Scenic States

The Best Way to Drive the Great River Road

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The Great River Road is a fantastic road trip that takes you on a winding trip from Minnesota all the way to Louisiana. This good, old-fashioned road trip is dotted with everything from scenic rivers, quaint little towns, historic attractions, a multitude of scenic landscapes and a lot more.

The Mississipi River is likely the most iconic river in the United State and one of the longest rivers in the world – making a Great American road trip along its banks a bucket-list-worthy vacation!

Basically – it’s the ultimate road for exploring the Midwest with all of its glory.

So, what’s the Great River Road?

Known as the GRR, THE Great River Road is a 3000-mile-long road the takes you along the Mississippi River.

It was first created in 1983 and passes through 10 different states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennesse, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

This waterfront drive will take you through staggeringly diverse scenery – from lush grassy meadows to wetlands to little towns – you’ll find it all.

It’s no surprise that the Great River Road has become one of the Midwest’s most prized cultural attractions.

Great River Road Sign

Top Sights You Wouldn’t Want to Miss Along the Great River Road

You’ll be covering 3,000 miles of road – meaning there is no shortage of noteworthy attractions and stops along your road trip.

Luckily, there won’t be a lot of interchanging since the entirety of the road trip will be guided by the Mississipi River. You’ll get to fully immerse yourself in the Midwest’s culture and living history by embracing the juxtaposition between vibrant metropolises and quaint riverside villages.

Here are some sights you simply cannot miss on your Great River Road trip:

1. Fort Snelling – Minnesota

The historic Fort Snelling has long been a significant attraction in Minnesota due to its historic importance.

It was built in the 1820s as a military base and today you can take a tour of the whole building, engage with the rich heritage of the surrounding area and learn all about military history, the US-Dakota War and a lot more!

2. Chain of Rocks Bridge – Illinois

This sure is an unusual bridge that tops both our most famous bridges in the US list and Route 66 attractions that can’t be missed. It’s an interesting attraction to check-out along your Great River Road trip.

The bridge stretches across the Mississipi River and is one of the longest pedestrian/bicycle-only bridges in the world.

It’s great to walk along (or bike) the bridge for the incredible scenery that overlooks the natural chain of rocks.

3. Nelson Dewey State Park – Wisconsin

If you’re looking for the perfect birds-eye view of the Mississippi River, then you need to stop at the Nelson State Park.

This is one of the adventurous parts your Great River Road trip.

There you’ll be able to stay the night, camp, go hiking, or relax by the river. If you’re craving some history in addition to nature, then I highly recommend visiting the Stonefield Historic Site for a good old dose of history.

4. Buffalo Bill Museum – Iowa

You’ll learn all about Buffalo Bill , the Mississippi River and you’ll get to see an exhibit about the first riverboat to be piloted on the river.

5. Delta Blues Museum – Mississippi

Mississippi has always been considered one of the states where the blues began.

It’s no surprise then, that you’d find a museum dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Blues genre.

You’ll find plenty of photographs, musical instruments, art, and plenty of memorabilia left by some of the region’s best blues masters.

6. The Gateway Arch – St. Louis

Gateway Arch

You can’t go on a trip along the Great River Road and not stop by the Gateway Arch.

The arch soars majestically into the sky (with an awe-inspiring height of 630-foot), and is one of the tallest memorials in the U.S. To get a full gist of the attraction, I recommend riding up the leg of the Arch (it’s a 5-minute ride) so you can enjoy the views of downtown St. Louis.

7. Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site – Kentucky

This area is filled with abundant wildlife and is a great archaeological site to spend a few hours in thanks to its historic significance.

Between 1100 – 1350 A.D the whole area was occupied by Native Americans who had homes overlooking the Mississippi River.

Today, you can learn all about the history of the site, see ancient pottery, incredible displays and educational exhibits and revel in the surrounding nature..

Make sure you don’t miss out on the large ceremonial mound!

8. Trail of Tears State Park – Missouri

This is an important attraction to visit along your Great River Road trip.

Despite the heart-wrenching story behind the park, the place is historically significant enough to be on top of your list of things to see. You will get to directly learn about the struggle of the nine Cherokee Indians who had to cross the river while fighting off the extreme weather conditions.

After a quick history lesson, you can spend the rest of the day hiking, horseback riding, fishing and much more.

9. Lakeport Plantation – Arkansas

This plantation house is the only one remaining on the river right now and has been transformed into a museum filled with dozens of mini-history lessons about the 1859 site.

10. Historic New Orleans Collection – Louisiana

New Orleans is known for its unique culture. This museums perfectly preserves and showcases the New Orleans’ culture with plenty of galleries, constantly changing exhibits and much more.

What Can You Do During Your Great River Road Trip

If you want to indulge in adventure and immerse yourself in a fully comprehensive experience, then I recommend partaking in activities along your trip.

Some things you can do include:

  • Biking the Great River Road.
  • Fishing at the Kinnickinnic State Park.
  • Camp and hike at the Kinnickinnic State Park
  • Hike the Maiden Rock Bluffs and enjoy its scenic views of Lake Pepin.
  • Enjoy some quirky shopping in Stockholm.
  • Relax at the Harbor View Café in Pepin.
  • Stop at Lynxville for birdwatching.
  • Try boating or kayaking at Ferryville.
  • Make sure you grab a drink at the Potosi Brewing Company.

When’s the best time to go on a Mississippi River Road Trip

I always recommend going on this trip during the very months of fall or the late months of spring.

Anything other than that and you’re bound to experience harsh weather (either extremely cold weather or sweltering days in the summer.

How long do I need for a trip along the Great River Road?

The drive (straight-up) takes approximately 36 hours. However, since you’ll be stopping multiple times, I highly recommend you plan from 7 to 10 days for this trip, depending on where you want to stop.

Start at Minnesota where you’ll get to see:

  • Fort Snelling
  • Itasca State Park (one of the state’s oldest parks with plenty of scenic lakes)
  • The Mill City Museum

Head over to Wisconsin, to explore:

  • The 19th century Villa Louis
  • The Potosi Brewing Company that has been there since the 1800’s and is one of the best places to grab a pint on your trip.
  • The Nelson Dewey State Park – perfect for hiking and camping by the river.

Your next stop will be Iowa where the main attractions will include:

  • Effigy Mounds National Monument
  • The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (perfect if you’ve got kids with you!)
  • Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
  • The Trail of Tears State Park

Next, spend some time at St. Louis in Missouri and explore:

  • Gateway Arch
  • The Missouri Botanical Garden
  • The Forest Park
  • St. Louis Zoo
  • The Missouri Civil War Museum

You’ll be halfway there already… your next stop will be Kentucky:

  • Checkout the Wickliffe Mounds Historic Site
  • If you don’t mind a detour, head over to Mammoth Cave National Park

Drive over to Arkansas to immerse yourself in history through:

  • The Lakeport Plantation House
  • Lake Chicot State Park
  • Helena Museum for a good old history lesson.

Head into Mississipi (the land of the blues!) where you’ll get to see:

  • The Delta Blues Museum
  • Vicksburg National Military Park
  • Tunica River Park & Museum

And finally for the grand finale…Louisiana!

  • Check out the Historic New Orleans Collection
  • The Louisiana State Museum
  • The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve
  • Walk around the lively streets of Nola.

Have you driven the Great River Road?

Going on the Great River Road drive will take you through the Midwest’s top cities in as little as 7 days and is definitely worth going on if you’re looking for an of adventure, history, culture and nature.

How many of you have driven it?

Let me know in the comments below!

Cover photo credit: Mac H

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Ten States. One River.

The great river road – the best drive in america.

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The scenic route passes through 10 states and hundreds of river towns. The Great River Road is arguably the longest and most important scenic byway in America.

It takes about 36 hours of straight driving to travel from north to south along the byway. Most people take four to 10 days to make the journey.

Pilot’s Wheel Road Signs

Great River Road Sign

Learn more about the pilot’s wheel here .

America’s Byways – National Scenic Byway Designation

The Great River Road is designated as a National Scenic Byway. This federal designation recognizes the Great River Road’s outstanding assets in the areas of culture, history, nature, recreation and scenic beauty.  All along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, you’ll find tourism amenities as well as Interpretive Centers that help travelers experience the many facets of the Mississippi River Region.

What You’ll Experience

All along the Great River Road, visitors will find interesting things to see and do, including a number of river-related attractions and designated interpretive centers . The communities you’ll encounter along the way – from tiny riverside villages to vibrant metropolises – are where you’ll experience the living history of the region through music, culture and local cuisine.

See  traveler recommendations on what flavors to sample up and down the Great River Road.

Travelers can spend a day exploring a short portion of the byway, or a week traveling through several states – or many weeks traveling the entire length of the river. It would take a lifetime to truly experience all that the Great River Road has to offer. Start your Great River Road journey today.

Find current road conditions along the Great River Road.

  • 6 things you might not know about the Great River Road
  • Four things to love about the Great River Road
  • Travel along the Great River Road with author Gayle Harper
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How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip on the Great River Road

Plan the perfect Great River Road trip with these tips.

road trip usa great river road

What to Know Before You Go

Best stops along the great river road, places to stay.

DutcherAerials/Getty Images

As far as fantastic American road trips go, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway deserves a spot near the very top of the list. And it’s high time you got to know it better. 

The Great River Road runs the length of the U.S. from north to south (or south to north if you’d prefer), touching 10 states along the way, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Ready to put the pedal to the metal on this one? Here’s how to plan a Great River Road trip, including can't-miss stops and places to stay. 

The Great River Road is an official National Scenic Byway that follows the same path as the Mississippi River. The route is about 3,000 miles long and can technically be driven in about 36 hours straight. But if you did that, you’d miss all its beauty; consider planning a road trip that lasts four to 10 days so you have plenty of time to stop and explore along the way. The best time of year to drive the Great River Road depends on your travel preferences, but fall can be a great time to take advantage of beautiful foliage views.

Related: The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List

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While you can turn off just about anywhere along the road and find something fantastic, we suggest earmarking these seven destinations.

Mississippi River Headwaters, Minnesota

Begin your trip in a natural spot — the originating point of the Mississippi River, found at Itasca State Park , the oldest state park in Minnesota. Come dip your toes in the river, go for a hike, or cast a line to see if you can snag a fish or two. 

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul form the largest metropolitan area on the Mississippi River. Check out the water views from the hill at Gold Medal Park , which celebrates the area’s flour-producing past. In Minneapolis, travelers can also explore parts of the 72-mile Mississippi National River and Recreation Area , where park rangers offer events throughout the year. 

Dubuque, Iowa

Roughly a four-hour drive south of the Mississippi's Lake Pepin region lies Dubuque, Iowa. Situated on the shores of the river, this scenic town offers ideal views from Eagle Point Park , the Fenelon Place Elevator Company , and the Riverwalk . (There’s a Heritage Trail that leads from the Riverwalk to the nearby Field of Dreams for those seeking a baseball-focused side trip.) Don’t miss the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium , which will delight all ages with its interactive exhibits.

St. Louis, Missouri

The Gateway City is a quintessential stop on any Great River Road tour. Visitors should make time for its remarkable Gateway Arch, with a newly redesigned museum. Other great spots include the quirky City Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Additionally, families will love the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station . 

Memphis, Tennessee

Called the "Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll" and "Home of the Blues," the city of Memphis is another ideal stop on any Great River Road itinerary. You can’t visit Memphis without moseying down famed Beale Street to hear some blues. Then stroll to the nearby Riverbluff Walkway, which offers impressive views of the Mississippi. Also, be sure to spend some time wandering the South Main Arts District, home to the National Civil Rights Museum , which belongs on all Memphis itineraries.

Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez contains examples of antebellum architecture and is among the oldest cities on the Mississippi River. Explore Natchez National Historical Park , dine at The Camp , and consider driving part of the Natchez Trace Parkway , a historic route that ends in Middle Tennessee. Fun fact: True Blood fans will recognize the popular octagonal mansion of Longwood, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

New Orleans, Louisiana

The Big Easy is home to the naturally deepest spot on the Mississippi River, right off of Algiers Point. Great views of the French Quarter and the river can be enjoyed from the neighborhood of the same name on the West Bank of the river, which is best accessed via ferry. Another area highlight includes the vast City Park , home to a free outdoor sculpture garden, botanical garden, and old live oak trees. Look for the famous “ Singing Oak ” tree, an installation meant to showcase the idea that there’s always music in the air in New Orleans.

Related: 23 Best Road Trips in the U.S.

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Need a place to snooze on your multi-day road trip? Here’s where to stop and rest your head. 

Camp at Itasca State Park

Begin the journey with an overnight camping trip at Itasca State Park . The park offers 223 drive-in spots, so you can easily car camp, or you can park your car and hike to one of its 11 designated backpack camping sites, all within a five-mile hike. 

Nicollet Island Inn

Once you get to Minneapolis, make your way to Nicollet Island, a natural islet in the middle of the river. Part of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, the island is on the National Register of Historic Places. Here, you can book an overnight stay at the Nicollet Island Inn , a charming hotel inside a building constructed in 1893, which provides spectacular views of the city skyline. 

Hotel Julien

Get off the highway in Dubuque, Iowa for a night at Hotel Julien , a boutique property in the heart of the historic Old Main district. The 133 rooms are all styled in a rich, dark brown color palette, making it ultra-cozy in every corner. Want to make the stay extra special? Book its Al Capone-inspired suite, just to say you did. On your way out of town, check out one of the most show-stopping views of the river in the Mines of Spain Recreation Area , just south of Dubuque.

Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis

In St. Louis, book a luxurious stay at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis , which is home to multiple on-site dining options. The hotel also sports a fantastic spa offering head-to-toe body treatments, making it a prime destination for a road trip stop to rest and let your body recover.  

The Peabody

Once you make your way to Memphis, pop into The Peabody for a spell. The hotel is loved for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its famous ducks, which trot through the lobby once a day on their parade to the fountain. Say hello, then go parade yourself right to bed to rest up for another exciting day on the road. 

Hotel Saint Vincent

End your trip in New Orleans in style with a few nights at Hotel Saint Vincent, named the best hotel in New Orleans by Travel + Leisure readers in the 2023 World’s Best Awards. The 75-room hotel sits in a building dating back to 1861 but went through a total refurbishment in 2021 that perfectly married New Orleans’ old-school charm with new amenities. The rooms come with bright pops of color (which make for excellent Instagram backdrops), but don’t miss the common spaces, including the pool, courtyard, and its signature San Lorenzo & Paradise Lounge. 

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Jamie Jensen

Road Trip USA Great River Road Paperback – March 2, 2010

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Road Trip USA: Great River Road

  • Print length 128 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Moon Travel
  • Publication date March 2, 2010
  • Dimensions 4.5 x 0.25 x 7.5 inches
  • ISBN-10 1598805819
  • ISBN-13 978-1598805819
  • See all details

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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Moon Travel; 1st edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 128 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1598805819
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1598805819
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 5 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 4.5 x 0.25 x 7.5 inches
  • #1,673 in Road Travel Reference
  • #2,800 in General Travel Reference
  • #17,703 in US Travel Guides

About the author

Jamie jensen.

I grew up in Southern California back when cars were king, freeways were new, cheeseburgers cost a quarter, and every beach had a beachfront amusement park. After some very pleasant years traveling around the country (making hay in Kansas, crewing sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay, studying architecture at UC Berkeley and ghost-writing a book for the Grateful Dead...), I started work on my book Road Trip USA, a thick and tasty (and fully illustrated!) guide to the best drives in America.

Since then, over 25 years and what are now eight (EIGHT!) ever-improving editions of the book, I've traveled close to half-a-million miles in search of the perfect stretch of two-lane blacktop. Though I drive way more than is healthy, for me or for the planet, I get out of the car as much as possible to check out the best french fries, rodeos, historic trails, and slices of cherry pie that I can find.

So please join me. Check out Road Trip USA, and hit the road!

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Are you ready for a Road Trip? Explore these eleven incredible cross-country road trip routes across the U.S.!

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New Orleans

Home / The Great River Road / Louisiana / New Orleans

The Great River Road

Assuming you resisted the industrial-strength charms of US-61 and opted to take the I-10 freeway into town, stay on it until you reach downtown, then get off and park the car as soon as you can, and get out and walk. New Orleans rivals Boston for the discomfort it causes drivers, and there are no driving routes that let you see anything you can’t see better on foot—or from the St. Charles trolley. Parking in and around the French Quarter is a nightmare, and the small print on the signs can set you up for a ticket or a tow, so play it safe and park in one of the many nearby lots, which typically charge anything from $7 to $21 a day (if you can get an early bird rate) to up $12 an hour (if you can’t).

Visiting New Orleans

New Orleans has long been famous for its easygoing, live-and-let-live personality, and for placing a high value on the good things in life—food, drink, and music, to name a few.

With deep roots going back to the earliest days of European settlement in North America, New Orleans is very proud of its multicultural heritage: Its people, its ornate buildings, and especially its food all reflect a uniquely diverse and resilient culture. The focus of New Orleans, for visitors and locals alike, is the Vieux Carré, in the French Quarter, which sits on the highest ground in the city and thus escaped the worst of Katrina’s floods. Centering on Bourbon Street, lined with tacky souvenir stalls and strip clubs catering to conventioneers, this square mile is full of wrought-iron balconies on picturesque brick buildings.

Yes, it’s a huge tourist attraction, but it’s also the heart of old New Orleans. At the center of the quarter is Jackson Square, where a statue of the victor of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson, stands in front of St. Louis Cathedral, which was rebuilt in 1850 on top of an original foundation dating back to 1724. The nearby Old U.S. Mint, now the New Orleans Jazz Museum (400 Esplanade, 504/568-6968, closed Mon., $5), holds excellent collections tracing the history of two New Orleans institutions: jazz and Mardi Gras.

After dark, there’s live music aplenty in all styles and modes, but one stop you have to make is Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St., 504/522-2841, nightly 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10pm, $20), for the redolent ambience and the live traditional Dixieland jazz, still going strong after 50 years.

Where to Eat and Stay in New Orleans

New Orleans has some of the best and most enjoyable places to eat in the world, so plan to take the time to enjoy yourself here. In the French Quarter, the informal Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville St., 504/522-5973) is the place to go for the freshest bivalves, but it closes early by New Orleans standards—around 10pm on weeknights and 11pm on Friday and Saturday.

Another world-famous place that merits a meal or two is NOLA (534 St. Louis St., 504/522-6652), a comparatively casual setting for celebrated chef Emeril Lagasse’s finely crafted Creole fare.

For a taste of local character and Cajun comfort food, ride the St. Charles street car west to friendly Jacques-Imo’s Café (8324 Oak St., 504/861-0886).

No visit to New Orleans is complete without a stop for coffee and beignets (and some serious people-watching) at busy Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., 504/525-4544), open 24 hours (except on Christmas) on the river side of Jackson Square.

Except during Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, or Superdome football games, places to stay in New Orleans aren’t all that expensive. In the French Quarter, the characterful Olivier House (828 Toulouse St., 504/525-8456, $139 and up) is a quirky, family-run hotel filling a pair of French Quarter townhouses. In the Marigny neighborhood, the historic Hotel Peter & Paul (2317 Burgundy St., 504/356-5200, $119 and up) has a range of comfortable rooms in a restored church and rectory.

Hwy‑23: To the Gulf

From downtown New Orleans, if you really, really want to follow the Mississippi River all the way to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, you can. (Well, almost.) From the Superdome, take the US-90 bridge south across the river to Gretna, where you can join the Belle Chasse Highway (Hwy-23), which follows alongside the river for about 75 mi (121 km), ending up at Venice, still 12 mi (19.3 km) from the gulf, on the fringes of the Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Apart from swamps and giant freighters, the main sight along the route is old Fort Jackson, (8 mi (12.9 km) northeast of Venice. Built following the War of 1812 to help protect the river from invasion, Fort Jackson was flooded and badly damaged by the Hurricane Katrina storm surge.

Travel Map of the Great River Road through Louisiana

Map of the Great River Road through Louisiana.

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Great River Road Trip Planner: Six Highlights to Consider

This article may contain referral links. Read our DISCLOSURE

Are you looking for a Great River Road planner? This iconic American road trip can be driven in one fell swoop, or divided into multiple road trips to stretch out your travel pleasure.

Thanks to Betsy Wuebker, from Passing Thru , our readers have a Great River Road trip itinerary that helps begin sorting out the many things to do along the Great River Road. This amazing journey parallels the mighty Mississippi River, one of the longest rivers in North America , for the ultimate U.S. road trip journey.

Table of Contents

Great River Road trip planner for boomer travelers

The Great River Road is a 3,000 mile long National Scenic Byway and Federal Highway Administration All-American Road.

The road travels along the spine of the United States , from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota to the river’s delta and mouth in New Orleans. Its combination routes run along both sides of the river through ten different states.

You can download a Great River Road Trip Planner at this helpful site , which has extensive itineraries and a map of the Great River Road. The itineraries are based on a variety of interests, ranging from history, music and culture, and food, to mini-trips. If you’re interested in a shorter trip, click on the Great River Road map by individual state to pull up ideas and begin planning.

The best things to do on a Great River Road itinerary

a barge traveling down the Mississippi River with green trees on both banks as seen on a Great River Road Trip

On a recent Great River Road trip, my husband and I filled in the gaps and can now boast that we’ve traveled the famous road’s length from Minnesota to New Orleans! Consider these highlights when planning your own Great River Road trip.

While there are an extensive number of attractions, historic sites and points of interest along the Great River Road, in this article I will focus on half a dozen highlights along its length to pique your interest.

Great River Road Minnesota: The headwaters of the Mississippi

Rare is the person who can say they’ve walked across the great Mississippi River, but at its headwaters at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, you can do just that!

In Minnesota, Great River Road enthusiasts make their way to Lake Itasca with one specific purpose in mind: to slow-walk across the stepping stones that mark the origin of the USA’s mightiest waterway. This rite of passage is super popular with young and old alike, and as safe as you’ll get with only a few inches of water to fall into should you lose your balance.

Located within the 32,000 protected acres of Itasca State Park – Minnesota’s oldest, dating from 1891 – the headwaters are only one of many attractions for visitors to enjoy. The Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary dates from 1939, established to protect typical wilderness as it was before European settlement and logging changed the typical Great Lakes pine forest landscape.

If you’re not interested in camping at one of 200 sites, you can book a stay at the historic Douglas Lodge , rent a smaller cabin, or a ten-room house that will accommodate the entire family.

Great River Road Iowa: River bluff country

Dotted with 19 th century storybook towns, the Iowa Great River Road route often travels high above the water line.

History buffs will want to check out the Effigy Mounds National Monument , a sacred space comprised of 200 earthen mounds constructed in the late Woodland period (1400-750 BP) in the shapes of animals and spirits. This cultural phenomenon is unique to the region.

Visitors to Dubuque shouldn’t miss the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Mathias Ham Historical Site . Both properties are the result of visionaries from the Dubuque Historical Society, and affiliated with the Smithsonian. The Ham Historical Site is comprised of several vintage buildings, including the oldest building in Iowa, the Arriandeaux cabin.

Just north of the Missouri border, charming little Keokuk is home to the George M. Verity Riverboat Museum, dedicated to the 19 th century steamboat traffic that created an economic powerhouse.

