Tag Archives: Great River Road

Four reasons to travel the Great River Road

Friday, September 01, 2017

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. 

And don’t forget: you can enter the Drive the Great River Road Month Sweepstakes for a chance to win $500 for your next road trip!

Need any more reasons to drive the route this month? Here are four:

Interpretive centers

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
  • Discovery Park, Union City, Tennessee
  • Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana

Birdwatching

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.

Events

There’s a lot happening along the Great River Road in the fall. Catch an NFL game in Minnesota or Louisiana, a blues concert in Tennessee or Mississippi, a farmers’ market in Iowa, a hoedown in Kentucky, a fall festival in Wisconsin, an Oktoberfest celebration in Illinois or a music festival in Arkansas. The options for fun are almost limitless this fall!

A Mississippi River musical adventure

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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

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.

Mississippi

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

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.

Summer biking on the Great River Road

Monday, June 05, 2017

The summer biking season is here and it’s the perfect time to experience one of the greatest places to ride in America. Cyclists from around the world explore the Great River Road for good reason – it’s a route that travels through the heart of America, following the course of the mighty and iconic Mississippi River.

And right now, we’re giving away a chance to win $250 and some Great River Road gear for your next ride along the river! Enter today!

A ride on the Great River Road will take you along country roads, trails and levees, and on the way you’ll experience the remarkable history, culture and geography of the United States. Here are a few ways to enjoy the Great River Road by bike.

Weekend tours

Looking for adventure? Go for a bike tour on the Great River Road. The route is lined with bike friendly hotels and campgrounds so you’re never far from lodging. The route covers both sides of the river so loop routes are possible via bridges or ferries.

Trail rides

Pick a path! The Great River road is flanked by numerous bike trails perfect for a summer spin. Many of these trails are built on old rail beds that connected the river to the interior of the country. They provide flat, easy riding and are appropriate for riders of all ages and abilities.

Race getaways

If you have a need for speed, you can find it in the cities that line the Great River Road. You can find criteriums, road races, as well as multisport events like duathlons and triathlons. It’s a great excuse to head south – or north – with your crew. The climate changes significantly along the route so you can find ideal riding conditions.

Family spins

The Great River Road is a perfect place for a ride with the kids. There are plenty of parks with restrooms along the route that are good places to start a ride. There are also lots of places to get ice cream along the river, so there’s something sweet to look forward to at the end of the ride!

To explore biking opportunities on the Great River Road, check out these state travel links:

Birdwatching hotspots on the Great River Road

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Birds are on the move above the Mississippi River! The Mississippi River flyway is a migration route followed by 40 percent of North America’s water and shore birds. Song birds, raptors, ducks and wading birds all travel this route this season. For bird lovers, this is paradise. Travelers on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway will find endless spots for taking in the show. Part of the fun of birding is finding your own special locations, but here are some good bets to get you started.

 

Barn Bluff Scenic Overlook, Red Wing.

You can summit this 340-foot bluff via a trail and some steps. It’s worth the effort. It offers panoramic views of the Mississippi River and Red Wing below and it’s the perfect place to spot flocks traveling north.

Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin.

This park also offers a bird’s eye view of the Mississippi River. Keep your binoculars handy; this is the spot where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi and it’s fantastic habitat for birds.

Pike’s Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa

This is one of the most photographed places in Iowa for a reason – it offers majestic views of the river channels below. The wooded park has some nice birding trails – keep an eye out for pileated woodpeckers. Not far from parking areas, you’ll find breathtaking vistas that are perfect spots to see passing flocks.

Lake Chicot State Park, Arkansas

This lake was once part of the Mississippi River, before it was cut off from the main channel centuries ago. It’s 20 miles long – the largest natural lake in Arkansas. It’s great habitat for wetland birds and it draws birders throughout the year.

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve, Louisiana

The Barataria Preserve here is a land of forests bayous. It’s fantastic biding country. You’ll find more than 200 species of birds including herons, egrets, vultures, and ducks.

Great River Road Fun Facts

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s wise to have some conversation starters on hand. Check out these Great River Road fun facts!

