Category Archives: Minnesota

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.

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.

Fall color hotspots

Friday, October 13, 2017

Peak fall colors are arriving in the northern states along the Mississippi River. The Great River Road will take you through the heart of this splendor, passing some spectacular lookouts along the way. See a listing of scenic overlooks here. And here are some of the spots where fall colors are spectacular this month.

Garvin Heights Park, Winona, Minnesota

Take the mile and a half road up the bluff side to get to the scenic overlook of Winona and all its beautiful fall colors. This is an ideal place for a picnic on a warmer day. Hikers can explore beautiful trails that trace the ledges of the bluffs. Or bring your bike and try to bike up the bluff – it’s such a challenging ride that Tour de France winner Greg LeMond trained here!

Buena Vista Park, Trail & Overlook, Alma, WI

This great spot overlooking the Mississippi is located 30 minutes north of Winona. Better Homes & Gardens Magazine named this one of the river valley’s “finest natural balconies.” The lookout towers 500 feet above tree-lined Alma and the Mississippi River Valley. Watch the barges and boats travel through the lock & dam, do some birdwatching, watch the sun set over the river!

Falconer Vineyards, Red Wing, MN

Here you can enjoy a glass of wine with your fall colors. There are more than a dozen varieties of wines to choose from, including whites, reds, rosé, dessert wines. The winery overlooks a gorgeous vineyard and is nestled in the bluff valleys, surrounded by beautiful fall colors. Stay for the sunset here – the bistro offers pizza for dinner!

Mt. Hosmer Park, Lansing, Iowa

This park is located on a bluff that towers 450 feet above Lansing. It offers a panoramic overlook of 50 miles of the Mississippi River Valley and its fall foliage. There’s also some beautiful hiking and biking trails here. While in Lancing, check out one of the newest Great River Road Interpretive Center – the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center.

Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque, Iowa

Here you’ll find the world’s shortest, steepest elevator ride. The elevator was originally built to help people who lived in the bluffs get home more quickly than driving their horse and buggy.  The ride is about 300 feet long but takes you 189 feet up. Below you’ll see a spectacular view of Dubuque’s historic business district, the Mississippi River and three states!

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.

National treasures on the Great River Road

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A new year will be here soon and it’s the perfect time to plan a trip on the Great River Road. There are more than 70 designated Great River Road Interpretive Centers to discover on the route. These interpretive centers include a variety of national museums and monuments. Like the Great River Road, they are national treasures worth exploring. They help tell the story of the river, including its ecology, events of the past and the people who have called this region home.

See a list of Great River Road attractions here. Here are details of some of the national museums and monuments you’ll find on the route.

Minnesota

National Eagle Center. Wabasha, Minnesota. Eagles are a regular sight on the Great Rover Road. Learn about this magnificent creature and see the birds up close in this fascinating center in the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

Wisconsin

National Brewery Museum, Potosi

Visit the Great River Road Interpretive Center at the Potosi Brewing Company and visit the National Brewery Museum. This fun museum is a joint venture between the Potosi Foundation and the American Breweriana Association. It has an eclectic collection of beer bottles and cans, glasses, trays, coasters, advertising materials and more..

Iowa

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa

This beautiful museum showcases the culture and history of the Mississippi River. It has more than a dozen aquariums that display wildlife representative of the river, including sturgeon and giant catfish.

Illinois

National Great Rivers Museum, Alton

This interesting museum features a variety of interactive displays about the Mississippi River, including a display that illustrates the Mississippi Lock and Dam System. Visitors can also try their hand at steering a barge!

Mississippi

Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg

This park preserves the site of the Battle of Vickburg, a key event in the American Civil War. It also commemorates the greater campaign that led up to th battle.

Great River Road Fun Facts

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s wise to have some conversation starters on hand. Check out these Great River Road fun facts!

  • From the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the grand finale in New Orleans, Louisiana, it would take 22 hours of non-stop driving to complete one half of the Great River Road.
  • But, if you were a raindrop, it’d take you 90 days to travel the same distance!
  • Minnesota has the longest portion of the Great River Road at 575 miles long.
  • Kentucky is home to the smallest section of the Great River Road, just 63 miles.
  • The Great River Road runs on both sides of the river, except between Hastings, Minnesota and the byway’s northern terminus.
  • Great River Road town Hannibal, Missouri is the hometown of famed author Mark Twain.
  • Two-thirds of Wisconsin’s Great River Road passes along or through protected natural areas.
  • Some of the oak trees along Louisiana’s Great River Road are more than 300 years old!
  • Illinois’s Great River Road is home to the confluence of three rivers – the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois.
  • River town Alton, Illinois has been named “One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America” by the Travel Channel.
  • Accolades come easy for the Great River Road. It’s been named, “Prettiest Drive in America,” one of the “U.S.A.’s Ten Best Motorcycle Roads,” one of the “1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die,” and “Best Drive in America.”

Haunts of the Great River Road

Friday, October 21, 2016

The leaves have turned and there’s a nippy chill in the air. Autumn has arrived on the Great River Road. As the days get shorter and Halloween approaches, that chill send tingles down our spines as we willingly seek out spooky stories of strange things that go bump in the night.  There’s plenty of history on the Great River Road—and where there’s history, there’s bound to be a good ghost story. The following spots are said to harbor spirits.  Check’em out, if you dare.

