10 Things To Do Along the Great River Road

When most travelers talk about road tripping along the great river road in the USA, they usually mean that they are going from coast to coast, from the Atlantic to the Pacific or vice versa. While that is an incredible way to travel in America with all its cultural and geographic glory, another route to consider is one that follows from north to south.

The Great River Road, which is a collection of state highways and country roads, follows the path of the Mississippi, the mighty river that divides the country into east and west. The Mississippi River flows from its source in northern Minnesota for 2,340 miles through 10 states until it reaches southern Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.

The fourth longest river in the world, the Mississippi is divided into three sections. The upper, middle, and lower sections are determined by the river's confluence with other rivers along its route, including the Missouri, the St. Croix, and the Ohio.

The GRR follows the entire length of the Mississippi River, all the way from its beginning in Minnesota to the deltas at the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. You'll pass through 10 states and besides the river itself, highlights include St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans.

Because of the Mississippi's enduring significance to trade, there are a number of historic landmarks and several large cities along the Great River Road. Following is a state-by-state guide to some of the sites to see along the Great River Road. If you are considering following the length of the road, consider the seasons.

During cooler months, particularly in the autumn, follow the route from north to south. In summer months, try a south to north route. Note that while spring travel along the Mississippi may be beautiful, it can also be the most disruptive as river flooding is more likely during this time of year. However, flooding can occur at any time. So stay tuned to NOAA for river forecasts while you pack your bag and clean your travel shoes.

Epic Road Trip along Great River Road

1. Minnesota

The headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi begin at Lake Itasca. Travel east to Grand Rapids, and meander down the state of Minnesota through Brainerd, St. Cloud, and the Twin Cities until reaching the border of Iowa. The total mileage for the Minnesota portion alone is 590 miles. Give or take 140 miles as the national route for the Great River Road crosses over into Wisconsin at Hastings in order to follow the Mississippi's eastern shore.

A state route along the western shore runs from Hastings until the Iowa border. So it's useful to visit the websites about travel along the Great River Road of Minnesota for details on breaking up the route. You can also explore the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area for itinerary ideas.

Must-see attractions along Minnesota's Great River Road include stores in Mall of America, Itasca State Park, Minnesota's oldest state park, and Minnehaha Park, a 193-acre parkland in downtown Minneapolis.

2. Wisconsin

The Wisconsin portion of the Great River Road, also known as Wisconsin's Highway 35, borders the Minnesota side from Prescott, at the confluence of the St. Croix River, until reaching the Illinois border at Potosi. It totals approximately 250 miles, gently curving past 33 riverside towns, including La Crosse, and tree-crowned bluffs.

Here are some recommendations regarding places in Wisconsin that represent a great tourist attraction and are very visited, they are for example the Apostle Islands, Dor District Peninsula, House on the Rock, Lambeau Sphere, Santa Krusa river valley, cheese factory and Devidsona factory in Miluoki.

The House on the Rock, is a house built on a rock in Japanese style, in Spring Green. The sensations that are experienced there are indescribable, but without a doubt, they produce a gradual and favorable change in the way we see things and especially on our creative side. Thousands of people from all over the world come to this place to exclusively visit the genius of a unique and unrepeatable man, Alex Jordan.

3. Iowa

Scenic bluffs paired with small town sights characterize the experience of traveling along Iowa's Great River Road route. Passing on the eastern border of Iowa, across 10 counties for a little over 300 miles, the Great River Road takes in scenic byways, archaeological sites (Effigy Mounds National Monument), museums, and wildlife refuges.

In Dubuque, you can see the widest part of the Upper Mississippi River at Eagle Point Park and learn more about the river at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

4. Illinois

Spanning 550 miles, the Great River Road of Illinois follows the state's entire western border from East Dubuque to Waterloo. Highlights on this portion of the River Road include Galena, a historic Illinois town known for being the home of Ulysses S. Grant and its historic Main Street. Additional historic sites of note along the Illinois route include archaeological and natural sites, most notably the Cahokia Mounds.

5. Missouri

One of the best known stretches of the road trips in USA along the Mississippi River in the American imagination is the one that skirts the eastern border of Missouri. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) grew up in Hannibal and wrote about rafts and steamboats along the Mississippi in such classics as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Further down the river is one of the nation's most famous river towns. In the late 19th century, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States thanks to its importance as a Mississippi port. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, also known as the Gateway Arch, explains St. Louis's role in western expansion, including the significance of the Mississippi River in the Louisiana Purchase.

It also provides visitors with an amazing view of the city and the river. Learn more about the sites along Missouri's Great River Road.

