This month is a spectacular time to experience the best scenic driving route in America. September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a month that celebrates this incredible 10-state scenic byway. The seasons are changing and the scenery on the road is simply unforgettable. In the northern stretches of the route, trees 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. Below are three more reasons to travel the byway.
The Great River Road offers travelers an opportunity to learn about the fascinating culture, heritage and history of the Mississippi River region. Discover more than 80 Interpretive Centers—museums, historical sites and more—along the Great River Road. Visit the boyhood home of celebrated author Mark Twain and learn how the Mississippi influenced his writings, tour a working farm that uses techniques practiced in the 19th century.
A drive along the Great River Road will take you through a region steeped with musical history and tradition. The southern states are a must for music lovers. 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. 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. 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. Before leaving town, head to Graceland to see the famous estate of Elvis Presley.
The route rewards food lovers at every turn. Fishing, farming, cheese factories, roadside produce stands, local eateries—there’s a lot of food to explore all along the Great River Road. See some of the area’s great agritourism attractions here. And that’s not even to mention the award-winning restaurants, hidden gems and classic eateries where you’ll find some of the best meals you’ve ever had. Check out some of our favorite flavors of the Great River Road here.
As the Great River Road leads travelers along the path of America’s greatest river, it also takes them through the rich history and vibrant cultures of the Mississippi River. In kitchens along the route, the abundance of the region awaits hungry visitors.
In Louisiana, the smell of Cajun and Creole food beckons travelers. While Cajun and Creole are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, they are in fact different cultures with deliciously distinct foods. For those who are new to the region, here’s a quick look at what makes these cultures and foods unique.
Cajuns are descended from French Canadians who migrated to Louisiana. The culture still thrives in Louisiana—you’ll hear French accents on the street, Zydeco music on the radio and taste delectable Cajun food in the restaurants.
Cajun food is hearty and rustic and includes one-pot masterpieces like gumbo and jambalaya as well as boudin, a sausage made of pork, rice and spices. One festive Cajun tradition is the crawfish boil, a celebration of food where Cajuns boil large pots of crawfish, potatoes, onions and corn over an outdoor propane stove. Other Cajun delicacies include andouille sausage, etouffee and tasso ham.
There’s some debate over what exactly defines Creole culture—historians have suggested Creole represents and ethnic group consisting of individuals with European and African, Caribbean or Hispanic descent or individuals born in New Orleans with French or Spanish ancestry. What’s not debatable is the impact of Creole culture on Louisiana—visitors can explore Creole culture through art, historical sights and food.
One big way in which Creole food differs from Cajun food is use of tomato. Creole dishes incorporate tomatoes and tomato-based sauces—Cajun food does not. Some Creole menu items might seem similar to Cajun food, however the seasoning and preparation can be very different. Creole food includes roux-based gumbos, shrimp creole and creole chicken fricassee.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting or ending your Great River Road trip in Louisiana—the Bayou State will provide you with some of the best food you’ll find along the entire Mississippi River. From shrimp and crawfish to pralines and beignets, there’s enough deliciousness here to make any food fan happy. Here’s a look at just a few of Louisiana’s famous dishes (and some of the best spots to find them):
Seafood, Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital is a great place to find some classic seafood fresh from the bayou and the Gulf of Mexico, including oysters, crawfish, and shrimp. Popular dining spots include Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant, Acme Oyster House (which has restaurants throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Coast), Roux 61 and Hot Tails (a short drive from Baton Rouge, but it’s operated by the Food Network’s “Cajun Aces” stars Cody & Samantha Carroll). Side trip: Head to Louisiana State University’s Rural Life Museum & Windrush Gardens.
Southern fare, St. Francisville. Francisville sits just north of Baton Rouge at a bend in the Mississippi River, and this small town oozes Southern charm. You’ll find great food here, too—stop by The Francis Southern Table & Bar for oysters, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, jambalya and other Louisiana classics. Or, take in the down-home vibe (and enjoy some live music) at the Magnolia Café. Side trip: Pay a visit to the Myrtles Plantation, one of America’s most haunted homes.
Cocktails, New Orleans. New Orleans claims it invented the cocktail, and with options this delicious, it’s hard to argue. Time-honored drinks like the Sazerac, brandy milk punch, the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Hurricane were all conceived in the Crescent City, and you’ll find plenty of places that are happy to serve them up. If you’re looking for an iconic New Orleans bar, don’t miss the (revolving!) Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone or Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, a James Beard award-winning classic. Side trip: Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street? Head next door to Frenchman Street, which houses a collection of energetic live music venues, quirky shops and (of course) delicious dining.
Dessert, New Orleans. New Orleans gets all the fun accolades when it comes to eating and drinking—it’s the home of the cocktail, as well as home to some of the best desserts you’ve ever had. Be sure to sample some beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde. Touristy? Sure—but there’s a reason there’s always a line for these delicious, doughy, sugar-topped pastries. Then, head down to the French Market to pick up some Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Side trip: Travel west out of the Crescent City to discover the marvelous antebellum homes of New Orleans Plantation Country.
