins sit on the site of the former Windsor Plantation, which was home to one of the largest houses in Mississippi before the Civil War. In 1890, a fire destroyed the home, leaving only the immense concrete columns behind. Today Windsor Ruins is a popular spot for photo ops along the Mississippi Great River Road.

Louisiana

Like the rest of the South, Louisiana is full of iconic historic sites, from Civil War battlefields to towering cathedrals to UNESCO World Heritage sites. In the state capital of Baton Rouge, visitors will find Louisiana’s Old State Capitol, a National Historic Landmark that sits atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The castle-like Gothic-Victorian building was constructed in the late 1840s and was the home of the state legislature for nearly 90 years. Today, visitors can learn about state history at the Old State Capitol Museum and tour the unique architectural site, which includes a stained-glass cathedral dome.

New Orleans is famous for its ghost tours and other spectral attractions, but one of the most popular pastimes among visitors is touring local cemeteries. Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans proper, not the suburb of Metairie as one might think) is where some of the city’s most famous residents are buried, and it’s the perfect place to take a walk through history. See the graves of musicians like Louis Prima and Al Hirt, baseball Hall of Famer Mel Ott, and many local restaurateurs, like the founders of Brennan’s and Antoine’s. Learn more about New Orleans cemetery tours here.

Find summer fun along the Great River Road

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

There’s a lot to see and do along the Great River Road all year long, but summer offers an experience Mississippi River road trippers won’t soon forget. Here’s a closer look at some of the outdoor attractions, unique museums, and tasty summer treats you can find along the route.

Beaches, parks & boating

Just south of Wyalusing State Park in western Wisconsin, beachgoers will find the town of Wyalusing’s boat landing and beach, a popular spot for cooling off in the waters of the Mississippi River. The wide beach is also the perfect spot for a riverside picnic on a summer day. Note that there is a slight current and there is no lifeguard on duty, so beachgoers should exercise caution when swimming.

Lake Bruin State Park is a 53-acre park located between the Mississippi River and Lake Bruin in northeastern Louisiana that offers more than 3,000 acres of water to explore, making it a perfect destination for fishing, and watersports. The park also has lakeside camping opportunities, a swimming area, and a water playground.

Shelby Farms Park in east Memphis is massive—it spans more than 4,500 acres and is one of the largest urban parks in the country—and is home to more than 40 miles of trails and 20 bodies of water, as well as a zip line course, playgrounds, horseback riding and much more.

Want to get out on the Mississippi River? Hop on a Padelford Riverboats tour in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and enjoy the scenery along the Upper Mississippi River. Padelford offers several sightseeing and lunch/dinner cruises, as well as themed and holiday cruises.

Attractions & museums

Road trippers traveling along the Great River Road in Missouri shouldn’t miss one of the most iconic attractions along route—Gateway Arch National Park. In addition to the 600-foot arch, visitors can learn about the country’s growth at the Museum of Westward Expansion, which includes unique items from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Country music fans: Make plans to stop in Dyess in northeastern Arkansas to visit the Historic Dyess Colony, a federal agricultural settlement community that was part of the New Deal and happened to be the boyhood home of a country star named Johnny Cash. 

Looking for more music? Clarksdale in northeastern Mississippi is home to the Delta Blues Museum, a facility dedicated to the history of this most American of art forms. Visitors can see the home Muddy Waters lived in as a sharecropper, marvel at the instruments played by legends like John Lee Hooker and B.B. King and learn about the Delta’s most iconic musicians.

Cool treats

Fans of old-time ice cream parlors will hit the jackpot at Lagomarcino’s in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Established in Moline, Illinois, in 1908, Lagomarcino’s is still family-owned to this day, and the store boasts delicious handmade chocolates and other treats, as well as a soda fountain that serves up classic confections and ice cream. Head across the river to find another Lagomarcino’s location in Davenport. 

