Ten Great Stops Along the Great River Road and the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River as seen from McGregor IowaThe 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:

Minnesota

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.

the above photo shows children walking across rocks in the shallow stream that becomes the Mississippi River.

Wisconsin

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 above photo shows a view of the Mississippi River from the Great River Road Interpretive Center in Prescott Wisconsin.

Iowa

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 above pictures shows a cow standing near a sign that says Welcome to Iowa. It's located in the lobby of the Current Hotel.

Illinois

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 above picture is the welcome sign to Chester Illinois, home of Popeye the Sailor man

Missouri

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 above photo shows the Bill Emerson Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau MO

Kentucky

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.

Tennessee

STAX Museum of American Soul Music

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.

Arkansas

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.

The exterior of Jones BBQ in Marianna Arkansas - a James Beard American Classic

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.

Mississippi

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 Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Louisiana

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.

The above photo show the exterior of the Hansen's Disease Museum in Carville Louisana 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.