Great River Road Missouri: Gateway to exploration

Wooden building with sign saying "Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum" in St Charles, MO.

Just north of St Louis and its famous Gateway Arch, the 18 th century community of St Charles is a must-see. This is the rendezvous point for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the explorers who set off from what was a bustling river town filled with the promise of a new America.

Boomer Travel Tip

Read more about the Lewis and Clark expedition in Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.

St. Charles was the original capital of Missouri, and boasts itself as the home of iconic frontiersman and patriot, Daniel Boone. Its historic Main Street is a modern-day shopping and dining mecca. Don’t miss Frenchtown, to Main Street’s north, home to a variety of creative artisans and antique collections.

The new Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Museum is a multi-dimensional presentation of the historic expedition, told via interactive exhibits, replica boats, re-enactments, and cultural activities. See the National Geographic film about the journey on site, and enjoy the nature trail and spectacular river views.

Great River Road Tennessee: Musical icons in memphis

Memphis, Tennesee is the civic gateway to two quintessentially American musical genres: blues and rock and roll. The musical epicenter of Memphis is Beale Street – a 2-mile stretch dating from 1841 traveling east of the Mississippi.

Beale Street became a musical destination in the early 1900s, when trumpeter W. C. Handy was recommended by Booker T. Washington as a teacher for the Memphis mayor’s local Knights of Pythias band. Handy went on to write classics such as “Beale Street Blues and “Memphis Blues.” Performers such as brothers B.B. King, Albert King, Louis Armstrong, and Muddy Waters played the street from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Memphis became the crossroads of blues and rock’nroll when a young performer named Elvis Presley recorded here with Sun Records in 1954. Don’t miss Graceland , the surprisingly modest mansion Tupelo-born Elvis built about halfway between downtown Memphis and the Mississippi state border.

Great River Road Mississippi: Blues and bayous

In Mississippi , the Great River Road melds Civil War and antebellum history with flavorful Delta Blues, a combination of experiences with something for just about everyone in the mix.

An orange sunset photo of a bridge at Natchez, MS that spans over the wide Mississippi River

Civil War era attractions and historical sites in Vicksburg and Natchez tell the story of pivotal battles and an era that would draw to a close. In Vicksburg, the National Military Park and the USS Cairo Museum and Gunboat are must-stops for an understanding of the city’s strategic importance and the catastrophic siege.

The French established Natchez in the 18 th century. Ceded to the British by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, it’s one of the oldest settlements in the Lower Mississippi region, and served as territorial and state capital until 1822. A principal location for agricultural exports, Natchez is home to a number of architecturally significant plantation mansions.

The Mississippi Blues Trail offers a network of marked, historical sites throughout the state that are important in the world of blues music. Sites range from musicians’ birthplaces to bayou and backwoods juke joints and dance halls.

In the Delta region, the trail will bring you to places frequented by musical greats such as Charley Parker, Robert Johnson, Ike Turner, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Sam Cooke. We downloaded a handy smartphone app to create our own itinerary and keep track of the sites we visited.

Use our road trip planner to make the most of your next road trip adventure.

Great River Road Louisiana: The Crescent City – New Orleans

Turquoise painted house surrounded by green trees in New Orleans, Louisiana

The culmination of our Great River Road trip was a stay in New Orleans ( read my tips for how to spend 2 days in New Orleans ). Here, the Mississippi River provides personality and acts as a hub for commerce and tourism. New Orleans and its sister Port of South Louisiana is the 4th largest port system in the United States.

The New Orleans Riverfront is a gathering place, featuring community events and festivals, as well as an annual 4 th of July fireworks display. Sculpture installations – Allesandrini’s “Monument to the Immigrant,” Schoen’s “Old Man River,” and the Holocaust Memorial – add important emphasis.

Riverfront streetcar and rail traffic happens along the French Quarter corridor, with pedestrian and cyclist friendly Crescent Park’s 20 acres linking the French Market district to the waterfront. Follow barge and shipping traffic along the dramatic riverbend where the French Quarter of the Crescent City is situated and gave it its name.

I hope these highlights of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway will tempt you into a plan. You can experience this crown jewel of American road trips in its 3000 mile entirety, or in smaller, regional doses, as my husband and I did. Either way, we’re sure you’ll agree that it’s an experience not to be missed!

Thanks to Betsy for some great tips. To continue your planning consider these suggestions for more things to do, where to stay and RV campgrounds along the Great River Road.

Need to update your road trip gear? Start with our recommendations for best road trip gear .

Add these fun things to do to your itinerary

  • Bald Eagle Bluff and the National Eagle Center in Minnesota are exceptional places to learn more about our national symbol.
  • St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien , Wisconsin celebrates the early settlement of the Upper Mississippi Valley with historic reenactments and a beautifully restored Victorian estate.
  • Hannibal, Missouri will delight you with its ghost tours, Mark Twain historical sites and riverboat cruises.
  • Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee is also a major waterfowl sanctuary. Birding enthusiasts and wildlife photography buffs will especially love this stop along the Great River Road.
  • Memphis Riverboat Cruises are the perfect way to experience the power of the Mississippi River. Learn more about the history, culture and wildlife of the Mississippi.
  • The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi gives visitors a big dose of the music that grew up along this mighty river.
  • LSU Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge is a fantastic place for families. This well-planned outdoor museum details life on a Louisiana plantation, complete with farm animals!
  • Vidalia, Louisiana will take your breath away with its river views, riverboats and charming southern hospitality.

Where to stay on a Great River Road trip

This itinerary takes you through Americana at its best. While national hotel chains are easy and convenient, this trip calls for the more authentic accommodations that you’ll find in historic hotels, inns or bed and breakfasts. Start your search here .

The best campgrounds for RV travelers

Here’s a quick guide to exceptional RV camping along the Great River Road:

  • Natural Gait Campground – McGregor, Iowa
  • Oak Haven Resort – Bemidji, Minnesota
  • Seven Eagles Resort and Campground – Savanna, Illinois
  • Riverview RV Park – Natchez, Mississippi
  • Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Park – West Memphis, Arkansas

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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road trip usa great river road


A guide to the great river road: america’s oldest scenic byway.

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Last updated 5 months ago

There’s a certain thrill that comes from driving along a road that has witnessed the passage of time, feeling its stories seep into your bones with every mile. And if there’s one road in America that embodies this sentiment, it’s the Great River Road.

Often referred to as America’s Oldest Scenic Byway, this stretch winds its way beside the mighty Mississippi River, spanning a whopping ten states. Starting in Minnesota and making its graceful descent all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, it’s been offering breathtaking views and a dive into American history since the 1930s.

Now, why does this byway resonate so deeply with me? As a kid, I remember our annual family road trips. My parents would pack up the car, ensure we had a mixtape of our favorite songs (yes, I said mixtape), and off we’d go, with the Great River Road as our loyal companion. Every twist and turn brought a new adventure, a new lesson, and often, a new friend.

Table of Contents

Why Drive the Great River Road?

Unparalleled beauty and sights, rich cultural heritage, amazing towns and attractions, preparing for your trip, essential items to bring along, best times of the year to travel, personal recommendations on must-have snacks and playlists, top destinations along the great river road, historical sites, natural wonders, quaint towns to stop by, tips and tricks for a smooth ride, driving tips specifically for this byway:, transitioning into some general advice:, concluding thoughts on the great river road, not just an assembly of asphalt and signs, connections i forged along the way.

Those formative years taught me that it wasn’t just a road; it was a ribbon tying together the heart of America. Through it, I felt connected to the land, the history, and the myriad of cultures that have shaped this nation. So, when I talk about the Great River Road, I’m not just recounting facts or spouting history. I’m sharing a piece of my soul, a fragment of my childhood, and a hint of the American dream.

Ah, the open road. The feeling of freedom, the promise of new experiences, and the lure of undiscovered gems. But among the myriad of scenic routes across America, what makes the Great River Road stand out?

Why should it be the next road you traverse? Let me break it down for you.

Firstly, the sheer visual spectacle of the Great River Road is mind-blowing. It’s not just about the majestic Mississippi River that faithfully accompanies you on this journey, it’s also the diverse landscapes you’ll come across. From the lush green bluffs of Minnesota, the staggering limestone cliffs, to the serene deltas of the South – every mile brings forth a fresh, awe-inspiring view.

And as the sun sets, casting a golden hue over the river, the world around seems to stop and admire the scene. Honestly, it’s like Mother Nature herself curated this route as her personal masterpiece.

Then there’s the deep, vibrant cultural tapestry that this byway introduces you to. As you traverse the route, you’ll encounter remnants of ancient civilizations, learn about the Native American groups that once thrived by the river, and witness the impact of European settlers.

Moreover, the Great River Road is a silent observer to critical moments in American history, from the Civil War battles to the Jazz Age’s birthplaces in New Orleans. Thus, driving this byway isn’t just a visual treat; it’s also an immersive lesson in American heritage.

And of course, we can’t forget the charming towns and attractions sprinkled along the way. Each town, with its unique flavor and history, invites you in for a closer look.

Whether it’s the bustling markets of La Crosse, the blues-infused streets of Memphis, or the picturesque riverfront of Natchez, every stop is an opportunity for a new story. Furthermore, attractions like the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum or the Vicksburg National Military Park serve as delightful detours that enrich the journey.

In essence, driving the Great River Road is more than just a road trip. It’s an adventure, a history lesson, and a celebration of America’s spirit and beauty, all rolled into one epic journey.

So, if you’re looking for a driving experience that stays with you long after the journey ends, you know where to head.

Also in United States

Tips for Planning Your Spring Break Road Trip

Embarking on a journey down the Great River Road is an adventure that requires a dash of planning and a sprinkle of spontaneity. After all, a memorable road trip is a blend of the sights you see, the people you meet, and the little conveniences that make the journey smooth.

So, before you hit the road, here’s a checklist to ensure you’re geared up for the ride.

  • Navigation Tools : While the digital age blesses us with GPS, having a physical map can be both nostalgic and handy in areas with spotty reception. Plus, there’s something uniquely satisfying about tracing your route with a marker.
  • Emergency Kit : Pack a basic kit with items like a flashlight, first aid supplies, jumper cables, and some essential tools. Safety first, always!
  • Chargers and Power Banks : Because let’s face it, our devices are our lifelines. Ensure you have chargers for all your devices, and a power bank wouldn’t hurt either.
  • Comfort Supplies : Think travel pillows, blankets, and perhaps a hammock for those impromptu stops by the river.

Spring and fall are arguably the best seasons to experience the Great River Road. In spring, nature awakens, painting the landscapes with vibrant colors, while the cooler temperatures in fall make for a comfortable drive, accompanied by a mesmerizing palette of autumn leaves. Additionally, these seasons tend to avoid the heavy tourist traffic of summer and the potential hazards of winter.

Snacking is an integral part of road tripping. My personal favorites include trail mix (for that sweet and salty fix), fresh fruit, and granola bars for a quick energy boost.

And for those with a sweet tooth? Don’t forget some classic American candy bars.

As for the tunes, it’s all about setting the mood. A mix of classic rock, country hits, and a sprinkle of jazz would be my go-to.

Think Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”, Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”, and some Louis Armstrong for when you approach New Orleans. And hey, don’t forget those sing-along anthems; they make the miles fly by.

In conclusion, prepping for a road trip on the Great River Road isn’t just about packing. It’s about anticipating the adventures, the moments, and the memories you’re about to create.

So, gear up, set the mood, and let the road guide you. Safe travels!

Navigating the Great River Road, you’ll quickly realize it’s not just a path but a storybook, where each page introduces you to tales from the past, the wonders of nature, and the simple joys of small-town life.

As you journey down this scenic byway, here are some chapters you mustn’t skim over.

