There’s no better place for a driving adventure than the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, the best scenic drive in America. There’s so much to take in—the 3,000-mile route travels through 10 states, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Here are some tools to help you plan the perfect trip.
An ideal resource for navigating the byway fits in your pocket. The Drive the Great River Road app is available for Apple and Android devices and includes scenic overlooks, museums, historical sites and more.
The byway has a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. Make plans to visit some of these centers to learn about the river and find useful travel information. See the full listing of interpretive centers.
Metro Arts brings together artistically talented young adults and provides them with productive, creative, paid apprenticeships in the arts. The program is open to any student age 15-21 residing in the Quad City area. This annual program has beautified both sides of the river, with many murals drawing inspiration from the culture and history of the region.
2018 projects include multiple public murals, an improv comedy troupe, and photography.
Bring your children out to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge and learn the prairie through art activities appropriate to each age group. Use hands on activities to learn more about the life on the prairie. This program is a partnership with an art teacher and the refuge rangers. Be prepared to be outside (and possibly inside). Bring water, sun protection, and curiosity.
Ever wanted to learn how the photographers get that great photo? Join local photographer, Phil Addis, as he helps you set up for success with some of the tips and tricks that he has learned along the way. Phil has displayed his photographs at the library and through his Facebook page: Philaddisphotography.com. Bring your camera equipment such as lens, filters, tripod, and fully charged battery as well as water and dress for the weather. Program has informal classroom setting with an outside practice session during the “golden” light near the end of day. Everyone is welcome.
Rock the Arts is a brand new event this summer, formerly known as Gallery Hop! This time, there will be TWO days of art shows, music, an art market, live demos by Joel Knanishu and the Quad Cities Woodturners Club, and more at THREE venues in downtown Rock Island. This event is FREE and family-friendly!
First Stop: The ARTery and Midcoast Fine Arts Gallery West at 1629 2nd Ave
See their Life is ART exhibit and help support NAMI, while browsing the art market
Second Stop: Quad City Arts at 1715 2nd Ave
The gallery will have food, drinks, art vendors, and the colorful show by Greg Dickinson and David Balluff will be up
Third Stop: Desoto Studios at 2324 3rd Ave
Two days of live music, art demos by professional local artists, art vendors, and studio tours down at Desoto Studios! There will also be an art table for the kids..or for the kids at heart!
Music lineup includes: The Camel Tones – 90s and modern rock, performing both days, Doug Cochran – outlaw/red dirt Americana, Dr. Heat’s smooth jams, Karl Beatty Acoustic – modern rock, Sons of Mars – alternative rap, Ahzia – synth/alt hip hop, and more!
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway is more than an iconic driving destination. It’s a route that will help you explore America’s rich story. The pilot’s wheel signs along the road will guide you along this journey, leading you to a network of Interpretive Centers, where you’ll learn about the important people and places along the Mississippi River. As you plan your next trip on the Great River Road, make plans to visit some of these centers.
The Mississippi River has a long and rich history. Interpretive centers detail the region’s Native American History—in Collinsville, Illinois, you can explore the remains of the most sophisticated native civilization north of Mexico at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. In Minneapolis, learn about the Twin Cities’ history as a flour mill capital with immersive, interesting exhibits at the Mill City Museum. Visit the home of Wisconsin’s first millionaire at Villa Louis.
In Mississippi, explore the heritage of blues country. Visit the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale to see the sharecropper home of Muddy Waters and guitars played by many blues greats. Learn about the Arkansas Delta and its connection to blues music and American culture at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas.
The Great River Road is a premier birding route—it traces the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the path of the Mississippi River. About 40 percent of North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds follow the flyway, including bald eagles. Visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, to get a close look at these majestic creatures.
In northeastern Iowa, travelers will encounter impressive bluffs, hills and valleys along the Mississippi River. Learn about the geology, limnology and archeology of this unique region at the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.
