Category Archives: Illinois

Explore natural beauty along the Great River Road

Friday, April 16, 2021

Some of the most beautiful scenery in America can be found in the Mississippi River Valley, and the Great River Road is the route that will take you there. You’ll pass scores of gorgeous parks and natural areas—here are some of the finest that offer a chance to experience nature on and off the water.

Reminder: Local and state safety regulations may lead to reduced hours or changes in operations. Please contact specific businesses or attractions for more information before you visit.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

In this important national park in Iowa, you’ll find more than 200 earthen effigy mounds. Taking the shapes of a bird, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle or panther, these mounds were built by Native Americans 750 to 1,400 years ago for ceremonial purposes. The best way to tour the 2,526-acre park is to hike along the 14 miles of trails that wind their way through the landscape of forests, tallgrass prairies and wetlands. Along the way you’ll see some dramatic views of the Mississippi River.

Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky

Discover a mix of natural beauty and history at this gorgeous Kentucky state park. The park is uniquely educational, standing as a National Trail of Tears Site, and featuring a museum highlighting Civil War history—it was once a civil War hospital. Visitors can enjoy the natural wonders of Kentucky by camping out at one of the park’s 38 sites and hiking along picturesque bluffs of the Civil War Heritage Trail. 

Mississippi River State Park, Arkansas

Adventure awaits in this family-friendly park in Marianna. The park is popular for fishing, boating and kayaking excursions. The park is located within the 3,000-acre St. Francis National Forest, and there are seven bodies or water to explore. You’ll also find scenic hiking trails, welcoming picnic facilities and two swimming beaches.

Black Hawk State Historic Site, Illinois

Along the Rock River in Rock Island, Illinois, you’ll find the Black Hawk State Historic Site. It’s a wooded, steeply rolling 208-acre park that has a scenic 3-mile hiking trail that will take you along the Rock River and through a nature preserve. Prehistoric Indians and 19th century settlers made their homes here, but the area is most closely identified with the Sauk Nation and the warrior-leader Black Hawk. Discover the history of Black Hawk and the Sauk and Meskwaki people by visiting the park’s John Hauberg Museum.

Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana

Hike through time, history and natural beauty at this important site in Louisiana. Poverty Point is the location of a massive earthen structure that was built thousands of years ago. Archaeologists are still uncovering its secrets, but it’s believed to be an ancient residential, trade and ceremonial center. The site features a 2.7-mile trail that will take you through this amazing place and past carpets of seasonal wildflowers.  

Why we’re thankful for the Great River Road

Friday, November 06, 2020

America’s greatest scenic drive has introduced generations of travelers to the natural beauty and vibrant culture of the Mississippi region. Everyone who travels this route has their own Great River Road experience and this month, we’re taking time to reflect on some of our favorite things about the byway.

Here are just a few of the things we’re thankful for.

Sweeping vistas

Scenic views of the Mississippi never get old and travelers along the route are treated to some dramatic scenes. All you need to do is pull over and get out your camera. In Trempealeau, Wisconsin, Perrot State Park is located where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River. From the top of 500-foot cliffs you can see for miles. Stunning views can also be found downriver at Pikes Peak State Park in  McGregor, Iowa. A drive will take you up to scenic overlook areas at the top of the park’s 500-foot bluffs. You can see a broad expanse of river and numerous small islands. The park is one of the most photographed spots in Iowa.

Unforgettable meals

Food lovers: the Great River Road will lead you to some of America’s great cuisines. There are so many delicious things to savor on the route. In Wisconsin, a state that celebrates all things dairy, cheese curds rule at roadside restaurants. Order them with the local condiment of choice: ranch dressing. In Arkansas, hot tamales, a Latin American staple, has been the go-to meal for generations. It will be perfect fuel for your road trip in this beautiful state. In Louisiana, you can’t beat a beignet, the state doughnut. It’s best enjoyed slowly, between sips of hot chicory coffee. Learn more about these byway staples here.

Historical wonders

All along the route, you’ll encounter impressive historical sites, including many that predate European settlement. In Arkansas, Parkin Archeological State Park was the site of a former American Indian village from A.D. 1000 to 1600. The village visited by explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. In Illinois, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the remains of the largest and most sophisticated native civilizations north of Mexico. See more historic sites along the routes and other attractions here.

Incredible Interpretive Centers

Along the whole stretch of the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. These Interpretive Centers provide information about the river and the people who call the region home and include historical museums, impressive parks and national monuments. Some interpretive centers you’ll encounter on the route include the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Minnesota, the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi and the Mark Twain Museum Home & Museum in Missouri. Learn more about the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers here.

