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Can’t-miss parks and natural areas along the Great River Road

Thursday, March 31, 2022

It’s a great time to get out and explore the Great River Road. Here’s a state-by-state look at parks and natural areas you shouldn’t miss on your next Mississippi River road trip.

Minnesota: Itasca State Park

While it’s most well-known as the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota has a lot more to offer, including nearly 50 miles of hiking trails, hundreds of campsites, historic lodges, and four lakes to explore (including Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River).

Wisconsin: Wyalusing State Park

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, Wyalusing State Park is one of Wisconsin’s oldest and most scenic state parks. Visitors will discover outstanding views from the 500-foot-tall bluffs overlooking the river, as well as 14 miles of hiking trails, more than 100 campsites, canoe and kayak rentals, great fishing, and much more.

Iowa: Effigy Mounds National Monument

This National Park Service site, located just north of Wyalusing State Park on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, preserves more than 200 American Indian mounds that were constructed thousands of years ago along one of the most scenic stretches of the river. Enjoy the natural beauty of the area with a hike along the trails or go on a ranger-led tour to learn more about the natural and cultural history of the region.

Illinois: Pere Marquette State Park

This scenic state park–Illinois’ largest–is located just north of St. Louis at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Pere Marquette State Park is a popular destination in all seasons, known for its great views of the Illinois River and plentiful recreational opportunities, including camping, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and boating.

Missouri: Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park

Also located just north of St. Louis, this small Missouri state park can be found at the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where the Lewis & Clark Expedition began their famous voyage at the turn of the 19th century. A short trail that takes visitors to the confluence point is also a great place for birdwatching in the spring.

Kentucky: Columbus-Belmont State Park

Overlooking the Mississippi River in western Kentucky, Columbus-Belmont State Park is s home to an interesting Civil War museum located in a farmhouse that once served as a Confederate hospital. The park also includes a campground, hiking trails, and a picnic area.

Tennessee: Reelfoot Lake State Park

Reelfoot Lake is a popular destination for outdoor recreation and is home to great fishing and birdwatching (especially during the spring and fall migrations along the Mississippi River Flyway). Three hiking trails along the lakeshore are great for waterfowl viewing. The park’s nature center includes captive raptors and other wildlife from the area.

Arkansas: Mississippi River State Park

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the St. Francis National Forest in central Arkansas, this park features dramatic and beautiful scenery. Explore the park’s trails or go fishing for largemouth bass, crappie and channel catfish. The park is part of the Audubon Great River Birding Trail and offers a diverse array of birds and wildlife. 

Mississippi: Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge

The Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge is the oldest wildlife refuge in Mississippi and is a popular spot for wildlife observation and birdwatching. Visitors are encouraged to check out the refuge’s two dedicated wildlife observation areas–the Holt Collier Boardwalk and Observation Tower on Lizard Lake and the open-sided observation tower at Alligator Pond.

Louisiana: Barataria Preserve

Part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in and around New Orleans, the Barataria Preserve covers 26,000 acres of Louisiana wetlands, hardwood forests, swamps, bayous, and marshes. Visitors will encounter a variety of wildlife, including alligators and more than 200 species of birds, as they explore the preserve’s trails and waterways. Ranger programs are offered daily, and admission to the preserve is free.

What makes the Great River Road an All-American Road?

Friday, March 04, 2022

The Great River Road was named an All-American Road in 2021, which means it’s considered one of the country’s very best National Scenic Byways. So why is this 3,000-mile route along the Mississippi River so special? Here’s a look at some of the historical sites and other attractions that make the Great River Road so great.

Engaging history

The Great River Road passes through 10 states and tells the story of the Mississippi River region and the country at large at dozens of museums, historical sites, and attractions along the route. Travelers will discover everything from iconic music clubs to the boyhood home of America’s most famous author.

Here’s a look at a few historic attractions along the northern Great River Road:

And some historic attractions along the southern Great River Road:

Find more historic attractions along the route here and here.

Rich culture

Another reason the Great River Road was named an All-American Road is because of its strong connection to the culture of the Mississippi River region. Cultural attractions dot the landscape and include bustling arts districts, iconic architecture, and charming river towns.

