Exploring the Great River Road in Missouri will take you alongside scenic bluffs, through historic towns and into the bustling metropolis of St. Louis. It’s enough to make anyone hungry—here are some places to find some uniquely Missouri food in the Gateway City and beyond.
Hot Salami Sandwich
During the 20th century, St. Louis’s Italian neighborhood, The Hill, was a go-to for anyone looking for authentic cuisine d’Italia. Gioia’s Deli, one of the few remaining odes to The Hill’s glory days, opened its doors in 1918 and became famous for the hot salami sandwich. It’s no wonder this tried-and-true favorite has been named best sandwich in the city for years, as it’s served on a delicious garlic cheese bread and finished off with a spicy giardiniera. Get a taste of St. Louis’ cultural history and the famous hot salami sandwich during your visit and you’ll be a Gioia’s fan for life.
Gooey Butter Cake
It’s safe to say gooey butter cake is one of history’s tastiest mistakes. In the 1930s, a new employee at a St. Louis bakery accidentally swapped proportions of flour and butter in a cake recipe, and gooey butter cake was the result. Surprisingly, the dessert became a local favorite and bakeries around the city began mimicking the recipe. Try it at Park Avenue Coffee, a local chain that offers over 70 flavors of gooey butter cake.
St. Louis-style pizza
A trip to St. Louis requires trying the city’s rendition of pizza. St. Louis-style pizza is in a league of its own with a dense, cracker-like crust and a sweet sauce inspired by the area’s Sicilian immigrants. What really makes it unique is Provel cheese, a trademark combination of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar that is difficult to find anywhere outside St. Louis. Head to Imo’s for one of the best renditions of this quirky twist on a universally loved dish.
If you’re headed south on Missouri’s Great River Road, don’t miss the dining options in the charming towns of Ste. Genevieve (which also has several wineries nearby) and Cape Girardeau. Headed north, you can find tasty restaurants, breweries and more in Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain.
Whether St. Louis is the only destination on your itinerary, or you’re passing through on a trek down the Mississippi, the city is home to culinary quirks and combinations of culture that are worth making a stop.
The Great River Road in Missouri treats travelers to a rich mix of culture and natural heritage. This is the midpoint of the route, and you’ll find a lot to discover, from the roots of Mark Twain to the inspiring sight of an iconic national monument. Here’s a bit of what you’ll find in Missouri.
As Mark Twain once said (according to legend), “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A prematurely published obituary allegedly triggered Twain’s comment, but it holds true in Hannibal, a place that still celebrates the great American author who was born by the name Samuel Clemens. In Hannibal you can see where Twain lived and learn about his early days at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. And, if you’re in town on the Fourth of July, be sure to catch National Tom Sawyer Days, which features a fence-painting competition, a frog jumping contest and a “Tom & Becky” contest.
An impressive building created for the 1904 World’s Fair, the Saint Louis Art Museum (or SLAM, as it’s affectionately known) houses one of America’s great art museums. It boasts more than 33,000 works, covering everything from ancient Egypt to contemporary American art. It contains at least six pieces (including Max Beckmann and Matisse pieces) that Nazis removed from their own museums because they believed the pieces to be “degenerate”; fortunately they escaped destruction. You can see these impressive pieces and others for free; there is no admission charge for the museum, thanks to a subsidy from a local cultural tax.
You can’t miss the opportunity to travel to the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch when you’re in town. A trip to the top of the 630-foot architectural wonder will put you at the highest point in downtown St. Louis, and, if it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view. (Be sure to take in the exhibits at the Arch to learn more about the history of St. Louis and the Arch itself, too.)
Long ago, massive earthquakes once struck in this part of the country, briefly causing the Mississippi River to run backwards. In 1811 and 1812, the river town of New Madrid in Missouri’s southeastern corner experienced three significant earthquakes, all with magnitudes of 7.5 or above. The quakes could be felt as far away as New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. You can learn more about this unique seismic event and more at the New Madrid Historical Museum, which also has an interesting collection of Native American and Civil War artifacts.
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.
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.
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.
Educational museums. Learn about the ecology, history and culture of the Mississippi River region at nearly 80 official Interpretive Centers along the route.
Outstanding outdoor recreation. The Great River Road isn’t just for driving—travelers can find good biking, fishing, paddling and more.
You’ll learn about important moments in American history at sites like Vicksburg (Miss.) National Military Park or the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.
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.
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.
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.
Friendly communities. Up and down the river, you’ll be welcomed in towns and cities large and small, all accustomed to hosting visitors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Along the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of more than 70 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
The 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.
It takes approximately 90 days for a raindrop to travel the length of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
The rich soil and rolling hills of the Mississippi River Valley produces some outstanding heartland wines. The Great River Road is a route that will take you through the beauty of this country, which stretches from Minnesota to Arkansas. It’s an ideal route for wine lovers – you can visit several great wineries in a single day and fine restaurants and accommodations are plentiful. All you need to complete the trip is a taste for new discoveries, a love of wine and a little space in your trunk for the cases that are simply too good not to bring home. Harvest time is fast approaching and the vines are growing heavy along the route – some wineries will be harvesting grapes in August. It’s a beautiful time visit the vineyard. Plan your trip today!
Below is a sample of the wineries you’ll find on the Great River Road. To see more winery details – and other fun agritourism spots – go here.