September is Drive the Great River Road Month, so that means it’s time to get out and explore one of the country’s newest All-American Roads. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, so there’s plenty to see. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.
The headwaters of the Mississippi River
If you’re exploring the Mississippi River and the Great River Road, why not start at the beginning. The Mississippi River gets its start at Lake Itasca in far northern Minnesota, and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway starts its journey there, too, at Itasca State Park. The park spans more than 30,000 acres; head to the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center shares the history of the park and northern Minnesota. From there, it’s just a short walk to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, which is only about 20 feet wide and can be easily traversed via a series of stepping stones. (People also like to wade in the shallow river on warm days.) See a live webcam of the Mississippi River headwaters here.
Scenic overlooks and parks
September is a wonderful time to start your travels on the Great River Road, since you can follow fall color as you head south from Minnesota through the Midwest and into the central and southern states. Peak fall color usually hits at the very end of September into early October for the northern states, with the southern states seeing peak color mid-October into November. But where to see it? It’s easy enough to enjoy along the bluffs in the northern states (explore Highway 61 in Minnesota, Highway 35 in Wisconsin, and Highway 52 in Iowa), and the route is lined with scenic overlooks and state and local parks from north to south.
- Scenic spots on the Great River Road
- Explore natural beauty along the Great River Road
- Chasing fall color on the Great River Road
One of the reasons the Great River Road was selected as an All-American Road is because of the Mississippi River region’s rich history—it tells the story of the country for thousands of years, from the earliest Native American inhabitants to the Civil War to the present day. Great River Road trippers can visit dozens of Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites and more—along the route to learn about the people, places and historical events that shaped the region.
- Discover ancient cultures and engaging history on the Great River Road
- History comes alive on the Great River Road
- American history awaits on the Great River Road
There’s no shortage of great music along the Great River Road—the route will take you through iconic music destinations like Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. Here’s a look at some music attractions you shouldn’t miss on or near the Great River Road
- Paisley Park, Prince’s home and recording studio, in the suburbs of Minnesota’s Twin Cities
- The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi (also home to the famed “Crossroads” where Robert Johnson purportedly sold his soul for his musical talent)
- Memphis music attractions like Beale Street, Graceland, Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
- New Orleans’ live music venues, famous festivals and the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park
What’s a trip along the Great River Road without sampling some of the very best local cuisine? Walleye in Minnesota, fresh cheese curds in Wisconsin, Memphis barbeque and more—each state along the Mississippi River has its own unique dishes and flavors. Explore the Flavors of the Great River Road section of our website to find fan recommendations on great places to eat, the top spots for wine, beer, and craft cocktails, and more.