In 1938, states along the Mississippi River had the foresight to establish a driving route along America’s greatest river. The route was named the Great River Road and it spanned 3,000 beautiful miles and 10 states. For generations, people have been following the green and white pilot wheel signs to unforgettable adventures. There are probably as many reasons to be thankful for this route as there are travelers, but here are a few reasons why so many return to this beautiful byway.
The Great River Road leads travelers to some unforgettable meals. From Arkansas hot tamales to Louisiana beignets, you’re never far from a delicious local specialty. Need some recommendations? Check out our fan favorites- they’ve shared some of their favorite restaurants, bakeries, breweries, farmers markets and more. Search their tips by state to find great food stops for your trip.
The Mississippi Delta is Blues country, and the route is your ticket to the show. Start by taking a trip through the Magnolia State and drive through the land of legends. Here are some of the sights you won’t want to miss along the route.
The Mississippi River Valley offers spectacular scenery that changes dramatically along the route. Northern stretches will take you through forests and past towering bluffs. You’ll discover impressive vistas in places like Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, Wisconsin and Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa.
Look up, when you’re on the Great River Road and you’ll likely find you have company. This Great River Road travels along the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route used by 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. There are abundant birding locations along the route; here are a few good bets.
Mississippi offers something for every traveler. From its music scene to its rich history, its Delta culture to its beautiful magnolias, the state doesn’t disappoint. And when it comes to food? Boy, does Mississippi deliver.
Here are a few spots to explore when you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Mississippi.
Clarksdale: A blues lover’s mecca, Clarksdale is the site of much of the iconic music that came out of the Delta—you’ll find attractions like the Crossroads (the intersection of Highways 49 and 61, where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talent) and the Delta Blues Museum. Explore the downtown to discover more unique shops and music venues, including the Bluesberry Café, where you can get a side of live blues with your breakfast, or the famous Ground Zero Blues Club, where you can find great music and another Mississippi delicacy: fried green tomatoes.
Cleveland: Another great stop for music lovers, Cleveland is home to the only other GRAMMY Museum outside of Los Angeles. But if you’re looking for some Southern comfort food, don’t miss Airport Grocery, which serves up generous helpings of tamales, crawfish, BBQ and more in a restaurant adorned with classic signage and curios.
Vicksburg: In Mississippi, fried is always better. This rule goes for just about anything including pickles, okra, and seafood. One of Mississippi’s unique contributions to the culinary world is its twist on the po’ boy sandwich. Originating from Louisiana, the po’ boy usually comes stuffed with roast beef. But in Mississippi, it’s decked with fried shrimp, crawfish, crab and other Gulf specialties. Try it at Rusty’s Riverfront Grill in Vicksburg.
Natchez: Get a scenic view of the Mississippi River or enjoy a dinner on the site of beautiful antebellum homes in the historic city of Natchez, which was founded more than 300 years ago. Historic properties like Dunleith and Stanton Hall have restaurants on site, and you can discover scenic dining at The Pilot House or 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill.
Southern cooking is famous for a reason. Visit Mississippi, and you’ll find out why.
Blues country awaits you in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Take a musical trip through the Magnolia State and discover the best of Mississippi blues country.
Here are some sights you shouldn’t miss.
“The Crossroads” in Clarksdale, Miss. is where blues legend Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for amazing guitar skill. Make your own deal at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49 Learn more.
Dockery Farms in Cleveland was founded in 1895 to produce cotton but it produced something much more important. Musical legend BB King dubbed this place the “birthplace of the blues.” African American workers here helped inspire the creation of blues music. Learn more.
Located in the historic Clarksdale freight depot, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale houses the sharecropper cabin where Muddy Waters lived, the sign from the juke joint where Robert Johnson was poisoned and other fascinating artifacts. Learn more.
Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale is alive every Wednesday through Saturday night with today’s top Delta acts. The club is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman. Learn more.
Want to take a deeper trip into Mississippi’s blues history? Check out the Mississippi Blues Trail, which features museums, trail markers and more that will lead you into this rich American tradition.
September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a perfect time to explore the best scenic driving route in America. The seasons are changing and the beauty on the road is simply unforgettable. In the northern stretches of the route, fall is in full swing and leaves are turning brilliant shades of red, yellow and gold. Further south along the route, humidity of the summer is giving way to perfect fall weather.
Along the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase the culture and history of the river. Learn about the area’s rich Native American history, explore the boyhood history of Mark Twain, sample the nation’s brewing traditions, see majestic eagles in flight and more. Learn about the route’s interpretive centers here.
This Labor Day weekend, be sure to check out Snapchat filters at select interpretive centers and attractions along the Great River Road. You can find them at:
Itasca State Park, Minnesota
Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Villa Kathrine, Quincy, Illinois
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
Columbus-Belmont State Park, Kentucky
Arkansas Welcome Center on Lake Chicot in Lake Village, Arkansas
Migratory birds are on the move, heading south along the Mississippi Flyway, a migratory route that follows the Mississippi River through the United States. The river offers rich habitat for birds, and birders flock to the route every fall to take in the show. Learn about planning your Great River Road birding adventure here.