Cultural attractions along the northern Great River Road:

Cultural attractions along the southern Great River Road: 

Find more cultural attractions along the route here and here.

Four things to love about the Great River Road

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

The Great River Road—named an All-American Road in 2021—traces the mighty Mississippi River through the heart of America, from the snow-frosted forests of the north to the moss-covered groves of the Mississippi Delta. There are more than 3,000 beautiful miles of open road to explore, so no two trips are alike, and there are always new views to take in, new people to meet and new surprises to discover. 

Here are four things to love about this unforgettable route.

Historic sites

The Mississippi River is drenched in history. Along the Great River Road, you’ll encounter beautiful architecture, impressive native history and the legacy of early settlers and adventurers. Learn about the history of the river region at nearly 100 Interpretive Centers—historic sites, museums and more that tell the story of the Mississippi River and its people. Sites like Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa and the New Madrid Historic Museum in Missouri are just a few historic sties worth a visit.

See more more historic sites

Scenic overlooks

The Great River Road has scores of inspiring vistas. Pull over and take time to relax at these beautiful spots. Watch the sun set, see eagles drift on the wind or take in the sight of massive barges hauling freight. Check out Sunset Park in Rock Island, Illinois, Wyalusing State Park along the Wisconsin Great River Road and the Old Mississippi River Bridge Scenic Overlook in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Discover more scenic overlooks

Fascinating museums

The Great River Road will take you to memorable museums that share the story of this great river, from the days before European settlement to the time when it became a center of industry that helped fuel a fast-developing world. These museums are also part of the Great River Road’s network of informative, engaging Interpretive Centers. Museums on the road include the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa , the Delta Blues Museum and the Louisiana State Museum.

See more museums

Natural areas

The Great River Road will also take you to some beautiful parks and recreation areas. They are fantastic places to take a short nature stroll or a longer and more ambitious hike. Wildlife is abundant in these parks and you’ll encounter habitat unlike anyplace else on earth. Some great parks on the route include Reelfoot Lake State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve.

Find more museums, scenic overlooks and natural areas along the Great River Road here.

More hidden gems to discover along the Great River Road

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Getting ready to explore one of the country’s newest All-American Roads? Here’s a look at some of the one-of-a-kind attractions you’ll find along the Great River Road.

Perrot State Park, Wisconsin

At the confluence of the Mississippi and Trempealeau rivers, Great River Road travelers will find the stunning, scenic 1,200-acre Perrot State Park. The park sits among 500-foot bluffs, offering outstanding views of the Mississippi River region, as well as outstanding options for recreation, including canoeing, kayaking and biking along the Great River State Trail. Visit the park’s nature center to learn about the area’s natural history and cultural importance to Native Americans, French explorers and others.

Metal Museum, Tennessee

National Ornamental Metal Museum sign

Credit: National Ornamental Metal Museum

Did you know that Memphis is home to a one-of-a-kind museum honoring the works of metalsmiths around the country and the world? The Metal Museum (previously known as the National Ornamental Metal Museum) features a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, a sculpture garden and an on-site blacksmith shop and foundry. Metalworking demonstrations take place every Saturday, and the museum also offers hands-on training for young artists.

Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky

Reenactment at Columbus-Belmont State PArk

Columbus-Belmont State Park in western Kentucky not only offers outstanding views of the Mississippi River, it also provides visitors with a glimpse into the area’s Civil War history. In 1861, Confederate forces occupied and fortified the area that now makes up the park to block Union ships from traveling south along the Mississippi River, even devising a massive anchor and chain that served as a barricade (the anchor can be seen at the state park today).  

Historic Fort Snelling, Minnesota

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in the state capital of Saint Paul, Historic Fort Snelling tells the stories of 10,000 years of human history, from Native Americans and the fur trade to the fort’s role as a training center for Civil War troops. Today, visitors can tour the 1820s-era fort and the grounds and learn about the area’s history through displays and interactive. Fun fact: Musket demonstrations are offered daily. 

Great River Road receives All-American Road designation

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Great River Road, the National Scenic Byway dedicated to the Mississippi River, has received notice that eight of its states’ byways have been designated “All-American Roads” by the Federal Highway Administration.

