Category Archives: Iowa

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).

Getting on the water along the Great River Road

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

A trip along the Great River Road—recently named one of America’s newest All-American Roads—is a great summer adventure, but sometimes you need to find a spot to cool off. Here’s a look at some great places you can dip your toes in the Mighty Mississippi or hop on a boat and explore the waters yourself.

Lake Village, Arkansas

Lake Village is located on the shores of Lake Chicot, the largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America. Lake Chicot was formed three centuries ago by the meandering of the Mississippi River but has since been cut off from the mighty riverway, resulting in a 20-mile-long oxbow lake that’s a popular recreation destination. Lake Chicot State Park has 14 cabins and more than 120 campsites for rent and is a great place for fishing, boating, and birdwatching.

Lake Itasca, Minnesota

Lake Itasca

Photo: Sandra Dempsey on Unsplash

Did you know you can walk across the Mississippi River? It’s true: If you visit the headwaters of the mighty river at stunning Itasca State Park in north-central Minnesota to see where the Mississippi River starts, you can cross from one side of the river to another, a trip of only about 20 feet. If you’re feeling daring (or it’s hot), you can wade in the shallow waters of the river as it empties out of Lake Itasca on its journey south. Itasca State Park—Minnesota’s oldest—is also a great place for boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and stand-up paddleboarding.

Clements Fishing Barge, Wisconsin

Clements Fishing Barge

Photo: Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission

Located just upstream from Lock & Dam #8, Clement’s Fishing Barge has been inviting anglers to cast their lines for walleye, bluegill, catfishing, bass and more in the Mississippi River since 1936. Park along Highway 35 (the Wisconsin Great River Road) in Genoa, raise the flag on shore, and wait for the small boat to ferry to you to the barge. Fishing runs from 7am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday and 7am to 6pm Saturday to Sunday from mid-March through mid-November. Single-day prices are $20 for adults and $5 for kids; three-day, seven-day and season passes are also available.

Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center, Iowa

Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center

Photo: Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission

Explore the backwaters of the Mississippi River in a canoe or kayak or hop on a pontoon boat for a guided tour at this engaging, educational center in Camanche, about a 45-minute drive from the Quad Cities. The Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center educates visitors about the natural history of the Mississippi River in Iowa and is home to an 8,000-gallon aquarium filled with local fish species. Launch your canoe or kayak from the campground or climb aboard the Blue Heron, a 26-passenger pontoon boat, for a guided tour of fish and wildlife habitat through backwaters, sloughs and the main channel.

National Great Rivers Museum, Illinois

Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River near Alton at the Melvin Price Locks & Dam #26, the National Great Rivers Museum tells the story of the people and natural process that have shaped the river. Interactive exhibits illustrate the impact of the Mississippi River on the region.

Confluence of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers, Kentucky

Confluence of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers

The Mississippi and Ohio rivers come together where three Great River Road states intersect: Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. This scenic confluence can be seen from a couple different spots, including Fort Defiance Park in Cairo, Illinois, and Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site in Wickliffe, Kentucky.

Mud Island River Park & Museum, Tennessee

Mud Island River Park & Museum

Photo: Tennessee Tourism

True, this park sits pretty much in the heart of the Mississippi River in Memphis (it’s accessible from a skybridge off Front Street downtown), but you can also walk along a scale-model version of the lower Mississippi River here to see how the Big Muddy weaves its path through the southern Great River Road states. The museum features 18 galleries with exhibits on the culture and history of the river, and Mud Island is also home to a 5,000-seat concert venue. Admission is free to the park, but amphitheater events are ticketed.

Scenic spots on the Great River Road

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Great River Road was named one of the country’s newest All-American Roads this year, meaning it’s one of the very best of America’s National Scenic Byways. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the region’s rich history, culture and heritage, but don’t miss this simple fact: the drive is incredibly scenic. Here are some photo-worthy stops along the route you should visit on your next trip.

big river crossing AR -credit-big river strategic initiative llc

Big River Crossing, Arkansas/Tennessee

Take in views of the Mississippi River from the Big River Crossing, a railroad bridge-turned-pedestrian walkway that connects Memphis, Tennessee, with West Memphis, Arkansas. Big River Crossing is nearly a mile long, making it the longest public pedestrian bridge across the mighty river. It’s open daily from 6am to 10pm and accessible to walkers and bicyclists. Keep your eyes peeled for the nightly light show, held hourly from sunset to 10pm.

Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, Illinois

This site in Hartford marks the location of Camp River Dubois, which served as the winter home for the explorers from December 1803 to May 1804 as they prepared for their famous journey. The site includes a 14,000-square-foot Interpretive Center and reconstructed cabins and other buildings. A great view of the area can be found at the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower about a mile to the north of the historic site.