Fall color & agritourism
The Great River Road offers some of the heartland’s most spectacular scenery. It’s lined with parks and overlooks that are wonderful places to take in the season’s beauty. River bluffs are popular photography spots this time of year. It’s also an ideal time to stop by one of the many wineries and apple orchards along the route. See a listing of agritourism attractions here.
A drive along the Great River Road will take you through a region steeped with musical history and tradition. Head into the southern states along the river to discover rich musical heritage that is preserved in the Great River Road Interpretive Centers, local festivals and lively venues. Sound like a good time? Here are three states to hit on your next musical adventure.
Louisiana is a rich gumbo of musical traditions, including Cajun, Dixieland, Jazz, Blues, Country and Rock ‘n Roll. Head to the heart of New Orleans for a big helping of Louisiana’s musical offerings.
This famous hot spot is as famous for partying as it is for its live Jazz. Join the crowd and sample live music from great clubs like Fritzel’s European Jazz Club, Funky Butt, and Palm Court Jazz Café and iconic Preservation Hall.
The State of Mississippi gave birth to of Delta Blues, a style which is widely considered to be the progenitor of all other forms of the Blues.
Mississippi is Blues country and you’ll find Blues-related attractions, including Tunica’s Bluesville Showcase Night Club. A good place to begin your Mississippi Blues journey is the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale.
Tennessee is another state steeped in musical history. Memphis is called the “Birthplace of the Blues” and is home to Beale Street, Tennessee’s most-visited attraction. See live blues music while enjoying a beverage and eating some of the region’s best ribs. Before leaving town, head to Graceland to see the famous estate of Elvis Presley.
September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a great time to explore America’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byway.
Fall is the perfect time to drive the Great River Road. Vibrant colors paint the trees from Minnesota to northern Mississippi, and you’ll find festivals, farmers markets and fun activities all along the Mississippi River corridor.
Looking for a few things to see and do in each of the 10 Great River Road states? We’ll head north to south with our suggestions:
Minnesota: Want to see where the Mississippi River starts its journey to the Gulf of Mexico? Visit Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where you can walk – yes, walk – across the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Wisconsin: A perfect stop to see fall color, Grandad Bluff in La Crosse gives you a 600-foot-high view of the city below and the Mississippi River beyond.
Illinois: Make a stop in the charming community of Galena, where you can find historic sites, tempting shopping, and toast-worthy wineries.
Iowa: Want a great view? Hop aboard Dubuque‘s Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway. Ride to the top for an astonishing panoramic view of the Mississippi River and three states.
Missouri: This stop isn’t really more of a where, it’s a what: St. Louis barbecue. St. Louis has dozens of delicious barbecue options, including perennial favorite Pappy’s Smokehouse.
Kentucky: Learn about the Mississippi River’s role in the Civil War at Columbus-Belmont State Park, where you can find a six-ton anchor that – along with a mile-long chain – was used to blockade the river during battles between the North and South.
Tennessee: Students of American history should visit The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, an educational experience built around the preserved Lorraine Motel. Learn about the struggle for civil rights in America and see the preserved hotel rooms where Martin Luther King, Jr., spent his last hours.
Louisiana: You might recognize this place from numerous movies and TV shows — Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie welcomes visitors with an awe-inspiring canopy of 300-year-old oak trees leading to a pristine antebellum plantation.
Blues history is alive and well along the Great River Road. And while the genre is most prominent in the Deep South, you’ll find blues highlights in other states along the Mississippi as well.
Born in the Mississippi Delta in the late 19th century, blues originated from African American spirituals, work songs and chants. It’s no wonder then that Mississippi is flourishing with blues history. The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale honors Mississippi as the birthplace of the blues, and the Mississippi Blues Trail tells stories through words and images of historic bluesmen.
Memphis’ Beale Street District served as a music haven for African Americans at the turn of the 20th century and remains a legendary blues entertainment destination. Memphis also boasts the Mississippi River Museum, which features five galleries explaining the origins of the blues, including pieces such as vintage band equipment, radios and various records.
The Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas focuses on the history of the Arkansas Delta, presenting exhibits, educational programs, tours and more. Their current exhibit, called, “Helena: Main Street of the Blues,” gives a unique perspective of the delta’s rich blues history.
Finally, Chicago’s Blues Chicago club features some of the area’s best blues artists and is a popular blues hotspot for fans all over the world.
Experience rich blues history along the Great River Road.
Explore the rich blues music history of the Arkansas Delta at the Delta Cultural Center, located in historic downtown Helena, AK. Comprised of two locations, the Depot and the Visitors Center, guests can learn Delta history through the museum’s exhibits, programs, events and tours. Visit the Depot’s “A Heritage of Determination” exhibit to learn about Delta history from the time of its earliest inhabitants through the great Mississippi River floods. Then walk a block north to the Visitors Center and see the “Delta Sounds” music exhibit.
Delta Cultural Center
141 Cherry St.
Helena, AR 72342
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