a day / 3253 miles / 108 hours 26 minutes
Throughout history, the Mississippi River influenced many lives: the Dakota, Chippewa, and Hopewell cultures; early French voyagers; African-Americans seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad; and
many more. Through its charming river towns and metropolitan cities, historic sites and cultural artifacts, today's Great River Road still links resources, people, and history.
9:00 - 0 miles / 0 - 9:00
At the headwaters of the Mississippi River, visitors will discover Itasca State Park. The park was established in 1891, but the headwaters were discovered in 1832 by Henry Schoolcraft. Now
Itasca is Minnesota's oldest state park and features more than 32,000 acres and more than 100 lakes.
Walking across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey of 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico is a ritual that fascinates visitors who come to the park. Visitors cannot resist
the landmarks of centuries gone by. They stand under towering pines at Preacher's Grove or visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or Wegmann's Cabin.
Camping under the stars at the park creates an inner peace for some while others prefer inside peace at the historic Douglas Lodge or cabins. But when visitors wake refreshed, there are so many things to see and do. Travelers will definitely want to explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota's seven National Natural Landmarks. And when they've seen all the sights, it's time to take part in a favorite activity like fishing, swimming, or hiking.
9:00 - 405.4 miles / 13 hours 30 minutes - 11:30
St. Paul was settled by Fort Snelling squatters who had been evicted. In the early days, the settlement was known as Pig's Eye after Pierre Parrant, one of the community's founders, who had a disfigured blind eye. (Although rumor has it that the nickname fit his personality as well.) In 1841, Father Lucian Galtier built a
chapel at the landing where Kellogg Boulevard and Minnesota Street meet today. He named the chapel after Saint Paul, and local residents gladly renamed their settlement after the church.
In the 1840s, only a few cabins dotted the landscape, but its location along the river made it a central stop. In the 1860s and '70s, the city became a rail hub for the upper Midwest. James J. Hill's Great Northern Rail Line connected passengers to the Pacific
Northwest and included steamers that could complete a journey to Japan. The James J. Hill House is located in St. Paul and open to visitors.
The Minnesota State Capitol Building is the most grand of the buildings in the city. Designed by Cass Gilbert in Italian Renaissance style, it boasts one of the largest unsupported marble domes in the world. Travelers may want to stop for a tour of the
building to top off their tour of the state capitol.
11:30 - 117.1 miles / 3 hours 54 minutes - 15:24
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge was established as a refuge and breeding place for migratory birds, fish, other wildlife, and plants. The refuge lies within four states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Nearly 240,000 acres of wooded islands, marshes, and backwaters comprise the refuge, which provides migratory habitat for a large percentage of the migratory birds in the Mississippi Flyway. Tundra swans and canvasback ducks use the refuge as a resting and feed area in the spring and fall.
15:24 - 8.8 miles / 17 minutes - 15:42
This 1,400-acre state park is named after French explorer Nicholas Perrot who built a trading post at this location in 1685. It is located near the confluence of the Trempealeau and Mississippi Rivers. For 7,000 years, people have enjoyed the view
of Trempealeau Mountain, "the mountain whose foot is bathed by water" (La Montagne Qui trempe a L'Eau). The area's history is revealed by some 30 archaeological sites in and near Perrot State Park which hosts pictographs, burial mounds, the "Perrot's Post" Historical Marker, and the remains of two French trading posts. History and
artifacts are displayed at the park's Interpretive Center.
16:42 - 78.0 miles / 2 hours 36 minutes - 19:18
Burlington is most famous for its parks, each one with its own
unique characteristics. These parks include:
In addition to its parks, Burlington also includes Snake Alley,
the world's most crooked one-block street. The street is lined with
historic homes that can be toured by visitors. Driving on the
street may be a challenge. It consists of five half-curves and two
quarter-curves within 275 feet.
19:18 - 60.6 miles / 2 hours a minute - 10:19
Visitors to Davenport will find historic Arsenal Island, Lock and Dam 15, the George Davenport Home, and several shops and museums.
10:19 - 125.4 miles / 4 hours 10 minutes - 14:30
Enjoy activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, photography, interpretation, environmental education, and wildlife observation at Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Mark Twain refuge complex. This is a significant stopover site for migrating waterfowl from March to April as well as from October to November. Bald Eagles also tend to gather in this refuge from late autumn to early spring, making for exciting raptor sighting opportunities.
