Tag Archives: Minnesota

Holiday fun along the Great River Road

Friday, November 29, 2019

It’s easy to find fun ways to get in the holiday spirit this year along the northern Great River Road! Check out these holiday activities happening up and down the Mississippi in Minnesota and Wisconsin this December.

100 Miles of Christmas

100 Miles of Christmas isn’t just one festive event, but a whole series taking place in Winona, Kellogg and Lake Pepin, Minnesota, and Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, December 7-8, 2019. You can visit with Santa, take in a choral or orchestra concert, shop arts & crafts shows, raise a toast at a beer and wine tasting, attend a lighted parade or even an Elvis tribute!

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

Courtesy of Canadian Pacific

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will make a stop in Winona, Minnesota, on December 9, 2019, from 3:45-4:15pm at the Winona Amtrak Depot. This beautifully decorated train brings along three performers who perform a mix of traditional and modern holiday songs. The event is free but they ask that you bring a food or monetary donation for the local food bank. If you want to see the train in its full glory at night, catch it in Wabasha the same day at 5:45-6:15pm.

Rotary Lights

Courtesy of Rotary Lights, La Crosse

Happening through New Year’s Eve in La Crosse, Wisconsin’s beautiful Riverside Park along the Mighty Mississippi, is the annual Rotary Lights. There are over three million lights on display and you can walk, drive or take a carriage ride (for a fee) to explore them all. Stop in the gingerbread house for hot drinks and cookies, check out the gift shop or check the schedule for all the special happenings going on throughout December. There will be live musical performances, a living nativity, Santa and his reindeer, hayrides and ice skating (weather permitting). It’s free to walk or drive through Rotary Lights, but they ask for food and cash donations to help feed the hungry.

Family Droppin’ of the Carp Party

Courtesy carpfest.org

Along the Great River Road in southern Wisconsin is the charming city of Prairie du Chien. On New Year’s Eve, they embrace the role that fishing plays in the community and throw a bash honoring river carp. At the Family Droppin’ of the Carp Party on New Year’s Eve early evening, families can play games, win prizes, enjoy food, music and a DJ all leading up the lowering of “Lucky Carp Jr.,” instead of a giant crystal ball, to ring in the new year.

Other options for holiday fun along the Great River Road:

  • Visit Alton, Illinois to marvel at more than 4 million lights at the annual Christmas Wonderland at Rock Spring Park, which runs nightly through December 29.
  • Take in the nightly Mighty Lights show at Big River Crossing, a pedestrian bridge that connects Memphis, Tennessee, to West Memphis, Arkansas
  • Find gifts for everyone on your shopping list at charming stores in river towns like Natchez, Dubuque, and Galena

Fall adventures on the Great River Road

Sunday, September 01, 2019

 

Fall is a great time to explore the Great River Road, and not just because September is Drive the Great River Road Month. This 3,000-mile driving route—one of America’s oldest and longest National Scenic Byways—spans 10 states along the Mississippi River and provides every traveler with a special and unique experience.

Looking for some travel inspiration? Here are some stories from those rare adventurers who have driven the entire route.

“We started in the fall—September—and followed the season south. A spirit of adventure and desire to see new parts of our country were our motivation. We loved seeing the various cultures and sampling delicious foods along the way. Being from (Tennessee), the pasties and cheese curds were new to us and we loved all Southern foods. In addition to the various cultures, we were interested in the Mississippi commerce. Grains loaded early in the trip were off-loaded near the end. Try it—you’ll love it!” – Jane H., Kingsport, Tenn.

“After reading ‘Roadtrip with a Raindrop’ by Gayle Harper we were excited to begin our own journey down The Great River Road. We began the trip on a tandem bike pulling our small dog along behind. We dipped our tire in the shallow waters at Itasca State park and began our journey. Our plan was to do it in stages on the bike. Plan A changed. So we went with Plan B and finished the trip in a 2-seater convertible. What a blast! – Ron & Lynn W., Rochester, Minn.