  • From the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the grand finale in New Orleans, Louisiana, it would take 22 hours of non-stop driving to complete one half of the Great River Road.
  • But, if you were a raindrop, it’d take you 90 days to travel the same distance!
  • Minnesota has the longest portion of the Great River Road at 575 miles long.
  • Kentucky is home to the smallest section of the Great River Road, just 63 miles.
  • The Great River Road runs on both sides of the river, except between Hastings, Minnesota and the byway’s northern terminus.
  • Great River Road town Hannibal, Missouri is the hometown of famed author Mark Twain.
  • Two-thirds of Wisconsin’s Great River Road passes along or through protected natural areas.
  • Some of the oak trees along Louisiana’s Great River Road are more than 300 years old!
  • Illinois’s Great River Road is home to the confluence of three rivers – the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois.
  • River town Alton, Illinois has been named “One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America” by the Travel Channel.
  • Accolades come easy for the Great River Road. It’s been named, “Prettiest Drive in America,” one of the “U.S.A.’s Ten Best Motorcycle Roads,” one of the “1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die,” and “Best Drive in America.”

Haunts of the Great River Road

Friday, October 21, 2016

The leaves have turned and there’s a nippy chill in the air. Autumn has arrived on the Great River Road. As the days get shorter and Halloween approaches, that chill send tingles down our spines as we willingly seek out spooky stories of strange things that go bump in the night.  There’s plenty of history on the Great River Road—and where there’s history, there’s bound to be a good ghost story. The following spots are said to harbor spirits.  Check’em out, if you dare.

Wabasha Street Caves – St. Paul, MN

Currently a bar, restaurant and events space, this former prohibition hideout and night club was a safe haven for shady mobsters back in the day, like the infamous John Dillinger. According to local lore, it’s haunted by three gangsters who were shot and hastily buried under the speakeasy. They appear as men dressed in garb from the 1920’s, either sitting at the bar, serving drinks, or wandering the caves.

Orpheum Theatre – Memphis, TN

Built in 1928, this local theatre was saved from demolition more than once, and now hosts a variety of arts and entertainment acts. It also hosts a variety of ghosts, the most well-known being Mary. Mary was a young girl was killed in a car accident just outside the front door back in 1921, when the theatre was an opera hosts. She now watches the performances from the same seat in row C, slams doors unexpectedly, dances in the lobby and flickers the lights to spook guests. Those who have seen her say she wears pigtails and a white dress.

Oak Alley Plantation – Vacherie, LA

The first investigation into the hauntings occurred in 1983 after numerous reports of strange happenings. The staff and and tour guides tell guests of the variety of spirits — they’ve seen a 6-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl, confederate soldiers, and several of the former housekeepers on the grounds. In fact, one tour group saw a candle in the dining room fly across the room. Ghost-hunters frequently bring sophisticated equipment and continuously pick up thermal imaging and other indications of other-worldly beings.

Galena, IL

If you’re looking for the full spirit experience, look no further than Galena, Illinois. The town boasts a host of haunts that you’re able to explore as a ghost-hunting group. Local ghost hunter Amelia provides tours, lodging in an old historic mansion, equipment to detect paranormal activity, and more.

 

There are countless historical sites and ghost stories to tell along the Great River Road. We’d love to hear your experiences of supernatural sightings or weird encounters.

6 things you might not know about the Great River Road

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lake Itasca and the Headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State ParkThe Great River Road is America’s oldest and longest National Scenic Byway, so it makes sense that it’s also home to a lot of history and unique attractions. Here are a few things you might not know about the Mississippi River and the cities and states along the Great River Road.

  1. It takes approximately 90 days for a raindrop to travel the length of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
  2. There are more than 70 official interpretive centers—museums, historical sites and more—along the Great River Road.
  3. Memphis, Tennessee is home more than 100 barbecue restaurants.
  4. The Mississippi River actually flowed backwards after a series of earthquakes that rocked the New Madrid, Missouri, area in 1811 and 1812. You can learn about it at the New Madrid Historical Museum.
  5. Founded in 1791, the French Market in New Orleans is the oldest public market in the United States.
  6. Waterskiing was invented on Lake Pepin—part of the Mississippi River that forms the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota—in 1922.

Your Twin Cities adventure, by bike

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

mn 2People often forget how easy it is to traverse the Minneapolis and St. Paul downtown areas by bike. In fact, Bicycling.com rated Minneapolis the best American city for biking in 2015. To see why, make a day of traveling between the two cities on two wheels (which is guaranteed to save you big bucks on parking). Plus, you’ll get to see pretty stellar spots along the Great River Road. Plan to make several stops along the way — you won’t believe how much you’ll be able to pack into 25 miles of trail.