Chasing fall color on the Great River Road

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Autumn is one of the most spectacular times to travel the Great River Road. The Mississippi River Valley’s unique landscape explodes in brilliant shades of red and gold. Parks along the route offer dramatic vistas—they are perfect places to take in the beauty of the season. Here are some good bets for fall color along the northern section of the Great River Road.

Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

A good bet for fall color is this forested Wisconsin state park is located where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River. Don’t miss the view from the top of 500-foot cliffs. Consider bringing walking shoes—the area’s hiking trails will take you through some spectacular foliage.

Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa

Get ready for dramatic views when you get out of your car at the top of Pike’s Peak. This park’s 500-foot bluffs offer fantastic vistas of the river valley from the Iowa side. It’s one of the most photographed spots in Iowa, and in the fall, the views are incredible.

Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona, Minnesota

Another breathtaking spot to take in the fall beauty is Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona. This preserve features steep-sided 500-foot bluffs. Hike the King’s Bluff trail to discover sweeping fall views of the Mississippi River Valley.

Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Head up for some of the best fall color in La Crosse. From this 600-foot 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.

Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque, Iowa

The world’s shortest, steepest elevator ride is your ticket to fall color in Dubuque. The elevator was originally built to help people who lived in the bluffs get home more quickly than driving their horse and buggy up the steep hills. The ride is about 300 feet long but takes you 189 feet up. From above you’ll see a panoramic view of fall color that covers three states!

Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, Madison, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri

This unusual bridge is considered one of the area’s best places to see fall color. Built in 1929, the bridge is unlike any other—it actually bends mid-way across the Mississippi. Today the bridge is open to bikes and pedestrians. Bring your camera!

Locks and dams of the upper Mississippi River

Monday, June 22, 2020

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

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

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

Minnesota

Wisconsin

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

Iowa

Illinois

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

Missouri

 

Notes from an epic adventure

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

While many people travel part of the Great River Road every year, a select group drives the entire 3,000-mile route. Here are some stories and photos from people who have taken on the whole 10-state route. Sound like fun? Order the free Great River Road 10-State Map, the Drive the Great River Road App and start planning your own adventure. And let us know when you’re done – we’ll send you a certificate!

 

I received the map and I thought that this would be a nice trip, so I got in my car by myself and took off on one of the most enjoyable trips in my 82 years. I could write a book on this trip all good things about the trip. This summer I am going to finish the trip from St. Louis down to Venice, LA.. To sum it up, FANTASTIC,” – Robert B, St. Louis

 

We have visited the USA on many occasions and our plan was to visit those state we had not visited. Our road trip started in Nashville, TN. We then traveled through KY, WV, OH, IN, IL and WI before commencing our adventure down the Great River Road in MN. The river was covered in snow for many miles through MN, WI, IA, IL, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS and LA – despite the extreme weather, there were many wonderful sights and places to visit. We have now visited all 48 states and Hawaii – only Alaska to go!” – David and Cathie M., Queensland, Australia

My favorite part of the drive involved travel on the levees… from the area between Baton Rouge & Natchez, up the Mississippi Delta, from Memphis to Cairo, IL, the Cahokia mounds, and the Driftless Area.” – Lucas P., New York, New York

My husband and I spent periods of time in several river towns when he was working temporary jobs in them and were enchanted by the river. Decided to one day drive the Great River Road. He passed away before we could, but I drove it accompanied by our little rat terrier, Buck. It was a beautiful drive and I loved visiting with people and learning the history of different areas. I have a 50,000 words journal with pictures of the trip and am looking for a publisher.” – Pat W., Manhattan, Kansas

I drove the entirety of the GRR from North to South – covering almost every mile on both sides (a few were underwater thanks to the flooding last Autumn). I can be mobile for work, so I’ve started driving the long roads in the Lower 48 in an RV – it was your 80th, so I took the opportunity to explore. It was a 90-day trip, including all the loop backs – I started on the 7th of Sept at the Headwaters and wrapped it up south of the Venice Marina on the 6th of Dec.” – Sara N., Land O Lakes, Florida

I traveled the first half of the GRR in 2016, from Venice, LA to St Louis, and back to NOLA… then in 2017, from St Louis to Grand Rapids, MN and back to Chicago. I have spent the past five years documenting the scenic backways of the United States. My favorite part of the drive was finding dirt roads, old abandoned routes, remote places, and especially driving up on levees. Mississippi Delta, Driftless Area and Cahokia Mounds were some favorite parts.” – Randy R., New York, New York

