Tag Archives: Iowa

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. 

 

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

Winter bald eagle viewing on the Great River Road

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Some of the best places to see the national bird of the United States can be found along the Great River Road. Travelers on northern stretches of the Great River Road are treated to a majestic sight as the birds spend time in winter hunting grounds along the Mississippi. The prime season for viewing these majestic birds runs from December through March, so now is the perfect time to take in the spectacle. Here are some great places to see bald eagles.

bald eagle mississippi riverMinnesota

National Eagle Center – Wabasha

This interpretive center is one of the best places in the country to learn about eagles. At the center you can watch wild bald eagles in comfort—the center has a wide bank of windows overlooking a pool on the Mississippi River. You can also see live bald eagles up close during daily educational programs at the center. Exhibits provide information about the bald eagle’s behavior, nesting habits, diet and history.

Wisconsin

Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center – Prescott

This interpretive center offers a beautiful vista of the Mississippi River Valley—on winter days, you might see a few eagles soaring on the wind currents. Inside the center you’ll find a life-size eagle’s nest and other exhibits that give you a sense of the majesty of this impressive bird.

Illinois

Illinois Mississippi River Visitor Center – Rock Island

Eagles are a common sight around the Quad Cities, and a good place to see them is the Mississippi River Visitor Center on the Rock Island Arsenal. Located in Rock Island at Lock & Dam #15, the center provides a good viewing spot of the bald eagles that travel to the locks and dams of the Mississippi to feed during the winter. In early spring, the river opens to commercial navigation and visitors come to the locks to see boats pass by.

Iowa

Effigy Mounds National Monument – Harper’s Ferry

This 2,526-acre park contains more than 200 ceremonial earthen mounds constructed in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtles and panthers. Some of these mounds were built more than 1,400 years ago. On Feb 22-23, the park will hold Bald Eagle Appreciation Days, a chance to see and celebrate this beautiful birds at an incredible riverside location.

 

Enjoy the flavors of the Great River Road

Thursday, August 23, 2018

All summer long, we’ve been talking about the Flavors of the Great River Road, from farm-to-table restaurants and wineries with scenic views to classic recipes and can’t-miss dishes.

We’ve given you travelers’ recommendations for the best places to visit when you’re traveling along the Mississippi River. (Be sure to share your own here.)

And we’ve broken down the best flavors of the Great River Road state-by-state. Here’s a look at the top flavors from each state along America’s greatest drive.

Planning a foodie getaway along the Mississippi River? Order your free 10-state Great River Road map or download our Drive the Great River Road app.

(Photo credit: Dice Sales/Illinois Office of Tourism)

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.

18 reasons to travel the Great River Road in 2018

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

If you’re planning a road trip this year, consider a voyage along the Great River Road, which follows the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Travelers will find delicious dining, unique attractions, welcoming river towns and more along the Great River Road, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2018.

Here are 18 reasons to drive the Great River Road in 2018.

