A Great River Road Minnesota road trip will take you from Itasca State Park in the north to charming small towns in Southern Minnesota.
We move up the river, always through enchanting scenery, there being no other kind on the Upper Mississippi. ~Mark Twain
The Great River Road is designated a National Scenic Byway. National Scenic Byways are so designated because of the abundance of natural, cultural, historical, and recreational opportunities.
Take time to stop at the interpretive centers along the way to learn about each area along the Mississippi River.
You could make this a day trip - a very long day - however we suggest you plan several days so you can stop in towns along the way, experience the attractions in each area and taste the food that is unique to each region of Minnesota.
Great River Road Minnesota Trip Overview
This is not intended to be a detailed route plan; please get a map or guidebook to follow on your trip.
The North to South road trip along the Great River Road in Minnesota begins in Itasca State Park and, specifically, at the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. Itasca State Park is about twenty miles north of Park Rapids.
Following the Great River Road signs will then direct you east to Grand Rapids, Aitken, Deerwood and Crosby.
Each of these destinations has Great River Road related interpretive centers and river overlooks.
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The Great River Road is a well-marked series of different roads and highways that roughly follow the winding course of the Mississippi River.
A National Scenic Byway is marked by white signs featuring a green pilot’s wheel logo.
You could 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.
Great River Road Minnesota Interpretive Centers: There are so many interesting places to stop on your road trip that you may need to be selective. Interpretive Centers are the best places to learn the most about the Mississippi River and the surrounding area. If you have to make choice, choose these.
"The Mississippi River and the Great River Road begin in northern Minnesota, where the river springs forth from its source at Lake Itasca. Visitors to northern Minnesota will find a landscape of forests and some of the best fishing lakes in North America. As the Great River Road winds its way through the state, it passes through wooded lake country, lush prairies and a vibrant metropolis. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area offers outstanding museums, world-class dining, professional sports and a diverse culture that makes the Twin Cities one of the most unique metro areas in the country. Below St. Paul, the Great River Road follows the river through picturesque bluff country and charming river towns. It’s an incredible journey every traveler should experience." ~Minnesota State Tourism Office, Explore Minnesota
Scenic Overlooks Along Minnesota's Great River Road
• Great River Bluffs State Park – Winona
• Garver Heights City Park – Winona
• John A. Latsch State Park – Minneiska
• Summit Avenue – St. Paul
• Barn Bluff – Red Wing
The Great River Road continues it's journey through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana on its way to the Gulf of Mexico- --nearly 3,000 miles!
It takes about 36 hours of constant driving to travel from north to south along the entire Great River Road. Most people take at least four to 10 days to make the journey.
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