Tennessee is home to world-famous sights and fantastic local secrets. There’s much to see and do, and here are a few good places to start.
The King lives on in this iconic Memphis estate. Never been? You have to, if only for the jumpsuits. Made the pilgrimage before? Welcome back to the Jungle Room. Exhibits change yearly in this National Historic Landmark so this is a destination worth revisiting. Check out the King’s 1955 pink Cadillac, admire the gold records and Grammys in the trophy room and see the piano that Elvis used to play his final songs. Before you leave, pause at the Meditation Garden and pay your respects.
Is the best thing about Beale Street the blues, the beer or the barbeque? Who cares? No one has to choose in this happy hub of good times. This iconic Memphis street starts at the Mississippi River and runs east into the heart of downtown fun. The Beale Street Entertainment District features a cluster of restaurants, nightclubs and shops and the party continues late into the night.
See a different kind of wildlife in this northwest Tennessee lake, a migratory stop for pelicans and a nesting place for bald eagles. The shallow 15,000-acre lake was created when a series of violent earthquakes in 1811-1812 briefly caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards. The Reelfoot Lake today is a great place for boating and birding. Check out Reelfoot Lake State Park, which features a visitor center, campgrounds and picnic facilities.
Mud Island River Park and Museum.
Walk the ground you’ve driven in this park, which has a scale model of the Mississippi. The island’s museum focuses on the history of the lower Mississippi and includes a full-scale replica steamboat. The island’s 5,000-seat Mud Island Amphitheater brings things back to today, with concerts that draw some of the latest top musical talent.
September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a great time to explore America’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byway.
Fall is the perfect time to drive the Great River Road. Vibrant colors paint the trees from Minnesota to northern Mississippi, and you’ll find festivals, farmers markets and fun activities all along the Mississippi River corridor.
Looking for a few things to see and do in each of the 10 Great River Road states? We’ll head north to south with our suggestions:
Minnesota: Want to see where the Mississippi River starts its journey to the Gulf of Mexico? Visit Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where you can walk – yes, walk – across the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Wisconsin: A perfect stop to see fall color, Grandad Bluff in La Crosse gives you a 600-foot-high view of the city below and the Mississippi River beyond.
Illinois: Make a stop in the charming community of Galena, where you can find historic sites, tempting shopping, and toast-worthy wineries.
Iowa: Want a great view? Hop aboard Dubuque‘s Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway. Ride to the top for an astonishing panoramic view of the Mississippi River and three states.
Missouri: This stop isn’t really more of a where, it’s a what: St. Louis barbecue. St. Louis has dozens of delicious barbecue options, including perennial favorite Pappy’s Smokehouse.
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.
Tennessee: Students of American history should visit The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, an educational experience built around the preserved Lorraine Motel. Learn about the struggle for civil rights in America and see the preserved hotel rooms where Martin Luther King, Jr., spent his last hours.
Louisiana: You might recognize this place from numerous movies and TV shows — Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie welcomes visitors with an awe-inspiring canopy of 300-year-old oak trees leading to a pristine antebellum plantation.
While journeying down the Great River Road, you’ll pass through ten different states, each with its own unique dining culture. Here are some restaurants located just off the GRR that you should definitely check out.
La Crosse, WI: The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern
Dine on Waterfront Restaurant‘s contemporary versions of American classics, relax in the cushy lounge and enjoy the smooth sounds from the piano bar. And as the name hints, patrons can appreciate panoramic views of the Mississippi River, as the restaurant is situated along the waterfront.
Dubuque, IA: L. May Eatery L. May Eatery takes pride in its use of local ingredients, serving a rotating seasonal menu of “gourmet comfort food.” Whether you’re craving a sophisticated pizza, delectable seafood or a refreshing cocktail, L. May guarantees delicious cuisine.
Quincy, IL: Tiramisu’
Order the unique homemade pasta when you visit Tiramisu’. This Italian restaurant also offers a fine selection of wine, pizzas and more. A great place to unwind.
St. Louis, MO: Bogart’s Smokehouse
Strap on your bib for a BBQ excursion at Bogart’s Smokehouse. You’ll need an appetite for this one, as the smokehouse serves up mouthwatering meats like pulled pork, smoky brisket, apricot bruleed ribs, pastrami and prime rib.
Memphis, TN: Restaurant Iris
Specializing in French-Creole cuisine, Restaurant Iris has been named Memphis’ “Best Restaurant” for the past four years by a number of qualified reviews. Its charming atmosphere can be attributed to its presence inside a restored old home near the historic Overton Square.
New Orleans, LA: Commander’s Palace
Last stop on this culinary food tour of the Mississippi… New Orleans! Commander’s Palace is the perfect place to experience New Orleans culture. Serving award-winning Creole dishes since 1880, the restaurant holds vibrant history, and vast experience has driven their success throughout the years.
Blues history is alive and well along the Great River Road. And while the genre is most prominent in the Deep South, you’ll find blues highlights in other states along the Mississippi as well.
Born in the Mississippi Delta in the late 19th century, blues originated from African American spirituals, work songs and chants. It’s no wonder then that Mississippi is flourishing with blues history. The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale honors Mississippi as the birthplace of the blues, and the Mississippi Blues Trail tells stories through words and images of historic bluesmen.
Memphis’ Beale Street District served as a music haven for African Americans at the turn of the 20th century and remains a legendary blues entertainment destination. Memphis also boasts the Mississippi River Museum, which features five galleries explaining the origins of the blues, including pieces such as vintage band equipment, radios and various records.
The Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas focuses on the history of the Arkansas Delta, presenting exhibits, educational programs, tours and more. Their current exhibit, called, “Helena: Main Street of the Blues,” gives a unique perspective of the delta’s rich blues history.
Finally, Chicago’s Blues Chicago club features some of the area’s best blues artists and is a popular blues hotspot for fans all over the world.
Experience rich blues history along the Great River Road.
Fill up on Memphis BBQ during your Great River Road stop in Tennessee! This style of barbecue is all about pork ribs, usually marinated with a rub made of herbs and spices and basted during the cooking. Rubs can be wet, dry, mild, spicy or sweet, with or without mopping sauces applied periodically. Tennessee hosts a number of barbecue festivals throughout the year, and features excellent Memphis barbecue restaurants that you can dine at year-round.
Plan a fun and memorable road trip this September along the Great River Road! This 3,000-mile long byway is one of the oldest, longest and most unique in North America, and along the way you’ll find plenty to explore. Experience a variety of cultures as you travel down the river, from Midwestern Minnesota and Iowa down to Southern Mississippi and Louisiana and all of the cultural blend in between.
Your trip down the Mississippi should include stops in each of the bordering ten states. Plan to see popular attractions like the Mall of America in Bloomington, Navy Pier in Chicago, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and more. Experience natural wonders, captivating historical sites and rich agriculture as well. There’s so much to see along the Great River Road! Plan your trip down the river this September.
Agritourism encourages travelers to learn about a region by exploring its diverse agricultural landscape. And the Great River Road offers an abundance of agriculture for you to see. Along the Mississippi, you’ll find orchards, cheese factories, gardens, nurseries, tree farms, farmers markets, museums and more. Make sure to pencil in a stop at one of these farm-related attractions when you visit the Great River Road.
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