Another Quad Cities institution, Whitey’s Ice Cream has locations in Moline, Rock Island, and East Moline in Illinois and Davenport, Bettendorf, and Eldridge in Iowa. Chester “Whitey” Lindgren (so nicknamed because of his white-blond hair) opened his first ice cream shop in Moline in 1933, and the franchise has expanded to eight locations throughout the Quad Cities. The menu includes more than 40 flavors of ice cream, as well as shakes and malts, sundaes, and Bostons (a malt or shake with a sundae on top). 

The twin towns of Fulton, Kentucky, and South Fulton, Tennessee, come together every year to celebrate the almighty banana at the annual Banana Festival. (Why bananas? The area was an important railroad stop in the age of refrigerated railcars, and Fulton had the only icehouse on the route to Chicago, meaning fruits like bananas could be more easily transported from New Orleans to destinations in the northern United States). If your summer travel stretches into early fall, head to the Banana Festival in September, which culminates with the creation of a gigantic banana pudding.

What to see & do along the southern Great River Road

Monday, June 06, 2022

The southern Great River Road is a region rich in history, culture, music, and outstanding food—here’s a closer look at some of the welcoming cities, towns and unique attractions you should visit as you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Kentucky

Columbus Belmont State Park Kentucky Great River Road

Kentucky is home to the shortest stretch of the Great River Road, but there is still plenty to see and do along the route. Head to Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site to see earthen mounds created by the ancient people who inhabited the region in the 12th through 14th centuries. Take in amazing views of the Mississippi River and learn about the area’s Civil War history at Columbus-Belmont State Park.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Wickliffe: Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, Wickliffe is the seat of Ballard County and traces its founding to the 1880s, but people have lived in this scenic region overlooking the Mississippi River for nearly a thousand years

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Kentucky.

Tennessee

Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee

Photo: Tennessee Tourism

Tennessee’s section of the Great River Road offers a trip through outstanding scenery and engaging history. In the northwest corner of the state, visitors will find a state park at Reelfoot Lake, a 15,000-acre lake that is in actually a flooded forest (violent earthquakes in the region in 1811-12 formed the lake) and is a popular fishing and birdwatching spot. And don’t miss Memphis, which has long been a hub for music and culture in the country. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Henning: This western Tennessee community has a strong connection to African American heritage (visit the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center to learn about the “Roots” author) and is also home to great recreation options like the Mississippi River Corridor and Champion Lake
  • Memphis: Music history (Sun Studio, Graceland, Beale Street, the Stax Museum of American Soul are just a few of the attractions you’ll find), delicious food (Memphis is famed for its barbeque), and recreation options abound in this Mississippi River hub in southwestern Tennessee

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Tennessee.

Arkansas

Lake Chicot State Park Arkansas Great River Road

Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

As the Great River Road passes through the Delta, you’ll see plenty of reasons Arkansas is known as “the Natural State.” From National Forests to wildlife refuges to hundreds of lakes—not to mention the Mississippi River itself—Arkansas’ Great River Road offers plenty of recreational opportunities. Visitors will learn plenty about the Delta’s history, too, whether they’re visiting Johnny Cash’s boyhood home or learning about the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Helena-West Helena: Formed when two existing towns merged, Helena-West Helena offers visitors a trip through Southern history; visit the Delta Cultural Center to learn more about the region and don’t miss the King Blues Biscuit festival in October
  • Marianna: This small town southwest of Memphis is not only home to the scenic Mississippi River State Park and St. Francis National Forest, but also where you’ll find Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, a James Beard award-winning restaurant that’s one of the oldest black-owned restaurants in the country

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Arkansas.

