Category Archives: States

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.

Explore these charming Mississippi River cities & towns

Monday, December 13, 2021

All along the Great River Road, you’ll find villages, small towns and big cities rich in the culture, history and cuisine of the Mississippi River region. Here’s a closer look at just a few river communities you shouldn’t miss on your next Great River Road trip.

Red Wing, Minnesota

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River about an hour south of the Twin Cities, Red Wing has a great small-town vibe, with a welcoming downtown filled with historic buildings, as well as an impressive food and drink scene and great spots for scenery and outdoor recreation.

Stockholm, Wisconsin

Head across the Mississippi River at Red Wing and travel south along Highway 35 on the Wisconsin side of the river, and you’ll find the quaint village of Stockholm. Stockholm, which sits upon the shores of the impressive Lake Pepin (the largest lake on the Mississippi River), takes its Swedish heritage seriously and embraces its historic downtown, whose storefronts are filled with restaurants and shops catering to visitors.

Galena, Illinois

Consistently named one of the best small towns in America, Galena is a popular travel destination that’s a “one-tank trip” from many Midwestern cities. Visitors will marvel at Galena’s well-preserved 19th-century buildings (you can take them in while riding a trolley on one of the town’s historic tours) as well as its iconic Main Street, which is home to more than 125 shops and restaurants.  

Dubuque, Iowa

Proclaiming itself as the place “where Iowa started,” Dubuque sits along a scenic stretch of the Mississippi River in east-central Iowa. Visitors will find unique attractions like the Fenelon Place Elevator—the world’s shortest, steepest railway, which takes visitors up the bluffs overlooking downtown. Shop and dine in a downtown that was once home to a booming warehouse industry or visit the Mines of Spain Recreation Area.

Memphis, Tennessee

Well, Memphis isn’t exactly a small river town, but it is definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling along the southern section of the Great River Road. The list of places to go is almost endless—Beale Street, Graceland, BBQ restaurants and important sites like the National Civil Rights Museum all make the list—but there’s really so much to explore in the Home of the Blues.

Clarksdale, Mississippi

Speaking of the blues, Clarksdale—about an hour and a half south of Memphis along iconic Highway 61—is home to the Delta Blues Museum, which shares the stories of the legendary musicians from Mississippi and throughout the Delta who helped develop this uniquely American form of music. The blues lives on in Clarksdale to this day, too—you can find live music almost every night and fun music festivals throughout the year.

Discover more cultural attractions along the Great River Road

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Great River Road was recently designated an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration, in part because of the National Scenic Byway’s historic and cultural significance. Here are a few places to visit where you can learn about the people and places that shaped the Mississippi River Region.

Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site, Kentucky

Learn about the sophisticated cultures that called the Mississippi River Valley home at this state historic site just across the river from Cairo, Illinois. The Mississippian (or mound-building) culture called this area home between the years of about 1100 and 1350, and present-day visitors can see several mounds built by these Native peoples at this scenic site. There is also a museum that features exhibits of items excavated from the archaeological site, including Mississippian pottery, stone tools and other artifacts. The Ceremonial Mound—the largest at the site—offers a spectacular view of the Mississippi River and surrounding bluffs.

Learn more about Wickliffe Mounds here.

Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin

One of Wisconsin’s oldest state parks, this stunning natural area sits 500 feet above the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers just south of Prairie du Chien. The park is well-known for its natural beauty, with several stunning vistas of the river valleys below, and dozens of animal and bird species, including deer, beaver, fox, eagles, owls, and songbirds, make their home in the park. Wyalusing State Park—the name means “of the warrior” in the Lenape language of the tribes who lived in the region—is also home to the Wyalusing State Park Mounds Archaeological District, a collection of several Native American burial mounds that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Learn more about Wyalusing State Park here.

Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas

Located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, this historic site is the home of the first semi-permanent French settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley—a trading post called “Poste de Arkansea” established in 1686 at the Quapaw village of Ostouy. Arkansas Post has served as a gathering place for the French, Spanish and Americans in the centuries since, and by 1819, it was a thriving river port and was selected as the first capital of the Arkansas Territory. Today, travelers can explore the visitor center and museum to view exhibits on the site’s history, explore Arkansas Post’s historic town site via walking trails and even see historic weapons demonstrations.

Learn more about Arkansas Post National Memorial here.

Mississippi River towns, Minnesota

A trip along the southern part of Minnesota’s section of the Great River Road is a trip through history. These cities depended on the Mississippi River for their livelihood, and signs of these towns’ prominence in the late 19th and early 20th century can still be seen today. Hastings is home to two historic districts: the East Second Street Commercial Historic District, which includes 35 structures built between 1860 and 1900, and the West Second Street Residential Historic District, consisting of more than a dozen homes built in the 19th century. Red Wing—home to the famous boot company of the same name—has five historic districts, and the St. James Hotel, which was built in 1874, is one of the only hotels of its size and character still in operation along the river in Minnesota. Other river towns of note include Wabasha (Minnesota’s oldest city) and Winona (known for its historic downtown and attractions like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum).