Mines of Spain & E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, Iowa

This 1,400-acre property just south of Dubuque was where Native Americans and European settlers mined lead for hundreds of years (the name comes from a land grant European settler Julien Dubuque received from the Governor of Spain in 1796) and is now a popular site for outdoor exploration. A monument honoring Dubuque overlooks the Mississippi River, and the spot offers outstanding views of the surrounding region.

Jackson Square, Louisiana 

New Orleans is alive with history and culture, and it’s got some can’t-miss photo opportunities. In the heart of the city’s French Quarter, Jackson Square—originally known as Place d’Armes—faces the northern banks of the Mississippi River, where visitors can see paddle wheelers, barges and more making their way along the river. Jackson Square is surrounding by iconic buildings, including the St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere and Cabildo Museums, as well as the Pontalba Apartments, the oldest apartment buildings in the United States (now a combination of shops, restaurants, galleries and yes, apartments).

buena vista WI

Buena Vista, Wisconsin 

The town of Alma on the Wisconsin Great River Road is filled with rich history (it was established in the 1840s, became a village in 1868 and is designated as a National Historic District), but it also offers one of the best views of the Mississippi River. Head to the top of the 500-foot bluffs that loom over this charming river town to find the Buena Vista Overlook, a small park that offers outstanding views of the river from a natural viewing platform.

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.  

Fall discoveries on the Great River Road

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

September is drive the Great River Road Month, a perfect time to take a trip on America’s greatest driving route. The Great River Road stretches more than 3,000 miles across 10 states so there’s a lot to discover. Fall days bring lower humidity, beautiful foliage and comfortable temperatures so it’s a good time to slow down and explore some of the sights on the route. Here’s a sample of what you can see along the road.

And be sure to enter the Drive the Great River Road Sweepstakes—you could win $500 for your next Great River Road adventure!

Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca, Minnesota

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.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa. One of the jewels of Dubuque, this fascinating museum focuses on life in and around the country’s waterways. You can see turtles, alligators, bald eagles, octopi, otters, sturgeon and more. 

Columbus-Belmont State Park, Columbus, Kentucky. Learn about the Mississippi River’s role in the Civil War at Columbus-Belmont State Park, where you can find a six-ton anchor that – along with a mile-long chain – was used to blockade the river during battles between the North and South.

White River National Wildlife Refuge, Charles, Arkansas. Home to over 300 lakes and ponds, the Bottomland Hardwood Forest and the White River make an ideal home for migrating birds. You’ll see bald eagles, wood ducks, prothonotary warblers and many kinds of birds native to the south.

Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center and Museum, Tunica, Mississippi. Traveling through the Mississippi Delta? Stop by the Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center and Museum on Highway 61. The museum shares the remarkable story of how The Blues was born and the role Tunica played in building the genre’s legacy.

Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana. You might recognize this place from numerous movies and TV shows. Oak Alley welcomes visitors with an awe-inspiring canopy of 300-year-old oak trees leading to a pristine antebellum plantation.

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

 

Fall in love with the Great River Road

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway passes through 10 states and hundreds of river towns. There’s so much to explore – the more you travel the route, the more you’ll find to love. Many people who drive this route, return again and again to experience America’s greatest drive.

Planning a first date? Here are some things to love on the northern section of the route.

Downtown Winona, Minnesota

There’s a lot to discover in this charming riverfront town, including places that will please lovers of fine craft beverages. Pay a visit to Oaks Wine Bar or Island City Brewing—tours and tastings are available. While you are in town, check out the shops in the historic downtown shopping district – find gifts, antiques, toys, clothes, outdoor gear and more.

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This beautiful  museum was built on the ruins of a historic mill. Learn about the people who worked there and the history flour milling and don’t miss the observation deck with panoramic views of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls.

Mt. La Crosse Ski Area, La Crosse, Wisconsin

There are a number of outstanding ski areas near the Great River Road. Mt. La Crosse serves skiers of all abilities including those who like a challenge—Wisconsin’s longest run and mid-America’s steepest trail can be found at Mt. La Crosse. There’s also a terrain park to test your skills.

Red Wing Brewery, Red Wing, Minnesota

Taste history in this brewery that creates beers using recipes that date from the 1800s and early 1900s. The brewery also produces new varieties, like Work Boot Red, an Irish ale that’s a nod to a famous local factory. Bring an appetite—they serve delicious handmade pizza that has a big local following.

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium & National Rivers Hall of Fame, Dubuque Iowa

Learn about the region’s rich ecology in this fascinating museum has a massive aquarium that features the broad array of wildlife found in the Mississippi River. Animals include ducks, frogs, turtles, catfish, shovelnose sturgeon and dozens of other species.

Looking for more to love along the river? Check out out these attractions, located in every state along the route.

 

 

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. 

 

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