Every autumn, you’ll see them: cars that are traveling slowly and are seemingly headed nowhere in particular. The cars have a destination, but it’s not a place; it’s a season. This is the time of year when people enjoy moving a little more slowly. They are savoring the season. This is the time when the air is a little fresher and the trees are ablaze in colors of red, yellow and orange.
During this season, many people take leisurely drives on country roads to admire the trees, explore apple orchards and wineries and discover beautiful parks. The Mississippi River region is a popular fall driving destination. With numerous state parks, scenic overlooks and abundant wildlife, the region is a spectacular place to explore on an autumn day.
The trees turn colors at different times, depending on the state. In northern states, colors are the most brilliant in September; in southern states colors reach their peak in early November. Days along the Mississippi can be warm this time of year, but evenings can be cool–be sure to pack a sweater or light jacket. And don’t forget your camera. Your pictures will be amazing. Enjoy your trip chasing autumn down the Mississippi.
Here are some great scenic overlooks to enjoy spectacular autumn views of the Mississippi.
May is National Bike Month, so hook the bike on the car and hop on the Great River Road for an early summer adventure you won’t soon forget.
Try exploring a classic river town on two-wheels along the Mississippi River Trail. It’s nearly 3,000 miles of on-road bikeways and pedestrian and bike paths you can take from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Check out these National Wildlife Refuges along the Mississippi River Trail:
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (240,000 acres, 241 river miles long through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa)
Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge (15,000 acres, part of the largest bottomland hardwood swamp in America, runs through Louisiana)
Or bike to a national park:
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka the St. Louis Gateway Arch)
Natchez National Historical Park (Natchez, Mississippi; see an antebellum estate)
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (New Orleans, Louisiana; made of six sites where you can learn about everything from wildlife to the Battle of New Orleans)
Find out more about the Mississippi River Trail and get detailed maps here.
Travelers along the southern portion of the Great River Road will find a bevy of historical sites and attractions, but antebellum homes—massive, ornate pre-Civil War properties that sit along the Mississippi River—are some of the South’s most interesting attractions. Here are three you shouldn’t miss.
Lakeport Plantation is the only remaining Arkansas antebellum plantation on the Mississippi River. The home now serves as a museum and educational center teaching visitors about the Johnson family (who occupied the home until 1927), as well as the cotton industry and other historical events that affected residents in the Lake Village area.
Before the Civil War, the river town of Natchez, Miss., was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States. Many of these wealthy residents’ impressive homes are now open to visitors for tours or even overnight stays, including the Dunleith Historic Inn. Dunleith, recently seen in the James Brown biopic “Get on Up”, was built in 1856 and sits on 40 beautifully landscaped acres. Several buildings on the property date back to the 1790s, including the carriage house and stables, and a dairy barn.
The largest remaining antebellum home in the South, the Nottaway Plantation House is a staggering 53,000 square feet and contains 64 rooms, seven staircases and five galleries. Built along the banks of the Mississippi River in 1858, the home also features an impressive ballroom painted in all white (including the floor). The plantation has recently undergone a multi-million-dollar renovation now features a resort with 40 overnight rooms, a restaurant, and more.
Looking for some fun along the Great River Road in Louisiana? Be sure to check out these can’t-miss locations.
Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital city sits along the shores of the Mississippi River, and you’ll find an abundance of fun in the “Red Stick.” Visit area plantations, stop by the zoo or museum with the kids, take in an LSU football game or try your luck at the L’auberge Casino—it’s all available to you in Baton Rouge. Plan your Baton Rouge visit here.
Plantation country. All along the Great River Road in Louisiana, you’ll find beautiful, historic antebellum homes, many of which have lodging opportunities available. Be sure to visit the iconic Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Houmas House in Darrow or—if you’re brave—St. Francisville’s Myrtles Plantation, reputedly one of the most haunted spots in America.
New Orleans. If you’re ending your trip at the southern terminus of the Great River Road, well, there’s no better city to spend a well-deserved break. From Mardi Gras to live music on pretty much every corner to delicious food (don’t forget the beignets!) and intriguing history, the Big Easy offers something for every traveler. Learn more about visiting New Orleans here.
Looking for more Great River Road attractions in Louisiana? You can find them here.
Traveling the Great River Road in Iowa? Be sure to add these stops to your list.
Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor. Come see why 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 for a breathtaking view of the meeting of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. Pikes Peak is a fantastic spot to see fall colors in October.
Putnam Museum, Davenport. Visit the largest museum in central Iowa to learn about everything from ancient Egypt to outer space. Don’t miss the Spark! Learning Lab, which offers hands-on exhibits on science and technology, including electrical circuits, chemistry and construction engineering.
Snake Alley, Burlington. Did you know that Iowa is home to the “crookedest street in the world”? Don’t miss Burlington’s Snake Alley, which was built in 1894 with locally fired bricks and hosts a bike race every Memorial Day weekend. See a full list of Iowa Great River Road attractions.
Plan a fun and memorable road trip this September along the Great River Road! This 3,000-mile long byway is one of the oldest, longest and most unique in North America, and along the way you’ll find plenty to explore. Experience a variety of cultures as you travel down the river, from Midwestern Minnesota and Iowa down to Southern Mississippi and Louisiana and all of the cultural blend in between.
Your trip down the Mississippi should include stops in each of the bordering ten states. Plan to see popular attractions like the Mall of America in Bloomington, Navy Pier in Chicago, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and more. Experience natural wonders, captivating historical sites and rich agriculture as well. There’s so much to see along the Great River Road! Plan your trip down the river this September.
Standing as the nation’s tallest monument, the 630-foot-tall Gateway Arch is one of the most impressive highlights along the Great River Road. A commemoration to Thomas Jefferson and St. Louis’ role in westward U.S. expansion, this attraction holds significance beyond its incredible structure. All visitors have free access to the arch entrance and can take the “Journey to the Top” for $10. From the top of the arch, you’ll see up to 30 miles into the distance, including breathtaking views of downtown St. Louis and the Mississippi River. For an even richer experience, take a riverboat cruise on a replica 19th-century paddle-wheel boat or visit the historic Old Courthouse.
707 North 1st St., MS 143 (mailing)
200 Washington Ave. (physical)
St. Louis, MO 63102
The picturesque Pikes Peak State Park in Iowa is a nature-lover’s dream. You can camp, picnic at one of its 77 sites, bike or hike 11.5 miles of trails. Along the trails, you’ll witness Decorah limestone formations, fossil remains and gorgeous wooded bluffs and valleys, including the refreshing Bridal Veil Falls. Peek over the park’s 500-foot bluff and you’ll see the union of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.
Pikes Peak State Park
32264 Pikes Peak Road
McGregor, IA 52157
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