Category Archives: Minnesota

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).

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.

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 nearly 100 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.

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