There’s a lot to see and do along the Great River Road all year long, but summer offers an experience Mississippi River road trippers won’t soon forget. Here’s a closer look at some of the outdoor attractions, unique museums, and tasty summer treats you can find along the route.
Beaches, parks & boating
Just south of Wyalusing State Park in western Wisconsin, beachgoers will find the town of Wyalusing’s boat landing and beach, a popular spot for cooling off in the waters of the Mississippi River. The wide beach is also the perfect spot for a riverside picnic on a summer day. Note that there is a slight current and there is no lifeguard on duty, so beachgoers should exercise caution when swimming.
Lake Bruin State Park is a 53-acre park located between the Mississippi River and Lake Bruin in northeastern Louisiana that offers more than 3,000 acres of water to explore, making it a perfect destination for fishing, and watersports. The park also has lakeside camping opportunities, a swimming area, and a water playground.
Shelby Farms Park in east Memphis is massive—it spans more than 4,500 acres and is one of the largest urban parks in the country—and is home to more than 40 miles of trails and 20 bodies of water, as well as a zip line course, playgrounds, horseback riding and much more.
Want to get out on the Mississippi River? Hop on a Padelford Riverboats tour in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and enjoy the scenery along the Upper Mississippi River. Padelford offers several sightseeing and lunch/dinner cruises, as well as themed and holiday cruises.
Attractions & museums
Road trippers traveling along the Great River Road in Missouri shouldn’t miss one of the most iconic attractions along route—Gateway Arch National Park. In addition to the 600-foot arch, visitors can learn about the country’s growth at the Museum of Westward Expansion, which includes unique items from the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Country music fans: Make plans to stop in Dyess in northeastern Arkansas to visit the Historic Dyess Colony, a federal agricultural settlement community that was part of the New Deal and happened to be the boyhood home of a country star named Johnny Cash.
Looking for more music? Clarksdale in northeastern Mississippi is home to the Delta Blues Museum, a facility dedicated to the history of this most American of art forms. Visitors can see the home Muddy Waters lived in as a sharecropper, marvel at the instruments played by legends like John Lee Hooker and B.B. King and learn about the Delta’s most iconic musicians.
Fans of old-time ice cream parlors will hit the jackpot at Lagomarcino’s in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Established in Moline, Illinois, in 1908, Lagomarcino’s is still family-owned to this day, and the store boasts delicious handmade chocolates and other treats, as well as a soda fountain that serves up classic confections and ice cream. Head across the river to find another Lagomarcino’s location in Davenport.
Another Quad Cities institution, Whitey’s Ice Cream has locations in Moline, Rock Island, and East Moline in Illinois and Davenport, Bettendorf, and Eldridge in Iowa. Chester “Whitey” Lindgren (so nicknamed because of his white-blond hair) opened his first ice cream shop in Moline in 1933, and the franchise has expanded to eight locations throughout the Quad Cities. The menu includes more than 40 flavors of ice cream, as well as shakes and malts, sundaes, and Bostons (a malt or shake with a sundae on top).
The twin towns of Fulton, Kentucky, and South Fulton, Tennessee, come together every year to celebrate the almighty banana at the annual Banana Festival. (Why bananas? The area was an important railroad stop in the age of refrigerated railcars, and Fulton had the only icehouse on the route to Chicago, meaning fruits like bananas could be more easily transported from New Orleans to destinations in the northern United States). If your summer travel stretches into early fall, head to the Banana Festival in September, which culminates with the creation of a gigantic banana pudding.