The Great River Road—named an All-American Road in 2021—traces the mighty Mississippi River through the heart of 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 four things to love about this unforgettable route.
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. Learn about the history of the river region at nearly 100 Interpretive Centers—historic sites, museums and more that tell the story of the Mississippi River and its people. Sites like Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa and the New Madrid Historic Museum in Missouri are just a few historic sties worth a visit.
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 in Rock Island, Illinois, Wyalusing State Park along the Wisconsin Great River Road and the Old Mississippi River Bridge Scenic Overlook in Cape Girardeau, Missouri
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. These museums are also part of the Great River Road’s network of informative, engaging Interpretive Centers. Museums on the road include the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa , the Delta Blues Museum and the Louisiana State Museum.
America’s greatest scenic drive has introduced generations of travelers to the natural beauty and vibrant culture of the Mississippi region. Everyone who travels this route has their own Great River Road experience and this month, we’re taking time to reflect on some of our favorite things about the byway.
Here are just a few of the things we’re thankful for.
Scenic views of the Mississippi never get old and travelers along the route are treated to some dramatic scenes. All you need to do is pull over and get out your camera. In Trempealeau, Wisconsin, Perrot State Park is located where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River. From the top of 500-foot cliffs you can see for miles. Stunning views can also be found downriver at Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa. A drive will take you up to scenic overlook areas at the top of the park’s 500-foot bluffs. You can see a broad expanse of river and numerous small islands. The park is one of the most photographed spots in Iowa.
Food lovers: the Great River Road will lead you to some of America’s great cuisines. There are so many delicious things to savor on the route. In Wisconsin, a state that celebrates all things dairy, cheese curds rule at roadside restaurants. Order them with the local condiment of choice: ranch dressing. In Arkansas, hot tamales, a Latin American staple, has been the go-to meal for generations. It will be perfect fuel for your road trip in this beautiful state. In Louisiana, you can’t beat a beignet, the state doughnut. It’s best enjoyed slowly, between sips of hot chicory coffee. Learn more about these byway staples here.
All along the route, you’ll encounter impressive historical sites, including many that predate European settlement. In Arkansas, Parkin Archeological State Park was the site of a former American Indian village from A.D. 1000 to 1600. The village visited by explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. In Illinois, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the remains of the largest and most sophisticated native civilizations north of Mexico. See more historic sites along the routes and other attractions here.
Incredible Interpretive Centers
Along the whole stretch of the Great River Road, you’ll find a network of nearly 100 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. These Interpretive Centers provide information about the river and the people who call the region home and include historical museums, impressive parks and national monuments. Some interpretive centers you’ll encounter on the route include the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Minnesota, the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi and the Mark Twain Museum Home & Museum in Missouri. Learn more about the Great River Road’s Interpretive Centers here.
A new year will be here soon and it’s the perfect time to plan a trip on the Great River Road. There are nearly 100 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.
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.
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..
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.
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!
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.
The Columbus-Belmont State Park combines rich Civil War history with lush Kentucky beauty for an excellent family travel destination. The park is uniquely educational, standing as a National Trail of Tears Site, and featuring a museum highlighting Civil War history. Aside from receiving an intriguing history lesson, visitors can enjoy the natural wonders of Kentucky by camping out at one of the park’s 38 sites and hiking along picturesque bluffs of the Civil War Heritage Trail. There’s plenty to do and see at the Columbus-Belmont State Park.
Columbus-Belmont State Park
350 Park Road
Columbus, KY 42032
Explore the rich blues music history of the Arkansas Delta at the Delta Cultural Center, located in historic downtown Helena, AK. Comprised of two locations, the Depot and the Visitors Center, guests can learn Delta history through the museum’s exhibits, programs, events and tours. Visit the Depot’s “A Heritage of Determination” exhibit to learn about Delta history from the time of its earliest inhabitants through the great Mississippi River floods. Then walk a block north to the Visitors Center and see the “Delta Sounds” music exhibit.
Delta Cultural Center
141 Cherry St.
Helena, AR 72342
Discover the agricultural history of Stonefield, a community that helped make Wisconsin become “America’s Dairyland.” The 2000-acre Stonefield estate was originally home to Wisconsin’s First Governor, Nelson Dewey, until it burned down in 1873. Eventually reconstructed and passed among a string of different owners, the land was bought by the state in 1936 and transformed into a village that celebrates Wisconsin’s rich agricultural history. More than 30 buildings, antique farm equipment and Stonefield’s State Farm Museum make up this historic site.