10 places you need to see when driving the Great River Road

Lifestyle

A drive down the Great River Road — Photo courtesy of Dave Herholz / flickr

The Mississippi River is one of the longest rivers in the world, flowing thousands of miles, and it’s one of the United States’ most important waterways. Follow this winding river from Minnesota all the way down to Louisiana, on the famous Great River Road. This 3,000-mile National Scenic Byway roughly tracks the Mississippi River, and is easily one of the nation’s best road trips.

While driving, you’ll notice white signs with a green wheel on them, marking the route. The straight drive takes about 36 hours, so with the stops, plan about a week – if not more – for the whole trip.

Here are just 10 of many stops to see along the Great River Road in the 10 different states that it passes through

1. Fort Snelling | Minnesota

200 Tower Avenue, St. Paul

Fort Snelling in MississippiFort Snelling in Mississippi — Photo courtesy of Doug Kerr / flickr

Visit Historic Fort Snelling, a landmark in St. Paul, built in the 1820s as the farthest outpost for military. Today, you can take a tour of the building, complete with demonstrations and activities that teach you about military history, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and more.

2. Nelson Dewey State Park | Wisconsin

12190 Co Highway VV, Cassville

Enjoy a breathtaking panoramic, bird’s-eye view of the Mississippi River from the Nelson Dewey State Park’s 500-foot bluff. The park is a great place to stop and camp, go hiking or have a picnic above the river. Add some education to your outdoors adventure at the nearby Stonefield Historic Site.

3. Buffalo Bill Museum | Iowa

199 N Front Street, Le Claire

The Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire is a family-friendly place to stop to learn about the legend of Buffalo Bill – and the Mississippi River. At the museum, see an exhibit about the first licensed riverboat pilot on the river,  as well as a 1939 Chris Craft speedboat.

4. Chain of Rocks Bridge | Illinois

Chain of Rocks Road, Granite City

The historic Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of the most unusual bridges in the country. This bridge, stretching across the Mississippi River, was named after a 17-mile series of rapids and rocks underwater that made this part of the river dangerous for boaters. It’s known for its surprising sharp bend in the middle.

5. Trail of Tears State Park | Missouri

429 Moccasin Springs Road, Jackson

The Trail of Tears State Park is a heart-wrenching but historically important place to visit. At this park in 1838, nine Cherokee Indian groups were relocated and had to cross the river during extreme weather conditions. Today, visitors can remember their struggles.  Follow up your visit with hiking, horseback riding, fishing or bird-watching in the park.

6. Wickliffe Mounds | Kentucky

94 Green Street, Wickliffe

See the remnants of an ancient Native American village at the Wickliffe Mounds. This archaeological site, from around the years 1100 to 1350, features a large ceremonial mound in addition to the many smaller versions. See ancient pottery, tools, artifacts and other educational displays and exhibits in the museum. And don’t forget to stretch your legs on the trail.

7. Mud Island Park | Tennessee

125 N Front Street, Memphis

Bird's-eye view of Memphis and Mud IslandBird’s-eye view of Memphis and Mud Island — Photo courtesy of iStock / Sean Pavone

Mud Island Park in Tennessee is an excellent place to stop and immerse yourself in the river’s history and importance. You’ll find Riverwalk, a scale model of the Lower Mississippi River, along with a concert venue and fantastic views.  At Riverwalk, get a preview of the rest of your drive and relive what you’ve seen so far, with a replica of the 20 major cities the Lower Mississippi passes through.

8. Lakeport Plantation | Arkansas

601 AR-142, Lake Village

The Lakeport PlantationThe Lakeport Plantation — Photo courtesy of Jeff Noble / flickr

The dramatic Lakeport Plantation home is the only remaining Arkansas antebellum plantation house on the river. Today, visitors can tour the restored structure, originally built in 1859. It is part of the National Register of Historic Places and was transformed into a history museum.

9. Delta Blues Museum | Mississippi

1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale

The Delta Blues Museum houses several musical instrumentsThe Delta Blues Museum houses several musical instruments — Photo courtesy of Visit Mississippi / flickr

The Delta region and city of Clarksdale in Mississippi are considered the “land where the blues began.” The Delta Blues Museum preserves that legacy with exhibits that showcase recordings, musical instruments, photographs, folk art and other memorabilia associated with blues masters.  Of note is the Muddy Waters gallery, where you can view his cabin in addition to a few of his guitars.

10. Historic New Orleans Collection | Louisiana

533 Royal Street, New Orleans

End your road trip in Louisiana at the Historic New Orleans Collection. This longstanding museum aims to preserve New Orleans’ unique culture. Here, you can see more than a million different artifacts that teach about a three-century history. Visitors can browse different galleries with ever-changing exhibits.  

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