When Ruth and I visited Cahokia Mounds last week, I picked up an excellent map called Great River Road. It details all of the scenic byways that accompany the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to New Orleans. Published by the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, it lists most of the attractions in all ten states along the world’s 3rd longest river. A vacation organized around this map would be a sensational idea. Ruth and I have visited only a small number of the sights listed on the map because there are so many.
This map suggests several things to see in Minnesota including the Mississippi’s source in Itasca State Park. Most of the others are in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The capitol building in the latter, by the way, is still closed for renovation and won’t be opened for other than limited self-guided tours until 2017. The only other State Capital on the Great River Road is at its other end in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Wisconsin’s portion of the river road has few stop-worthy attractions but is among its more scenic drives.
Iowa has several notable attractions. The ones I most recommend are Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is a smaller version of Cahokia Mounds, the pretty town of Dubuque, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, and the Rock Island Arsenal. I used to spend a lot of time in the Quad Cities and love them.
While in Dubuque, take the time to travel across the Mississippi to the prettiest part of Illinois and the quaint town of Galena. Also spend some time further south in Nauvoo. Its Mormon community was huge and stable in the 19th century until Joseph Smith was shot and died. According to legend, the Mississippi River froze solid, making it possible for the Mormons to cross it and eventually make their way to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site across the Mississippi from St. Louis is a must-see kind of place. I have relatives in Valmeyer, Illinois, a city that permanently moved to the top of a bluff after multiple floods. Skip Cairo, pronounced kayrow by locals.
Missouri is, of course, my home state, and I have written extensively about St. Louis attractions. The 2 prettiest river towns in MO are Clarksville and St. Genevieve, but New Madrid is the most fascinating. One of the worst earthquakes in world history occurred there early in the 19th century. It was so bad that the Mississippi flowed north during it, church bells rang without assistance in Boston, and Reelfoot Lake was created.
Not much of Kentucky, which is across the Mississippi from New Madrid, is riverside. After only about 40 miles of low road, you’re in Tennessee and heading for Memphis, which has several things to see including the Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island River Park and, of course, Beale Street & Graceland.
The first trip I was taken on as a child landed me in Pocahontas, Arkansas, for a week. It was memorable, but I have subsequently not explored much of Arkansas on the Mississippi. That’s not true of the state of Mississippi, however. I plan to visit the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale soon, want to see Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Dyess, AK, and drove the entire Natchez Trace on one truly magical trip.
Ruth & I were in Baton Rouge just last year and toured the only other capitol building near the Mississippi. It’s a historical must-see thanks to Huey Long. We are hoping for a cousins’ reunion in New Orleans next year, and I plan to drive Highway 23 down the Delta until it ends in appropriately named Venice.