Black River Lodge in Lesterville MO about 45 from Farmington MO is basically a family camp for a week. You are assigned a cabin with a full HVAC system. There are no phones or TVs but each cabin had an apartment-size refrigerator. There is a central dining hall which serves 3 meals per day family-style. You can let your school-age children freely roam the self-contained property, and be assured they are within easy walking distance from your cabin.

Watch them make instant friends. Once you are on-premise, there is really little need to use your car during your stay. Each morning after breakfast, there are activities for adults, teens, and children that you are free to participate in or not. Most afternoons are your choice. After dinner, there is a “train ride” for the children. Each night is a family activity.

BRL features a pool, access to the beach to the clear Black River, a great play to relax, float or fish. Other amenities include shuffleboard, darts, archery, volleyball, pickleball, tetherball, and tennis courts which are included. The lodge provides equipment at no charge. There is Recreation Hall with a Ping-Pong table, a pool table, card tables with playing cards, a jukebox, and a few video or pinball machines.

You can order some food like sandwiches or pizzas. Things like horseback riding are extra. You can rent canoes or rafts to paddle down the scenic river or just let the river take you downstream on a very leisurely trip down the river in a truck tire-size innertube. Pack some adult beverages on your scenic trip.

6. Kentucky

The Great River Road is at its shortest in Kentucky, where it touches four counties. Attractions along and near the route include Columbus-Belmont State Park, an integral outpost during the Civil War; the Warren Thomas Black History Museum and Church, a church built by freed slaves in 1890; and the Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross, an impossible-to-miss cross located on the bluffs above the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

7. Tennessee

Approximately 186 miles of country roads along the eastern side of the Mississippi River to form Tennessee's portion of the Great River Road. Near the end of the Tennessee route is Memphis, where Mud Island River Park and its Mississippi River Museum explain the geography, biology, and history of the fabled waterway.

Of course, Memphis is another well known river city, famous for its music scene, barbecue, and role as one of the major sites of America's Civil Rights Movement.

8. Arkansas

Arkansas's Great River Road Byway covers 362 miles passing through wetlands and forests in the Arkansas Delta. Travelers will find national wildlife refuges in Big Lake, Wapanocca, and White River. Other sites along this western stretch of the Mississippi range from an archaeological site at Parkin to Johnny Cash's boyhood home in Historic Dyess Colony.

The Clinton Library in Arkansas looks like a giant mobile home. It has a big pilkington glass wall along one side.

9. Mississippi

In the state with the same name as the river, the water meanders for 382 miles, forming the entire western border. Two significant destinations in this part of Mississippi are Vicksburg, site of the Civil War battle that left control of this section of the river to Union forces, and Natchez, a small but historic town that once served as the capital of the American Mississippi Territory.

10. Louisiana

Louisiana is the final stop for the Mississippi River as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river splits here, allowing travelers to follow the Mississippi on its left or right banks. Most opt for the east side, which flows past the capital of Baton Rouge to New Orleans and just beyond.

Among things to do, the route offers access to numerous historical sites, including the majority of Louisiana's antebellum plantation homes and slave quarters; culinary byways informed by Cajun and Creole cooking; and the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a Civil War battleground that is also of ecological importance.

You will not find a single place in the entirety of the United States where every single dish is good. Sure, Texas might have better barbecue or Tennessee. Maybe New York has better pizza or Chicago in Illinois and California probably has better avocado toast. But as a whole, the entire Cajun palate is just dang good.

You will not be eating Cajun food unless you are eating it in an establishment anywhere south of I-10 or if the cook has lived south of I-10. If they learned from an authentic Cajun chef, that’s alright but you’re on thin ice. Everything that you get in the Deep South, you get in Louisiana.

You get the small-town friendliness even in big towns, the smiles at random strangers, the waving to strangers who are passing by in cars, all that good stuff. How many other Deep South states can attest that a wide percentage of their population speaks an entirely different language from the rest of the US?

Cajun French is a unique beast. If you’re from France, you won’t understand much of it. They’re like siblings that had a family fall-out and don’t talk anymore as similarities go.

Unique sayings, food, celebrations, get-togethers, the whole familial feeling, all of it is what sets Louisiana apart from the rest of the United States, which is why it is one of the most culturally distinct state.

So, why are you waiting? Prepare for an exciting road tour along the great Mississippi - get your travel kits ready, load fully the jeep trunk. Never miss to carry your favorite flip flops, small cooker and other travel gears. Have a great girls trip.
Kalyan Panja