To receive the All-American Road designation, a byway must be nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. The road or highway must also be considered a “destination unto itself.” It must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make it drive a primary reason for their trip. These roads are considered the very best of America’s National Scenic Byways Program.

The Great River Road claims eight of this year’s 15 All-American Road designations across the country.

See a full list of All-American Road and National Scenic Byway designations here.

“The Great River Road enables travelers to access the stories of America,” said Anne Lewis, Mississippi River Parkway Commission Pilot and board chair. “From big cities to small river towns, through historic sites and interpretive centers, the Great River Road holds the history of America, from native people and immigrant communities to river industry and transportation, and from agriculture to river life ecology. This designation gives credence to why so many people choose to experience the Great River Road every year.”

The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC), a non-profit organization founded to preserve and improve the resources, viability and amenities of the Mississippi River Valley, says the All-American Road status will bring new attention to the Great River Road.

“More attention means more visitors to the 10 great states that line the Mighty Mississippi,” Lewis added. “More travelers equal more money spent in stores, restaurants, hotels and attractions. That economic boost is absolutely vital to the communities of the Great River Road. We look forward to more road trips than ever in 2021!”

More Information about the Great River Road

Created in 1938 and stretching for 3,000 miles through and beside 10 states, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway is the longest such designated roadway and one of the oldest. The 10-state Mississippi River Parkway Commission works to promote and preserve the byway. Travelers planning a journey along the road can order a free 10-state Great River Road map from the Commission or download its free Drive the Great River Road app. Travelers can also find The Great River Road on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

More coverage:

Great River Road in Minnesota wins new distinction from federal government

 

(Photo courtesy of Arkansas.com)

Why we’re thankful for the Great River Road

Friday, November 06, 2020

America’s greatest scenic drive has introduced generations of travelers to the natural beauty and vibrant culture of the Mississippi region. Everyone who travels this route has their own Great River Road experience and this month, we’re taking time to reflect on some of our favorite things about the byway.

Here are just a few of the things we’re thankful for.

Sweeping vistas

Scenic views of the Mississippi never get old and travelers along the route are treated to some dramatic scenes. All you need to do is pull over and get out your camera. In Trempealeau, Wisconsin, Perrot State Park is located where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River. From the top of 500-foot cliffs you can see for miles. Stunning views can also be found downriver at Pikes Peak State Park in  McGregor, Iowa. A drive will take you up to scenic overlook areas at the top of the park’s 500-foot bluffs. You can see a broad expanse of river and numerous small islands. The park is one of the most photographed spots in Iowa.

Unforgettable meals

Food lovers: the Great River Road will lead you to some of America’s great cuisines. There are so many delicious things to savor on the route. In Wisconsin, a state that celebrates all things dairy, cheese curds rule at roadside restaurants. Order them with the local condiment of choice: ranch dressing. In Arkansas, hot tamales, a Latin American staple, has been the go-to meal for generations. It will be perfect fuel for your road trip in this beautiful state. In Louisiana, you can’t beat a beignet, the state doughnut. It’s best enjoyed slowly, between sips of hot chicory coffee. Learn more about these byway staples here.

Historical wonders

All along the route, you’ll encounter impressive historical sites, including many that predate European settlement. In Arkansas, Parkin Archeological State Park was the site of a former American Indian village from A.D. 1000 to 1600. The village visited by explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. In Illinois, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the remains of the largest and most sophisticated native civilizations north of Mexico. See more historic sites along the routes and other attractions here.

Incredible Interpretive Centers

Along the whole stretch of the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of nearly 100 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. These Interpretive Centers provide information about the river and the people who call the region home and include historical museums, impressive parks and national monuments. Some interpretive centers you’ll encounter on the route include the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Minnesota, the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi and the Mark Twain Museum Home & Museum in Missouri. Learn more about the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers here.

Support the Great River Road!

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Do you love traveling the Great River Road? So do we! The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC) is a 10-state non-profit organization that helps preserve, promote and enhance the scenic, historic and recreational resources of the Mississippi River, including the Great River Road.

Please fill out the form below to make your tax-deductible donation to the MRPC.

