Tag Archives: Mississippi River

Explore the northern Great River Road’s natural history this fall

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Late fall is a great time to explore the northern Great River Road’s natural history. The leaves are still colorful so you’re guaranteed a beautiful road trip, but just in case the winter temps come calling a little too soon, here are some spots you can visit and enjoy indoors too.

National Eagle Center, Wabasha, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of the National Eagle Center

At the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota you can explore two floors of interactive exhibits, including the chance to climb in an eagle’s next and test your strength versus our national bird’s. You can meet bald and golden eagles during the daily demonstrations, then step outside to see the birds making their migratory journey along the Mississippi River Flyway. The center even offers eagle viewing trips to take you to hotspots along the river. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $7 for kids 4-17 and free for kids ages 3 and under.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa

Photo courtesy of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is one of the jewels of Dubuque. It focuses on life in and around the country’s waterways. Here you can see turtles, alligators, bald eagles, octopi, otters, sturgeon and more. Exhibits will teach you about the first people to live along the river, erosion, marshes and bayous. You can visit a blacksmith shop, conservation lab, log cabin and 3- and 4-D theaters. Admission ranges between $12 and $23 depending on age and if you include the films.

Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of the Science Museum of Minnesota

The Science Museum of Minnesota is located right on the the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The museum is full of exciting things to explore, but for river lovers, check out the Mississippi River Gallery. You can feel what it’s like to captain a real river towboat, conduct weather experiments and, if you find an object like a rock, fossil or pine cone at home, do a little research, then come and talk to staff about it, they’ll trade you for something new, like a shell, crystal or skull. Don’t miss the Native American Exhibition that tells the story of the Dakota and Ojibwe people who made their home along the river in Minnesota. Admission is $19.95 for adults, $14.95 for kids 4-17 and free for 3 and under.

Genoa National Fish Hatchery, Genoa, Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service

The Genoa National Fish Hatchery is a wonderful place to learn about the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River. Here you’ll find a wetland and native prairie boardwalk with a walking trail to explore, plus buildings that house 24 species of fish, freshwater mussels and amphibians. You can also see 13 species of fish reared on site. Check out the educational exhibits that teach about the history of the area as well, including the pearl button industry and the Battle of Bad Axe. Admission is free.

Five Reasons to Travel the Great River Road by Author Dean Klinkenberg

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Five Reasons to Travel the Great River Road

by Dean Klinkenberg, author of Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Volume 1

When I moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1982, the Mississippi River captured my heart and imagination. Thirty-seven years later, I still can’t get enough of the storied river. I’ve been lucky enough to travel it in many different ways, but the easiest way is simply to fill up my gas tank and drive the Great River Road, one of the best road trips in the United States. I’ve driven more than 125,000 miles along its blacktop from where it begins at Itasca State Park in Minnesota to where it ends at Venice, Louisiana.

Why have I spent so much time on the Great River Road? Here are five good reasons:

1. The Great Outdoors

The essence of any trip along the Great River Road is the natural beauty of the Mississippi River itself. While you can appreciate much of it while driving, the river entices visitors to get up close and personal. Go hiking at a state park; paddle a canoe or kayak through the rich backwater habitats; ride a bike along the Great River Trail. For perspective on the entire river system, tour the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque.

2. Four Seasons of Fun

Sure, most people choose to visit the Mississippi River in summer when the weather is most reliably accommodating, but every season along the river offers something unique. Fall color is spectacular along the upper half of the river. Spring blossoms and migrating songbirds liven up spring. Winter sports keep locals busy Up North (have you ever tried curling or broomball?), while the southern reaches of the river enjoy pleasant days to view the wildlife that migrated south.

3. A Deep Dive into American History

The Mississippi River cuts a deep path through thousands of years of American history, much of which you can get to know from traveling the Great River Road. Here’s a quick sample:
• Archaeological sites offer a peek into the lives of early American cultures at places like Effigy Mounds National Monument (Iowa), Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (Illinois), and Poverty Point World Heritage Site (Louisiana).
• The updated museum at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis showcases America’s westward expansion.
• Several places highlight the growth of agricultural and industrial economies, including the John Deere sites in Moline (Illinois), the Iron Ranges of Minnesota, and the Cotton Museum of Memphis.
• The rich cultural heritage of the valley is on display at places like the blues museums in the Mississippi Delta and St. Louis, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, and The Cabildo in New Orleans.

There’s whole lot more, too (I didn’t even mention historic forts or Civil War sites), which means there are always reasons to come back.

4. Beautiful Small Towns and Vibrant Big Cities

The Great River Road is blessed with attractive small towns and exciting big cities. Many small towns offer a mix of unique lodging, good food and conversation, and recreation. Make plans for a day trip or weekend escape to charming communities like Little Falls (Minnesota), Alma (Wisconsin), McGregor (Iowa), Galena (Illinois), Kimmswick (Missouri), Clarksdale (Mississippi), and St. Francisville (Louisiana).

If you’re more of a city person, spend a long weekend getting to know Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Quad Cities, St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans. Each offers surprising and unheralded neighborhoods that are a pleasure to explore, in addition to the attractive riverfront spaces and better known sites.