“I wanted to see the Mississippi River and learn about people, culture, history, politics, nature, food. I got authentic insight into all of these and met interesting people and learned a lot. The best part was Missouri and Louisiana because of the landscape and the wildlife. The signage of the Great River Road was very good most of the time, also the map and the app!” – Mijat F., Herten, Germany

“I was born in Osceola, Wisconsin, on the bluffs of the St. Croix River, and my husband, Patrick, and I decided it would be fun to drive the full length of the Mississippi River in October, 2011. Our daughter Evelyn was 19 months old, and I was expecting our daughter Carly. Our favorite stops were Hannibal, Missouri; Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee; and the magical city of New Orleans, Louisiana. We enjoyed the scenic and historic journey as much as our trips down Route 66.”  – Kate A., Clermont, Fla.

“We wanted to experience an authentic insight into American culture, meet new people, experience differences and similarities between urban and rural areas, go hiking, see wildlife, eat authentic food. It was worth it! The best parts were in Missouri and Louisiana because of the landscape.” – Kathrin R., Herten, Germany

“We previously visited St. Louis in 1976 and decided to return now that (the Arch) is a National Park. Along the way, we completed the section of the Great River Road we’d not previously driven as well as seeing a few sites along the opposite bank from our previous trip. We have now driven from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico along the Great River Road.” – Ginny L., Austin, Texas

Want to plan your own Great River Road adventure? Order the free 10-state Great River Road map or download the Drive the Great River Road app and start planning your own trip. And let us know when you’ve completed the route—we’ll send you a certificate!

 

Sharing the stories of the Mississippi: Update on Relay of Voices

Friday, August 30, 2019

Relay of Voices, a project of the nonprofit A House Unbuilt, is “a research expedition traveling down the Mississippi River with the goal of gathering ‘voices’ from the landscape and individual residents of the river region.”

The project started at the headwaters of the Mississippi River on July, and participants are following the Great River Road all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. They plan to reach the Gulf in early November.

Learn more about Relay of Voices and find a schedule here.

Here’s a look at some of the media coverage from the areas Relay of Voices has visited this summer.

See more media coverage of Relay of Voices here and see the “voices” from their trip here.

(Photo courtesy of Relay of Voices)

Agritourism attractions on the Great River Road

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Great River Road spans 10 states through the heart of America, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find abundant farms, orchards, wineries and other agritourism attractions along the route. (In fact, we’ve got a searchable list of agritourism attractions here.)

Got an appetite for a new Great River Road adventure? Here are a few agritourism attractions you should check out.

Minnesota

The Oliver Kelley Farm is a historic 1860s farmstead and agricultural education center in Elk River—a 35-mile drive from the Twin Cities. This family-friendly branch of the Minnesota Historical Society tells “the story of farming, food and agriculture” through interactive exhibits and events. The farm hosts cooking classes featuring Minnesota products throughout the year, and their Farm to Fair Weekend on Aug. 24-25 lets visitors sample 1860s-era recipes and judge 4-H and FFA veggies, bakery items and canned goods.

Wisconsin

When you’re traveling the Great River Road in Wisconsin, be sure to stop at the Nelson Cheese Factory. While it’s no longer an operating cheese factory, this retail store and restaurant remains a popular spot among roadtrippers looking for groceries, a quick bite or an ice cream cone.

Iowa

Discover farm-fresh finds at the Dubuque Farmers’ Market, the oldest farmers market in Iowa. Every Saturday from 7am to noon, May through October, the Dubuque Farmers’ Market welcomes patrons to three city blocks on Iowa Street in downtown Dubuque to peruse locally grown produce, breads, meats, jams, jellies, craft items and much more.  

Illinois

More than 4,500 people—and 100 wiener dogs—attended Galena’s Oktoberfest celebration last year, and this charming town is set to welcome another batch of visitors this fall. This year’s Galena Oktoberfest will be held from noon to 10pm Saturday, Oct. 5, at Depot Park, and feature traditional German food like bratwurst, potato sausage soup and German potato salad, as well as fun events like a beer stein endurance contest and (of course) wiener dog races.

Tennessee

Another mouth-watering event along the Great River Road is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which takes place every year as part of the Memphis in May International Festival. More than 75,000 attendees pass through the gates of Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River to sample delectable barbecue ribs, pork shoulders, hot wings, sauce and all things ‘cue.