From fresh produce at farmers’ markets to mouth-watering regional recipes, from food-themed community celebrations to scenic views at riverside wineries, there’s something for every palate along the Great River Road.
This summer, we’re encouraging travelers along the Great River Road to share their favorite flavors from the 10 Mississippi River states as part of our Flavors of the Great River Road campaign. Submit your favorite flavor—a restaurant, a recipe, an event or pretty much anything else—or click here to browse all of our fans’ entries.
Check back here every week, because we’ll be sharing state-specific itineraries to tell you where to find the best flavors from along the Mississippi River.
You can also enter to win $500 to launch your own food adventure along the Great River Road with the Flavors of the Great River Road Giveaway. Enter here before Aug. 24 for your chance to win.
This summer, experience the Great River Road one bite and one sip at a time. The Mississippi River Valley is not only a rich land that helps feed the world; it provides fresh and delicious offerings to travelers on the route. The Great River Road will lead you to straight to this bounty. Discover why some of the most delicious food on earth is grown along the Mississippi.
Here are some fresh ideas for your trip:
Pick your own
One for the mouth, one for the basket? It can be tempting to eat a few when you’re enjoying a little time on a pick-your-own farm. Grab a pail or a basket and reap the season’s rewards. The Great River Road passes dozens of berry patches and orchards.
Head to market
There’s a bounty to be found this season in the fields, parks and parking lots along the Great River Road. Local vendors offer farm-fresh fruits and vegetables as well as locally made crafts and baked goods. See where to find markets here.
Pop a cork
Generations of wine growers have capitalized on the fertile soil and steep hillsides of the Mississippi River Valley. Toast their success at one of the wineries along the Great River Road. Take in beautiful views of the vineyards, do a tour and tasting and pick up a special vintage to remember the day. Find wineries here.
The northern stretch of the route passes dairy country and there are some award-winning cheeses made right along the route. Plan ahead and bring a cooler along; you will taste some amazing cheese that might have to come home with you!
Pick an apple
Climb a ladder, or just go for the low-hanging fruit. Either way, apple, cherry and peach orchards offer plenty of delicious reasons to go picking this season. Fruit never tastes better than when it is fresh off the branch. Keep an eye out for heirloom varieties that you’ll never find in a supermarket. See a list of orchards here.
While journeying down the Great River Road, you’ll pass through ten different states, each with its own unique dining culture. Here are some restaurants located just off the GRR that you should definitely check out.
Minneapolis, MN: The Bachelor Farmer
Located in a newly restored building built in 1881, The Bachelor Farmer captures the historic yet modern feel of the downtown Twin Cities. You’re guaranteed the freshest Nordic-style food, thanks to their use of local ingredients, including produce from their rooftop garden.
La Crosse, WI: The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern
Dine on Waterfront Restaurant‘s contemporary versions of American classics, relax in the cushy lounge and enjoy the smooth sounds from the piano bar. And as the name hints, patrons can appreciate panoramic views of the Mississippi River, as the restaurant is situated along the waterfront.
Dubuque, IA: L. May Eatery L. May Eatery takes pride in its use of local ingredients, serving a rotating seasonal menu of “gourmet comfort food.” Whether you’re craving a sophisticated pizza, delectable seafood or a refreshing cocktail, L. May guarantees delicious cuisine.
Quincy, IL: Tiramisu’
Order the unique homemade pasta when you visit Tiramisu’. This Italian restaurant also offers a fine selection of wine, pizzas and more. A great place to unwind.
St. Louis, MO: Bogart’s Smokehouse
Strap on your bib for a BBQ excursion at Bogart’s Smokehouse. You’ll need an appetite for this one, as the smokehouse serves up mouthwatering meats like pulled pork, smoky brisket, apricot bruleed ribs, pastrami and prime rib.
Memphis, TN: Restaurant Iris
Specializing in French-Creole cuisine, Restaurant Iris has been named Memphis’ “Best Restaurant” for the past four years by a number of qualified reviews. Its charming atmosphere can be attributed to its presence inside a restored old home near the historic Overton Square.
New Orleans, LA: Commander’s Palace
Last stop on this culinary food tour of the Mississippi… New Orleans! Commander’s Palace is the perfect place to experience New Orleans culture. Serving award-winning Creole dishes since 1880, the restaurant holds vibrant history, and vast experience has driven their success throughout the years.
Fill up on Memphis BBQ during your Great River Road stop in Tennessee! This style of barbecue is all about pork ribs, usually marinated with a rub made of herbs and spices and basted during the cooking. Rubs can be wet, dry, mild, spicy or sweet, with or without mopping sauces applied periodically. Tennessee hosts a number of barbecue festivals throughout the year, and features excellent Memphis barbecue restaurants that you can dine at year-round.
Win $500 for your next Great River Road trip!
Discover wonderful fall colors and fun outdoor activities all along the Great River Road!