  • Fort Snelling, Minnesota : This fort, built at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, played pivotal roles in American history, especially during the U.S. expansion and Dakota War of 1862. Standing within its walls, I could almost hear the whispers of soldiers and feel the weight of the stories it held.
  • Cahokia Mounds, Illinois : Once home to an ancient civilization, this site with its massive earthen mounds is a testament to the architectural and societal achievements of the Mississippians. The panoramic view from atop Monk’s Mound left me both humbled and awestruck by the accomplishments of our ancestors.
  • Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi : The siege of Vicksburg was a turning point in the Civil War. Walking the grounds, amid the cannons and monuments, I felt a profound respect for those who fought and an understanding of the sacrifice made on these hallowed grounds.
  • The Driftless Area : Stretching across parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois, this region escaped the flattening effects of glaciers. The result? Stunning hills, valleys, and bluffs. Meandering through this landscape, I felt a deep connection to the land, untouched by time.
  • Clarksdale, Mississippi : Not a natural wonder, per se, but a significant stop for its crossroads, where legend says Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for his unparalleled blues guitar skills. The eerie allure of this place gave me goosebumps and an appreciation for the roots of American music.
  • Grafton, Illinois : This riverside town, with its charming storefronts and eateries, has a rustic allure. I vividly recall trying their locally-made apple wine, which had the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, while engaging in heartwarming banter with the townsfolk.
  • Hannibal, Missouri : Yes, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. Walking its historic downtown, I felt transported to the pages of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The highlight? A homemade cherry pie from a local diner that tasted like a slice of American nostalgia.
  • Helena, Arkansas : A hidden gem with a rich blues history. My evening here was spent at a local juke joint, tapping my feet to authentic blues rhythms and enjoying a hearty Southern meal, served with a side of local stories and laughter.

Embarking on the Great River Road is like unearthing a treasure chest of experiences. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or just someone looking to relish the simpler joys of life, this journey has a chapter waiting just for you.

Miami Skyline

While the Great River Road offers some of the most scenic vistas and culturally rich stops, navigating its length isn’t always a Sunday drive. Like any epic adventure, a little prep and know-how can turn potential roadblocks into minor speed bumps.

So, buckle up and let’s dive into some tried-and-tested tips to make your journey as smooth as the river itself.

  • Respect the Road : Given its scenic nature, it’s tempting to get lost in the views. However, the road can have sudden turns and dips. Keep an eye on the road and take regular stops to safely soak in the sights.
  • Watch for Wildlife : Especially during dawn and dusk, the areas around the byway become active with wildlife. Always be on the lookout for deer or smaller creatures that might dart across the road.
  • Weather Watch : The byway spans various terrains and climates. Check local weather conditions, especially during winter months when some stretches can become icy or foggy.
  • Local Traffic Laws : As you’ll be crossing multiple states, stay informed about varying traffic regulations. Some states might have stricter cell phone usage laws or different speed limits.
  • Nighttime Caution : While the byway is safe, it’s best traveled during daylight hours. Not all stretches are well-lit, and the road’s beauty is best appreciated in the sunshine.
  • Rest Stops : Rest areas are sprinkled throughout the byway, but some of the best stops aren’t the official ones. Towns like Dubuque or Cape Girardeau offer not just a chance to stretch your legs but also some delightful local attractions.
  • Eat Local : Skip the fast-food chains and dine at local eateries. Not only will you get a taste of regional flavors, but you’ll also support small businesses. Plus, these spots are often the best for local advice and stories!
  • Stay Connected : While most of the route has decent cell coverage, some remote stretches might not. Consider downloading offline maps and informing someone about your itinerary.
  • Travel Companions : If you’re traveling with pets, ensure you have ample water and snacks for them, and check ahead for pet-friendly accommodations.
  • Seek Local Insights : Engage with locals. They often have the best tips on hidden gems, shortcuts, and must-visit spots that aren’t on typical tourist maps.

The Great River Road is more than just a byway; it’s an experience. With the right mix of caution, curiosity, and an appetite for adventure, you’re set for a journey that will weave memories for a lifetime. Safe travels, and may the road always rise to meet you!

As my tires came to a halt, marking the end of the Great River Road, I was overwhelmed with a concoction of feelings.

There was the inevitable sadness of concluding such a profound journey, yet a triumphant sense of fulfillment for having journeyed through the heart of America.

The Great River Road isn’t just an assembly of asphalt and signs; it’s a living tapestry of history, culture, and nature. With each mile I covered, I felt as if I was turning the pages of an expansive, intricate novel, getting to know its characters and tales more intimately.

From the silent stories told by the ancient mounds to the jovial tunes emanating from small-town diners, the road narrated tales of time, resilience, and the ever-evolving American spirit.

What touched me most deeply, beyond the landscapes and landmarks, were the connections I forged along the way.

Whether it was a brief chat with a cafe owner in a sleepy town or an evening shared with fellow travelers around a campfire, each interaction added layers to my experience, transforming a solo journey into a collective adventure.

If you’re reading this, teetering on the edge of decision, I have just one piece of advice: Take the drive. Don’t just do it for the Instagram moments or the travel tales but do it to discover a slice of America that’s raw, authentic, and deeply moving.

Let the Great River Road redefine road trips for you, as it did for me.

In this digital age, where experiences are often second-hand, filtered through screens and narratives of others, the Great River Road offers a genuine, unfiltered encounter.

It beckons you not just to observe but to immerse, engage, and reflect.

So, pack those bags, rev up that engine, and set forth. Let the Mississippi guide you, let the towns enchant you, and let the journey transform you.

The road is waiting, and in its vast stretch lies a promise – a promise of memories waiting to be created, tales waiting to be told, and a version of yourself waiting to be discovered. Safe travels, dear adventurer, and may your journey be as grand as the river itself.

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road trip usa great river road

A road trip along the Great River Road

Folktales, music, scenery, and food—the Mississippi River offers a perfect slice of the U.S.

  • Featured Trip Guides
  • Classic American road trips

Created by Roadtrippers - March 1st 2016

T he Mighty Mississippi is more than just a river. It runs right through the heart of the U.S., and a lot of what makes this country what it is grew from the quaint towns and bustling cities that have grown up along the river. From folktales and music to scenery and food, it’s a perfect slice of the U.S. The best way to discover the history and beauty of the Mississippi is by a road trip down the Great River Road.

Paul Bunyan's Animal Land

Bemidji, MN

According to folklore, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox are the ones responsible for creating the Mighty Mississippi. Paul Bunyan’s “official” birthplace is in Akeley, so stop by and pay your respects to the legendary giant. Then head over to Paul Bunyan's Animal Land in Bemidji, Minnesota.

1 Scenic State Park

The very beginning of the Mississippi River is at Itasca State Park, Minnesota's oldest state park. It contains over 32,000 acres and has more than 100 lakes. You could easily spend an entire afternoon here. From here, head 30 minutes to Bemidji and visit Lake Bemidji State Park, where you can enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, camping, biking, and more. After that, visit Scenic State Park and the National Eagle Center, where the little ones can interact with live eagles, learn through hands-on activities, and take a guided eagle viewing family field trip.

2 Judy Garland Birthplace

Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is a very picturesque vacation spot with lots of lakes and lush forests. Plus it’s Judy Garland's birthplace, and there's a really cute museum there that's full of Judy Garland memorabilia. After that, head to Crosby, a city that may only be home to a little over 2,000 people, but what it lacks in population, it makes up for in history and natural beauty.

Click to discover a great deal!

3 Paul Bunyan Land

Don't miss Paul Bunyan Land in Brainerd. It's home to an animated, massive, 26-foot-tall Paul Bunyan.

4 Kay's Kitchen

Since the Great River Road cuts through a big chunk of middle America, there’s just tons of awesome, diverse dining. Try the Bachelor Farmer for food that honors Minnesota’s Nordic heritage, or Kay's Kitchen in St. Joseph. This local favorite is a solid diner known for burgers, all-day breakfast, and tasty, homemade pies.

5 WA Frost & Company

There's also the historic WA Frost & Company in St. Paul, which is more upscale than Kay's, and good for unwinding in the evening with a glass of wine on their patio. Another classic over in Bena, MN is the Big Fish Supper Club and Resort, which has a killer ambiance, and there’s a massive fish in the restaurant, which has a very Minnesota-esque, Northern, rustic vibe.

The Covington Inn

When you're ready to call it a day, The Covington Inn in Maplewood, MN is a fantastic place to rest your weary head along the Great River Road. It's a floating bed and breakfast on a boat that's moored along the Mississippi river. The rocking of the restored 1946 towboat, just a mile and a half from St. Paul's downtown, will lull you to sleep.

7 Bogus Creek Cafe & Bakery

When you're hungry, head to the Front Street Cafe over in La Crosse, or go to the Great River Roadhouse in De Soto. The town of Stockholm, WI is an incredibly charming town to stop at along the route and the Bogus Creek Cafe & Bakery is absolutely worth a stop for their traditional Swedish donuts.

8 Perrot State Park

As you drive through Wisconsin, stop at the 1,270 acre Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, located in Wisconsin's "Driftless Area" where the Trempealeau and Mississippi rivers meet. Here you can get incredible views showcasing limestone bluffs and the river valleys below.

Grandad Bluff Park

La Crosse, WI

Grandad Bluff Park in La Crosse is another option for hiking and beautiful scenic overlooks. Plus, the town of La Crosse has a charm all its own.

10 Effigy Mounds National Monument

After hiking up Grandad Bluff for some seriously epic scenery, wander through the ancient and mysterious Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. The Effigy Mounds are a peaceful place to take a rest after a long day of driving. The Native American earthworks are located in one of the most picturesque sections of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

11 Pike's Peak State Park

Next stop: Hop the border into Bellevue, Iowa, home to Pike's Peak State Park, which offers fantastic Mississippi overlooks.

12 Gutenberg Haus B&B

From there head south to Trempealeau, Wisconsin, which is about an hour and twenty minutes away. While you’re in town you should stay at the Historic Trempealeau Hotel and Restaurant. Or, you can drive some more and check into the Holiday Shores Riverfront Motel in McGregor, Iowa, or the nearby Gutenberg Haus B&B, which can be your base for exploring Guttenberg, Iowa, and the iconic "Field of Dreams" movie filming location.

This 14-acre complex features hundreds of animals (including alligators), artifacts, and interactive exhibits about North America’s second-longest river.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

Dubuque, IA

Bellevue State Park

Bellevue, IA

If you choose to spend more time in Bellevue, make sure to stop by Bellevue State Park, which has one of the best scenic Mississippi River overlooks, situated atop a 250-foot limestone bluff. You'll be hard pressed to find a better view of the Upper Mississippi!

15 Blue Heron Eco-Cruises

If you want more than just a scenic overlook, try Blue Heron Eco-Cruises. This is a 26-passenger pontoon boat offering an up-close-and personal tour of the Mississippi River.

Pine Creek Grist Mill

Muscatine, IA

History buffs will want to step back in time with a visit to the Villa Louis Historic Site in Prairie du Chien. This was the home of one of the wealthiest families in Wisconsin's history. The Pine Creek Grist Mill in Muscatine, IA is a beautiful historic building in Wildcat Den State Park, that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

17 Big River State Forest

Down in Keithsburg, Illinois you'll find the historic Big River State Forest, a modest conservation area that was acquired way back in 1925 and has grown to encompass nearly 3,000 acres of lush woodland.

18 Warsaw Brewing

If you're still on a history kick, head to Warsaw Brewing. This brewery is a famous Warsaw, IL landmark. It was established in 1861 by Rudolph Giller, who took advantage of the great location along the booming river town. Unfortunately, it no longer brews beer, but it's a gorgeous old building that makes for a great photo op.