Louisiana

A museum dedicated to food and drinks seems like an obvious choice for New Orleans, so it’s kind of surprising that it took until 2008 for the Southern Food and Beverage Museum to open in the Big Easy. This museum, located in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, features special exhibits, demonstrations, lectures and tastings throughout the year and is also home to the Museum of the American Cocktail.

Outdoor dining on the Great River Road

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Summer is here, and it’s time to take advantage of the beautiful weather and outstanding views all along the Mississippi River. Here’s a look at just a few of the great places along the Great River Road where you can dine outside—be sure to stop in for a bite (and some great scenery) on your next road trip.

Minnesota

Head to Levee Park on Riverfront Street in downtown Winona to grab a seat on the patio and enjoy drinks or dinner at the Boat House. You’ll find classic Minnesota dishes with a twist, like the Boat House Lucy, the restaurant’s take on a Juicy Lucy—an 8-ounce grass-fed burger stuffed with Ellsworth Dairy cheese curds.

Wisconsin

Named by locals as the best outdoor dining in La Crosse, Huck Finn’s on the Water offers a scenic setting for your next lunch or dinner. Head outside for a seat on their massive patio overlooking North Bay on Pool 8 of the Mississippi River. Order a classic burger or try one of their signature drinks like Herb Lemonade.

Iowa

A restaurant and brew pub located in pretty much the middle of the Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin, Catfish Charlie’s in Dubuque offers a fun setting for lunch and dinner. Sample unique items like alligator nuggets or catfish fingers or choose from nearly a dozen beers that are brewed on-site.

Tennessee

Truly one of the most scenic spots along the Great River Road, Blue Bank Resort overlooks the waters of Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake is a flooded former cypress forest known for its outstanding fishing, so it only makes sense that fish is prevalent on the menu at Blue Bank Resort’s on-site restaurant, The Fishhouse. Diners can choose from Southern-fried catfish, shrimp, oysters and more, as well as chicken, steaks and pork, all while enjoying the views of Reelfoot Lake.

Mississippi

Want a great view with your dinner? Head to 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill in downtown Vicksburg. Take in an amazing sunset over the Mississippi River and then enjoy a delicious dinner from a menu featuring classic dishes and Southern favorites like chicken & waffles, shrimp & grits, and blackened catfish.

Louisiana

When you’re in Louisiana, you need to sample some seafood, and one of the best places to do so is Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant in Baton Rouge. Located in the mid-city district of Louisiana’s capital, Parrain’s offers fresh, high-quality seafood in dishes like andouille-encrusted fish, crawfish etouffee and New Orleans BBQ shrimp. Grab a seat on their patio and dig in!

Don’t forget to share your favorite flavors of the Great River Road here. And be sure to check out other travelers’ recommendations and helpful info about restaurants, agritourism attractions and more all along the Great River Road here.

Breweries, wineries & distilleries on the Great River Road

Monday, June 24, 2019

Cheers!

Whether you’re looking for unique microbrews, handcrafted spirits or a winery with an amazing view, you’ll discover some great places to raise your glass along the Great River Road.

Here are a few spots to spend your next happy hour.

North

  • Minnesota: Beer lovers are in luck when they visit the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. There, you’ll find literally dozens of breweries, from sprawling complexes with on-site restaurants to tiny taprooms. Local favorites include Surly, Fair State Cooperative, Indeed Brewing, Bad Weather Brewing and Summit.
  • Wisconsin: You might think you’re in Napa Valley as you enjoy a crisp white or full-bodied red on the patio at Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau and gaze over the awe-inspiring landscape of nearby Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Iowa: A true “grain to glass” distillery, Mississippi River Distilling Company creates its small-batch gin, vodka and more with grain harvested within 25 miles of their facility in downtown LeClaire. And don’t miss the vineyards of the Iowa Wine Trail, which passes through towns like Clinton, Marquette and Guttenberg.
  • Illinois: In the charming town of Galena, you’ll find great shops, a historic downtown, and tasty restaurants. You’ll also find Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., one of the state’s #IllinoisMade businesses—makers, creators and artisans that show off the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. Stop by for a tour and a taste of their gin, vodka, bourbon and other spirits.

