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.
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.
The byway has a network of nearly 100 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.
The great state of Mississippi was named after the great river that forms its western boundary and the river is intertwined with the history and culture of the Magnolia State. A trip on the Great River Road is your ticket to this state, which recently celebrated its 200th year of statehood. The river is wide in this state, flowing easily and steadily toward the Gulf. Like the river, the best trips here are unhurried. Take your time in Mississippi to explore the state’s heritage, history and music. Here are some must-see Interpretive Centers in Mississippi that will help you experience this special region.
Travel back to the days of Spanish conquistadors and learn about the natural inhabitants of the Mississippi who never left. TheTunica River Park and Museum features aquariums, dioramas, interactive exhibits, relics and artwork all tell the story of the Mississippi River through time. Learn more river stories, including the tale of a family that survived the 1927 flood at the Lower MississippiRiver Museum in Vicksburg.
Experience the days of the riverboats with a stop at theRiver Road Queen Welcome Center in Greenville. The welcome center is a replica of an 1800s steamboat. The unique structure was originally built for the Mississippi Pavilion at the 1984 New Orleans World’s Fair. The second floor of the boat displays river artifacts. Natchez is home to many pre-Civil War homes and plantation and a charming downtown. Get the details at the Natchez Convention and Visitor Bureau.
The blues were born in the Mississippi Delta and no trip to Mississippi is complete without exploring this rich genre. Located in a 1918 freight depot, theDelta Blues Museumin Clarksdale has exhibits detailing giants of the blues world – see guitars played by blues greats such as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Burns and Son Thomas. See the sharecropper cabin of Muddy Waters and more.
The Great River Road in Missouri treats travelers to a rich mix of culture and natural heritage. This is the midpoint of the route, and you’ll find a lot to discover, from the roots of Mark Twain to the inspiring sight of an iconic national monument. Here’s a bit of what you’ll find in Missouri.
As Mark Twain once said (according to legend), “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A prematurely published obituary allegedly triggered Twain’s comment, but it holds true in Hannibal, a place that still celebrates the great American author who was born by the name Samuel Clemens. In Hannibal you can see where Twain lived and learn about his early days at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. And, if you’re in town on the Fourth of July, be sure to catch National Tom Sawyer Days, which features a fence-painting competition, a frog jumping contest and a “Tom & Becky” contest.
An impressive building created for the 1904 World’s Fair, the Saint Louis Art Museum (or SLAM, as it’s affectionately known) houses one of America’s great art museums. It boasts more than 33,000 works, covering everything from ancient Egypt to contemporary American art. It contains at least six pieces (including Max Beckmann and Matisse pieces) that Nazis removed from their own museums because they believed the pieces to be “degenerate”; fortunately they escaped destruction. You can see these impressive pieces and others for free; there is no admission charge for the museum, thanks to a subsidy from a local cultural tax.
You can’t miss the opportunity to travel to the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch when you’re in town. A trip to the top of the 630-foot architectural wonder will put you at the highest point in downtown St. Louis, and, if it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view. (Be sure to take in the exhibits at the Arch to learn more about the history of St. Louis and the Arch itself, too.)
Long ago, massive earthquakes once struck in this part of the country, briefly causing the Mississippi River to run backwards. In 1811 and 1812, the river town of New Madrid in Missouri’s southeastern corner experienced three significant earthquakes, all with magnitudes of 7.5 or above. The quakes could be felt as far away as New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. You can learn more about this unique seismic event and more at the New Madrid Historical Museum, which also has an interesting collection of Native American and Civil War artifacts.
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 nearly 100 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.
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.”
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.
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:
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).
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.
People traveling the Great River Road during the summer, may hear the crack of a bat, catch a smell of salted peanuts or see the lights of a stadium electrify the air. It’s baseball season in America and the most American of rivers will take you there. Travel on the Great River Road and you’ll happen upon scores of local parks.
Grab a seat, take in the atmosphere and chat with some locals – they make the perfect rest stop. If you have a little more time, catch a game in one of the minor-league or major-league parks on the road.
Here’s a listing of some of the teams located on the road:
Saint Paul Saints (Not affiliated with MLB)
Quad Cities River Bandits (Not affiliated with MLB)
(Sauget, Illinois) Gateway Grizzlies (Not affiliated with MLB)
St. Louis Cardinals
Memphis Redbirds (AAA, St. Louis Cardinals)
New Orleans Zephers (AAA, Miami Marlins)
There’s perhaps nothing more American than the Mississippi River and baseball – just make sure to grab a hot dog and a slice of apple pie!
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