The Great River Road is one of the nation’s premier birding routes. The 3,000-mile National Scenic Byway traces the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the Mississippi River through the United States. Some birds that use this route travel from as far away as Patagonia to the south and the Arctic Ocean to the north. For birds, it’s an ideal long-haul route as the river provides plenty of food and habitat. For bird lovers, the route offers an unparalleled way to see a spectacular number of North American birds.
Here are some tips for planning your Great River Road adventure.
# Plan to visit the locks and dams. Eagles and shore birds can be spotted on these structures on the river so they make excellent viewing spots. See a list of locks and dams here.
# Check out the Interpretive Centers. The Great River Road’s network of Interpretive Centers offer a chance to learn about the habitat and history of the Mississippi region. Some also have invaluable local birding advice.
# Look for the lookouts. The great River Road has some spectacular scenic overlooks that are perfect spots to watch migratory flocks. Many have adjacent trails that offer additional birdwatching opportunities.
# Use the Great River Road’s navigational tools. The free Great River Road map is a full-color map with helpful information about the entire route. Order your free copy today! Download the fun and easy Drive the Great River Road app for additional information about the route.
# Enter the Birding Bonanza Giveaway. You could win $250 for a birding tip along the Great River Road!
Here are some good bets for birdwatching along the Great River Road.
Itasca State Park. The home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in Minnesota, hosts birds in its boreal forests and mixed hardwoods. Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest park. With 222 species found here, it’s also one of Minnesota’s premier birding locations.
Reelfoot Lake State Park. Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake was created by a series of earthquakes in the early 1800s and today is a magnificent wildlife viewing and birding location. You’ll find many varieties of shore and wading birds here and white pelicans and eagles pay seasonal visits to the park.
National Eagle Center. Want to get up close and personal with an eagle? Pay a visit to Wabasha, Minn., where you can meet bald and golden eagles at daily demonstrations or take a look at eagles perched above the Mississippi River from the observation deck.
Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge—located in southeastern Arkansas—was created in 1935 specifically to protect migratory birds. Birders can find countless species among the beautiful forests and lakes.
Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. In western Kentucky near Benton, this 8,500-acre refuge contains bottomland hardwood forests used by over 200 species of neotropical songbirds for a migration stopover spot or for nesting.