Mississippi

Mississippi River bridges in Natchez

Photo: Visit Mississippi

Take a trip through the history of the American South as you travel the Great River Road in Mississippi. Stop in Natchez—the oldest city on the Mississippi River—to tour antebellum homes and learn about the events that shaped this part of the country at Vicksburg National Military Park. Mississippi is a mecca for blues fans, too, who can find iconic attractions like Dockery Farms, the Delta Blues Museum, the B.B. King Museum and more.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Clarksdale: This can’t-miss destination for blues lovers is home to great live music venues and festivals, the engaging Delta Blues Museum, and the iconic “Devil’s Crossroads,” where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly swapped his soul for his otherworldly talent
  • Natchez: The oldest city on the Mississippi River was founded more than 300 years ago, and that history is evident today in its large collection of antebellum homes and traditional events like the Spring Pilgrimage and the Natchez Balloon Festival 

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions

Learn more about the Great River Road in Mississippi.

Louisiana

 Capitol Park Museum Baton Rouge Louisiana

Photo: Louisiana Office of Tourism

The Great River Road runs along both sides of the Mississippi River as it passes through Louisiana on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, travelers will encounter historical river towns like Plaquemine and St. Francisville, as well as iconic cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In the state’s far southeastern corner, you’ll find the unincorporated community of Venice, which marks the end of the Great River Road. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Baton Rouge: Louisiana’s capital city was founded more than 300 years ago and its central location in the state still attracts legions of visitors who seek out the city’s great food, iconic history, and unique arts and culture
  • New Orleans: No trip along the southern Great River Road is complete without a visit to New Orleans—whether you’re looking for historical sites, mouthwatering food, classic cocktails, great recreation options or pretty much anything else, you’ll find it in the Big Easy

Interpretive Centers & Other Attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Louisiana.

Estimated travel times along the northern Great River Road:

  • Wickliffe, KY to Tiptonville, TN: 1.25 hours
  • Tiptonville, TN to Memphis, TN: 2 hours
  • Memphis, TN to Clarksdale, MS: 1.5 hours
  • Clarksdale, MS to Lake Village, AR: 1.75 hours
  • Lake Village, AR to Vicksburg, MS: 1.75 hours
  • Vicksburg, MS to Natchez, MS: 1.5 hours
  • Natchez, MS to Baton Rouge, LA: 1.5 hours
  • Baton Rouge, LA to New Orleans, LA: 1.75 hours
  • New Orleans, LA to Venice, LA: 1.5 hours

Take a trip along the northern Great River Road

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

It’s a great time to take a ride along the Great River Road—the weather is getting warmer, and the scenery can’t be beat. Here’s a look at what to see and do along the northern half of the Great River Road All-American Road, from Minnesota to Missouri. 

Minnesota

The Great River Road starts in Minnesota at the same place the Mississippi River does: Lake Itasca in the far north-central part of the state. At Itasca State Park, visitors will find the headwaters of the Mississippi River, shallow enough here to walk across with the help of a few steppingstones. From there, the Great River Road heads north to Bemidji, where it turns south to make its long voyage through the Twin Cities and historic river towns like Red Wing and Winona.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Bemidji: Known as “the first city on the Mississippi”, Bemidji actually sits north of the headwaters of the Mississippi River and is where the river (and the road) starts its turn south
  • Minneapolis and Saint Paul: Minnesota’s Twin Cities have something to offer everyone, from outstanding recreation on the Mississippi River and surrounding lakes to rich history and culture to the largest shopping mall in the western hemisphere

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Minnesota.

Wisconsin

The Mississippi River meets the St. Croix River in northwestern Wisconsin, and that’s where the Wisconsin Great River Road starts. Travelers will discover more than 30 historic river towns and villages and 250 miles of scenic bluffs, lakes, and stunning scenery. 

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Alma: This historic village—about a 90-mile drive from the Twin Cities—offers one of the best overlooks of the Upper Mississippi River at Buena Vista Park
  • Potosi: Located at the southern end of the Wisconsin Great River Road, Potosi is a great place for exploration—raise a glass at the historic Potosi Brewery after a day of adventure

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Wisconsin.