Middle

  • Missouri: Sure, St. Louis is famously home to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, but there are plenty of other beermakers in “The Lou,” as well.  Take a tour and stop for a tasting at award-winning breweries like Schlafly, Urban Chestnut and Perennial Artisan Ales.
  • Tennessee: The Volunteer State’s claim to spirits doesn’t just come from Mr. Jack Daniel in Lynchburg. Memphis is home to Old Dominick Distillery, founded in 1866 by Domenico Canale. Five generations later, business is still booming—Memphis visitors can tour the factory, sample Old Dominick’s whiskeys and vodkas in the tasting room and grab a bite at the on-site restaurant.

South

  • Mississippi: Founded in 1716, Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi River. Amidst all that history, visitors will find great food and drink, too, including the Natchez Brewing Company, which offers tours and tastings at its facility downtown, and Charboneau Distillery, home to the first legally distilled rum produced in Mississippi.
  • Louisiana: Where to start? (New Orleans. New Orleans is always the answer.) OK, so the Big Easy might not technically be “the city that invented the cocktail,” but you’ll find several drinks that were perfected here, including the Hurricane, the Rum Punch and the Pimm’s Cup. Thirsty to learn more? Visit the Museum of the American Cocktail, which offers education programs, tastings and more.

(Photo: Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena, courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)

The best barbecue on the Great River Road

Monday, June 17, 2019

Where there’s smoke, there’s… some of the best barbecue in the United States.

Sure, you might automatically (and correctly) think of St. Louis and Memphis as barbecue hot spots on the Mississippi River, but the truth is, you can find delectable BBQ at restaurants up and down the Great River Road—it’s just a matter of knowing where to go.

Here’s a region-by-region breakdown of where you can find the best brisket, ribs and more along America’s greatest drive.

North

Even if they don’t have the traditions of their Southern cousins, the states of the northern Great River Road still have plenty of restaurants that produce delicious barbecue. In the Twin Cities, visitors can find authentic Carolina barbecue at Revival, which has restaurants in Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and also sells smoked meats at the Keg and Case Market in Saint Paul).

Head to La Crosse—the biggest city on Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road—for great bites at Piggy’s (and don’t miss live blues music in the Smokin’ Blues Lounge downstairs on Saturday nights). Across the river in Bellevue, Iowa, you’ll find another barbecue-and-blues restaurant at Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ, housed in a historic grist mill on the banks of the Mississippi.

A short drive from St. Louis, Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville, Illinois, has won lots of awards since it opened in 2015, including nods from Thrillist (who called it one of the 33 best BBQ joints in America) and Food & Wine magazine (Illinois’ best barbecue).

Middle

Now this is barbecue country. We could do a whole article—or several, in fact—on the offerings in St. Louis and Memphis alone, but we’ll pick a few that you must check out. In St. Louis, don’t miss Pappy’s Smokehouse near Saint Louis University; while you’re waiting in line for their award-winning ribs, check out the autographed menus plastered on the walls.

In the tiny town of Bardwell, Kentucky, locals flock to Prince Pit BBQ (which also has a store in nearby Barlow). Further south in Memphis, you’ll find delicious barbecue almost anywhere, but be sure to visit the iconic Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, which has welcomed rock stars, presidents and regular folks alike to its alley-front location since 1948.

South

Did you know that Arkansas’ only James Beard Award-winning restaurant can be found in a town of just 3,500 people? Well, that’s how good the reputation is for Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, which has been serving customers since at least 1910 and may be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the state.

Clarksdale, Mississippi, is home to the infamous Crossroads—the place where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul in exchange for his unearthly musical talent. Just a few steps away from the marker commemorating this location is Abe’s Bar-B-Q, which has been serving locals and visitors to unfettered acclaim for decades.

Louisiana is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, so it only makes sense that you’ll find po’ boys and fried chicken in addition to the barbecue favorites on the menu at The Francis Smokehouse & Specialty Meats in St. Francisville. What started out as a specialty meat shop now serves hundreds of sandwiches daily; don’t miss their fancier relative, The Francis Southern Table & Bar, next door.

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

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)