Historic photos: sights along the Mississippi River

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

It’s hard to visit America’s greatest river without wanting to take a few photos—and the same was true a century ago. Here’s a collection of historic photos from along the Mississippi that show what the river looked like in days past. While a lot has changed on the route since these photos were taken, the river is as impressive today as it was in the steamboat era. If you’ve traveled the route before, you may even recognize some of these spots.


Steamboats in New Orleans, 1890

Steamboats in New Orleans, 1890


Eagle Point Bridge, Dubuque, Iowa, 1960s.

Eagle Point Bridge, Dubuque, Iowa, 1960s.


Jackson Street, St. Paul, Minn., 1905

Jackson Street, St. Paul, Minn., 1905


Riverboat near Vicksburg, Miss., 1936

Riverboat near Vicksburg, Miss., 1936


Lake Itasca - Mississippi River headwaters, 1936

Lake Itasca – Mississippi River headwaters, 1936


New Orleans levee, 1903

New Orleans levee, 1903


 Family at Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1935

Family at Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1935


Memphis sunset, 1900

Memphis sunset, 1900


New Orleans panorama, 1910

New Orleans panorama, 1910


Eads Bridge, St Louis, late 1960s

Eads Bridge, St Louis, late 1960s

COVID-19 and the Great River Road

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Updated June 16, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted recreational travel on the Great River Road, but many businesses and attractions are starting to reopen.

For state-specific information about travel, please visit the state tourism sites below: 

Many of our Interpretive Centers and attractions have begun to reopen with additional guidelines for health and safety in place. Please contact individual businesses or attractions with questions.

Most local  and state parks and recreation areas remain open to the public. If you choose to visit a park, please ensure that you follow CDC and state and local guidelines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Interested in planning your next Great River Road trip, whenever that might be? Order a copy of our free 10-state map here.

(Photo by Justin Wilkens on Unsplash)

Five reasons to drive the Great River Road this spring

Monday, March 02, 2020

Get out on the road this spring to explore the Great River Road, the National Scenic Byway that follows the Mississippi River from the northern Minnesota woodlands to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Here are five reasons you should take this uniquely American drive this spring.

  1. Outstanding scenery

You’ll discover incredible views up and down the Great River Road, from soaring sandstone bluffs in the north to sun-soaked cotton fields in the Mississippi Delta. Whether you’re looking for a scenic overview of the river or great spots for fall color, you’re sure to find some photo-worthy stops on your Great River Road trip. Here are a few places to start.

  1. Charming river towns and big cities

Take a stroll through a quaint downtown filled with welcoming cafes and antique shops or immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of a big city. The Great River Road runs through metropolitan centers and small towns, so take time to get out of your car and explore wherever your trip takes you. Here are just a few of the cities and towns you should check out along your drive:

  1. A tour through American history

Learn about the culture, heritage and history of the Mississippi River region at more than 80 Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites and more—along the Great River Road. Visit the boyhood home of celebrated author Mark Twain and learn how the Mississippi influenced his writings, tour a working farm that uses techniques practiced in the 19th century or learn about the origins of blues music and see the instruments used by some of its masters.

  1. Food, glorious food

A trip through the Great River Road states is a trip through the culinary heart of America. Fishing, farming, cheese factories, roadside produce stands, fairs and festivals—there’s a lot of food to explore all along the Great River Road. (See some of the area’s great agritourism attractions here.) And that’s not even to mention the award-winning restaurants, hidden gems and classic eateries where you’ll find some of the best meals you’ve ever had. (Check out some of our favorite flavors of the Great River Road here.)

  1. It’s a great drive – just ask the people who have done it

The Great River Road is a popular drive among roadtrippers, and while we encourage people to explore as little or as much of it as they like, there are lots of daring adventurers who have driven the entire route, from northern Minnesota to southern Louisiana. “From the beautiful headwaters of Itasca State Park, where we could walk across the Mississippi, all the way down to Venice, La., where it ends into the Gulf of Mexico, it was a spectacular road river ride!” writes Howard B. from La Quinta, Calif., in one of our many testimonials. Hear from more people who have completed the route.

(Photo: Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, IL – courtesy of Karis Keenan)