Iowa

The scenery continues to stun as visitors follow the western banks of the Mississippi River through Iowa. Marvel at the view atop soaring bluffs, explore historic and charming small towns, and discover the area’s rich agricultural history at interesting attractions in the Quad Cities and beyond.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Dubuque: Located in far northeastern Iowa, Dubuque offers great options for outdoor fun, including the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, and unique attractions like the Fenelon Place Elevator
  • Quad Cities: The Quad Cities (Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois) is a great place to explore, providing visitors with everything from casinos and minor-league baseball to John Deere factory tours and outstanding bike paths

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Iowa.

Illinois

The longest stretch of the Great River Road can be found in Illinois. Travelers start in the iconic small town of Galena in the northwest and follow a winding route for hundreds of miles, passing wineries, state parks, and the remains of the largest prehistoric settlement in North America.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Galena: Often mentioned as one of the best small towns in America, Galena’s historic charm, beautiful scenery, and great dining and shopping options keep people coming back year after year
  • Alton: Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the city of Alton is also the meeting place of three iconic road routes: The Great River Road, Route 66, and the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Illinois.

Missouri

Discover “the gateway to the west” along Missouri’s stretch of the Great River Road. Head back in time to see what life was like during the riverboat days of Mark Twain, visit St. Louis’ iconic attractions, and learn about America’s westward expansion.

Cities & towns to visit:

  • Hannibal: This historic town north of St. Louis is proud of its most famous resident—author Mark Twain—and visitors will find everything from Twain’s old home to the caves he explored to breweries with his name on it
  • Ste. Genevieve: Another Mississippi River city that’s steeped in history, Ste. Genevieve was founded in 1735 and was the first European settlement west of the Mississippi River 

Interpretive Centers & other attractions:

Learn more about the Great River Road in Missouri.

Estimated travel times along the northern Great River Road:

  • Lake Itasca to Minneapolis/Saint Paul: 3.5 hours
  • Minneapolis to Winona, MN: 2.25 hours
  • La Crosse, WI to Dubuque, IA: 2.5 hours
  • Dubuque, IA to the Quad Cities: 2 hours
  • Galena, IL to the Quad Cities: 2 hours
  • Quad Cities to Hannibal, MO: 3.25 hours
  • Hannibal, MO to St. Louis: 2.25 hours
  • St. Louis to Ste. Genevieve, MO: 1 hour
  • Ste. Genevieve, MO to Cairo, IL: 1.5 hours

Can’t-miss parks and natural areas along the Great River Road

Thursday, March 31, 2022

It’s a great time to get out and explore the Great River Road. Here’s a state-by-state look at parks and natural areas you shouldn’t miss on your next Mississippi River road trip.

Minnesota: Itasca State Park

While it’s most well-known as the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota has a lot more to offer, including nearly 50 miles of hiking trails, hundreds of campsites, historic lodges, and four lakes to explore (including Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River).

Wisconsin: Wyalusing State Park

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, Wyalusing State Park is one of Wisconsin’s oldest and most scenic state parks. Visitors will discover outstanding views from the 500-foot-tall bluffs overlooking the river, as well as 14 miles of hiking trails, more than 100 campsites, canoe and kayak rentals, great fishing, and much more.

Iowa: Effigy Mounds National Monument

This National Park Service site, located just north of Wyalusing State Park on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, preserves more than 200 American Indian mounds that were constructed thousands of years ago along one of the most scenic stretches of the river. Enjoy the natural beauty of the area with a hike along the trails or go on a ranger-led tour to learn more about the natural and cultural history of the region.

Illinois: Pere Marquette State Park

This scenic state park–Illinois’ largest–is located just north of St. Louis at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Pere Marquette State Park is a popular destination in all seasons, known for its great views of the Illinois River and plentiful recreational opportunities, including camping, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and boating.

Missouri: Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park

Also located just north of St. Louis, this small Missouri state park can be found at the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where the Lewis & Clark Expedition began their famous voyage at the turn of the 19th century. A short trail that takes visitors to the confluence point is also a great place for birdwatching in the spring.

