Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fun facts & trivia about the Great River Road

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Great River Road is an American institution—it’s been welcoming visitors for more than 80 years through Mississippi River communities in 10 states, from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Here are a few fun facts you might not know about this All-American Road.

  • The Great River Road is not a single road—it’s a collection of local, state, and federal highways that follow the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles through 10 states
  • The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (the group that oversees the Great River Road) was established in 1938 and has been welcoming travelers to the Mississippi River states for more than 80 years
  • The Great River Road in 2021 was recognized as All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration, a special designation for National Scenic Byways that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features
  • There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the Great River Road: Cahokia Mounds in Illinois and Poverty Point in Louisiana
  • Illinois (550 miles) contains the longest segment of the Great River Road; the shortest segment is in Kentucky (less than 60 miles)
  • The Mississippi River and the Great River Road pass through more than 110 parishes and counties from Minnesota to Louisiana
  • There are nearly 100 historic sites, museums, and other attractions that are part of the Great River Road Network of Interpretive Centers, institutions that tell the story of the Mississippi River and its people
  • Iowa’s stretch of Great River Road is home to the most Interpretive Centers (17); Arkansas has 15 and Minnesota has 13
  • Other states along the Great River Road and their number of Interpretive Centers: Illinois 9; Louisiana 9; Mississippi 8; Missouri 7; Wisconsin 6; Tennessee 3; Kentucky 2
  • It takes a drop of water 90 days to travel the length of the Mississippi River, from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in southern Louisiana
  • It would take about 36 hours of driving to complete the Great River Road north to south (but that only includes driving on one side of the river and does not include segments that are on both sides, e.g., Wisconsin/Iowa v. Illinois)
  • Music lovers will find lots of unique attractions along the Great River Road, including Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home, the famed Sun Studio and Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum
  • The Great River Road intersects with Route 66 near Alton, Illinois

(Photo: Great River Road near Grafton, Illinois, in fall/Illinois Office of Tourism)

Unique roadside attractions along the northern Great River Road

Friday, August 05, 2022

A trip along the Great River Road means not only great scenery, fantastic food, and engaging history—it means a chance to discover some of the unique attractions that travelers can find along the route. Here’s a closer look at a few places to visit along the northern stretch of the byway.

Minnesota

Head to Bemidji—“the first city on the Mississippi”—to find a larger-than-life (or maybe not) statue of two Northwoods legends. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox have a long, storied history dating to the lumberjack camps of the early 20th century, and visitors to Bemidji will find giant statues of the famed duo outside the Tourist Information Center, 300 Bemidji Ave. The center is open year-round and features Paul Bunyan memorabilia as well as information about local attractions. 

The Big Fish Supper Club and Resort, located just east of Bemidji on U.S. Highway 2, certainly lives up to its name. Visitors who pull up to this iconic roadside attraction between Leech Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish will be greeted by a giant musky, its mouth open wide.

Wisconsin

The “big fish” theme continues in Wisconsin, with several communities along that state’s section of the Great River Road boasting oversized aquatic creatures. Trempealeau, which is home to an annual Catfish Days celebration every July, has a giant catfish on its welcome sign along Highway 35, and Onalaska (about 15 miles to the south) has its own aquatic icon: Sunny the Sunfish, who overlooks Lake Onalaska from a roadside park.

Further south in Dickeyville, just north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border, road trippers will find the Dickeyville Grotto, a unique stone creation on the Holy Ghost Parish grounds. Father Matthias Wernerus served at the parish from 1918 to 1931 and crafted the grotto and shrines, which consist of stone and mortar and are adorned with an array of unique objects, from colored glass and gems to seashells and petrified wood.

Iowa

Visitors to the city of Burlington in southeastern Iowa will find one of America’s crookedest streets in the heart of downtown. Snake Alley, initially built in the 1890s to connect the residential district at the top of the bluff with the commercial district below, consists of five half-curves and two quarter-curves, covering 275 feet and rising nearly 60 feet along a 21% grade.

Another short route that’s worth the ride is Dubuque’s Fenelon Place Elevator, which was also built to solve the problem of getting from the homes at the top of the bluffs to the businesses below and vice versa. The Fenelon Place Elevator is billed as the shortest and steepest railroad in the world, traveling just shy of 300 feet from street level to the top off the bluff. The elevator is open from April 1 through November 30 and costs $4 round-trip for adults and $2 round-trip for children 5-12.

Illinois

Great River Road travelers might not know they’re passing a UNESCO World Heritage site when they drive through Collinsville in northwestern Illinois, but nearby Cahokia Mounds has had the notable distinction since 1982. Cahokia Mounds was home to the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico and was occupied between approximately 800-1400, with a population of 10,000 to 20,000 residents at its peak in the 11th and 12th centuries. Today, visitors can see Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas, which rises more than 90 feet over the surrounding landscape.

Motorists along Route 100 near Alton could find themselves face-to-face with a mythological beast. On the bluffs above the Mississippi River in southwestern Illinois, visitors can discover a painting of the Piasa bird, a feared creature among the Illini Native Americans who inhabited the area. First seen by Jacque Marquette in his voyage down the river in 1673, the Piasa (pronounced pie-uh-saw) bird was repainted on the bluffs in the 1990s and greets Great River Road travelers today. 

Missouri

Learn about the life of one of America’s most famous authors in the city of Hannibal in northeastern Missouri. Mark Twain called Hannibal home in his youth, and inspired many of his later tales, including serving as the setting for Tom Sawyer’s adventures. Today, visitors can stroll the historic downtown and visit the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum to learn about the writer’s early life and his experiences in Hannibal, tour the Mark Twain Cave Complex (where the outlaw Jesse James once hid out), and celebrate events like the Twain on Main Festival and National Tom Sawyer Days.

It wouldn’t be a legitimate list of roadside attractions without a “world’s largest” something, so head to Cape Girardeau in southeastern Missouri to find the World’s Largest Fountain Drink Cup outside the Rhodes Convenience Store on Mt. Auburn Road just off Interstate 55. The giant cup stands more than 13 feet high and holds more than 4,700 gallons.

Photo: Travel Wisconsin

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. 

Thank you for entering!

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Thank you for entering the Drive the Great River Road All-American Road Sweepstakes! We’ll be announcing our grand prize winner later this fall, so be sure to keep an eye on your email to see if you’ve won.

In the meantime, here’s a little travel inspiration for your next Great River Road trip:

You can also share your Great River Road photos with us on Instagram—use the hashtag #GreatRiverRoad and tag us @greatriverroad!

Share the contest with friends and family: facebook twitter email

Follow us on Instagram @greatriverroad

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.