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Locks and dams of the upper Mississippi

Monday, June 22, 2020

Travelers along the Great River Road will encounter a marvel of engineering. There are 29 lock and dam structures built along the upper Mississippi, creating a “stairway of water” that allows pleasure boats, tow boats and barges to travel from St. Louis to St. Paul. For travelers along the route in northern states, these structures are a must-see—a chance to spot massive barges making their way on the river, laden with goods. According to the Applied River Engineering Center, the river drops 420 feet between Minneapolis and Granite City, Illinois.

You won’t find locks and dams on lower sections of Mississippi River. Why? The Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Ohio, and other rivers flow into the Mississippi, making the river naturally wider and deeper downstream.  The barges need a lot of river to operate. According to the Applied River Engineering Center, a “full tow” includes a tow boat and 15 barges, arranged three wide and five deep. Together, these connected barges stretch as long as 1,200 feet!

Interested in seeing a lock and dam? Here’s a list of ones you can find along the route.






To get on a barge, and perhaps catch a big fish, check out the Clements Fishing Barge near Lock and Dam 8 in Genoa, Wisconsin. The business offers a fun and affordable way to experience some river fishing.