Kentucky: Columbus-Belmont State Park

Overlooking the Mississippi River in western Kentucky, Columbus-Belmont State Park is s home to an interesting Civil War museum located in a farmhouse that once served as a Confederate hospital. The park also includes a campground, hiking trails, and a picnic area.

Tennessee: Reelfoot Lake State Park

Reelfoot Lake is a popular destination for outdoor recreation and is home to great fishing and birdwatching (especially during the spring and fall migrations along the Mississippi River Flyway). Three hiking trails along the lakeshore are great for waterfowl viewing. The park’s nature center includes captive raptors and other wildlife from the area.

Arkansas: Mississippi River State Park

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the St. Francis National Forest in central Arkansas, this park features dramatic and beautiful scenery. Explore the park’s trails or go fishing for largemouth bass, crappie and channel catfish. The park is part of the Audubon Great River Birding Trail and offers a diverse array of birds and wildlife. 

Mississippi: Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge

The Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge is the oldest wildlife refuge in Mississippi and is a popular spot for wildlife observation and birdwatching. Visitors are encouraged to check out the refuge’s two dedicated wildlife observation areas–the Holt Collier Boardwalk and Observation Tower on Lizard Lake and the open-sided observation tower at Alligator Pond.

Louisiana: Barataria Preserve

Part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in and around New Orleans, the Barataria Preserve covers 26,000 acres of Louisiana wetlands, hardwood forests, swamps, bayous, and marshes. Visitors will encounter a variety of wildlife, including alligators and more than 200 species of birds, as they explore the preserve’s trails and waterways. Ranger programs are offered daily, and admission to the preserve is free.

22 reasons to drive the Great River Road

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

It’s a new year, the perfect time for a new adventure on the Great River Road. This All-American Road offers everything you need in a road trip, from amazing scenery to engaging history to delicious cuisine. Here are some reasons why you should hit the road along the Mississippi River this year.

  1. Nearly 3,000 miles of road that passes through 10 states’ worth of history, culture, food and beautiful scenery
  2. A chance to visit charming river towns and big cities
  3. The Great River Road is now an All-American Road, a distinct honor from the Federal Highway Administration that acknowledges the road’s significance and one-of-a-kind attractions
  4. A network of nearly 100 Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites & more that tell the story of the river
  5. Stunning scenery all along the drive
  6. See the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where the Mississippi is so narrow you can walk across it
  7. Great music sites like the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi, Beale Street and Graceland in Memphis and New Orleans’ Frenchman Street
  8. National Park sites: Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri); Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota); Effigy Mounds National Monument (Iowa); Arkansas Post National Memorial; Natchez National Historic Park (Mississippi) and more
  9. Chances to get out on the water all along the Great River Road
  10. Head out in September to celebrate Drive the Great River Road Month, one of the best times of the year to make the drive
  11. Incredible local parks and scenic overlooks
  12. Can’t-miss history museums like the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis,  The Cabildo in New Orleans and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis
  13. Local flavors at restaurants, farmers’ markets and more—see some of our fans’ favorites here
  14. Great birdwatching—more than 300 species of birds make their migratory round trip every year via the Mississippi River Flyway
  15. Impressive civil engineering at the more than two dozen locks and dams on the northern Mississippi River
  16. Hidden gems like Arkansas’s World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest & Wings Over the Prairie Festival and Mike the Tiger—a real-live tiger that lives on the campus of Louisiana State University (see more hidden gems here and here)
  17. River cruises—you can find daylong excursions on the backwaters or weekslong cruises on the northern and southern sections of the river
  18. Amazing opportunities to see fall color
  19. UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Cahokia Mounds (Illinois) and Poverty Point (Louisiana)
  20. Opportunities for outdoor recreation all along the route
  21. Great places to learn about the river region’s natural history, like the National Eagle Center and the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
  22. Tasty wineries and breweries all along the route

That’s just a quick look—plan your Great River Road getaway today and find your own reasons to take America’s greatest drive.