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.
Nearly 80 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
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
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!