The Great River Road, America’s first National Scenic By-Way, passes through ten states as it follows the path of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana. It’s a 3,000 mile road trip we should all endeavor to make at sometime in our lives because the Mississippi River is indeed the heart of the heartland of America.
So here are a few spots along the Great River Road that we just love:
This is where it all begins, a little stream bubbling north out of Lake Itasca. It’s here you can jump across the Mississippi River or just kick off your shoes, roll up your jeans and wiggle your toes in the Father of All Waters.
All along the Great River Road are interpretive centers that help visitors get to know the communities they are visiting and tell how the river helped shape these communities. We loved our stop in Prescott Wisconsin for that very reason. The view is pretty nice also.
The Mississippi River does a weird little move in Iowa – it flows east for a while, then make a U-turn back west before getting straightened out and heading south again. While there are many adorable river communities in Iowa, you’re going to have to spend the night somewhere, so might I suggest a hotel, right where the river makes that weird move, that has the current of the Mississippi River in its very name?!
The Mississippi River forms the distinctive baby bump on Illinois’ west side – a 550 mile drive that showcases numerous historic communities and magnificent scenery. I recommend them all, but you might especially enjoy a stop in Chester, home of Popeye the Sailor Man.
The great state of Missouri is the confluence point of the Missouri River with the Mississippi, where Lewis and Clark began their journey west, and where a boy named Samuel Clemens was shaped into one of the world’s greatest authors. All of these places, and many more make the Great River Road in Missouri a lovely drive, but let’s go Hollywood just for a minute and see how the Mississippi River worked into the novel and movie “Gone Girl.”
The Great River Road just barely caresses the state of Kentucky, but you know what you can do here? You can ride a ferry boat across the river from Hickman Kentucky to Doreena, Missouri.
The Mississippi River gets a little wider, a little fatter, maybe a little slower as it passes Memphis Tennessee. And we understand. Settle in for the night with the Peabody Ducks and pay your respects to Martin Luther King.
We should all slow down and enjoy Memphis, a city with a lot of soul.
When you’ve entered the state of Arkansas, you’ve entered what is known as the Mississippi Delta. It’s a slow, laid-back pace here, but there are indeed a few stops worthy of your attention. In Helena, stop at the Delta Cultural Center.
In McGee, look for the remains of the WWII-era Japanese Internment Camp. But if you’re hungry, you’ve gotta make a stop in Marianna and enjoy some pulled pork with Mr. Harold Jones. His barbeque joint is a James Beard American Classic.
Although we’ve traveled quite a bit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, home to some lovely communities and experiences, I turn to our friend Candy Harrington for the musical highlights on the side of the state that gets its name from the 325 mile long border created by the great river.
The Mississippi River played a painful role in how this Louisiana location came to be, but what a story unfolded and a medical miracle in the itsy bitsy little town of Carville.
And then you’re at the Gulf of Mexico, the gateway to any number of other exciting travel experiences. Spend some time in NOLA or head east along Highway 10 to the great coastal communities of Bay St. Louis, Biloxi and beyond. Find other national and state designated scenic byways and enjoy what this great world has to offer.