  1. Start your journey in St. Paul, the older and sleepier of the twins. Spend the morning touring the majestic basilica or exploring a new exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Hop on the path just behind the museum, on the other side of the river from Harriet Island.
  2. You’ll be able to see the historic base of Fort Snelling on the other side of the river as you bike under Highway 5. If you like military museums, this is a must-see; just take the pedestrian path adjacent to the highway. If not, continue to follow the path without crossing the river.
  3. Minnehaha Park is a fantastic stop on the West side of the river. Once in the park, check out the beautiful Minnehaha Falls and grab a bite to eat at Sea Salt, a cute little seafood cafe.
  4. If you continue on the east side of the river, check out the picturesque views at the lookout point where Summit Avenue intersects with the bike path.
  5. Hop onto the East River Parkway via the Lake Street bridge to bike through the University of Minnesota campus. The shiny deconstructionist building you’ll see is the Weisman Art Museum by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.
  6. Once you reach downtown Minneapolis via the West River Parkway, marvel at the Mill City Museum and Guthrie Theater, two cultural landmarks with very different architectural styles, before crossing the iconic Stone Arch Bridge into northeast Minneapolis. Stop and take a picture with the Minneapolis skyline as your backdrop!
  7. Once in Northeast, you’ll have your pick of breweries. Try Dangerous Man just a few blocks down from the river.

Once you’ve concluded your adventure, you can bike back or bring your bike with you on the light rail return trip to downtown St. Paul.

Golfing the Great River Road

Thursday, March 24, 2016

ONA Golf Course 3_resultIt’s always worth making room in your trunk for some clubs when you’re driving the Great River Road. The route will take you past some of America’s finest courses and you’re never far from great golfing. The Mississippi River Valley features some spectacular terrain that makes for challenging play. Many courses offer dramatic views of the valley and the river beyond. Here are some golf courses to check out that are on or near America’s oldest and longest scenic byway:

Trempealeau Mountain Golf Club, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

This fun and challenging course is located on beautiful rolling farm land.

Galena Golf Club, Galena, Illinois

Built in 1927, the Galena Golf Club is an 18 hole, par 71 course that challenges golfers of all skill levels.

Emerald Greens, St. Louis, Missouri

This course provides beautiful views and a chance to see some of the Mississippi region’s wildlife.

Links at Riverside, Memphis, Tennessee

For more than a century, golfers have been playing this public course near the river’s edge, which is also a short drive from downtown Memphis.

River Bend Links, Robinsville, Mississippi

This par 72 links-style golf course presents the only true Scottish links course in the mid-South.

Audubon Park Golf Course, New Orleans

Located just minutes from downtown New Orleans, this immaculate 18-hole course is surrounded by century-old oak trees.

 

Top 5 birds to see on the Great River Road

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Photo: Tom Jerisha

Photo: Tom Jerisha

With warm spring temperatures come the flocks of migratory birds, flying north along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi Flyway is the migration route followed by 40% of all waterfowl and shorebirds in North America. Wildlife refuges, state forests, federal forests and parks protect the crucial habitat and food sources for these birds.

Grab a pair of binoculars, because you won’t believe the variety of fowl that nests along the Mississippi. Here are a few of our favorites, and where you can find them:

  1. Bald eagle. Watch our nation’s bird soar over the pines and lakes along the Mississippi. Nearly every state from Arkansas to Minnesota boasts superb bald eagle viewing. The conditions of the Mississippi are simply plentiful. If you want to learn more about the majestic bird, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota is a regional favorite for group visits. Climb into an eagle’s nest, meet the resident raptors, or join a guided field tour to see the birds the in wild. Further south, at the Mississippi River Visitor Center in Rock Island, Illinois, you’ll find a bald eagle hot spot. This location is best in late winter and very early spring, when the eagles gather near the open water to feed.
  2. White pelican. These shy white birds start migrating north in early March. They’re frequently spotted near locks and dams near state parks, like the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Bellevue, Iowa.
  3. Prothonotary Warbler. This small vibrantly yellow songbird is conspicuous all along the lower Mississippi River states, like Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. When the weather warms, you’re sure to spot it migrating north from its summer near the West Indies. It forges for food in hardwood swamps and nests in natural and artificial cavities like woodpecker holes.
  4. Great blue heron. Watch this majestic bird stalk its prey in shallow wetlands before taking flight with a loud squawk and a loud thump from its 6 foot wingspan. Great blue herons nest in treetop colonies called rookeries. You can find rookeries along the islands in Minnesota, like the North Mississippi River Park in Minneapolis, or the wetlands of Tennessee.
  5. Ivory-billed woodpecker. If you happen to spot this quirky bird, consider yourself one of the few. Thought to be extinct, this bird was spotted flying over Arkansas in 2002. The Dale Bumpers White River Widelife Refuge in Arkansas is home to 300 lakes and ponds, making the Bottomland Hardwood Forest and the White River an ideal home for migrating birds, and maybe, just maybe, the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Want more birding advice for your Great River Road experience? Be sure to check out our page devoted to bird-watching.