Category Archives: Minnesota

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.

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.

 

 

Five reasons to be thankful about the Great River Road

Monday, November 18, 2019

In 1938, states along the Mississippi River had the foresight to establish a driving route along America’s greatest river. The route was named the Great River Road and it spanned 3,000 beautiful miles and 10 states. For generations, people have been following the green and white pilot wheel signs to unforgettable adventures. There are probably as many reasons to be thankful for this route as there are travelers, but here are a few reasons why so many return to this beautiful byway.

Culinary adventures

The Great River Road leads travelers to some unforgettable meals. From Arkansas hot tamales to Louisiana beignets, you’re never far from a delicious local specialty. Need some recommendations? Check out our fan favorites- they’ve shared some of their favorite restaurants, bakeries, breweries, farmers markets and more. Search their tips by state to find great food stops for your trip.

Interpretive Centers

Travelers on the Great River Road will pass a network of more than 70 Interpretive Centers—these museums and historic sites showcase and preserve the incredible story of the river and its people. Centers include such treasures as the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Illinois and the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls, Minnesota.

Music

The Mississippi Delta is Blues country, and the route is your ticket to the show. Start by taking a trip through the Magnolia State and drive through the land of legends. Here are some of the sights you won’t want to miss along the route.

Scenic beauty

The Mississippi River Valley offers spectacular scenery that changes dramatically along the route. Northern stretches will take you through forests and past towering bluffs. You’ll discover impressive vistas in places like Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, Wisconsin and Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa.

Beautiful birds

Look up, when you’re on the Great River Road and you’ll likely find you have company. This Great River Road travels along the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route used by 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. There are abundant birding locations along the route; here are a few good bets.

 

Tasty summer finds along the Great River Road

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Summer is an excellent time to explore some of the tasty finds along the Great River Road. Here are some can’t miss stops in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Photo courtesy of Winona Farmers Market

Winona Farmers Market, Winona, MN

The Winona Farmers Market is one of the best along the Great River Road. It happens every Saturday, rain or shine, from 7:30am to noon at Levee Park in Winona, Minnesota. Produce that’s debuting in July includes cabbage, cucumbers, corn, peppers, potatoes, raspberries, tomatoes and zucchini. You can also find baked and canned goods, honey, eggs, teas, flowers, bread, coffee, meats, plus prices that can’t be beat!

Photo courtesy of Elmaro Vineyard

Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI

At Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, the views are just as amazing as the wines you’ll sample. Enjoy the landscape of nearby Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge while you sit on the patio and sample any of their nearly two dozen varieties of wine. Their grapes are grown in Wisconsin and Minnesota and their wines are made from delicious fruits like apples, raspberries, cranberries, cherries and plums. You can even arrange a picnic here, with wine, cheese, crackers and sausages on a private picnic site with a blanket and umbrella.

Photo courtesy of Piggy’s Restaurant & Blues Lounge

Piggy’s Restaurant & Blues Lounge, La Crosse, WI

Piggy’s Restaurant has called La Crosse, Wisconsin home since 1980. This hot spots is nationally famous for BBQ baby back ribs, but also for their pork chops, prime rib and steaks. If you like smoked meat, this is the place for you! Their hardwood smoker does its magic with hickory and Minnesota Applewood from the nearby hills and bluffs. Don’t miss live blues music in the Blues Lounge downstairs on Saturday nights, and check out their wine cellar, with more than 60 options to choose from!

Photo courtesy of Isles Bun & Coffee

Isles Bun & Coffee, Minneapolis, MN

Isles Bun & Coffee is an itty bitty bake shop just a couple blocks from Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They’re known for their morning rolls, especially cinnamon, caramel and caramel pecan rolls, but are also famous for their Puppy Dog Tails, which are smaller versions of their cinnamon rolls, twisted up. Here they use only real ingredients, no food starch or corn syrup and everything is made from scratch. Don’t be afraid to go for the extra frosting on your rolls – you won’t be sorry you did!

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

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.

Traveling the Great River Road in Minnesota

Thursday, May 24, 2018

One of the most memorable trips on the Great River Road will take you to where it all begins. The headwaters of the Mississippi River can be found in Minnesota, in a small glacial lake called Lake Itasca. The Great River Road travels 575 miles through Minnesota, so there’s a lot of country to explore. The route will take you through impressive northern forests, past the homes of American icons and through rich farmland, charming river towns and vibrant urban centers. You’ll encounter 10 Interpretive Centers – pay them a visit to learn about the fascinating history and heritage of this region.

Here an overview of the Great River Road through Minnesota.

Mississippi Headwaters – Itasca State Park to Bemidji (30 miles): Discover the river’s humble source in Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest state park. The park covers 32,000 acres and it’s a wild place; hear the call of the loon and watch bald eagles soar above the majestic virgin pines along Wilderness Drive.  Be sure to stop by the Jacob Brower Visitor Center. Visit Bemidji – first city on the Mississippi – and be sure to capture a photo memory with legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his faithful pal, Babe the Blue Ox. It’s a perfect spot for a selfie!

Mississippi Northwoods – Bemidji to Grand Rapids (100 miles):  This is a wild and beautiful drive. You’ll   follow the river past a series of iconin Minneota Lakes: Bemidji, Cass, Winnibigoshish and Pokegema. There’s plenty of culture and heritages to explore as well–discover the stories of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and its rich heritage.  Learn the history of the lumberjack.  Visit Grand Rapids to tour the paper mill, Forest History Center and Judy Garland’s birthplace.

Mississippi Crossings – Grand Rapids to Little Falls (145 miles): This is a land of travelers; by river, rail and road, people of this region have traveled the Mississippi for centuries. Today it plays host to thousands of vacationers each year who bike, golf, fish, bird or simply seek respite. Come to play and to explore the historical routes inspired by the river. One popular attraction is the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls.

Scenic Mississippi – Little Falls to Elk River (92 miles): Wild and Scenic River is the designation given to this pristine section of Minnesota’s Mississippi.  The river here is ideal for canoeing, picnicking, fishing and scenic biking.  Remarkable main street architecture, historic museums, lovely parks, magnificent gardens and scenic rural farmland provide a backdrop for a relaxing river experience.

Metro Mississippi – Elk River to Hastings (75 miles): Abundant parkland and trails invite you to the riverfront renaissance taking place in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul.  Enjoy theater, major sports venues, museums, concerts, headline entertainment and shopping. You’ll also encounter thoughtfully preserved riverfront parks, historic sites, and the falls of St. Anthony. For a good overview of the river, stop by the Mississippi River Visitor Center in Saint Paul.

Mississippi Bluffs – Hastings to Iowa Border (140 miles): Bring binoculars to bluff country because the river vistas are remarkable and the wildlife viewing – especially birding – is some of the best in the country. This is eagle country and the National Eagle Center is a good place to learn about these majestic creatures. Follow the river through more than a dozen charming river towns complete with historic main streets, riverboats, unique shopping, museums and warm hospitality.