Mark Twain Cave

Hannibal, MO

You can’t travel down the Great River Road without visiting Mark Twain’s birthplace in Florida, MO. Twain wrote fondly about growing up along the river here. And nearby is another famous Mark Twain landmark, the Mark Twain Cave just outside Hannibal, MO. It's the oldest operating show cave in Missouri, and has been conducting tours since 1886, when people flocked to the caverns after reading about them in Twain's famous novel "Tom Sawyer".

Best time to road trip along the Great River Road: The Great River Road is really a wonderful road trip any time of year. During winter, you can see many of these charming towns blanketed in snow, and during the summer you can find plenty of swimming holes to take a dip in, but the consensus of road travelers is that fall is the perfect time to drive the Great River Road. The foliage along the route is particularly amazing from Minnesota all the way down through northern Mississippi. Plus, there's loads of festivals and farmers markets to stop at. In fact, the Mississippi River association has declared September to be "Drive the Great River Road Month"!


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The Great River Road National Scenic Byway Is The Most Affordable Way To Take In The Mighty Mississippi

road trip usa great river road

Trent Jonas

Trent Jonas came to Minnesota to attend college - and never left. He's a Twin Cities-based writer with a BA in English and a MFA in creative writing, a Minnesota Master Naturalist, and the proud father of two adult children. With more than a decade of freelance writing experience under his belt, Trent is often out exploring his favorite topics: Minnesota's woods, lakes, and trails. Rhubarb pie is his weakness, so discovering new diners is also a passion.

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A Mississippi River road trip is an awesome – and affordable – way to travel the breadth of the country. Follow the Great River Road National Scenic Byway from the Mississippi’s headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico to experience the mighty river’s influence on nature, history, and culture in the United States.

You can even use your mobile device to follow our itinerary for this magnificent Great River Road route.

Want to discover more USA road trips? You’ll love OnlyInYourState’s newest series, On The Road , which explores magnificent routes across America catered to nature lovers, foodies, budget travelers, adventurers, and more.

road trip usa great river road

1. Lake Itasca, Minnesota

2. minneapolis/st. paul, minnesota, 3. alma, wisconsin, 4. harpers ferry, iowa, 5. galena, illinois, 6. hannibal, missouri, 7. paducah, kentucky, 8. memphis, tennessee, 9. helena, arkansas, 10. natchez, mississippi, 11. new orleans, louisiana.

Your road trip along the Great River Road Byway will begin where the Mississippi River, itself, begins: Lake Itasca, Minnesota. You’ll find Lake Itasca in the aptly named Itasca State Park in the northern portion of the state.

Boy climbs, plays and crosses the rocks that mark the spot where the Mississippi River beings in Itasca State Park in Northern Minnesota.

From its headwaters, your Mississippi River road trip will take you a little over 200 miles south and east to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul . It’s the largest metropolitan area on the Mississippi, and it’s a superb spot to learn a little more about the river and the road you’re taking.

Entrance to Science Museum. St Paul Minnesota USA

From Prescott, you’ll remain on the Wisconsin side of the river and wend your way down, along Lake Pepin – a large natural lake caused by sediment flowing into the Mississippi from the Chippewa River – to the riverfront town of Alma. Alluring Alma is an arty enclave that makes for a perfect pit stop.

road trip usa great river road

Just beyond Fountain City, you’ll cross the river back into Minnesota and follow the Great River Road Byway south into Iowa. Make the small town of Harpers Ferry your next stop.

Shallow mounds marking historic Native American burial mounds at Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa. A small national park installation showcasing prehistoric native burial mounds near Harpers Ferry Iowa.

Just north of Pikes Peak State Park, you’ll cross from Marquette, Iowa to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. From there, you’ll continue south to the disarmingly charming town of Galena, Illinois .

road trip usa great river road

From Galena, you’ll zig-zag across the river a few more times before arriving in Hannibal, Missouri.

Hannibal Missouri Marion County Photo taken on November 6, 2019 Great River Road Series A view of Broadway street from Main looking west at dusk with a beautiful sunset on the horizon.

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Hannibal Missouri Marion County Photo taken on November 6, 2019 Great River Road Series Climbing 244 steps to the top of Cardiff Hill one has a fantastic view of downtown Hannibal Missouri with a glimpse of the Mississippi River on the left just above the white structure at the corner. Looking south on Main Street the trees that line the path are in prime autumn foliage condition with multicolored leaves decorating the street.

Your next stop will be the charming city of Paducah, Kentucky , which is located just east of the Great River Road on the Ohio River.

Overlooking the Paducah Kentucky Riverfront of the Ohio River

After leaving Kentucky, you’ll continue downriver to Memphis , the legendary hub for barbecue and the Delta blues, home to Elvis Presley, and a key site in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

Memphis Tennessee TN Downtown Drone Skyline Aerial.

The quintessentially Southern town of Helena, Arkansas is the next stop on your journey down the Great River Road Byway.

road trip usa great river road

The city of Natchez, Mississippi is the next destination on your great heart of the USA road trip along its most important river artery.

road trip usa great river road

The last official stop on the Great River Road Byway is the Big Easy – New Orleans, Louisiana .

The city skyline of New Orleans, Louisiana, and surrounding metropolitan area along the banks of the Mississippi River shot from an altitude of about 1000 feet during a helicopter photo flight.

Congratulations! You’ve now traveled the breadth of the country on this Great River Road route, and you’ve seen amazing places and done amazing things. What will your next incredible USA road trip be ?

  • Here Are 17 Iconic, Scenic Road Trips To Experience In The United States

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More to Explore

The great river road scenic byway.

How long is Great River Road? The Great River Road route follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles. It passes through ten states starting in Itasca State Park in Minnesota and ending at the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans.

What are some iconic places along Great River Road? With 3,000 miles of road from Northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, a Great River Road road trip will take you past some pretty special places. Here are a few iconic places along Great River Road:

  • Frontenac State Park , Red Wing, MN : There is a natural stone arch in Frontenac State Park named In-Yan-Teopa. It is a Dakota Indian phrase meaning "rock with opening" - which is a spot-on name for this cool rock formation. To get to the arch, take Bluffside Trail with gorgeous views of the Mississippi River about 400 feet below.
  • Fulton Windmill , Fulton IL : Another stop along the Great River Road is the charming town of Fulton. With a rich Dutch heritage it is no surprise that they have an authentic windmill constructed in the Netherlands and brought here to the US. If you are a windmill aficionado you'll enjoy the museum dedicated to this beautifully crafted Dutch windmill.
  • Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center , Tunica, MS : You can't travel through the state of Mississippi along the Mississippi River without stopping in Tunica for a little blues music celebration. You could even take a side journey along the Blues Highway 61. Stop at this cool little museum to learn how the Blues were born in the Mississippi Delta and even record your own blues song!

All these places make for a great road trip destination all on their own. The next time you plan a road trip, enjoy the luxury of a spacious RV without a huge upfront cost by renting one from RVShare .

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road trip usa great river road

13 Road Trips To Take In The USA That Are Bucket-List Worthy

  • Stunning coastal views and charming towns make the Pacific Coast Highway a bucket-list-worthy road trip in California. (100 characters)
  • Route 66 is perfect for history buffs, connecting small towns and offering iconic landmarks along the way. (102 characters)
  • The Great River Road, spanning 10 states, provides a scenic route along the Mississippi River for an ultimate bucket list road trip. (129 characters)

There's something inherently alluring about the open road. The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the freedom to explore new destinations and experiences. From adventures on the rugged coastline of the Pacific Northwest to the stunning vistas of the Southwest, the United States is home to some of the most iconic and breathtaking road trip routes in the world. This article lists some of the best bucket-list-worthy road trips to take in the USA for a memorable adventure. So, grab those keys, buckle up, and get ready for an experience of a lifetime on one of America's most scenic roads .

UPDATE: 2023/12/07 11:27 EST BY AARON SPRAY

Even More Great Road Trips To Take In The United States

The United States is famous for being one of the best places for road tripping. There are plenty of potential road trips to take all through the United States (and not only in the Lower 48). This list was expanded to include even more excellent road trip ideas to explore the nation.

Related: 10 Of The Most Scenic Byways In The U.S. (Perfect For A Road Trip)

Pacific Coast Highway, California

Staggering sheer drops and coastal views are what make this pacific coast adventure stand out.

The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most famous road trips in the US , stretching along the California coastline between Orange County and Mendocino County, covering a distance of approximately 655 miles. The highway is considered one of the most beautiful roads in the world, offering breathtaking ocean views with stunning beaches, rugged cliffs, and charming coastal towns.

Some of the must-see spots along the Pacific Coast Highway include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Bixby Bridge, the Hearst Castle, the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Pfeiffer Beach, and McWay Falls. The drive also takes you through the spectacular Big Sur region, overlooking the coastline and the Santa Lucia Mountains.

  • Length: 655 miles
  • When To Go: September through October
  • Bucket List Stop: Pfeiffer Beach to see the falls

Route 66, Illinois to California

Perfect for history buffs, route 66 tells stories of america's midwestern glory days.

Stretching from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica in California, covering a distance of approximately 2,448 miles, Route 66 is one of the most iconic highways in the US and offers plenty of places to visit along the way. The highway is a popular route for travelers, as it connects many small towns and rural areas in the Midwest and the Southwest.

Some of the must-see attractions and landmarks along the highway include the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri; the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; and the Santa Monica Pier in California.

  • Length: 2,448 miles
  • When To Go: May and September
  • Bucket List Stop: Blue Whale of Catoosa to add a quirky, famed landmark to the trip

Great River Road, Mississippi River

This route covers 10 states in total, making it an ultimate bucket list road trip.

The Great River Road is a national scenic byway that follows the course of the Mississippi River from its headwaters in northern Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. The road passes through 10 states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, and Louisiana, covering a distance of approximately 3,000 miles.

Some of the highlights of the Great River Road include the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri; the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi; and the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. The road also passes through several national and state parks, such as Itasca State Park, Effigy Mounds National Monument, and Natchez Trace State Park.

  • Length: 3,000 miles
  • When To Go: During the fall months , September through November
  • Bucket List Stop: The French Quarter in New Orleans for an authentic Crescent City experience

Related: 10 Bucket List Road Trips To Take In The US This Fall

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Known for being the most scenic mountain road in the south, the blue ridge scenery is unparalleled.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive, spanning 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains, connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The road is among the best road trips US states have to offer, especially due to the fact it provides breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, rolling hills, valleys, and various opportunities for hiking, biking, picnicking, and wildlife watching.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most popular scenic drives, offering visitors a variety of attractions, including overlooks with panoramic views, hiking trails, picnic areas, and historic sites. Some of the most popular stops along the parkway include the Peaks of Otter, Linville Falls, Craggy Gardens, and the Linn Cove Viaduct.

  • Length: 469 miles
  • When To Go: Mid-May through Mid-September
  • Bucket List Stop: Shenandoah National Park to take in the beauty of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains

Discover the best stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway when planning a road trip adventure along this road.

Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

Seven mile bridge connects travelers to bahia honda state park, making it perfect for nature lovers.

The Overseas Highway is a 113-mile scenic road that connects mainland Florida with the Florida Keys , a chain of islands stretching southward into the Gulf of Mexico. The highway, which is easily among the best road trips in the US in terms of ocean scenery, offers stunning views of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean - thereby also providing opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and wildlife watching en route.

Some of the highlights of the Overseas Highway include the Seven Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda State Park, and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, which features hundreds of colorful butterflies and exotic birds. Other popular stops along the highway include the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, the Dolphin Research Center, and the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, home to the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

  • Length: 113 miles
  • When To Go: Between January and April
  • Bucket List Stop: Bahia Honda State Park to appreciate the untouched beauty of this Florida Keys landscape, and any spring season festivals

The Pacific Northwest

In stark contrast to other pacific roads, the northwest scenic byway offers dense woods, mountain views, and scenic waterways.