14:30 - 737.9 miles / 24 hours 35 minutes - 17:06
Built along Bayou Plaquemine - an artery into the Atchafalaya interior—the lock provided a major connection between the Mississippi River and inland waterways. In addition to the lock, the area includes the Gary James Hebert Memorial Lockhouse, which serves as a museum and visitors center. This location is one of the
nationally designated Great River Road Interpretive Centers.
17:36 - 17.8 miles / 35 minutes - 18:11
Oak Alley-- one of the grandest, and most photographed, plantations along the River Road. It was finished in the late 1830s for the Roman family, and reflected the Neo-classical influences of the era. The quarter-mile canopy of giant live oak trees, believed to be nearly 300 years old, forms an impressive avenue leading to the classic Greek Revival-style antebellum home. Oak Alley Plantation has been called the “Grande Dame of the Great River Road.”
18:11 - 1.1 miles / 2 minutes - 18:13
The world-renowned French Quarter is almost indescribable in its uniqueness. A compact collection of important architecture, museums, and historic landmarks, it has a distinctly European feel unparalleled in the United States.
The Quarter is home to many famous restaurants, bars and taverns, and great local music. The area was the first settled part of New Orleans, and the entire Quarter has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
18:13 - 15.8 miles / 31 minutes - 18:45
A strong African American middle class flourished in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, and the River Road African American Museum recaptures much of its history, including the rural roots of jazz and the Creole lifestyle.
19:45 - 23.4 miles / 46 minutes - 9:32
The Louisiana State Capitol Complex is the site of the 34-story Art Deco statehouse, the Pentagon Barracks (a former military post), the new State Historical Museum, the State Library, and the beautiful Capitol Gardens. The Capitol Building will forever be entwined with the political career of Huey Pierce Long. Long wanted to build a new statehouse in 1928 when he was running for governor, and he was assassinated in the Capitol Building and died there on September 10, 1935.
9:32 - 63.4 miles / 2 hours 6 minutes - 11:39
Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The complex was established in 1958 for the protection of migratory birds and spans 350 miles along the Mississippi River in the states of Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. It includes Port Louisa, Two Rivers, Great River, Clarence Cannon, and Middle Mississippi River refuges.
11:39 - 93.7 miles / 3 hours 7 minutes - 14:46
Named for the Houmas Indians who were the original owners of the land its built on, Houmas House dates to about 1840. The stunning home reflects the power and wealth of its owners. By the time of the Civil War, the plantation was the single largest producer of sugar in the country. The present owner has completely remodeled the home and grounds for tours and special events.
15:46 - 63.2 miles / 2 hours 6 minutes - 17:52
Destrehan Plantation dates back to the 1780s and is built in the Creole style. It served as a site for the summary court convened to try captives from the 1811 slave revolt, a number of whom were then executed.
The plantation today offers daily tours led by costumed interpreters. Periodic historic demonstrations showcase period crafts and trades like candle making, open hearth cooking, carpentry, indigo dyeing, and more.
18:52 - 8.9 miles / 17 minutes - 19:10
The town of Galena is a well-known destination for travelers
from Chicago and beyond seeking quiet pastoral scenes, quality
antiquing and shopping, and small town charm. Main Street is a
breathtaking, unbroken wall of historic storefronts nestled
between the hills, where Galena's 19th Century lead mines were
found, and the river where the steamboats plied their trade.
Galena's position near the northern terminus of the Great River
Road makes it a natural gateway and introduction to river history.
Individual historic sites include:
For centuries, people have been coming to Galena for different
reasons. Today, one of those reasons is the recreational activities
the town has to offer. Skiing and golfing are both popular
activities as well as the classic riverboat cruise. Galena is a
perfect stop on the Byway no matter what the reason might be.
19:10 - 62.1 miles / 2 hours 4 minutes - 10:14
This is a Creole-style plantation that is not as elaborate as those from the late antebellum period. The owners have done an excellent job of recreating the Creole worldview and way of life for visitors.
11:44 - 20.9 miles / 41 minutes - 12:26
The Grand Gulf Military Park was officially opened in 1962, and is dedicated to preserving the memory of both the town and the battle that occurred there. This 400 acre landmark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes the Grand Gulf Cemetery, a museum, recreational areas, an observation tower, and several restored buildings dating back to Grand Gulf's heyday.
13:26 - 12.5 miles / 24 minutes - 13:51
Coca-Cola was first bottled in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This site is important because Coke has become a part of American Culture, and has been a part of the culture here for more than one hundred years. Beidenharn Candy Company, where Coca-Cola was first bottled and sold, is located on Washington Street. The Coca-Cola Museum is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places.
