Road Trips | The Great River Road Destinations | Travel Zone by Best Western

Road Trips | The Great River Road

By Mer Norwood

Ready to drive one of the most iconic American roads? The Great River Road, named after the Mississippi River, is an All-American Road that courses 3,000 miles and ten states! In this article, we’ll explore the northern half of the Great River Road, with stops in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Kentucky.


Bemidji, Minnesota

Photo by Bemidji Pioneer.

The first stop on the Great River Road is Bemidji. Visit nearby Lake Bemidji State Park, which has long been a natural resource for hundreds of years, first with the Dakota Indians fishing and hunting in the area and then with European immigrants harvesting the pines in the 1800s. Today, Lake Bemidji State Park serves as a watering hole to cool off in the Mississippi on summer days and attracts over 135,000 visitors per year. When you go, make time to walk on the mysterious Bog Walk boardwalk, which includes unique insect-eating pitcher plants and round-leaved sundew. Pink, showy lady’s-slipper orchids bloom in the summer, and serve as great photo opportunities, too.

Book your stay at Best Western Bemidji.


La Crescent, Minnesota

Photo by Hiking Minnesota.

For scenic blufftop views of the Mississippi River, head over to Great River Bluffs State Park. Hang a hammock to relax in one of the trees in over 1,000 acres of the park. Or go bird watching and be on the lookout for waterfowl, eagles, and hawks, just a few of the 100 species of birds that inhabit the park. Go hiking for over six miles of trails to see the pine plantations and goat prairies. 

Book your stay at Best Western Plus LaCrescent / LaCrosse.


Dubuque, Iowa

Photo by Get Your Guide.

Time to head over to the next state, Iowa. Go to Dubuque to explore the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Spend the day visiting the Giant Pacific Octopus, Ball Python, or Alligator Snapping Turtle, a few of the many species on display. Learn about the First River People, check out the Blacksmith Shop, or Greenhouse. Then head over to the EB Lyons Interpretive Center to visit the Betty Hauptli Bird and Butterfly Garden with various butterflies like, monarchs, red-spotted purples, and swallowtails. Hiking trails include views of the Mines of Spain logging roads and scenic views of the limestone bluffs.

Book your stay at Best Western Plus Dubuque Hotel & Conference Center.


Galena, Illinois

Photo by Ryan Hentsch.

Stop by Galena, Illinois to rev up your tastebuds. Head over to Root Beer Revelry to create a six-pack of a variety of root beer of your choice or have a scoop of gourmet ice cream with a cold glass of your favorite root beer, including orange cream, key lime or black cherry. If you’re in the mood for a beverage that’s more alcoholic, head over to Galena Brewing Company. Galena’s brewing history goes back to the 1800’s, and when the last commercial brewery closed in 1938, Galena Brewing Company came to save the day. Today the brewery serves up to six regular brews on tap. Finally, chow down at Fried Green Tomatoes. Their signature dish, fried green tomatoes, includes breaded tomatoes fried in olive oil and topped with cheese and marina.

Book your stay at Best Western Galena Inn & Suites.


Davenport, Iowa

Photo by Archpaper.

Immerse yourself in arts in culture at your next stop in Davenport, Iowa. The Figge Art Musuem boasts a collection of art that spans the 15th century to the present and includes American, Asian, Mexican Colonial, European, and Haitian works. The Haitian collection is one of the first Haitian art collections in the US. Afterwards, make your way to the Putnam Museum and Science Center. The center has Science Galleries that include hands-on experiences like creating a cloud or playing a laser harp, while the Hall of Mammals include animals from artic glaciers to African waterholes.

Book your stay at Best Western Plus Steeplegate Inn.


Alton, Illinois

Photo by Poddtoppen.

If you’re looking for a supernatural experience on your road trip, you’ll enjoy Alton, Illinois, “One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America.” With a history dating back to the Civil War and Underground Railroad, the ghost stories of murder, war, and death circle the town. A few notable haunted spots include the McPike Mansion, Alton’s Most Haunted House, the First Unitarian Church, and the Milton School. If you dare not venture on your own, take a chilling bus ride on the Ghosts of River Road Dinner Tour, where you’ll have dinner in Alton, followed by stories of the history and hauntings along the River Road.

Book your stay at Best Western Premier Alton-St. Louis Area Hotel.


Paducah, Kentucky

Photo by Paducah, Kentucky.

The last stop on your road trip is Paducah, Kentucky. Founded in 1827, Paducah is a creative hub, and it is one of nine UNESCO designated Creative Cities. Known as Quilt City USA®, make a visit to The National Quilt Museum to fall in love with the colors of these historic textiles, and then head downtown to view the floodwall murals showcasing quilts. Continue to stroll along the Paducah Riverwalk to admire the beautiful galleries of the Lower Town Arts District.

Book your stay at Best Western Paducah Inn.

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