The Pacific Northwest Scenic Byway, also known as the Cascade Loop, is another one of the most beautiful road trips in the US. It's a 440-mile scenic route that winds through the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, offering stunning views of snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers, and lush forests, allowing travelers to enjoy various outdoor recreation and cultural exploration along the way.

The Scenic Byway is dotted with charming mountain towns such as Leavenworth, and Winthrop, offering a Wild West vibe with wooden sidewalks and historic buildings. Other highlights of the Pacific Northwest Scenic Byway include North Cascades National Park, Lake Chelan, Methow Valley, and the Columbia River Gorge, a stunning river canyon, a popular spot for hiking, rock climbing, and waterfall viewing.

  • Length: 440 miles
  • When To Go: During the spring or summer months
  • Bucket List Stop: North Casades National park, where travelers can cross off bucket list hikes, wildflower viewing, and scenic waterfalls off their list

Related: A Road Trip To Remember: The 10 Most Scenic Drives For Your Spring Vacation In The U.S.

The Grand Circle, Southwest USA

This route takes travelers through scenic rocky canyons between utah, arizona, new mexico, colorado, and nevada.

The Grand Circle is a scenic route that takes visitors through some of the most iconic national parks and monuments in the American Southwest. The route includes the states of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, stretching over 1,400 miles of stunning desert landscapes, ancient ruins, and geological wonders.

The Grand Circle route typically starts and ends in Las Vegas, Nevada, passing through iconic national parks like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands, known for their towering red rock formations, stunning canyons, and unique geological features. Other highlights of the Grand Circle route include Monument Valley, Mesa Verde National Park, and the Hoover Dam.

  • Length: 1,400 miles
  • When To Go: April to May, or September to early November
  • Bucket List Stop: Monument Valley to explore hoodoos and other unique geological formations

The Great Lakes Circle Tour

Perfect for small town lovers and scenic lakeside views, this route promises all the beauty of the great lakes.

The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a scenic road trip taking visitors around the five Great Lakes. The route is approximately 6,500 miles long and passes through eight US states and the Canadian province of Ontario, allowing travelers to enjoy a variety of landscapes, from urban areas to small towns and rural countryside.

Along the way, visitors can explore national parks like Isle Royale, Pictured Rocks, and Niagara Falls, with various historic lighthouses, beaches, and scenic overlooks. One of the highlights of the tour is the Great Lakes Seaway Trail and the St. Lawrence River, offering stunning views of the Thousand Islands, known for its charming waterfront towns.

  • Length: 6,500 miles
  • When To Go: During the summer months , between June and August
  • Bucket List Stop: Niagara Falls for those who have never been, or Pictured Rocks for those who have

The Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota

Early america can be seen on this route, in the form of several landmarks and even a former midwest mining town.

The Black Hills and Badlands route is a scenic driving route passing through some of the most iconic natural landmarks in South Dakota. The route covers approximately 150 miles, taking visitors through a variety of landscapes, including the rugged badlands, towering granite peaks, and pristine forests, including several iconic attractions, such as Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park.

Some other notable stops along the route include Custer State Park, Deadwood gold-mining town, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, which celebrates the history and culture of motorcycle enthusiasts.

  • Length: 150 miles
  • Bucket List Stop: Badlands National park to witness some of the most famous landmarks in American history

Related: Hit The Road: 10 Unforgettable Adventures Await With These U.S. Road Trip Ideas

The Texas Hill Country

Small towns and country that span for miles exude the true charm of the texas hill country route, offering the best views in the state.

The Texas Hill Country route offers picturesque views of beautiful rolling hills and charming small towns of central Texas. The route is approximately 200 miles long, extending between Austin and San Antonio. The region is known for its stunning landscapes, historic sites, and unique cultural attractions. The road through Texas Hill Country takes visitors through several scenic small towns, such as Fredericksburg, Gruene, and Luckenbach. These are some of the best towns in the Texas Hill Country , each particularly known for its charming shops, restaurants, and live music venues.

One of the highlights of the route is the scenic drive along the winding roads of the Hill Country. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of the landscape from the many lookout points and scenic overlooks along the way.

  • Length: 200 miles
  • When To Go: During the months of April, May, and October
  • Bucket List Stop: Fredericksburg, which is a bucket list destination for small town lovers

The Dalton Highway, Alaska

With this route being the only one that crosses the arctic circle, the dalton highway is the definition of "bucket list".

The Dalton Highway is the northernmost highway in the United States and the only road trip in this list that crosses the Arctic Circle. The Dalton Highway is an all-weather road but also incredibly remote and one that requires extensive planning (be prepared for breaking down in the remote Alaskan wilderness).

The Dalton Highway runs from Fairbanks (the main city in Interior Alaska) and ends at Deadhorse in Prudhoe Bay (near the Arctic Ocean).

  • Length: 414 miles
  • When To Go: June to mid-July , when the highway is usually dry
  • Bucket List Stop: Finger Mountain Wayside, which also has an interpretive half-mile hiking trail for those seeking more scenic overlooks

Hawaii Big Island Circuit Drive

While hawaii might seem out of the way, the big island circuit drive is worth the flight to see active volcanoes and stunning coastal landscape views.

The Big Island of Hawaii is by far the largest island in the Hawaiian Island Chain and is home to some of the world's most active volcanoes and some of the most stunning landscapes. One of the epic drives to consider is to drive around the Big Island. The two main roads on the Big Island are Highways 11 and 19 and taken together they create one big loop around the whole island.

  • Length: 300 miles
  • When To Go: During the months of April, May, August, September, and October
  • Bucket List Stop: Pepe'ekeo Scenic Drive is at the start of Highway 19, just north of Hilo

Seattle To Fairbanks North American Drive

It wouldn't be a bucket list trip if it didn't have a unique route, and the drive from seattle to washington and fairbanks, alaska, also brings travelers through canada.

This suggested road trip from Seattle in Washington to Fairbanks in Alaska is the only American road trip to also pass through Canada. This is a mammoth 2,150-mile road trip passing through some of the remotest landscapes of North America (including British Columbia and the Yukon Territory). Alternatively, to keep it an all-American 'road trip', consider taking the Alaska Marine Highway - a ferry network that is part of the American highway system that bypasses Canada.

  • Length: 2,150 miles
  • When To Go: During summer months, preferably early June and July
  • Bucket List Stop: While Fairbanks is the ultimate bucket list stop, saving some time to explore Canada can also add a unique aspect to this road trip

13 Road Trips To Take In The USA That Are Bucket-List Worthy

California State Route 190 in Death Valley National Park.

10 Best Road Trips in the United States

Across the United States of America, roads and highways crisscross the country, tying and connecting people and places featuring some of the most beautiful landscapes and natural wonders. Some of the best examples include the sunny Pacific Coast Highway and the legendary Route 66, part of a big web of roads running through cities, towns, and all the natural wonders in between. These roads and highways are more than about getting from place to place; they are part of the destination and experience in and of themselves. They are also a reflection of what makes America such a special place! So, let us dive in and explore some of the best road trips in the United States.

The Road to Hana

Road to Hana, Hawaii

Set off from Kahului on Hawaii , cruise toward Hana along Maui's east coast, and there you have it: the winding Hana Highway. As you zip along a road, it is not a super long journey, but it is like going on a mini adventure with all its sharp turns and narrow bridges. This path is famous for how it zigzags, with many twists and curves, and all its one-way bridges. There is definitely some skill involved with this drive! The best part is driving through the lush green forests with waterfalls popping up here and there as you go, including the famous Twin Falls and Wailua Falls.

These spots are great for taking photos and sometimes even going for a swim. Near the end of your trip, make sure to check out Ohe’o Gulch. The stop is intensely pretty, with sights of pools and waterfalls tumbling right into the Pacific Ocean .

Grand Teton, Yellowstone, & Glacier National Parks Road Trip

Road from Yellowstone National Park to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA

How does 900 miles through some of the nicest mountain valleys in the country sound? Well, this trip weaves through America’s stunning national parks. You can see wildlife as there are many spots to get out for hikes and, of course, some of the region’s famous geysers. The dramatic Teton Mountain Range, with its jagged peaks, lay on one end, while the countless lakes and mountains of Glacier Mountain Park lie on the other. This road trip is truly breathtaking.

Right between those two points lies Yellowstone, famed for the iconic Old Faithful Geyser , the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring , and numerous other geysers and hot springs. This does not even include the bison, elk, and wolves that roam inside its borders! The best time to tackle this trip is between the end of June and the start of September when most roads and services are available.

Street scene with classic car in front of souvenir shops in Williams, one of the cities on the famous Route 66

Is there a road in the U.S. as well-known as Route 66? It has appeared in songs and films and is deeply woven into what it means to be American. The road has a deeper meaning, too, standing for freedom, new chances, and the thrill of exploring. Running from Chicago to Santa Monica , the road was a key path for folks heading west in the 1930s, searching for a brighter future. Altogether, Route 66 is just under 2500 miles, going through natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest National Park. It also goes past towns like Tulsa, St. Louis, and many others. So, if you want to see the outdoors or take in some of the sights of a city, Route 66 truly has it all!

Olympic Peninsula Loop

Seven Lakes Basin on the High Divide loop, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, USA.

Olympic Peninsula Loop circles through the state of Washington , passing through rainforests, past glaciers, and beside beaches. You have found your match if you want a road where you can stop to explore the outdoors. At just over 300 miles, it is not as long as some trips on this list. It is the kind of road where you can take it slowly, stopping at landmarks as you circle the loop. Look out for places like Mount Ellinor, known for its easy-to-reach peak, and Lena Lake, perfect for day trips beside clear, blue waters. Looking for a chill day out? Swing by Port Townsend. It has vintage Victorian-style buildings and a laid-back city center that is perfectly inviting.

The Great River Road

The Great River Bridge over the Mississippi in Burlington, Iowa.

This is no ordinary drive. This long, winding passage goes through 10 states, following the twists and turns of the Mississippi River . Altogether the drive spans over 2000 miles, through peaks, valleys, towns, and cities. When you are driving through this many states, it is more than just a drive. It is a lesson in the cultural essence of America. Some people will put aside weeks to tackle the entire length. Get lost easily? You will know you are on the right road by the green and white pilot’s wheel logo, making it simple for travelers to follow the route. Some of the best places to see along the way include the Itasca State Park in Minnesota or the cultural treasure of the French Quarter down in New Orleans .

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Evening view of Going to the Sun Road, Montana

Quality, not quality. That is the simple rule of this trip, found in Montana's Glacier National Park. This trip is only 50 miles long but full of great scenery, like spring-time wildflowers, icy lakes, and top-notch mountain scenery. Passing through Logan Pass over the Continental Divide opens up an array of the park's diverse ecosystems. Some of the best spots to look for include Avalanche Creek, a beautiful spot featuring the Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Lake trailhead. The Weeping Wall is also a section of the road where water cascades down from the garden wall, often drenching cars in the early summer.

Pacific Coast Highway

Santa Monica gulf and mountains over renewed Pacific Highway descent.

The Pacific Coast Highway is an iconic way to see some of the best views available on the California coast. It has everything you would look for in a drive by the ocean. Also known as Highway 1, the drive is one of the most famous routes around the world. It covers just over 600 miles, passing cliffsides, thick forests, and the Pacific Ocean by your side. You can take this journey slow, with countless places to stop and explore, making for an amazing long adventure, or you can visit different towns one after another for a quick hop. Must-see spot choices include Carmel-by-the-Sea , the dramatic cliffs of Big Sur, Santa Monica, and even the Golden Gate Bridge .

Blue Ridge Parkway

Aerial view of Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina at sunset.

