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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 Summer Fun on the Great River Road Giveaway! We’re picking a new winner every month, so be sure to keep an eye on your inbox to see if you’ve won.

Here’s some helpful info to help you plan your summer road trip along the Great River Road:

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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

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)

Great beer stops along the northern Great River Road

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s talk about some of the best spots to grab a beer along the Great River Road!

Pearl Street Brewery, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of Pearl Street Brewery Facebook page

La Crosse, Wisconsin is a big beer town with City Brewing Company and 3 craft breweries, but the Pearl Street Brewery has been around for more than 20 years. You can take a tour every Friday and Saturday – no reservations needed and it’s just $8/person. Check out the brewing area from the bar, check out the stools and counters in the tasting room made from the same 100-year-old wood as the floors, and imagine the building as the rubber factory it once was. There are games to play, live music and 16 of their own creations on tap. Try the D.T.B. Brown Ale, with a nutty flavor and roasted undertones — it was a Gold Medal Winner at the World Beer Championships.

Kelly’s Tap House, Red Wing, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of Kelly’s Tap House Facebook page

Kelly’s Tap House in Red Wing, Minnesota is a favorite among the locals. It’s right on the Mississippi River, with great views of the river and bluffs, especially if you sit outside on the patio. They’ve got the widest selection of taps in town, with more than 60 beers available — 18 brewed in Minnesota and many more in the Midwest. Dream of patios and warm weather with an Orange Dream State Cream Ale from Tin Whiskers Brewing Company in St. Paul — it’s a creamsicle cream ale infused with orange and vanilla and sure to bring back memories of summer. Fun fact: If you’re familiar with the band Trampled by Turtles, the song “Kelly’s Bar” was written about this place.

Potosi Brewing Company, Potosi, Wisconsin

The Potosi Brewing Company is a Great River Road Interpretive Center, a brewery and a restaurant, but is also home to the National Brewery Museum with an eclectic collection of bottles, cans, trays, coasters, collectibles and advertising materials. Tours are Saturdays and Sundays, $13/person. In the restaurant, look for the plexiglass window in the floor – you’ll see spring water gushing by when things start to warm up! We recommend the Fiddler Oatmeal Stout — a strong coffee aroma with notes of caramel and chocolate — also a Gold Medal Winner at the World Beer Championships.

Roundhouse Brewery, Brainerd, Minnesota

The Roundhouse Brewery in Brainerd, Minnesota, opened in 2016 and is named for the “roundhouse” railroad facility where train cars were repaired that was once located just outside where the brewery is today (in the old Northern Pacific Railroad Yard). The building has an industrial feel, but very casual and friendly — explore the old railroad yard outside while you’re here! It’s a family-friendly gathering spot, offering root beer and lemonade too, along with giant Jenga and bean bags in the taproom and live music. Try the Warrior Brew while you’re here — it’s an American-style pale ale made with Minnesota grown malt and hops, plus a portion of the sales go to the Brainerd Sports Boosters, which supports youth athletic programs in the area. They’ve also worked with, or donated to, nearly 50 charitable organizations in just the few years they’ve been open, so you can feel good about patronizing them!

Travel the Great River Road

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Thank you for your interest in the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, the best scenic drive in America. The Great River Road travels through America’s heartland, following the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles through 10 states. By joining our email list, you’ll receive information to help you get the most out of your time with this national treasure. Here’s what you’ll enjoy as a subscriber:

  • Chances to win special travel contests
  • Information on the route’s fascinating network of interpretive centers
  • Details on every state featured on the route
  • Information about parks and overlooks with inspiring Mississippi River views

Discover even more Great River Road travel and navigation information with the free Drive the Great River Road app, available for Apple and Android devices. There’s so much to love, and so much to experience on the Great River Road.

Plan your journey today!

Resolve to drive the Great River Road in 2020

Monday, January 06, 2020

This new year, make one of your resolutions a road trip along the Great River Road!

Here are three great reasons to pack up the car and drive.

Interpretive Centers

Photo courtesy of Potosi Brewing Company

Nearly 100 Interpretive Centers can be found along the Great River Road from Minnesota to Louisiana, including many gems people might not know about.