September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a perfect time to explore the best scenic driving route in America. The seasons are changing and the beauty on the road is simply unforgettable. In the northern stretches of the route, fall is in full swing and leaves are turning brilliant shades of red, yellow and gold. Further south along the route, humidity of the summer is giving way to perfect fall weather.
Along the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase the culture and history of the river. Learn about the area’s rich Native American history, explore the boyhood history of Mark Twain, sample the nation’s brewing traditions, see majestic eagles in flight and more. Learn about the route’s interpretive centers here.
This Labor Day weekend, be sure to check out Snapchat filters at select interpretive centers and attractions along the Great River Road. You can find them at:
Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Villa Kathrine, Quincy, Illinois
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky
Arkansas Welcome Center on Lake Chicot in Lake Village, Arkansas
Migratory birds are on the move, heading south along the Mississippi Flyway, a migratory route that follows the Mississippi River through the United States. The river offers rich habitat for birds, and birders flock to the route every fall to take in the show. Learn about planning your Great River Road birding adventure here.
Fall color & agritourism
The Great River Road offers some of the heartland’s most spectacular scenery. It’s lined with parks and overlooks that are wonderful places to take in the season’s beauty. River bluffs are popular photography spots this time of year. It’s also an ideal time to stop by one of the many wineries and apple orchards along the route. See a listing of agritourism attractions here.
Some of the most dramatic views of the heartland can be found along the Mississippi. In Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, towering bluffs allow travelers to take in sweeping views of the river and farms and forests below. They are great places to visit to go for a hike, have a picnic or simply pause to take in the view.
Here are some awe-inspiring spots to take in the scenery.
From this 600-foor bluff you can take in the city of La Crosse and the rolling landscape referred to as the Coulee Region. You can see three states from this vantage point – Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
A new year will be here soon and it’s the perfect time to plan a trip on the Great River Road. There are more than 70 designated Great River Road Interpretive Centers to discover on the route. These interpretive centers include a variety of national museums and monuments. Like the Great River Road, they are national treasures worth exploring. They help tell the story of the river, including its ecology, events of the past and the people who have called this region home.
See a list of Great River Road attractions here. Here are details of some of the national museums and monuments you’ll find on the route.
National Eagle Center. Wabasha, Minnesota. Eagles are a regular sight on the Great Rover Road. Learn about this magnificent creature and see the birds up close in this fascinating center in the Upper Mississippi River Valley.
Visit the Great River Road Interpretive Center at the Potosi Brewing Company and visit the National Brewery Museum. This fun museum is a joint venture between the Potosi Foundation and the American Breweriana Association. It has an eclectic collection of beer bottles and cans, glasses, trays, coasters, advertising materials and more..
This beautiful museum showcases the culture and history of the Mississippi River. It has more than a dozen aquariums that display wildlife representative of the river, including sturgeon and giant catfish.
This interesting museum features a variety of interactive displays about the Mississippi River, including a display that illustrates the Mississippi Lock and Dam System. Visitors can also try their hand at steering a barge!
With the holidays fast approaching, it’s wise to have some conversation starters on hand. Check out these Great River Road fun facts!
From the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the grand finale in New Orleans, Louisiana, it would take 22 hours of non-stop driving to complete one half of the Great River Road.
But, if you were a raindrop, it’d take you 90 days to travel the same distance!
Minnesota has the longest portion of the Great River Road at 575 miles long.
Kentucky is home to the smallest section of the Great River Road, just 63 miles.
The Great River Road runs on both sides of the river, except between Hastings, Minnesota and the byway’s northern terminus.
Great River Road town Hannibal, Missouri is the hometown of famed author Mark Twain.
Two-thirds of Wisconsin’s Great River Road passes along or through protected natural areas.
Some of the oak trees along Louisiana’s Great River Road are more than 300 years old!
Illinois’s Great River Road is home to the confluence of three rivers – the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois.
River town Alton, Illinois has been named “One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America” by the Travel Channel.
Accolades come easy for the Great River Road. It’s been named, “Prettiest Drive in America,” one of the “U.S.A.’s Ten Best Motorcycle Roads,” one of the “1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die,” and “Best Drive in America.”
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