Tag Archives: Great River Road

Explore the northern Great River Road’s natural history this fall

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Late fall is a great time to explore the northern Great River Road’s natural history. The leaves are still colorful so you’re guaranteed a beautiful road trip, but just in case the winter temps come calling a little too soon, here are some spots you can visit and enjoy indoors too.

National Eagle Center, Wabasha, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of the National Eagle Center

At the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota you can explore two floors of interactive exhibits, including the chance to climb in an eagle’s next and test your strength versus our national bird’s. You can meet bald and golden eagles during the daily demonstrations, then step outside to see the birds making their migratory journey along the Mississippi River Flyway. The center even offers eagle viewing trips to take you to hotspots along the river. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $7 for kids 4-17 and free for kids ages 3 and under.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa

Photo courtesy of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is one of the jewels of Dubuque. It focuses on life in and around the country’s waterways. Here you can see turtles, alligators, bald eagles, octopi, otters, sturgeon and more. Exhibits will teach you about the first people to live along the river, erosion, marshes and bayous. You can visit a blacksmith shop, conservation lab, log cabin and 3- and 4-D theaters. Admission ranges between $12 and $23 depending on age and if you include the films.

Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of the Science Museum of Minnesota

The Science Museum of Minnesota is located right on the the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The museum is full of exciting things to explore, but for river lovers, check out the Mississippi River Gallery. You can feel what it’s like to captain a real river towboat, conduct weather experiments and, if you find an object like a rock, fossil or pine cone at home, do a little research, then come and talk to staff about it, they’ll trade you for something new, like a shell, crystal or skull. Don’t miss the Native American Exhibition that tells the story of the Dakota and Ojibwe people who made their home along the river in Minnesota. Admission is $19.95 for adults, $14.95 for kids 4-17 and free for 3 and under.

Genoa National Fish Hatchery, Genoa, Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service

The Genoa National Fish Hatchery is a wonderful place to learn about the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River. Here you’ll find a wetland and native prairie boardwalk with a walking trail to explore, plus buildings that house 24 species of fish, freshwater mussels and amphibians. You can also see 13 species of fish reared on site. Check out the educational exhibits that teach about the history of the area as well, including the pearl button industry and the Battle of Bad Axe. Admission is free.

Relay of Voices update: 2 states to go!

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Since July, Relay of Voices has been traveling the Mississippi River north to south, sharing stories of residents and communities all along the Great River Road.

Relay of Voices participants recently reached Clarksdale, Miss., meaning they only have a little more than a month to go before reaching the end of their journey near Venice, La.

What have they been up to lately? Here’s a look at some recent stops along their voyage:

Keep up with the rest of Relay of Voices journey by visiting their website or following them on Facebook or Instagram.

(Photo credit: Relay of Voices)

Five Reasons to Travel the Great River Road by Author Dean Klinkenberg

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Five Reasons to Travel the Great River Road

by Dean Klinkenberg, author of Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Volume 1

When I moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1982, the Mississippi River captured my heart and imagination. Thirty-seven years later, I still can’t get enough of the storied river. I’ve been lucky enough to travel it in many different ways, but the easiest way is simply to fill up my gas tank and drive the Great River Road, one of the best road trips in the United States. I’ve driven more than 125,000 miles along its blacktop from where it begins at Itasca State Park in Minnesota to where it ends at Venice, Louisiana.

Why have I spent so much time on the Great River Road? Here are five good reasons:

1. The Great Outdoors

The essence of any trip along the Great River Road is the natural beauty of the Mississippi River itself. While you can appreciate much of it while driving, the river entices visitors to get up close and personal. Go hiking at a state park; paddle a canoe or kayak through the rich backwater habitats; ride a bike along the Great River Trail. For perspective on the entire river system, tour the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque.

2. Four Seasons of Fun

Sure, most people choose to visit the Mississippi River in summer when the weather is most reliably accommodating, but every season along the river offers something unique. Fall color is spectacular along the upper half of the river. Spring blossoms and migrating songbirds liven up spring. Winter sports keep locals busy Up North (have you ever tried curling or broomball?), while the southern reaches of the river enjoy pleasant days to view the wildlife that migrated south.

3. A Deep Dive into American History

The Mississippi River cuts a deep path through thousands of years of American history, much of which you can get to know from traveling the Great River Road. Here’s a quick sample:
• Archaeological sites offer a peek into the lives of early American cultures at places like Effigy Mounds National Monument (Iowa), Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (Illinois), and Poverty Point World Heritage Site (Louisiana).
• The updated museum at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis showcases America’s westward expansion.
• Several places highlight the growth of agricultural and industrial economies, including the John Deere sites in Moline (Illinois), the Iron Ranges of Minnesota, and the Cotton Museum of Memphis.
• The rich cultural heritage of the valley is on display at places like the blues museums in the Mississippi Delta and St. Louis, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, and The Cabildo in New Orleans.

