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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Great River Road in Missouri treats travelers to a rich mix of culture and natural heritage. This is the midpoint of the route, and you’ll find a lot to discover, from the roots of Mark Twain to the inspiring sight of an iconic national monument. Here’s a bit of what you’ll find in Missouri.
As Mark Twain once said (according to legend), “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A prematurely published obituary allegedly triggered Twain’s comment, but it holds true in Hannibal, a place that still celebrates the great American author who was born by the name Samuel Clemens. In Hannibal you can see where Twain lived and learn about his early days at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. And, if you’re in town on the Fourth of July, be sure to catch National Tom Sawyer Days, which features a fence-painting competition, a frog jumping contest and a “Tom & Becky” contest.
An impressive building created for the 1904 World’s Fair, the Saint Louis Art Museum (or SLAM, as it’s affectionately known) houses one of America’s great art museums. It boasts more than 33,000 works, covering everything from ancient Egypt to contemporary American art. It contains at least six pieces (including Max Beckmann and Matisse pieces) that Nazis removed from their own museums because they believed the pieces to be “degenerate”; fortunately they escaped destruction. You can see these impressive pieces and others for free; there is no admission charge for the museum, thanks to a subsidy from a local cultural tax.
You can’t miss the opportunity to travel to the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch when you’re in town. A trip to the top of the 630-foot architectural wonder will put you at the highest point in downtown St. Louis, and, if it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view. (Be sure to take in the exhibits at the Arch to learn more about the history of St. Louis and the Arch itself, too.)
Long ago, massive earthquakes once struck in this part of the country, briefly causing the Mississippi River to run backwards. In 1811 and 1812, the river town of New Madrid in Missouri’s southeastern corner experienced three significant earthquakes, all with magnitudes of 7.5 or above. The quakes could be felt as far away as New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. You can learn more about this unique seismic event and more at the New Madrid Historical Museum, which also has an interesting collection of Native American and Civil War artifacts.
A new year will be here soon and it’s the perfect time to plan a trip on the Great River Road. There are more than 70 designated Great River Road Interpretive Centers to discover on the route. These interpretive centers include a variety of national museums and monuments. Like the Great River Road, they are national treasures worth exploring. They help tell the story of the river, including its ecology, events of the past and the people who have called this region home.
See a list of Great River Road attractions here. Here are details of some of the national museums and monuments you’ll find on the route.
National Eagle Center. Wabasha, Minnesota. Eagles are a regular sight on the Great Rover Road. Learn about this magnificent creature and see the birds up close in this fascinating center in the Upper Mississippi River Valley.
Visit the Great River Road Interpretive Center at the Potosi Brewing Company and visit the National Brewery Museum. This fun museum is a joint venture between the Potosi Foundation and the American Breweriana Association. It has an eclectic collection of beer bottles and cans, glasses, trays, coasters, advertising materials and more..
This beautiful museum showcases the culture and history of the Mississippi River. It has more than a dozen aquariums that display wildlife representative of the river, including sturgeon and giant catfish.
This interesting museum features a variety of interactive displays about the Mississippi River, including a display that illustrates the Mississippi Lock and Dam System. Visitors can also try their hand at steering a barge!
People 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Catch a glimpse of extravagant U.S. history by visiting a Louisiana plantation. Each with its own unique history and architecture, these plantations offer an immersive learning experience that everyone should experience on their trip to Louisiana. Here are just a few you should check out, though there are plenty more to see if you’re interested.
One of the most photographed places in Louisiana lies in Vacherie. The Oak Alley Plantation is a Greek revival mansion situated at the end of a majestic alley of live oak trees.
The colorful and ornately decorated San Francisco Plantation is known as one of the most opulent plantation houses in North America. Head to Garyville to see this mansion.
Ormond Plantation is a West Indie’s style plantation originally used to farm indigo, later flourishing as a sugarcane plantation. It resides in Destrehan.
Destrehan Plantation, also located in Destrehan, hosts exhibits that capture the 1811 Slave Revolt – the largest slave revolt in U.S. history.
The Evergreen Plantation in Edgard is the most intact plantation complex in the South, hosting an astounding 37 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. This plantation was even granted landmark status – the nation’s highest historic designation – for its agricultural acreage.
Houmas House, or “The Sugar Palace,” got its nickname for once being the largest producer of sugar in the country – at one time producing 20 million pounds of sugar annually. Located in Darrow.
Vicksburg is a popular city among history buffs, a city rich in Civil War history and culture. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Vicksburg, making it an especially flavorful destination for history lovers. But aside from Vicksburg’s exciting history, visitors can also enjoy an abundance of art, entertainment, outdoor adventures and more. The city offers four world-class casinos and one-of-a-kind Mississippi River adventures. A visit to Vicksburg is an authentic Southern experience you don’t want to miss!
For more information on Vicksburg:
PO Box 110
Vicksburg, MS 39181
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.
The Columbus-Belmont State Park combines rich Civil War history with lush Kentucky beauty for an excellent family travel destination. The park is uniquely educational, standing as a National Trail of Tears Site, and featuring a museum highlighting Civil War history. Aside from receiving an intriguing history lesson, visitors can enjoy the natural wonders of Kentucky by camping out at one of the park’s 38 sites and hiking along picturesque bluffs of the Civil War Heritage Trail. There’s plenty to do and see at the Columbus-Belmont State Park.
Columbus-Belmont State Park
350 Park Road
Columbus, KY 42032
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