This path is called "America's Favorite Drive" and cuts through the Appalachian Highlands. Its name means it passes through rolling mountains topped with lush forests. The best time to see it is in fall when the foliage turns all sorts of vibrant colors. The road links Virginia with North Carolina , providing a one-of-a-kind journey through the natural wonders and cultural history of the American South. Speed demons beware: the National Park Service looks after the road and is made for relaxed driving, and the speed limit usually does not exceed 45 mph. This way, travelers can go at a nice, slow pace and really soak in the surroundings.

Las Vegas to San Diego

California State Route 190 in Death Valley National Park

This path goes from a cool, breezy beach to a hot, dry desert. It mixes the fun energy of Las Vegas with the relaxed beach vibe of San Diego . It's the kind of drive that's great for the person who wants to explore all sorts of fun. It is that interesting combination of cities and nature that makes it so unique! The quality and variety of biomes you can see are unbeatable, such as the Cleveland National Forest or the Mojave Desert. The best time to head out on this trip is during the fall, winter, or spring as summer can be a tad hot. You should definitely check out places like Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Death Valley National Park while driving past.

Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway

Mount Rushmore National Memorial though the Doane Robinson Tunnel on Iron MountaIn Road part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic National Byway

This byway stretches over 70 miles and showcases the beautiful Black Hills in South Dakota. People love it for its views, with its rugged rock shapes, pine woods, and lots of animals to see as you drive by. But it can be more than just pretty sights; many say there is something special and spiritual about this place, almost like it touches your soul, making the Black Hills truly one-of-a-kind.

The drive is short but filled with iconic places. Custer State Park and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial are the two endpoints, with stops like the ongoing Crazy Horse Memorial construction on the way. One of the most popular segments of the drive is Iron Mountain Road, which forms a portion of the byway. It offers stunning views and unique features like its famous pigtail bridges and tunnels.

Driving through the United States, there is something new to see or experience on every new road. From Maui's rainforests to the famous Route 66, these trips let us deeply experience what makes this country's nature and culture special. Whether looking at the views on the Blue Ridge Parkway or experiencing the wild beauty of the Olympic Peninsula, the drive is all about exploring and finding new things, showing us why traveling by road is so appealing. So jump into the car, grab a map and just drive.

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23 Incredible Road Trips in the U.S.

Whether you’re looking for sweeping views of the pacific ocean or a multiday adventure through national parks, these road trips provide plenty of opportunities to explore the united states..

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A highway leading toward mountains

Glacier National Park is one of many scenic places you can visit on an American road trip.

Photo by Zack Frank / Shutterstock

In a country as large as the United States, there’s no shortage of destinations and detours to explore by car . Whether your idea of the perfect American road trip entails an epic, cross-country journey or a shorter jaunt through a few of its most iconic national parks , your options are as large and varied as the country itself.

Even if you don’t have the time to drive cross-country, there are plenty of road trip routes (ranging from three days to a week or longer): classic California itineraries , New England routes that shine especially well in the fall, scenic East Coast adventures, and a variety of Midwest journeys for folks farther from the coasts.

No matter your mode of transportation—be it van, RV, motorcycle, or four-door sedan—these are 21 of the best road trips in the nation to consider.

Put a New Twist on Route 66—Make It an American Whiskey Road Trip

Plan your next Route 66 trip around thirst-quenching stops.

Photo by Peek Creative Collective/Shutterstock

There are many ways to do a cross-country road trip in the USA, but these two itineraries will take you through some truly iconic American places.

1. Chicago to Los Angeles: A Whiskey Road Trip on Route 66

It doesn’t get more American than a 2,000-mile drive along the entirety of Route 66. There are endless ways to take this legendary trip (including an EV version —but to take your cross-country road trip to the next level, we recommend exploring another American pastime: whiskey.

Starting in Chicago and ending in L.A., you’ll stop by some of the leading craft distilleries in the United States, like Few Spirits in Chicago, Still 630 in St. Louis, and Red Fork Distillery in Tulsa. In between tastings, make time for detours to natural attractions, like the Grand Canyon, and quirky roadside curiosities, like Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Just remember to drink responsibly—this is a road trip after all.

Plan your trip

The full itinerary: Put a New Twist on Route 66—Make It an American Whiskey Road Trip

People biking on a busy street

No cars are allowed on Mackinac Island, so you need to park before taking the ferry to this spot.

Photo from Shutterstock

2. Bangor, Maine, to Seattle, Washington: The Great Northern on U.S. Route 2

Covering both the U.S. and Canada, a cross-country trip along U.S. 2 is ideal for anyone who wants to experience the vast diversity and expansiveness of North America. This drive runs the entire top border of the U.S. and showcases otherworldly natural wonders like Acadia National Park in Maine, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, and Mackinac Island in Michigan. The route also passes through Canada, taking road-trippers through Ontario into Quebec—this route may focus on nature, but you won’t want to miss a stop in Montreal or Ottawa.

You’ll also get to explore Montana and Glacier National Park ( reservations may be required ) before passing the Columbia Plateau and ending in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city, Seattle. Don’t miss spending time in the Olympic Peninsula (home to Olympic National Park) for a peek at one of the most scenic places on the West Coast.

3. Dana Point to San Francisco: Driving California’s Pacific Coast Highway

The seemingly endless views of the Pacific Ocean along Highway 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway) are what road trip dreams are made of, and exactly what makes this California road trip so popular. However, with so many stops along the 655-mile stretch, we pulled together a list of the ones well worth pulling over to view. Don’t miss the perfect surfing waves in Santa Cruz, seasonal cuisine in Malibu, an afternoon a the boardwalk in Santa Monica, or a night in Big Sur as you drive between Dana Point (just south of Los Angeles) and San Francisco.

  • The full itinerary: The Best Stops for a Road Trip on the Pacific Coast Highway
  • The AFAR Guide to San Francisco

Wooden pier with shops on top juts out into the ocean

The seaside town of Monterey was the setting for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row .

Photo by Denise Lett/Shutterstock

4. Big Sur to Mono County: A Literary Road Trip Through Northern California

Yes, this itinerary requires you actually put down your book to drive, but seeing some of the pivotal places that shaped American authors will be so worth it. Follow in the footsteps of writers like Jack Kerouac, Maya Angelou, and Amy Tan on this road trip that takes you through literary landmarks in Northern California, such as Caffe Trieste, a meeting place for Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, and other bohemian writers and thinkers. This 12-stop itinerary is perfect if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area because you’ll be able to stay make these trips in one or two days.

The full itinerary: The California Road Trip All Book Lovers Should Take

Wide shot of a red canyon with a river running through it

Arizona may take its nickname from the Grand Canyon, but the state has far more natural wonders than just that one.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

5. Phoenix to the Grand Canyon: An Iconic Arizona Road Trip

This 240-mile Arizona road trip takes travelers along some of the state’s most iconic highlights, including its most famous one, the Grand Canyon. A great itinerary for first-time visitors and returning travelers alike, it offers plenty of opportunities for scenic drives, hiking, and biking—as well as tasty food along the way. Hike the 2,704-foot-tall Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale or take in the beautiful red rocks of Sedona on a hike to Cathedral Rock while exploring the Grand Canyon State.

  • The full itinerary: The Classic 5-Day Arizona Road Trip
  • Grand Canyon guide: The First-Timer’s Guide to the Grand Canyon
  • Where to eat in Phoenix: A Chef’s Guide to the Best Restaurants
  • Where to stay: The Best Hotels in Arizona ; The Best Airbnbs in Sedona

The Delicate Arch living up to its name in Utah's Arches National Park

The Delicate Arch living up to its name in Utah’s Arches National Park

Photo by tusharkoley / Shutterstock

6. Zion to Grand Canyon: A National Parks Road Trip in the Southwest

If you’re looking to visit as many national parks as possible in one road trip, this southwestern itinerary is for you. This journey through Utah and Arizona lets you hike Angel’s Landing in Zion, feel tiny under Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, explore Fairyland Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon, and, of course, raft down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Most visitors to the Grand Canyon remain on the rim, but take at least four days to venture within the canyon and take advantage of the trails and river rafting.

  • The full itinerary: The Ideal Road Trip Through U.S. National Parks
  • Utah’s 8 Best National Parks and Monuments
  • 10 Best National Parks and Monuments in Arizona
  • The First-Timer’s Guide to the Grand Canyon

Couple sitting in front of a curving road

Stop and admire the winding roads of the San Juan Skyway.

Photo by Anh Luu/Shutterstock

7. San Juan Scenic Skyway Road Trip: An Adventure Through Southwestern Colorado

This Colorado trip takes you along the 232-mile loop of the San Juan Scenic Skyway, where you will see plenty of alpine forests, mining towns, and craggy peaks. And for anyone looking to enjoy refreshments after a long day of driving, this route features many opportunities to stop at some of the best breweries in Colorado , such as Ska Brewing Co. in Durango.

  • The full itinerary: The Ultimate Southwestern Colorado Road Trip
  • Five Classic Colorado Road Trips To Take This Year

In small-town Buena Vista, the riverfront Surf Hotel offers front-row seats to Colorado-style adventure seekers.

In small-town Buena Vista, the riverfront Surf Hotel offers front-row seats to Colorado-style adventure seekers.

Courtesy of the Surf Hotel

8. Denver to Montrose: A 420-Mile Road Trip Through Colorado

Want to explore even more of the Centennial State? Head out on this weeklong road trip where you can fish for salmon in Colorado’s largest reservoir, visit numerous small towns, like Paonia and Crawford, with thriving art scenes along the Colorado Creative Corridor , and explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, one of the least visited national parks in the nation.

  • The full itinerary: Art Stars, High-Altitude Wines, and a Remote National Park: The Ultimate Colorado Road Trip
  • Where to stay: The Best Hotels in Colorado
  • The AFAR Guide to Denver

Woman walking by a mural of a river and bridge

Portland may be Oregon’s largest city, but with a population of some 652,000 (or 2.5 million in the larger metropolitan area), it isn’t intimidatingly large.

Photo courtesy of Travel Portland

9. Portland to Astoria: An Oregon Coast Road Trip for Outdoor Lovers

If you love the outdoors, then this six-day road trip along the coast of Oregon is for you. After driving to Coos Bay from Portland, travelers will meander along Oregon’s dramatic, rocky coastline, discovering some quintessentially Pacific Northwest vistas along the way: evergreen forests, seaside dunes, and marine ecosystems. Between stops, there are ample opportunities to stretch your legs hiking, kayaking, or strolling around the region’s small towns—like the historic old town in Florence.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Oregon road trip without a stop (or three) at a craft brewery, such as Fort George Brewery in Astoria, or cozy coffee shop, like Bread & Roses in Yachats.

  • The full itinerary: An Outdoor Lover’s Road Trip on the Oregon Coast
  • The AFAR Guide to Portland

The State Capitol Building in Nashville marks the end of this road (trip).

The State Capitol Building in Nashville marks the end of this road (trip).

Photo by / Shutterstock

10. Seneca Falls, New York, to Nashville, Tennessee: Follow the Path of the Women’s Suffrage Movement

Starting in New York’s Finger Lakes region and ending at the State Capitol Building in Nashville, this road trip traces the route of the national women’s suffrage movement. Highlights include stops at the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House ; Union Square in New York City, which was the site of the first suffrage march; and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.

  • The full itinerary: Celebrate Women’s Suffrage on an Epic, Self-Guided Road Trip
  • Where to stay: The Best Hotels in Nashville
  • The AFAR Guide to Nashville
  • The AFAR Guide to Washington, D.C.

A long shot of a mountain-backed city, framed by flowers and trees

Asheville is one must-stop on a North Carolina road trip.