Wabasha Street Caves – St. Paul, MN

Currently a bar, restaurant and events space, this former prohibition hideout and night club was a safe haven for shady mobsters back in the day, like the infamous John Dillinger. According to local lore, it’s haunted by three gangsters who were shot and hastily buried under the speakeasy. They appear as men dressed in garb from the 1920’s, either sitting at the bar, serving drinks, or wandering the caves.

Orpheum Theatre – Memphis, TN

Built in 1928, this local theatre was saved from demolition more than once, and now hosts a variety of arts and entertainment acts. It also hosts a variety of ghosts, the most well-known being Mary. Mary was a young girl was killed in a car accident just outside the front door back in 1921, when the theatre was an opera hosts. She now watches the performances from the same seat in row C, slams doors unexpectedly, dances in the lobby and flickers the lights to spook guests. Those who have seen her say she wears pigtails and a white dress.

Oak Alley Plantation – Vacherie, LA

The first investigation into the hauntings occurred in 1983 after numerous reports of strange happenings. The staff and and tour guides tell guests of the variety of spirits — they’ve seen a 6-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl, confederate soldiers, and several of the former housekeepers on the grounds. In fact, one tour group saw a candle in the dining room fly across the room. Ghost-hunters frequently bring sophisticated equipment and continuously pick up thermal imaging and other indications of other-worldly beings.

Galena, IL

If you’re looking for the full spirit experience, look no further than Galena, Illinois. The town boasts a host of haunts that you’re able to explore as a ghost-hunting group. Local ghost hunter Amelia provides tours, lodging in an old historic mansion, equipment to detect paranormal activity, and more.

 

There are countless historical sites and ghost stories to tell along the Great River Road. We’d love to hear your experiences of supernatural sightings or weird encounters.

Exploring Mississippi River Wine Country

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The rich soil and rolling hills of the Mississippi River Valley produces some outstanding heartland wines. The Great River Road is a route that will take you through the beauty of this country, which stretches from Minnesota to Arkansas. It’s an ideal route for wine lovers—you can visit several great wineries in a single day and fine restaurants and accommodations are plentiful. All you need to complete the trip is a taste for new discoveries, a love of wine and a little space in your trunk for the cases that are simply too good not to bring home. Harvest time is fast approaching and the vines are growing heavy along the route—some wineries will be harvesting grapes in August. It’s a beautiful time visit the vineyard. Plan your trip today!

Below is a sample of the wineries you’ll find on the Great River Road. To see more winery details—and other fun agritourism spots—go here.

Buffalo Rock Winery, Buffalo, MN

Located west of the Twin Cities, this winery opened in 2010, the dream of winemaker/owner Nicole Dietman. The winery has weekend tasting hours and a grape stomp event Sept. 24.

Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, Galena, IL

In historic Galena, tour the beautiful vineyards, taste a sample of the winery’s 40 wines and take in the impressive view from the winery’s deck.

Wide River Winery, Clinton, IA

This winery takes its name from the wide stretch of the Mississippi, located just below the winery. Its wines are as big as the river, produced with grapes grown from the heart of the Midwest.

Old Millington Vineyard and Winery, Millington, TN

This small country operation is located just 14 miles north of downtown Memphis. Its fruit wines include peach, strawberry and sweet watermelon.

Your Twin Cities adventure, by bike

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

mn 2People often forget how easy it is to traverse the Minneapolis and St. Paul downtown areas by bike. In fact, Bicycling.com rated Minneapolis the best American city for biking in 2015. To see why, make a day of traveling between the two cities on two wheels (which is guaranteed to save you big bucks on parking). Plus, you’ll get to see pretty stellar spots along the Great River Road. Plan to make several stops along the way — you won’t believe how much you’ll be able to pack into 25 miles of trail.

  1. Start your journey in St. Paul, the older and sleepier of the twins. Spend the morning touring the majestic basilica or exploring a new exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Hop on the path just behind the museum, on the other side of the river from Harriet Island.
  2. You’ll be able to see the historic base of Fort Snelling on the other side of the river as you bike under Highway 5. If you like military museums, this is a must-see; just take the pedestrian path adjacent to the highway. If not, continue to follow the path without crossing the river.
  3. Minnehaha Park is a fantastic stop on the West side of the river. Once in the park, check out the beautiful Minnehaha Falls and grab a bite to eat at Sea Salt, a cute little seafood cafe.
  4. If you continue on the east side of the river, check out the picturesque views at the lookout point where Summit Avenue intersects with the bike path.
  5. Hop onto the East River Parkway via the Lake Street bridge to bike through the University of Minnesota campus. The shiny deconstructionist building you’ll see is the Weisman Art Museum by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.
  6. Once you reach downtown Minneapolis via the West River Parkway, marvel at the Mill City Museum and Guthrie Theater, two cultural landmarks with very different architectural styles, before crossing the iconic Stone Arch Bridge into northeast Minneapolis. Stop and take a picture with the Minneapolis skyline as your backdrop!
  7. Once in Northeast, you’ll have your pick of breweries. Try Dangerous Man just a few blocks down from the river.

Once you’ve concluded your adventure, you can bike back or bring your bike with you on the light rail return trip to downtown St. Paul.