Tag Archives: Minnesota

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.

How to plan a Great River Road birding adventure

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Great River Road is one of the nation’s premier birding routes. The 3,000-mile National Scenic Byway traces the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the Mississippi River through the United States. Some birds that use this route travel from as far away as Patagonia to the south and the Arctic Ocean to the north. For birds, it’s an ideal long-haul route as the river provides plenty of food and habitat. For bird lovers, the route offers an unparalleled way to see a spectacular number of North American birds.

Here are some tips for planning your Great River Road adventure.

# Plan to visit the locks and dams. Eagles and shore birds can be spotted on these structures on the river so they make excellent viewing spots. See a list of locks and dams here.

# Check out the Interpretive Centers. The Great River Road’s network of Interpretive Centers offer a chance to learn about the habitat and history of the Mississippi region. Some also have invaluable local birding advice.

# Look for the lookouts. The great River Road has some spectacular scenic overlooks that are perfect spots to watch migratory flocks. Many have adjacent trails that offer additional birdwatching opportunities.

# Use the Great River Road’s navigational tools. The free Great River Road map is a full-color map with helpful information about the entire route. Order your free copy today! Download the fun and easy Drive the Great River Road app for additional information about the route.

# Enter the Birding Bonanza Giveaway. You could win $250 for a birding tip along the Great River Road!

Here are some good bets for birdwatching along the Great River Road.

Itasca State Park. The home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in Minnesota, hosts birds in its boreal forests and mixed hardwoods. Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest park. With 222 species found here, it’s also one of Minnesota’s premier birding locations.

Reelfoot Lake State Park. Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake was created by a series of earthquakes in the early 1800s and today is a magnificent wildlife viewing and birding location. You’ll find many varieties of shore and wading birds here and white pelicans and eagles pay seasonal visits to the park.

National Eagle Center. Want to get up close and personal with an eagle? Pay a visit to Wabasha, Minn., where you can meet bald and golden eagles at daily demonstrations or take a look at eagles perched above the Mississippi River from the observation deck.

Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge—located in southeastern Arkansas—was created in 1935 specifically to protect migratory birds. Birders can find countless species among the beautiful forests and lakes.

Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. In western Kentucky near Benton, this 8,500-acre refuge contains bottomland hardwood forests used by over 200 species of neotropical songbirds for a migration stopover spot or for nesting.

 

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.

Four things to love about the Great River Road

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale, Miss.

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale, Miss.

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway traces the mighty Mississippi River through the heart of the America, from the snow-frosted forests of the north to the moss-covered groves of the Mississippi Delta. There are more than 3,000 beautiful miles of open road to explore, so no two trips are alike, and there are always new views to take in, new people to meet and new surprises to discover. 

Here are a four things to love about this unforgettable route:

Historic sites

The Mississippi River is drenched in history. Along the Great River Road, you’ll encounter beautiful architecture, impressive native history and the legacy of early settlers and adventurers. The route features sites like Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa and  the New Madrid Historic Museum in Missouri.

Scenic overlooks

The Great River Road has scores of inspiring vistas. Pull over and take time to relax at these beautiful spots. Watch the sun set, see eagles drift on the wind or take in the sight of massive barges hauling freight. Check out Sunset Park, Wyalusing State Park and the Old Mississippi River Bridge Scenic Overlook.

Fascinating museums

The Great River Road will take you to memorable museums that share the story of this great river, from the days before European settlement to the time when it became a center of industry that helped fuel a fast-developing world. Museums on the road include the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa , the Delta Blues Museum and the Louisiana State Museum.

Natural areas

The Great River Road will also take you to some beautiful parks and recreation areas. They are fantastic places to take a short nature stroll or a longer and more ambitious hike. Wildlife is abundant in these parks and you’ll encounter habitat unlike anyplace else on earth. Some great parks on the route include Reelfoot Lake State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve.

Find more museums, scenic overlooks and natural areas along the Great River Road here. Also, be sure to download the free Drive the Great River Road app to help guide you on your trip.

National treasures on the Great River Road

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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.

Minnesota

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.

Wisconsin

National Brewery Museum, Potosi

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..

Iowa

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa

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.

Illinois

National Great Rivers Museum, Alton

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!

Mississippi

Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg

This park preserves the site of the Battle of Vickburg, a key event in the American Civil War. It also commemorates the greater campaign that led up to th battle.

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.

Bike the Great River Road this summer

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

citylakes_7099 biking on minneapolis chain of lakes (1)The Great River Road is one of America’s best drives, but did you know that it’s a great route to explore on a bike as well?

From scenic road routes to paved riverside trails, biking opportunities abound along the Great River Road. Plus, you’ll find rides and races in communities up and down the Mississippi River.

Learn more about some of the biking options in each of the Great River Road states: