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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you spend a little time on the Great River Road, you can’t help falling in love. The route traces the heart of America and welcomes travelers with the historical and cultural riches of a country unlike any other. 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.
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.
The Mississippi River Valley offers spectacular scenery that changes dramatically along the route. Northern stretches will take you through forests and past towering bluffs. As you head south into states like Kentucky, you’ll encounter historic Native American sites as well as beautiful riverside parks and natural areas.
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.
There are more than 70 designated Interpretive Centers on the route, including national museums, monuments and historical parks. Learn about the region’s rich cultural and natural history as you travel the route. See a detailed listing of the centers here.
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.
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
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.
A drive along the Great River Road will take you through a region steeped with musical history and tradition. Head into the southern states along the river to discover rich musical heritage that is preserved in the Great River Road Interpretive Centers, local festivals and lively venues. Sound like a good time? Here are three states to hit on your next musical adventure.
Louisiana is a rich gumbo of musical traditions, including Cajun, Dixieland, Jazz, Blues, Country and Rock ‘n Roll. Head to the heart of New Orleans for a big helping of Louisiana’s musical offerings.
This famous hot spot is as famous for partying as it is for its live Jazz. Join the crowd and sample live music from great clubs like Fritzel’s European Jazz Club, Funky Butt, and Palm Court Jazz Café and iconic Preservation Hall.
The State of Mississippi gave birth to of Delta Blues, a style which is widely considered to be the progenitor of all other forms of the Blues.
Mississippi is Blues country and you’ll find Blues-related attractions, including Tunica’s Bluesville Showcase Night Club. A good place to begin your Mississippi Blues journey is the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale.
Tennessee is another state steeped in musical history. Memphis is called the “Birthplace of the Blues” and is home to Beale Street, Tennessee’s most-visited attraction. See live blues music while enjoying a beverage and eating some of the region’s best ribs. Before leaving town, head to Graceland to see the famous estate of Elvis Presley.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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!
It’s always worth making room in your trunk for some clubs when you’re driving the Great River Road. The route will take you past some of America’s finest courses and you’re never far from great golfing. The Mississippi River Valley features some spectacular terrain that makes for challenging play. Many courses offer dramatic views of the valley and the river beyond. Here are some golf courses to check out that are on or near America’s oldest and longest scenic byway:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Minnesota – Mall 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.
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.
Travelers along the southern portion of the Great River Road will find a bevy of historical sites and attractions, but antebellum homes—massive, ornate pre-Civil War properties that sit along the Mississippi River—are some of the South’s most interesting attractions. Here are three you shouldn’t miss.
Lakeport Plantation is the only remaining Arkansas antebellum plantation on the Mississippi River. The home now serves as a museum and educational center teaching visitors about the Johnson family (who occupied the home until 1927), as well as the cotton industry and other historical events that affected residents in the Lake Village area.
Before the Civil War, the river town of Natchez, Miss., was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States. Many of these wealthy residents’ impressive homes are now open to visitors for tours or even overnight stays, including the Dunleith Historic Inn. Dunleith, recently seen in the James Brown biopic “Get on Up”, was built in 1856 and sits on 40 beautifully landscaped acres. Several buildings on the property date back to the 1790s, including the carriage house and stables, and a dairy barn.
The largest remaining antebellum home in the South, the Nottaway Plantation House is a staggering 53,000 square feet and contains 64 rooms, seven staircases and five galleries. Built along the banks of the Mississippi River in 1858, the home also features an impressive ballroom painted in all white (including the floor). The plantation has recently undergone a multi-million-dollar renovation now features a resort with 40 overnight rooms, a restaurant, and more.