April is a fabulous time to hop in your car, roll down the windows, and tour the great United States. If you’re looking for an amazing, ready-made road trip, consider the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, which travels 3,000 miles through ten states along both sides of the Mississippi River. Recognized as an All-American Road for its nationally significant sights, the Great River Road is a collection of local, state, and federal highways that follows the river from the Midwestern state of Minnesota to Louisiana in the South.
It can take four to ten days to complete the entire journey, but you could also just explore parts of it if you prefer—it’s all up to you! Check out this itinerary of sights to see along the way.
Twin Cities (Minnesota)
Separated by the river and less than eight miles apart, Minneapolis and St. Paul may be Twin Cities, but they have their own personalities. You can immerse yourself in artwork from around the world at the Minneapolis Institute of Art or Minneapolis Sculpture Garden or enjoy the fifty-three-foot Minnehaha Falls or any of the city’s twenty-two lakes. These lakes are perfect for boating, swimming, and fishing, and you can also walk, hike, and bike along their shores.
In St. Paul, tour the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, which has everything from anacondas to giraffes to lemurs. You can also explore the birthplace and neighborhoods of The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald or survey the beautiful architecture of the Cathedral of St. Paul, modeled after St. Peter’s in the Vatican.
Paddle wheel and trolley tours (Wisconsin)
Meander through the picturesque town of La Crosse, Wisconsin, which offers a variety of shops and restaurants and expansive views from 600-foot-high Granddad Bluff, whose heights you can reach by car. While in town, visit Riverside Park at the convergence of the Mississippi, Black, and La Crosse Rivers, and take an historic trolley tour of the La Crosse region. Cap your visit with the sweet scents and beautiful flowers of the Riverside International Friendship Gardens, or book a dinner cruise on the paddle wheel boat La Crosse Queen.
Art and gardens (Iowa)
Nestled at the conjunction of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city and is awash with many cultural offerings. You can commune with bald eagles, turtles, and fish at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, gaze at the varied paintings, sculptures, and other works at the Dubuque Museum of Art, stroll the Japanese, prairie, rose, wildflower, and other gardens at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Garden, or climb a beautiful stone tower at the century-old Eagle Point Park to view expansive vistas.
Quaint river towns (Illinois)
Several idyllic communities dot the shoreline of the Mississippi in Illinois. In Galena, explore the 125 downtown shops and restaurants, or sample the wines at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery. Stop by the bustling city of Moline to see vintage agricultural equipment in the John Deere Pavilion or take in its early 1900s architecture. And before crossing the river to Missouri, tour the Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, where a prehistoric native civilization once existed.
Thrills and chills (Missouri)
In St. Louis, be sure to take a tram car to the top of the sixty-three-story Gateway Arch to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. Then get your thrills at the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park, or bolster your music education at the National Blues Museum. Finally, relax with a beer at Anheuser-Busch or with a slice of St. Louis-style pizza from a downtown pizzeria.
History and artifacts (Kentucky)
The Bluegrass State has the shortest section of the Great River Road at just sixty miles, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. Visit the Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site to see the large earthen mounds built by Native Americans more than 600 years ago, or stop at Columbus-Belmont State Park, which is on both the Civil War Heritage Trail and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
BBQ and the King (Tennessee)
If you’re a fan of rock ’n’ roll icon Elvis Presley, Memphis is a must-see. Snap selfies with his bronze statue on Beale Street, tour where he recorded his first song at Sun Studio, and stop by Graceland to visit his personal home, stroll his gardens, and pay homage at his final resting place. In town, you can also learn about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the National Civil Rights Museum, shop in the South Main Arts District, and enjoy tasty jambalaya and BBQ while listening to live music at one of the city’s many blues clubs.
Hike or bike (Arkansas)
Get out of your car and walk or bike across the Mississippi River via the mile-long Big River Crossing. This attraction is the longest active pedestrian bridge in the country and stretches from Memphis, Kentucky, to West Memphis, Arkansas. You can also bike or hike the connected Big River Trail, which follows the levee along the river and offers city, water, and forest views.
Rhythm and blues (Mississippi)
In Clarksdale, Mississippi, take a slight detour to the Delta Blues Museum to experience the history of blues music and learn more about music legend Muddy Waters. See one of his electric guitars, what remains of his sharecropping cabin, and ZZ Top’s Muddywood guitar, which was made from one of the cabin’s timbers.
Culture and cuisine (Louisiana)
The Great River Road ends in Venice, Louisiana, where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. As you go through the Bayou State, stop by Baton Rouge, which has numerous museums like the LSU Museum of Art and Louisiana Art & Science Museum. It’s also home to the USS Kidd, a destroyer that saw battle in both World War II and the Korean War. Finally, celebrate the completion of your road trip in New Orleans, where you can look at the architecture in the historic French Quarter, listen to live music on Bourbon Street, and delight in the city’s unique Creole food.
No matter how many miles you drive along the Great River Road, you’ll enjoy some of the best scenery, food, and culture that America has to offer.
For more information, visit experiencemississippiriver.com