Cultural attractions along the Great River Road

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cultural attractions abound on the Great River Road, recently named an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration. Here’s a closer look at some unique attractions along the route that educate travelers about the history and culture of the river region.

South Main Arts District, Tennessee

This famed district in downtown Memphis (between Beale Street and Crump Boulevard) is home to some of the city’s headline attractions, including the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the Blues Hall of Fame and The Arcade (one of Elvis’ favorite restaurants). Visitors can also take in incredible local art with a DIY walking tour of the district’s murals and mosaics, and three galleries (Art Village Gallery, Jack Robinson Gallery and Edge Gallery) showcase everything from photography to global artworks. Learn more about the South Main Arts District here

Village of Elsah, Illinois

Walking through downtown Elsah—just a short drive across the river north of St. Louis—is like taking a step back in time. In fact, the entire village was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and visitors can walk through historic buildings that are now charming shops, tasty restaurants and welcoming places to stay. Elsah is home to unparalleled natural beauty, too, as it sits between limestone bluffs on the banks of the Mississippi River, offering outstanding vistas of the surrounding area. Learn more about Elsah here.

Toolesboro Mounds National Historic Landmark, Iowa

Near the confluence of the Iowa and Mississippi rivers in southeastern Iowa lies a collection of seven Indian burial mounds constructed by the Hopewell people (a name given to them from the location of an archaeological dig; there has been no evidence of written language, so historians do not know how the group referred to themselves). The mounds were constructed sometime between 100 BC and AD 200—today, visitors can see two of the mounds (including Mound 2, the largest) when they visit the Educational Center, where they can also learn more about the Hopewell tradition. Learn more about Toolesboro Mounds National Historic Landmark here.

Plantation homes, Louisiana

Just west of New Orleans, travelers on the Great River Road in Louisiana will discover several sites that allow visitors to see what Southern history was like. Laura Plantation in Vacherie highlights the lives of the Creole inhabitants of the region and how they lived their lives, as well as examining slavery as it existed at Laura Plantation. Oak Alley Plantation, also in Vacherie, is famous for its alley of 300-year-old oak trees, and visitors can explore exhibits on the Civil War, slavery and other topics on the grounds. Houmas House in nearby Darrow takes visitors on a tour of a 250-year history of the site and is also home to the on-site Louisiana Great River Road Museum, which features exhibits on the culture, commerce, folklore and music of the river region.

Discover these hidden gems on the Great River Road

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

There’s a lot to discover on the Great River Road (recently named one of the country’s newest All-American Roads). Here’s a look at a few unique events and attractions you can find along the route that you might not have heard of before.

Wings Over the Prairie Festival, Arkansas

Stuttgart, Arkansas—located about an hour southeast of Little Rock—is home to a unique event every Thanksgiving week: the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest & Wings Over the Prairie Festival. This annual celebration is the largest outdoor expo in the mid-South promoting duck hunting, a popular activity in the Arkansas Delta. The event includes a Queen Mallard pageant, several duck calling contests, outdoor exhibits, games, midway rides, food, vendors and much more.

Stuttgart is also home to the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, one of the Great River Road’s official Interpretive Centers.

Popeye the Sailor Man, Illinois

Popeye statue

Photo: Great Rivers County

Travel the Great River Road in Illinois to discover the hometown of Popeye the Sailor Man. Chester, Illinois (population: 8,300) was the home of Popeye creator Elzie C. Segar, and a statue of his famous character can be found in Segar Memorial Park. Head to the Chester Welcome Center, where you can learn more about the Popeye & Friends Character Trail.

National Pearl Button Museum, Iowa

Muscatine History and Industry Center Used Shells

Photo: Paula Mayer

Did you know that the Great River Road town of Muscatine, Iowa, is the Pearl Button Capital of the World? Pearl buttons—made from clamshells found in the Mississippi River and other waterways—were a big business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, signifying wealth and prestige. By the early 1900s, Muscatine produced 1.5 billion buttons annually, accounting for 37 percent of the world’s total production. Learn about this unique industry and the history of Muscatine at this interesting museum in downtown Muscatine.

Tiger Stadium and Mike the Tiger, Louisiana

Mike the Tiger-swimming

Photo: Louisiana State University

How many college campuses have a real-live tiger on campus? That’s the case at Louisiana State University (LSU to college football aficionados), located in Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge. Whether you’re in town on a Saturday for a game at Tiger Stadium (a bucket list item for any college football fan) or just visiting the campus, you can find the habitat of LSU’s favorite feline Mike the Tiger on North Stadium Drive across from the stadium. Mike is usually outside every day between 8am and 8pm (but if you miss him, you can always check out his webcam).