In Minnesota, visit the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, located along the banks of the Mississippi River. It’s a great family-friendly educational destination with exhibits on dinosaurs, the human body and Native American culture, along with an IMAX digital laser dome theater (one of only three in the world!).

In Wisconsin, you’ll love the Potosi Brewing Company (in Potosi) not only for its great beer (with all their proceeds going to local charities), but also for it’s cool National Brewery Museum. Here you’ll find an extensive collection of beer memorabilia, including signs, bottles and cans, advertising materials and various other collectibles.

In Iowa, visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque for the ecological story of the Mississippi River told through educational exhibits and giant aquariums.

In Kentucky, The Columbus-Belmont State Park is home to an interesting Civil War Museum housed in a farmhouse that was once a Confederate hospital. 

Louisiana’s Poverty Point World Heritage Site features the remnants of a complex array of earthen works that predates the Mayan pyramids. The mounds and ridges form a C-shape with a diameter of nearly three-quarters of a mile. Much of their purpose remains a mystery, although many believe the ridges were used as sites for homes.

See archaeological investigation in action In Parkin, Arkansas. The Parkin Archaeological State Park protects the site of an Indian village that occupied this location on the St. Francis River from A.D. 1000 to 1600. Research is ongoing at the site.

In Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Delta Blues Museum showcases the region’s rich musical heritage. See the sharecropper home of Muddy Waters. See guitars played by blues greats such as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Burns and Son Thomas. 

 

Charming small towns

Photo courtesy of Visit Galena

Galena is a charming small town in northwestern Illinois — a very popular travel destination in the Midwest. Here you’ll find historic homes (including that of Ulysses S. Grant) and buildings, a popular shopping district downtown and quaint B&Bs.

Located on scenic Lake Pepin, the widest navigable stretch of the Mississippi River, is beautiful Pepin, Wisconsin. It’s the birthplace of children’s author Laura Ingalls Wilder and here you’ll find the Ingalls Museum (open May-Oct), as well as the “Big Woods Cabin,” a replica of Ingalls Wilder’s birthplace, located about 7 miles outside Pepin and open year-round.

Bemidji, Minnesota is the first city on the Mississippi River, and is actually located north of the river’s headwaters at Lake Itasca (the Mississippi flows north to Bemidji before starting its trip south). Bemidji is a great family vacation destination with lots of outdoor activities, even in winter, as a popular snowmobiling destination. Don’t miss a photo with Paul Bunyan and Babe at the visitor center/chamber of commerce.

Dyess, Arkansas is the site of the Dyess Colony, created in 1934 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to aid in the nation’s economic recovery from the Great Depression. Several historic buildings are open to visitors and they tell the story of the impoverished families who worked for a better future, including the family of Johnny Cash.

Head to small-town Louisiana to see some grand historic plantations. One of the most photographed places in Louisiana lies in Vacherie. The Oak Alley Plantation is a Greek revival mansion situated at the end of a majestic alley of live oak trees.

Visit Vicksburg, Mississippi to see a city rich in Civil War history and culture. There are monuments throughout the city that share the story of Vicksburg’s role during the war. You’ll also find art galleries and fascinating museums like the Southern Heritage Air Museum.

 

Sample delicious dishes

Photo courtesy of Nelson Cheese Factory

Check out some tasty treats along the Great River Road during your trip!

Cheese curds are the jewel in Wisconsin’s crown. For fresh curds, you’ll want to visit the Nelson Cheese Factory (in the city of the same name) (they also have ice cream!) and you can find fried curds at pretty much any bar or casual restaurant in Wisconsin (and Minnesota and Iowa too!).

Traditional pork tenderloin is tastiest at Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa. This classic sandwich is worth showing up early for, since Breitbach’s can get busy at lunch and dinner with hungry diners.

Find some of Minnesota’s best walleye at Sparkling Waters in Bemidji. You’ll love the upscale vibe and lake views and you can choose from deep-fried walleye or walleye a la meuniere.

A trip to Arkansas is not complete without a plate of hot tamales – find them in Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village. One enthusiastic fan calls them the “best in the universe.”

You can’t visit New Orleans without sampling this classic French doughnut, which happens to be the state doughnut of Louisiana. Served with a dusting of powdered sugar, these are best enjoyed hot and fresh with some chicory coffee. One famous place to sample this delicacy is Café Du Monde. You won’t be disappointed!