  1. There are 10 states to explore. Whether you’re cruising through rugged northern Minnesota or exploring the Mississippi Delta, you’ll discover countless places for new adventures in the states along the Great River Road.
  2. Mouth-watering cuisine. Beignets and gumbo in New Orleans. Fish fry and cheese curds in Wisconsin. Barbeque in Memphis and St. Louis. Bring your appetite—there’s food to please any palate along the Great River Road.
  3. Educational museums. Learn about the ecology, history and culture of the Mississippi River region at nearly 80 official Interpretive Centers along the route.
  4. Outstanding outdoor recreation. The Great River Road isn’t just for driving—travelers can find good biking, fishing, paddling and more.
  5. You’ll learn about important moments in American history at sites like Vicksburg (Miss.) National Military Park or the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.
  6. Beautiful views. You’ll find beautiful scenic overlooks on both sides of the Mississippi River, especially along the northern half of the Great River Road.
  7. Music, music and more music. Whether you’re visiting Graceland and Sun Studio in Memphis or paying tribute to blues music’s founders in the Delta, music lovers will be singing a sweet song as they explore the Great River Road. Find more river attractions here.
  8. The mighty Mississippi. Along many sections of the Great River Road, you’ll be side-by-side with America’s most iconic river. Travelers will also find several parks and scenic overlooks, as well as opportunities to explore the river via boat, canoe or kayak.
  9. From farmers’ markets to specialty food shops, there are agritourism attractions aplenty along the Great River Road.
  10. Boating and cruises. It’s easy to actually get out on the Mississippi River via boat tours, canoes and kayaks.
  11. If you need help, we’ve got great resources. You can order a free 10-state map to help plan your trip.
  12. We’ve also got a free Drive the Great River Road app (recently updated) to help you navigate your route.
  13. Friendly communities. Up and down the river, you’ll be welcomed in towns and cities large and small, all accustomed to hosting visitors.Natchez Bridge
  14. Locks & dams. There are more than two dozen locks and dams on the northern half of the Mississippi River, and many of them are open for tours. It’s also fun to just pull over and watch barges as they make their way through these impressive structures. Find information on locks and dams here.
  15. It’s a trip through the heart of America. From friendly riverside communities along the northern stretch of the river to iconic cities like St. Louis and New Orleans farther south, you’ll take a voyage through the cultural, historical and culinary center of America.
  16. If you’re a birder, you’ll see plenty of feathered friends. The Great River Road cuts through the Mississippi Flyway, the migration route followed by nearly half of all shorebirds and waterfowl in North America.
  17. You can do a section of road or the whole thing. With 10 states to explore, your Great River Road trip can cover as much or as little ground as you want.
  18. You can literally walk across the start of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park.

Here’s to a great adventure on the Great River Road in 2018!

Uncover America’s story

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway is more than an iconic driving destination. It’s a route that will help you explore America’s rich story. The pilot’s wheel signs along the road will guide you along this journey, leading you to a network of Interpretive Centers, where you’ll learn about the important people and places along the Mississippi River. As you plan your next trip on the Great River Road, make plans to visit some of these centers.

History

The Mississippi River has a long and rich history. Interpretive centers detail the region’s Native American History—in Collinsville, Illinois, you can explore the remains of the most sophisticated native civilization north of Mexico at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. In Minneapolis, learn about the Twin Cities’ history as a flour mill capital with immersive, interesting exhibits at the Mill City Museum. Visit the home of Wisconsin’s first millionaire at Villa Louis.

Music

In Mississippi, explore the heritage of blues country. Visit the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale to see the sharecropper home of Muddy Waters and guitars played by many blues greats. Learn about the Arkansas Delta and its connection to blues music and American culture at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas.

Wildlife

The Great River Road is a premier birding route—it traces the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the path of the Mississippi River. About 40 percent of North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds follow the flyway, including bald eagles. Visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, to get a close look at these majestic creatures.

Geology

In northeastern Iowa, travelers will encounter impressive bluffs, hills and valleys along the Mississippi River. Learn about the geology, limnology and archeology of this unique region at the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

Find more Interpretive Centers.

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 nearly 100 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!

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:

Scenic views along the Great River Road

Monday, May 08, 2017

Some of the most dramatic views of the heartland can be found along the Mississippi. In Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, towering bluffs allow travelers to take in sweeping views of the river and farms and forests below. They are great places to visit to go for a hike, have a picnic or simply pause to take in the view.

Here are some awe-inspiring spots to take in the scenery.

Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

This forested Wisconsin State Park is located where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River. From the top of 500-foot cliffs you can see for miles.

Grandad Bluff, La Crosse, Wisconsin

From this 600-foor bluff you can take in the city of La Crosse and the rolling landscape referred to as the Coulee Region. You can see three states from this vantage point – Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona, Minnesota.

This preserve features steep-sided 500-foot bluffs. Hike the King’s Bluff trail to discover a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River Valley.

Wyalusing State Park, Bagley, Wisconsin

This park offers a 500-foor view of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers as well as Native American burial mounds.

Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa.

This park’s 500-foot bluffs offer fantastic views of the river valley from the Iowa side. It’s one of the most photographed spots in Iowa.

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.