14:51 - 133.2 miles / 4 hours 26 minutes - 19:18
The 89-acre Delabar State Park offers quality outdoor experiences for anglers, hikers, campers, and picnickers. More than 50 species of birds have been sited in the park, making it a destination for birders. Picnic areas, playground facilities, toilets, tent and trailer camping, trailer dumping, hiking trails, river and lake fishing, boat launching, ice fishing, and ice skating are available in the area.
19:58 - 642.2 miles / 21 hours 24 minutes - 19:22
Potosi has the longest intersection-less main street in the
world stretching for 3 miles. The town was formed around lead mines
in this area, and the name "potosi" means "lead" in spanish. Native
Americans first discovered these mines and showed them to European
explorers in the 1600's. The town was established by laborers of
the lead mine in 1827. These laboreres built small earthen huts
into the bluffs that resembled badger dens and soon the miners and
the state had a mascot. The brewery at the west end of Potosi is a
historic landmark and operated from 1852 to 1972. Visitors can also
tour the St. John mine or go on a drive through the historic areas
19:37 - 160.5 miles / 5 hours 20 minutes - 13:58
Once known as Humble Bush, Ferryville became the home to a ferry
service that traveled across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin
to Lansing, Iowa. In 1878, a tornado all but destroyed Ferryville
and the community was not rebuilt for nearly a decade. Travelers
will find Ferryville located in an area between the river and the
bluffs. Visitors may want to look over Ferryville quilts, sample
some Wisconsin cheese or enjoy the village's natural flowers.
14:13 - 2.5 miles / 4 minutes - 14:18
La Crosse, Wisconsin's largest city on the Great River Road, is situated between towering bluffs and the Mississippi River near the outlets of the Black and La Crosse rivers. The rivers first made it a natural rendezvous site and later a booming logging place as logs were floated down the rivers to sawmills dotting the valley. Today La Crosse is a lively, attractive city yearning to reveal its history, culture, and architecture; and to share its outstanding recreation opportunities.
Visit Riverside Park which hosts "Riverside USA", an animated exhibit describing life on the Mississippi. Spence Park Historical Marker portrays the early importance of La Crosse as the most strategic Wisconsin port on the river. Enjoy a river excursion aboard the sternwheeler "La Crosse Queen" or view "Coulee" scenery from either the Great River, the La Crosse River Bike Trails, or from Granddad Bluff. Swarthout Musuem provides a glimpse of local history. The Hixon House displays its 1800s' furnishings.
14:48 - 61.8 miles / 2 hours 3 minutes - 16:52
Nearly 90 feet wide and 11 feet high, the Nicholls Mound is one
of the largest Hopewell mounds in Wisconsin. In 1930, the mound was
excavated in an archaeological dig and a ceremonial burial site was
found. The artifacts buried with the remains are examples of the
artistry of these early Mississippi dwellers. Archaeologists found
large stone knives made of obsidian and flint that is supposed to
have come from the Rocky Mountains. The ceramics found with the
burial reflect styles of the Illinois and Ohio mounds.
17:12 - 99.4 miles / 3 hours 18 minutes - 9:30
Just north of Fountain City, this 320 acre State Park has a
Nature Center, 65 campsites (22 with electric), and access to the Mississippi River. Merrick State Park is named after George
Merrick, a famous steamboat captain and historian of Mississippi
steamboats. Try hiking some of the nature trails along the
Mississippi's backwaters or have a picnic near the river. Firewood is available to purchase and canoes are available to rent. No firewood may be brought into the park from out of state or from more than 50 miles away from Merrick State Park itself.
10:15 - 8.8 miles / 17 minutes - 10:33
Traveling from Prescott through the rolling countryside and deep
coulees, the Great River Road traveler encounters the settlement of
Diamond Bluff located on the shoreline of the Mississippi River.
Although a little river community resides there today, Diamond
Bluff actually reached its peak of occupation 1,000 years ago when
the Oneota Indians created many camps and villages there. Over 500
earthen mounds were once found here, but many were leveled by the
plow or construction. Today the Archaeological Conservancy owns
some of the site including the Panther Effigy Mound.
When European settlers arrived, Diamond Bluff became a river
town. The largest inland water disaster of the country occurred
here in 1890 when the Sea Wing Riverboat capsized. Visitors will be
able to find a Bed & Breakfast here as well as the Sea Wing
10:53 - 229.2 miles / 7 hours 38 minutes - 18:31