There’s whole lot more, too (I didn’t even mention historic forts or Civil War sites), which means there are always reasons to come back.

4. Beautiful Small Towns and Vibrant Big Cities

The Great River Road is blessed with attractive small towns and exciting big cities. Many small towns offer a mix of unique lodging, good food and conversation, and recreation. Make plans for a day trip or weekend escape to charming communities like Little Falls (Minnesota), Alma (Wisconsin), McGregor (Iowa), Galena (Illinois), Kimmswick (Missouri), Clarksdale (Mississippi), and St. Francisville (Louisiana).

If you’re more of a city person, spend a long weekend getting to know Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Quad Cities, St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans. Each offers surprising and unheralded neighborhoods that are a pleasure to explore, in addition to the attractive riverfront spaces and better known sites.

5. A Cross Section of America

When Europeans began moving into the Mississippi River, dozens of American Indian tribes lived along or near the river. Some are still connected to the river today, like the Ojibwe and Dakota of Minnesota and the Chitimacha of Louisiana. Visitors can connect with American Indian communities at pow-wows, but many tribal colleges also have events open to the public.

New Orleans and Sainte Genevieve (Missouri) retain strong influences from the early French who founded them. Fulton, Illinois, still celebrates it Dutch heritage. The Quad Cities hosts the only interstate St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Mexican community in Fort Madison, Iowa, has been throwing a late summer fiesta for a century. Guttenberg, Iowa, shows off its German roots with a big annual festival. The River Road African American Museum in Donaldson, Louisiana offers a look at the experiences of Africans and African Americans in the United States.

Again, these are just a few of examples. The river has been home and passageway for just about every group that has lived in North America or moved here, and many river communities still celebrate those ties. A trip along the Great River Road is a reminder of the many people and forces that have shaped the country we know today.

These are the reasons I keep coming back to the Great River Road, but they aren’t the only ones, obviously. (I didn’t even mention the food!) Still, I hope you’ll explore the Great River Road, too, and find your own reasons to come back again and again.


Dean Klinkenberg is the Mississippi Valley Traveler. He writes fiction and non-fiction about the Mississippi River. His most recent travel guide, Road Tripping the Great River Road, Volume 1, covers the drive from northern Minnesota to Southern Illinois. He lives in St. Louis.

Notes from an epic adventure

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

While many people travel part of the Great River Road every year, a select group drives the entire 3,000-mile route. Here are some stories and photos from people who have taken on the whole 10-state route. Sound like fun? Order the free Great River Road 10-State Map, the Drive the Great River Road App and start planning your own adventure. And let us know when you’re done – we’ll send you a certificate!

 

I received the map and I thought that this would be a nice trip, so I got in my car by myself and took off on one of the most enjoyable trips in my 82 years. I could write a book on this trip all good things about the trip. This summer I am going to finish the trip from St. Louis down to Venice, LA.. To sum it up, FANTASTIC,” – Robert B, St. Louis

 

We have visited the USA on many occasions and our plan was to visit those state we had not visited. Our road trip started in Nashville, TN. We then traveled through KY, WV, OH, IN, IL and WI before commencing our adventure down the Great River Road in MN. The river was covered in snow for many miles through MN, WI, IA, IL, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS and LA – despite the extreme weather, there were many wonderful sights and places to visit. We have now visited all 48 states and Hawaii – only Alaska to go!” – David and Cathie M., Queensland, Australia

My favorite part of the drive involved travel on the levees… from the area between Baton Rouge & Natchez, up the Mississippi Delta, from Memphis to Cairo, IL, the Cahokia mounds, and the Driftless Area.” – Lucas P., New York, New York

My husband and I spent periods of time in several river towns when he was working temporary jobs in them and were enchanted by the river. Decided to one day drive the Great River Road. He passed away before we could, but I drove it accompanied by our little rat terrier, Buck. It was a beautiful drive and I loved visiting with people and learning the history of different areas. I have a 50,000 words journal with pictures of the trip and am looking for a publisher.” – Pat W., Manhattan, Kansas

I drove the entirety of the GRR from North to South – covering almost every mile on both sides (a few were underwater thanks to the flooding last Autumn). I can be mobile for work, so I’ve started driving the long roads in the Lower 48 in an RV – it was your 80th, so I took the opportunity to explore. It was a 90-day trip, including all the loop backs – I started on the 7th of Sept at the Headwaters and wrapped it up south of the Venice Marina on the 6th of Dec.” – Sara N., Land O Lakes, Florida

