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.
It’s always worth making room in your trunk for some clubs when you’re driving the Great River Road. The route will take you past some of America’s finest courses and you’re never far from great golfing. The Mississippi River Valley features some spectacular terrain that makes for challenging play. Many courses offer dramatic views of the valley and the river beyond. Here are some golf courses to check out that are on or near America’s oldest and longest scenic byway:
It’s Thanksgiving next week, so we’re thinking about all the reasons we’re giving thanks this season. Here are just a few things we’re thankful for along the Great River Road.
Beautiful scenery. We’re past peak color season, but traveling the Great River Road in spring, summer and fall offers awe-inspiring scenery. Scenic areas along the Mississippi River bluffs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa provide spectacular views of the river and are especially picturesque in fall.
Delicious food. Farm-to-table delicacies. Mouth-watering barbecue. Fresh seafood. Whatever you have an appetite for, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find it in your drive along the Great River Road. If you’re headed south on the Great River Road, be sure to visit New Orleans—one of the best food cities in the world.
Interesting attractions. Up and down the Great River Road, you’ll find scores of interesting attractions, from fish hatcheries to art museums to science centers. Stop by one of the more than 70 interpretive centers along the Great River Road to learn about the culture, heritage, history and ecology of the Mississippi River Region.
Hometown hospitality. From big cities like St. Louis, New Orleans and Minneapolis to small river towns across the northern and southern sections of the river, you’ll find friendly folks all along your drive. Spend some time exploring charming Main Streets or taking in the hustle and bustle of the big city (or give both a try).
Spring is here and it’s the perfect time for birdwatching along the Great River Road, thanks to its location along the Mississippi Flyway, the migration route followed by 40% of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds.
Charles, Arkansas is home to the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Over 300 lakes and ponds, the Bottomland Hardwood Forest and the White River make an ideal home for migrating birds. You’ll see bald eagles, wood ducks, prothonotary warblers and many kinds of birds native to the south.
At the midway point of the Wisconsin Great River Road is Onalaska, home to protected woodlands and wetlands perfect for migrating birds. Drop into the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge and look for raptors and rare birds. Or stop by the Onalaska Spillway and see the white pelicans that make their way through the area each spring. Don’t miss the two eagle nests here as well.
At the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota you can meet real bald and golden eagles, climb in a nest or see how your strength stacks up against the national bird’s. Admission is very modest and if you plan your trip at the right time you can even take an eagle viewing field trip to see these majestic birds in the wild.
There are numerous places along the Great River Road that are best enjoyed with a loved one. The beauty of this amazing river is simply wonderful to share. Here are seven beautiful spots along the Great River Road to savor with someone special.
Great River Bluffs State Park, Winona, Minnesota: Enjoy breathtaking views of the Mississippi River Valley.
Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin: Walk up to the overlook and take in amazing river views from the Wisconsin bluffs.
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry, Iowa: See more than 200 American Indian mounds in this picturesque protected area.
Sunset Park, Rock Island, Illinois: This is a perfect place to watch the light change as the day grows late.
Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site, Wickliffe, Kentucky: Enjoy a spectacular view of the bluff area on top of the Ceremonial Mound.
LSU Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens, Baton Rouge, Louisiana: This picturesque site offers a look at the past and it serves as a beautiful backdrop of many weddings and special events.
Learn more about special places on the river here.
September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a great time to explore America’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byway.
Fall is the perfect time to drive the Great River Road. Vibrant colors paint the trees from Minnesota to northern Mississippi, and you’ll find festivals, farmers markets and fun activities all along the Mississippi River corridor.
Looking for a few things to see and do in each of the 10 Great River Road states? We’ll head north to south with our suggestions:
Minnesota: Want to see where the Mississippi River starts its journey to the Gulf of Mexico? Visit Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where you can walk – yes, walk – across the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Wisconsin: A perfect stop to see fall color, Grandad Bluff in La Crosse gives you a 600-foot-high view of the city below and the Mississippi River beyond.
Illinois: Make a stop in the charming community of Galena, where you can find historic sites, tempting shopping, and toast-worthy wineries.
Iowa: Want a great view? Hop aboard Dubuque‘s Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway. Ride to the top for an astonishing panoramic view of the Mississippi River and three states.
Missouri: This stop isn’t really more of a where, it’s a what: St. Louis barbecue. St. Louis has dozens of delicious barbecue options, including perennial favorite Pappy’s Smokehouse.
Kentucky: Learn about the Mississippi River’s role in the Civil War at Columbus-Belmont State Park, where you can find a six-ton anchor that – along with a mile-long chain – was used to blockade the river during battles between the North and South.
Tennessee: Students of American history should visit The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, an educational experience built around the preserved Lorraine Motel. Learn about the struggle for civil rights in America and see the preserved hotel rooms where Martin Luther King, Jr., spent his last hours.
Louisiana: You might recognize this place from numerous movies and TV shows — Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie welcomes visitors with an awe-inspiring canopy of 300-year-old oak trees leading to a pristine antebellum plantation.
While journeying down the Great River Road, you’ll pass through ten different states, each with its own unique dining culture. Here are some restaurants located just off the GRR that you should definitely check out.
Minneapolis, MN: The Bachelor Farmer
Located in a newly restored building built in 1881, The Bachelor Farmer captures the historic yet modern feel of the downtown Twin Cities. You’re guaranteed the freshest Nordic-style food, thanks to their use of local ingredients, including produce from their rooftop garden.
La Crosse, WI: The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern
Dine on Waterfront Restaurant‘s contemporary versions of American classics, relax in the cushy lounge and enjoy the smooth sounds from the piano bar. And as the name hints, patrons can appreciate panoramic views of the Mississippi River, as the restaurant is situated along the waterfront.
Dubuque, IA: L. May Eatery L. May Eatery takes pride in its use of local ingredients, serving a rotating seasonal menu of “gourmet comfort food.” Whether you’re craving a sophisticated pizza, delectable seafood or a refreshing cocktail, L. May guarantees delicious cuisine.
Quincy, IL: Tiramisu’
Order the unique homemade pasta when you visit Tiramisu’. This Italian restaurant also offers a fine selection of wine, pizzas and more. A great place to unwind.
St. Louis, MO: Bogart’s Smokehouse
Strap on your bib for a BBQ excursion at Bogart’s Smokehouse. You’ll need an appetite for this one, as the smokehouse serves up mouthwatering meats like pulled pork, smoky brisket, apricot bruleed ribs, pastrami and prime rib.
Memphis, TN: Restaurant Iris
Specializing in French-Creole cuisine, Restaurant Iris has been named Memphis’ “Best Restaurant” for the past four years by a number of qualified reviews. Its charming atmosphere can be attributed to its presence inside a restored old home near the historic Overton Square.
New Orleans, LA: Commander’s Palace
Last stop on this culinary food tour of the Mississippi… New Orleans! Commander’s Palace is the perfect place to experience New Orleans culture. Serving award-winning Creole dishes since 1880, the restaurant holds vibrant history, and vast experience has driven their success throughout the years.
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.