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All about the Great River Road

Discover America’s greatest drive along the Great River Road, which follows the Mississippi River through 10 states from Minnesota to Louisiana.

Scenic view on the Great River Road
The Great River Road in Illinois (Credit: Illinois Office of Tourism)

What is the Great River Road?

The Great River Road is a National Scenic Byway that follows the course of the Mississippi River for nearly 3,000 miles (4,800km) from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not a single continuous road but a series of interconnected state and federal highways. Look for the iconic pilot’s wheel signs to find your way (or you can order a free 10-state map of the route here or see a PDF of the map here).

The scenic route passes through 10 states—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana—and hundreds of river towns. The Great River Road is one of the longest and oldest National Scenic Byways in America.

How long does it take to travel the entire Great River Road?

Each state has their own segment of the Great River Road—Illinois’ is the longest at 550 miles (885km)—but it would take about 36 hours of straight driving to travel north to south along the byway. (Note that the Great River Road sits on both sides of the Mississippi River for both sides of the route, aside from in northern Minnesota and southern Louisiana.)

Most people take 10 days to two weeks if they’re doing the whole journey, but you’re free to explore individual state segments, too!

What’s the deal with the pilot’s wheel signs?

All along the Great River Road, travelers will find white signs displaying the green pilot’s wheel logo. The familiar pilot’s wheel symbol denotes which roads are part of the designated route. The route has been selected for its natural, cultural, historical, recreational and scenic properties. Learn more about the pilot’s wheel here.

What is a National Scenic Byway?

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. As you drive 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 is there to see and do along the Great River Road?

All along the Great River Road, visitors will find interesting things to see and do, including a number of attractions like locks & dams, scenic overlooks, museums, historical sites and more. 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.

And let’s not forget the food! Classic Northwoods fish fries, cheese curds, barbeque, tamales, seafood and more—you’ll find it all along the Great River Road. Learn more about the flavors of the Great River Road.

Also, the Great River Road meets up with another iconic road trip route—Route 66—along its way from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Head to southwestern Illinois’ Great Rivers & Routes region to find beautiful views of the Mississippi River, one-of-a-kind American history, and much more.