I traveled the first half of the GRR in 2016, from Venice, LA to St Louis, and back to NOLA… then in 2017, from St Louis to Grand Rapids, MN and back to Chicago. I have spent the past five years documenting the scenic backways of the United States. My favorite part of the drive was finding dirt roads, old abandoned routes, remote places, and especially driving up on levees. Mississippi Delta, Driftless Area and Cahokia Mounds were some favorite parts.” – Randy R., New York, New York

We traveled the Road last Summer from 8/9/18 to 8/25/18. The reason – just wanted to experience the whole trip from North to South. Plus, we like road trips that include lots of 2 lane highways…from the beautiful Headwaters of Itasca State Park, where we could walk across the Mississippi, all the way down to Venice, LA where it ends into the Gulf of Mexico, it was a spectacular road river ride!” – Howard B, La Quinta, California

“I love road trips. Having done Route 66 a few years ago, this seemed like a natural. At the end of each day, I did a thumbnail sketch of the day which I shared with friends via email and FaceBook…BTW: This epic journey was done by myself, my wife, and my sister. We drove the entire length, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf. – Ronald B., Clovis, California

See what’s happening on the Great River Road

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Great River Road has scores of iconic attractions, impressive vistas and natural wonders, and it’s possible to get a preview of many of these places online. Webcams up and down the Great River Road provide a live view of America’s greatest scenic drive. If you’re planning a trip—or just dreaming about one—these webcams are a great way to see what you can discover.

Here are just a few webcams along  the route.

Mississippi Headwaters

Want to see where the Mississippi River starts? At Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, you’ll find Lake Itasca, the starting point of the mighty Mississippi. Here, the river is less than 20 feet wide and can be walked across via a series of stepping stones. Check out the webcam in the summer to find visitors wading in the shallow waters of America’s most iconic river.

St. Paul City Hall Cam

Minnesota’s capital city of Saint Paul sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, and this webcam scrolls through several different cams throughout the metro area, including several that overlook the river. 

Mississippi River Flyway Cam

The Iowa-based Raptor Resource Project is a non-profit organization that helps preserve and protect habitats for eagles, falcons, hawks and other birds throughout the Midwest. This webcam is located in Brice Prairie, Wisconsin, and shows avian activity along the Mississippi River near La Crosse.

Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center

Located near another one of the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers, this webcam shows traffic on the Mississippi River near the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

St. Louis Arch Cams

One of the most iconic sights along the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch overlooks the river and downtown St. Louis. Gateway Arch Park and Gateway Arch National Park recently underwent a multi-year renovation and expansion, and the park’s cams give visitors several vantage points of this iconic attraction.

Graceland Cam

Get all shook up with this Memphis-based webcam, which gives viewers an up close and personal look at the estate of the late, great King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

Bourbon Street Cam

Get a glimpse of one of America’s liveliest streets with this webcam, which shows the good times rolling in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Four fabulous foods to try on the Great River Road

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The best drive in America leads travelers to some of the best meals in America. Local and regional delicacies can be found up and down the river, fueling travelers with dishes that are entwined with the region’s culture and people. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find on the Great River Road.

Cheese curds, Wisconsin

The Dairy State loves its cheese and that will be clear when you stop into a Wisconsin restaurant on the Great River Road. Brew pubs, fast food restaurants and upscale establishments all have something in common on the menu: cheese curds. You’ll find them breaded, deep fried and served with a side of ranch salad dressing. Enjoy! This summer, be sure to check out the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival.

Barbecue Ribs, Tennessee

Memphis declares itself the Barbecue Capital of the World for good reason—its ribs are in a class of their own. There’s an ongoing debate on where to find the best ribs, but one place that has legions of fans is a downtown restaurant called Rendezvous. As one Great River Road foodie put it, “Best. Ribs. In. The. World.”

Hot tamales, Arkansas

This Latin American classic has been an Arkansas food staple for generations. Filling and portable, Tamales were once common lunches in the cotton fields. Today you’ll find delicious versions along the Great River Road. One favorite spot: Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village, on the shore of Lake Chicot.

Beignets, Louisiana

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. One traveler said she recently waited 40 minutes in the rain to get her beignet.

“Worth it,” she reported.

Feeling hungry? Find more traveler tips on where to eat on the Great River Road here.

Plan a Great River Road getaway

Monday, December 10, 2018

There’s no better place for a driving adventure than the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, the best scenic drive in America. There’s so much to take in—the 3,000-mile route travels through 10 states, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Here are some tools to help you plan the perfect trip.

Get the app

An ideal resource for navigating the byway fits in your pocket. The Drive the Great River Road app is available for Apple and Android devices and includes scenic overlooks, museums, historical sites and more.

