Category Archives: Minnesota

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 nearly 100 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.

Must-see birding on the Great River Road

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Roseate spoonbill

Roseate spoonbill

The Great River Road is one of the world’s premier spots for birding. The road traces the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route followed by 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. The Great River Road is flanked by vast refuges, expansive forests and beautiful parks that provide rich habitat and protection for these beautiful creatures.

Travelers on the Great River Road have the opportunity to encounter an abundance of species and there are endless places to relax and take in the beauty of the flyway’s birds.

Here are some great places to start a birding adventure on the Great River Road:

Itasca State Park. The home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in Minnesota, hosts birds in its boreal forests and mixed hardwoods. Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest park. With 222 species found here, it’s also one of Minnesota’s premier birding locations.

Reelfoot Lake State Park. Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake was created by a series of earthquakes in the early 1800s and today is a magnificent wildlife viewing and birding location. You’ll find many varieties of shore and wading birds here and white pelicans and eagles pay seasonal visits to the park.

National Eagle Center. Want to get up close and personal with an eagle? Pay a visit to Wabasha, Minn., where you can meet bald and golden eagles at daily demonstrations or take a look at eagles perched above the Mississippi River from the observation deck.

Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge—located in southeastern Arkansas—was created in 1935 specifically to protect migratory birds. Birders can find countless species among the beautiful forests and lakes.

Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. In western Kentucky near Benton, this 8,500-acre refuge contains bottomland hardwood forests used by over 200 species of neotropical songbirds for a migration stopover spot or for nesting.

 

Top 5 birds to see on the Great River Road

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Photo: Tom Jerisha

Photo: Tom Jerisha

With warm spring temperatures come the flocks of migratory birds, flying north along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi Flyway is the migration route followed by 40% of all waterfowl and shorebirds in North America. Wildlife refuges, state forests, federal forests and parks protect the crucial habitat and food sources for these birds.

Grab a pair of binoculars, because you won’t believe the variety of fowl that nests along the Mississippi. Here are a few of our favorites, and where you can find them:

  1. Bald eagle. Watch our nation’s bird soar over the pines and lakes along the Mississippi. Nearly every state from Arkansas to Minnesota boasts superb bald eagle viewing. The conditions of the Mississippi are simply plentiful. If you want to learn more about the majestic bird, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota is a regional favorite for group visits. Climb into an eagle’s nest, meet the resident raptors, or join a guided field tour to see the birds the in wild. Further south, at the Mississippi River Visitor Center in Rock Island, Illinois, you’ll find a bald eagle hot spot. This location is best in late winter and very early spring, when the eagles gather near the open water to feed.
  2. White pelican. These shy white birds start migrating north in early March. They’re frequently spotted near locks and dams near state parks, like the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Bellevue, Iowa.
  3. Prothonotary Warbler. This small vibrantly yellow songbird is conspicuous all along the lower Mississippi River states, like Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. When the weather warms, you’re sure to spot it migrating north from its summer near the West Indies. It forges for food in hardwood swamps and nests in natural and artificial cavities like woodpecker holes.
  4. Great blue heron. Watch this majestic bird stalk its prey in shallow wetlands before taking flight with a loud squawk and a loud thump from its 6 foot wingspan. Great blue herons nest in treetop colonies called rookeries. You can find rookeries along the islands in Minnesota, like the North Mississippi River Park in Minneapolis, or the wetlands of Tennessee.
  5. Ivory-billed woodpecker. If you happen to spot this quirky bird, consider yourself one of the few. Thought to be extinct, this bird was spotted flying over Arkansas in 2002. The Dale Bumpers White River Widelife Refuge in Arkansas is home to 300 lakes and ponds, making the Bottomland Hardwood Forest and the White River an ideal home for migrating birds, and maybe, just maybe, the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Want more birding advice for your Great River Road experience? Be sure to check out our page devoted to bird-watching.

Things we’re thankful for along the Great River Road

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It’s that time of year, so we’re thinking about all the reasons we’re giving thanks this season. Here are just a few things we’re thankful for along the Great River Road.

Beautiful scenery. We’re past peak color season, but traveling the Great River Road in spring, summer and fall offers awe-inspiring scenery. Scenic areas along the Mississippi River bluffs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa provide spectacular views of the river and are especially picturesque in fall.

Delicious food. Farm-to-table delicacies. Mouth-watering barbecue. Fresh seafood. Whatever you have an appetite for, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find it in your drive along the Great River Road. If you’re headed south on the Great River Road, be sure to visit New Orleans—one of the best food cities in the world.