We traveled the Road last Summer from 8/9/18 to 8/25/18. The reason – just wanted to experience the whole trip from North to South. Plus, we like road trips that include lots of 2 lane highways…from the beautiful Headwaters of Itasca State Park, where we could walk across the Mississippi, all the way down to Venice, LA where it ends into the Gulf of Mexico, it was a spectacular road river ride!” – Howard B, La Quinta, California

“I love road trips. Having done Route 66 a few years ago, this seemed like a natural. At the end of each day, I did a thumbnail sketch of the day which I shared with friends via email and FaceBook…BTW: This epic journey was done by myself, my wife, and my sister. We drove the entire length, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf. – Ronald B., Clovis, California

See what’s happening on the Great River Road

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Great River Road has scores of iconic attractions, impressive vistas and natural wonders, and it’s possible to get a preview of many of these places online. Webcams up and down the Great River Road provide a live view of America’s greatest scenic drive. If you’re planning a trip—or just dreaming about one—these webcams are a great way to see what you can discover.

Here are just a few webcams along  the route.

Mississippi Headwaters

Want to see where the Mississippi River starts? At Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, you’ll find Lake Itasca, the starting point of the mighty Mississippi. Here, the river is less than 20 feet wide and can be walked across via a series of stepping stones. Check out the webcam in the summer to find visitors wading in the shallow waters of America’s most iconic river.

St. Paul City Hall Cam

Minnesota’s capital city of Saint Paul sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, and this webcam scrolls through several different cams throughout the metro area, including several that overlook the river. 

Mississippi River Flyway Cam

The Iowa-based Raptor Resource Project is a non-profit organization that helps preserve and protect habitats for eagles, falcons, hawks and other birds throughout the Midwest. This webcam is located in Brice Prairie, Wisconsin, and shows avian activity along the Mississippi River near La Crosse.

Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center

Located near another one of the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers, this webcam shows traffic on the Mississippi River near the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

St. Louis Arch Cams

One of the most iconic sights along the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch overlooks the river and downtown St. Louis. Gateway Arch Park and Gateway Arch National Park recently underwent a multi-year renovation and expansion, and the park’s cams give visitors several vantage points of this iconic attraction.

Graceland Cam

Get all shook up with this Memphis-based webcam, which gives viewers an up close and personal look at the estate of the late, great King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

Bourbon Street Cam

Get a glimpse of one of America’s liveliest streets with this webcam, which shows the good times rolling in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Plan a Great River Road getaway

Monday, December 10, 2018

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.

Get the app

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.

Get the map

The Great River Road Travel Map is a full-color map for exploring the byway. The map guides travelers along the official route and includes information about Great River Road Interpretive Centers. Order your own free copy here.

Find flavors

Some of the country’s best food can be found along the byway, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Travelers on the Great River Road have submitted some of their favorite flavors—see them here.

Tailor your travels

Are you an art lover or music fan? Are you planning a short trip, or do you want to drive the whole route? See sample Great River Road itineraries that will give you some great travel ideas here.

Discover Interpretive Centers

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.

Explore activities and recreation

There’s a lot to do along the byway. Take a road trip. Hit the hiking trails. Take a canoe or kayak trip through the secluded backwaters of the Mississippi River. Go fishing for walleye, bass and catfish or hunting for ducks. See some more things to do here.

Uncover America’s story

Thursday, December 07, 2017

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.

History

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.

Music

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.

Wildlife

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.

Geology

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.

Find more Interpretive Centers.

Four reasons to travel the Great River Road

Friday, September 01, 2017

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. 

And don’t forget: you can enter the Drive the Great River Road Month Sweepstakes for a chance to win $500 for your next road trip!

Need any more reasons to drive the route this month? Here are four:

Interpretive centers

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
  • Discovery Park, Union City, Tennessee
  • Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana

Birdwatching

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.

Events

There’s a lot happening along the Great River Road in the fall. Catch an NFL game in Minnesota or Louisiana, a blues concert in Tennessee or Mississippi, a farmers’ market in Iowa, a hoedown in Kentucky, a fall festival in Wisconsin, an Oktoberfest celebration in Illinois or a music festival in Arkansas. The options for fun are almost limitless this fall!

Scenic views along the Great River Road

Monday, May 08, 2017

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

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

Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

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

Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin

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

Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona, Minnesota.

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

Wyalusing State Park, Bagley, Wisconsin

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

Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa.

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