Courtesy of

11. Charlottesville to Asheville: A Scenic Road Trip Through Virginia and North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the country. Beginning in the soft hilly meadows of the Appalachian Mountains from Shenandoah National Park down into the Blue Ridge Mountains, then into the Great Smoky Mountains, this five-day road trip is best done at a slower pace, which is perfect for admiring the dramatic outlooks and green plateaus. This eclectic itinerary features stops at an art museum, a dairy farm, and plenty of hiking trails.

  • The full itinerary: The Ultimate Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip
  • Where to stay: 12 Dreamy Blue Ridge Mountain Cabins You Can Rent on Airbnb and Vrbo
  • 8 U.S. National Park Road Trips to Take in Your Lifetime

Dowa:kwe dance group from Zuni Pueblo in 2019

Dowa:kwe dance group from Zuni Pueblo in 2019

Courtesy of Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

12. Albuquerque to Las Cruces: Discover New Mexico on This Three-Day Road Trip

This route steers you away from New Mexican tourist hot spots like Taos and Santa Fe and instead takes you on a three-day adventure with places that teach you about Pueblo history. You’ll stop at Indian Pueblo Kitchen (formerly known as Pueblo Harvest), a restaurant inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center that features Indigenous cuisine ; pick up peppers at Three Brothers in Hatch; and slide down the dunes in White Sands National Park.

  • The full itinerary: This New Mexico Road Trip Is the Perfect Introduction to the Land of Enchantment

Green tree near brown house during daytime

Historic Fort Martin Scott is one of the places travelers can visit to learn about Fredericksburg’s history.

Photo by Mark König/Unsplash

13. A Five-Day Scenic Road Trip Through Texas Hill Country

This Texas road trip starts and ends in San Antonio with stops in small towns like Bandera, Boerne, and consider a stop in Fredericksburg, which is one of AFAR’s best places to go in 2024 ). Over five days, you’ll find opportunities to stroll in a Japanese tea garden in San Antonio, relax along the Sabinal and Frio Rivers by inner tube, and eat as many tacos as you want. Seriously: You could eat tacos for every meal on this road trip and not get tired of them.

  • The full itinerary: Tree Houses, Tubing, and Tacos: The Ultimate Texas Hill Country Road Trip

Mount McKinley looms large on a drive through Denali National Park.

Mount McKinley looms large on a drive through Denali National Park.

Photo by warnsweet / Shutterstock

14. A Weeklong Road Trip Through Alaska’s Most Majestic Sights

This weeklong drive in Alaska starts and ends in Anchorage. You travel along four scenic byways; explore Wrangell–St. Elias wilderness, the largest U.S. national park; catch sight of Denali, the tallest peak in North America; and enjoy the surprisingly stellar food scene of McCarthy, a one-road town with only a couple dozen residents.

  • The full itinerary: Glaciers, Mountain Peaks, and Organic Farms: The Ultimate Alaska Road Trip
  • Which Alaska National Parks Should You Visit?

More than geothermal pools, Kirkham Hot Springs features a piping-hot waterfall.

More than geothermal pools, Kirkham Hot Springs features a piping-hot waterfall.

Courtesy of Idaho Tourism

15. Boise to Sun Valley: Explore Idaho’s Scenic Byways

Even a short road trip can be packed with adventure, good food, and scenery, which is exactly what this trip from Boise to Sun Valley along Idaho’s Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway offers. Although the drive only takes six hours, we recommend taking a few days to explore all the stops and detours along the way. One can’t-miss spot is the Kirkham Hot Springs , where you can stand under a waterfall that will splash you with 135-degree mineral water year-round.

  • The full itinerary: The Little-Known Idaho Road Trip You Need to Drive
  • Things to do: The Best Outdoorsy Things to Do in Idaho

Grand Portage State Park is the only state park jointly managed by a state and a Native American band.

Grand Portage State Park is the only state park jointly managed by a state and a Native American band.

Photo by Shutterstock/QZ

16. Duluth to Grand Portage State Park: A Scenic Minnesota Sampler

Although there are many appealing road trips throughout the Midwest, this 143-mile, three-hour circuit, which starts and ends in Duluth, Minnesota, is worth keeping in mind. Meandering north on MN-61 with this itinerary, you will enjoy prime views of Lake Superior and towns like Grand Marais, as well as Grand Portage State Park, home to waterfalls, hiking trails, and opportunities to learn about the Ojibwe community who occupy the land today. Once back in Duluth, enjoy a beer at Canal Park Brewing Company before checking into the waterfront Canal Park Lodge nearby.

  • The AFAR Guide to Minnesota

Overhead view of curvy Kancamagus Highway through fall forest

Wind your way through colorful foliage in New Hampshire.

Photo by Shutterstock

17. Kancamagus Highway: A Quintessential New England Drive

Yes, you can take a road trip in New England at any time of the year , but this region shows off its best colors in the fall, when locals and tourists alike head out into the country to view the changing colors of the trees. Join other admirers of fall foliage on this popular, 34.5-mile road trip along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway, colloquially known as the “Kanc,” for picturesque ponds, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks.

  • Plan Your Fall Getaway With This Peak Foliage Prediction Map

Red boat beside a wooden dock in a cove

Ogunquit is home to the small, postcard-perfect harbor of Perkins Cove.

Photo courtesy of QualityHD / Shutterstock

18. Maine’s “Lobster Trail”: Travel Route 1 Along the Coast

Traveling Route 1, affectionately known as “the lobster trail,” along Maine’s jagged coastline is an exercise in indulgence. Sample lobster dishes in all forms—buttered, steamed, on a roll, or even in a decadent mac-and-cheese.

The trip starts in the quaint small town of Ogunquit , with its rare (for the area) 3.5 miles of white-sand beach. Make your first lobster of the journey count, steamed with a side of drawn butter at Barnacle Billy’s in picturesque Perkins Cove harbor. Stop at Big Daddy’s for a cone on your way to the shipbuilding center—and summer home of George H. W. Bush—Kennebunkport. Stay at the recently redesigned 150-year-old classic White Barn Inn , and consider a sailing trip for an afternoon. With lobsters cooked in ocean water, the legendary lobster roll at the Clam Shack is a must.

  • 8 Scenic East Coast Road Trips to Take This Year

Interior of Leah & Louise restaurant in Charlotte

Throughout North Carolina’s Piedmont region, innovative restaurants, shops, and restaurants like Leah & Louise in Charlotte, above, are creating a buzz.

Photo by Peter Taylor Photography

19. Raleigh to Charlotte: A 4-Day Trip Through North Carolina’s Reinvented Core

North Carolina’s Piedmont region extends from the coastal plain to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and includes farmland and rolling wooded hills, especially on the 1-40 stretch near Hillsborough. Starting in Raleigh, drive the short distances to Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte to see how these cities are innovating through art, food, and a celebration of the past. Take your time—four days should do—to experience downtown arts districts, James Beard Award–winning restaurants, and civil rights museums that speak truths. Plan your trip

  • A Road Trip Through North Carolina’s Reinvented Core

The Florida Road Trip You’ve Been Missing

Scenic South Walton is part of the Emerald Coast of Florida.

20. Scenic Highway 30A: A Sunday Drive Through South Walton, Florida

Florida is full of places to cruise with the top down, but it’s hard to beat a Sunday (or any day) drive along Scenic Highway 30A through northwest Florida, home to a postcard-perfect stretch of seaside towns known as South Walton.

The roughly 28-mile route through South Walton County kisses the coast for nearly all its length, taking you through gorgeous residential Gulf-front communities like Rosemary Beach, Grayton Beach, and Blue Mountain Beach . Roll down the windows and let the emerald-hued views in.

Pull over to explore, too—maybe to admire the New Urbanism architecture in Alys Beach or to swim in the clear waters at Grayton Beach State Park . (The beach here has been lauded among the best in the world.)

  • The full itinerary: The Florida Road Trip You’ve Been Missing

Two stand-up paddleboarders on the water at sunset

Stand-up paddleboarding is just one way to enjoy a Florida Keys sunset.


21. The Florida Keys: An Island-Hopping Getaway

For a sunny road trip itinerary in Florida, skip Miami and head farther south. Beginning in Key Largo and ending in Key West, the Florida Keys Scenic Highway is often overlooked for more well-known routes up north, but it is well worth going out of your way to experience.

As the name suggests, this route is very scenic, so plan to spend at least a few days exploring it and numerous stops along the way. Some highlights include driving across the impressive Overseas Highway, stopping to admire art in the town of Islamorada, and enjoying the historic sites, food, and (of course) beaches in the city of Key West.

  • The full itinerary: How to Road Trip in the Lesser-Known Florida Keys

A brick building with an oversized guitar hanging off the side and a sign that says "Sun Studio"

Sun Studio in Memphis was the site of the famous Million Dollar recording session that brought together Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.

Photo by f11photo on Shutterstock

22. Memphis to Bristol, Tennessee: A Music-Driven Adventure

If you have about a week to spare and a deep appreciation for music, take a road trip from one side of Tennessee to the other, starting in Memphis and ending in Bristol. The eastbound trip spans genres, including rock ( Graceland ), blues ( Beale Street) and, of course, country (did you really go to Tennessee if you didn’t go to Dollywood ?). Nashville serves as the halfway point on your journey—so consider penciling in an extra 48 hours to fully explore the state capital’s greatest hits.

  • The full itinerary: 5 Great American Road Trips For Music Fans

The stunning coastline near Cueva del Indio has been the backdrop of star-studded films.

The stunning coastline near Cueva del Indio has been the backdrop of star-studded films.

Photo by

23. Arecibo to Condado, Puerto Rico: A Lesser-Known Side of a Well-Loved Island

In the minds of many, trips to Puerto Rico bring images of stunning beaches , delicious foods , and maybe a bioluminescent bay or two . But there’s plenty of history to be found here, too, as Puerto Rico was home to an Indigenous population known as the Taino, a heritage many Puerto Ricans embrace. That history can be explored via a road trip. Starting in the northern town of Arecibo, travel south to Ponce, then back north to Condado—along the way you’ll encounter petroglyphs, Indigenous sites, and breathtaking natural spots.

  • The full itinerary: A Puerto Rico Road Trip That Puts Indigenous Culture First

Additional road trip planning resources Picking the route for your road trip is only one part of your planning. From what snacks to pack to which podcasts to listen to, these additional resources will help you prepare for your next adventure:

  • Best road trip snacks
  • Road trip planning apps
  • Podcasts and audiobooks to download
  • What to pack for a road trip

This article originally appeared online in August 2020. It was most recently updated on April 4, 2024, to include current information. Additional reporting by Jessie Beck, Erika Owen, Ray Rogers, Terry Ward, and Sheryl Nance-Nash.

Northern Lights


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    A trip down the Great River Road, a series of thoroughfares stretching from Minnesota to Louisiana, is an opportunity to experience a wide range of American regional culture and the eclectic diversity of its people. To understand the river is to understand the USA. Plan your next Great River Road trip and explore the USA even more.

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    After dark, there's live music aplenty in all styles and modes, but one stop you have to make is Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St., 504/522-2841, nightly 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10pm, $20), for the redolent ambience and the live traditional Dixieland jazz, still going strong after 50 years.

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    If you're looking for a more scenic way to experience the park, consider taking a guided tour. The park offers guided hikes, bike rides, canoe, and bus tours. 2. Stone Arch Bridge. Stone Arch Bridge is one of the most iconic spots on the Great River Road, and it's easy to see why.

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    A Mississippi River road trip is an awesome - and affordable - way to travel the breadth of the country. Follow the Great River Road National Scenic Byway from the Mississippi's headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico to experience the mighty river's influence on nature, history, and culture in the United States.

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    Photo by / Shutterstock. 10. Seneca Falls, New York, to Nashville, Tennessee: Follow the Path of the Women's Suffrage Movement. Starting in New York's Finger Lakes region and ending at the State Capitol Building in Nashville, this road trip traces the route of the national women's suffrage movement.