Get the map

The Great River Road Travel Map is a full-color map for exploring the byway. The map guides travelers along the official route and includes information about Great River Road Interpretive Centers. Order your own free copy here.

Find flavors

Some of the country’s best food can be found along the byway, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Travelers on the Great River Road have submitted some of their favorite flavors—see them here.

Tailor your travels

Are you an art lover or music fan? Are you planning a short trip, or do you want to drive the whole route? See sample Great River Road itineraries that will give you some great travel ideas here.

Discover Interpretive Centers

The byway has a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. Make plans to visit some of these centers to learn about the river and find useful travel information. See the full listing of interpretive centers.

Explore activities and recreation

There’s a lot to do along the byway. Take a road trip. Hit the hiking trails. Take a canoe or kayak trip through the secluded backwaters of the Mississippi River. Go fishing for walleye, bass and catfish or hunting for ducks. See some more things to do here.

Traveling through history in Arkansas

Thursday, November 08, 2018

A tour on the Great River Road in Arkansas will take you through a land with a long and rich history. Official Interpretive Centers on the route will help you experience this past, with exhibits and information that will take you back to earlier days in region. Here are some Interpretive Centers to visit in Arkansas and a sample of what you can explore.

Parkin Archeological State Park: (A.D. 1000+)

This National Historic Landmark protects the site of a Mississippian Period American Indian village that occupied this location on the St. Francis River from A.D. 1000 to 1600. Archeologists have uncovered evidence that Hernando de Soto visited this site in 1541. A visitor center at the site houses artifacts and interesting exhibits.

Lakeport Plantation (1830s+)

This plantation produced cotton for nearly a century. The plantation house, a Greek Revival house built in 1859, is the only remaining Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River. It serves as a museum telling the story of plantation life in the Mississippi delta.

Helena Museum of Phillips County (various time periods)

This local history museum housed in a former library today was founded with the help of Mark Twain. Today it houses American Indian Artifacts, a collection of Thomas Edison’s works, information about the Civil War Battle of Helena and more.

WWII Japanese Internment Museum (1942-1945)

This museum preserves the history and heritage of the 17,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly evacuated from their homes and interned at camps in Jerome and Rohwer from 1942-45. During the war, more than 8,000 Japanese Americans were interned at this camp, which was surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. A self-guided walking tour takes visitors along the southern boundary of the original camp.

Home

Sample the flavors of the Great River Road

Monday, June 04, 2018

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.

(Photo credit: Jason Lindsey)

Uniquely Iowa Great River Road stops

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Great River Road travels 328 miles through Iowa, along national wildlife refuges, past historic sights and through some of Iowa’s oldest communities. Some of the Mississippi’s most dramatic lookouts are on this section of the road and there are some memorable sights along the route. Here are a few of our favorite stops.

Pikes Peak State Park

This northern Iowa state park is one of the most photographed areas in the entire state. Trek to the top of the 500-foot bluffs and you’ll see why—you’ll take in a breathtaking view of the meeting of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers.

Historic Dubuque

Just across the Mississippi River from the Wisconsin/Iowa border, the city of Dubuque offers something for every traveler. Dubuque’s charming downtown is filled with historic buildings and has gone through a revival in recent years, with a thriving arts scene and some of the region’s tastiest restaurants. Take in a dramatic view of downtown with a ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway, 296 feet in length, elevating passengers 189 feet from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

More than 200 earthen mounds are located within the boundaries of Effigy Mounds National Monument, located in Harpers Ferry. Taking the shapes of a bird, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle or panther, these mounds were built 750 to 1,400 years ago for ceremonial purposes. The best way to tour the 2,526-acre park is hiking along the 14 miles of trails that wind their way throughout the landscape. A film at the visitor center provides an excellent introduction.

Putnam Museum

Visit this Davenport museum to learn about everything from ancient Egypt to outer space. Don’t miss the Hall of Mammals–travel from an artic glacier to an African waterhole, and check out who’s come for a drink. Not only will you see these animals in their natural habitats, you’ll hear them too!

Snake Alley

Iowa happens to be home to the “crookedest street in the world.” Don’t miss Burlington’s Snake Alley, which was built in 1894 with locally fired bricks. It’s reminiscent of vineyard paths in France and Germany

The Sawmill Museum

Timber! Discover Clinton’s lumber heritage in this fascinating museum. Kids – and adults who are young at heart – can visit a recreated 1888 lumberjack camp and play the part of a lumberjack. See a restored 1920s sawmill in action, take a ride on the Midwest Lumber Train and meet Clinton’s lumber barons.

See a full list of Iowa Great River Road attractions.