5. A Cross Section of America

When Europeans began moving into the Mississippi River, dozens of American Indian tribes lived along or near the river. Some are still connected to the river today, like the Ojibwe and Dakota of Minnesota and the Chitimacha of Louisiana. Visitors can connect with American Indian communities at pow-wows, but many tribal colleges also have events open to the public.

New Orleans and Sainte Genevieve (Missouri) retain strong influences from the early French who founded them. Fulton, Illinois, still celebrates it Dutch heritage. The Quad Cities hosts the only interstate St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Mexican community in Fort Madison, Iowa, has been throwing a late summer fiesta for a century. Guttenberg, Iowa, shows off its German roots with a big annual festival. The River Road African American Museum in Donaldson, Louisiana offers a look at the experiences of Africans and African Americans in the United States.

Again, these are just a few of examples. The river has been home and passageway for just about every group that has lived in North America or moved here, and many river communities still celebrate those ties. A trip along the Great River Road is a reminder of the many people and forces that have shaped the country we know today.

These are the reasons I keep coming back to the Great River Road, but they aren’t the only ones, obviously. (I didn’t even mention the food!) Still, I hope you’ll explore the Great River Road, too, and find your own reasons to come back again and again.


Dean Klinkenberg is the Mississippi Valley Traveler. He writes fiction and non-fiction about the Mississippi River. His most recent travel guide, Road Tripping the Great River Road, Volume 1, covers the drive from northern Minnesota to Southern Illinois. He lives in St. Louis.

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

See what’s happening on the Great River Road

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Great River Road has scores of iconic attractions, impressive vistas and natural wonders, and it’s possible to get a preview of many of these places online. Webcams up and down the Great River Road provide a live view of America’s greatest scenic drive. If you’re planning a trip—or just dreaming about one—these webcams are a great way to see what you can discover.

Here are just a few webcams along  the route.

Mississippi Headwaters

Want to see where the Mississippi River starts? At Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, you’ll find Lake Itasca, the starting point of the mighty Mississippi. Here, the river is less than 20 feet wide and can be walked across via a series of stepping stones. Check out the webcam in the summer to find visitors wading in the shallow waters of America’s most iconic river.

St. Paul City Hall Cam

Minnesota’s capital city of Saint Paul sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, and this webcam scrolls through several different cams throughout the metro area, including several that overlook the river. 

Mississippi River Flyway Cam

The Iowa-based Raptor Resource Project is a non-profit organization that helps preserve and protect habitats for eagles, falcons, hawks and other birds throughout the Midwest. This webcam is located in Brice Prairie, Wisconsin, and shows avian activity along the Mississippi River near La Crosse.

Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center

Located near another one of the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers, this webcam shows traffic on the Mississippi River near the Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center in Lansing, Iowa.

St. Louis Arch Cams

One of the most iconic sights along the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch overlooks the river and downtown St. Louis. Gateway Arch Park and Gateway Arch National Park recently underwent a multi-year renovation and expansion, and the park’s cams give visitors several vantage points of this iconic attraction.

Graceland Cam

Get all shook up with this Memphis-based webcam, which gives viewers an up close and personal look at the estate of the late, great King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

Bourbon Street Cam

Get a glimpse of one of America’s liveliest streets with this webcam, which shows the good times rolling in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Sample the flavors of the Great River Road

Monday, June 04, 2018

From fresh produce at farmers’ markets to mouth-watering regional recipes, from food-themed community celebrations to scenic views at riverside wineries, there’s something for every palate along the Great River Road.

This summer, we’re encouraging travelers along the Great River Road to share their favorite flavors from the 10 Mississippi River states as part of our Flavors of the Great River Road campaign. Submit your favorite flavor—a restaurant, a recipe, an event or pretty much anything else—or click here to browse all of our fans’ entries.

Check back here every week, because we’ll be sharing state-specific itineraries to tell you where to find the best flavors from along the Mississippi River.

You can also enter to win $500 to launch your own food adventure along the Great River Road with the Flavors of the Great River Road Giveaway. Enter here before Aug. 24 for your chance to win.

(Photo credit: Jason Lindsey)

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!

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.

Welcome to Drive the Great River Road Month!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

pikes peak state park iaIt’s September, so you know what that means: it’s Drive the Great River Road Month!

This month-long celebration encourages folks to explore the nation’s oldest and longest National Scenic Byway, which stretches along the Mississippi River through 10 states, from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana.

So why should you drive the Great River Road in September?  Here are just a few reasons:

  • Beautiful fall color. As the leaves change, motorists can travel from north to south to take in the splendid colors of fall at scenic sites like Buena Vista Park in Wisconsin or Pike’s Peak State Park in Iowa.
  • Interesting museums and historical sites. More than 70 interpretive centers line the Great River Road. Learn about the culture, history and heritage of the Mississippi River at these unique sites.
  • Food. There are great dishes to be had up and down the Great River Road, from classic Southern dishes in New Orleans to classic barbecue in Memphis.

Need some resources to help plan your trip? Order our free 10-state travel map or download our free app.

And don’t forget to enter the Drive the Great River Road Month Sweepstakes, where you could win $500 to spend on your next trip along the Great River Road.

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.