Interesting attractions. Up and down the Great River Road, you’ll find scores of interesting attractions, from fish hatcheries to art museums to science centers. Stop by one of the nearly 100 Interpretive Centers along the Great River Road to learn about the culture, heritage, history and ecology of the Mississippi River Region.

Hometown hospitality. From big cities like St. Louis, New Orleans and Minneapolis to small river towns across the northern and southern sections of the river, you’ll find friendly folks all along your drive. Spend some time exploring charming Main Streets or taking in the hustle and bustle of the big city (or give both a try).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Family Fun on the Great River Road

Thursday, August 13, 2015

August is Family Fun Month, so hop in the car, get on the Great River Road and check out these family-friendly stops along the way.

  • MinnesotaMall of America, the largest shopping mall in the country is in Bloomington, Minnesota. Sure there are more than 400 stores, but there’s also a theme park, an aquarium, a comedy club, a mini golf course and more. Fun for all ages and interests. Bring your sneakers.
  • Wisconsin – In La Crosse, drive or hike to the top of Grandad Bluff. Have a picnic and enjoy the amazing views of this robust river town. After lunch, head downtown to the Gertrude Salzer Gordon Children’s Museum. You’ll find three floors of hands-on exhibits, including a giant Operation game, a kid-sized convenience store and a television news set.
  • Iowa – The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque is a must-see. Learn about the history of the river with historical exhibits and 3D and 4D theaters, then visit the aquarium and explore the wildlife that calls the river home, including turtles, fish, otters, even alligators!
  • Illinois – Head to Grafton and conquer your fear of heights together as a family! The Grafton Zipline at Aerie’s Winery has nine lines, nearly two miles in total length. Peak height? 250 feet up. It’s an exciting experience that’s safe enough for even your little ones.
  • Missouri – Your kids are bound to come across Mark Twain’s many works during their school years. Take them to Hannibal, Missouri to visit the author’s boyhood home. (It’s where the real adventures of Tom Sawyer took place!) You can also visit the Huckleberry Finn House, where the real Huck Finn grew up, and see seasonal performances of Twain’s works.
  • Tennessee – In the northwest corner of Tennessee you’ll find Reelfoot Lake State Park. The lake was created in the early 1800s by violent earthquakes that forced the Mississippi River to flow backwards. If that cool story isn’t enough for you, the lake is also a flooded forest, dotted with Cypress trees and home to tons of wading birds and waterfowl. Catch a canoe or pontoon boat tour and explore this unique gem.
  • Arkansas – Arkansas’s largest natural lake, Lake Chicot is a site to behold. Twenty miles long, the lake is nestled in a pecan grove, so the scenery is absolutely stunning. Rent a pontoon, fishing boat or kayak and spend the day exploring. There are wildlife tours available and a visitor center with interpretive exhibits that tell the story of the area’s natural history.
  • Mississippi – In Clarksdale, you’ll find the Delta Blues Museum. Situated in the “land of the blues,” this museum will teach your kids valuable musical history through sculptures, photography, interactive exhibits and of course, plenty of tunes.
  • Louisiana – At the end of the Great River Road, you’ll find great family fun. New Orleans is home to the Audubon Zoo, one of the top-ranked zoos in the country, with unique animals like white tigers and white alligators. It’s also home to Mardi Gras World, a hands-on museum celebrating the annual festival. Here kids can watch the floats being built, try on traditional costumes and sample king cake.

Enjoy Bike Month Along the Great River Road

Thursday, May 14, 2015

May is National Bike Month, so hook the bike on the car and hop on the Great River Road for an early summer adventure you won’t soon forget.

Try exploring a classic river town on two-wheels along the Mississippi River Trail. It’s nearly 3,000 miles of on-road bikeways and pedestrian and bike paths you can take from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Check out these National Wildlife Refuges along the Mississippi River Trail:

  • Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (240,000 acres, 241 river miles long through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa)
  • Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge (15,000 acres, part of the largest bottomland hardwood swamp in America, runs through Louisiana)

Or bike to a national park:

  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka the St. Louis Gateway Arch)
  • Natchez National Historical Park (Natchez, Mississippi; see an antebellum estate)
  • Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (New Orleans, Louisiana; made of six sites where you can learn about everything from wildlife to the Battle of New Orleans)

Find out more about the Mississippi River Trail and get detailed maps here.