Mississippi River Country is home to some truly beautiful scenery and wide-open spaces. Here’s a closer look at some of the northern region’s stunning National Park sites.
Minnesota – Voyageurs National Park
Escape to the boundless wilderness of northern Minnesota at Voyageurs National Park, nearly 900 square kilometers of outstanding natural beauty along the border of the United States and Canada. (The name of the park comes from the French-Canadian voyageurs, fur traders who were first European settlers to travel the area.) While visitors can reach the park via automobile, those that really want to explore its natural wonders will want to bring their own watercraft or rent a boat from an outfitter to take a boat tour with one of Voyageurs’ knowledgeable park rangers. Marvel at the natural beauty of Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake and Namakan Lake from a fishing boat, canoe or kayak. Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife like bald eagles, moose and deer. The park is a popular destination for canoe camping excursions.
Getting there: Voyageurs National Park has several welcome centers, but it takes about 4½ hours (455km) to drive from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
Other National Park sites in Minnesota:
- Grand Portage National Monument
- Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
- North Country National Scenic Trail
- Pipestone National Monument
- St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
Wisconsin – Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Another scenic destination for those interested in boating, canoeing and kayaking, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is located on the tree-lined shores of Lake Superior in northwestern Wisconsin, near the state’s border with Minnesota. The area consists of 21 islands and is known for its historic lighthouses, sandstone sea caves and natural animal habitats. Fishing on Lake Superior is particularly popular, as is camping (which is offered on 18 of the 21 islands through the National Park Service) and kayaking—many local businesses rent kayaks to visitors and lead guided tours of the islands. Apostle Islands Cruises offers nonstop sightseeing trips and island shuttles that feature excursions to several islands. In winter, visiting the “ice caves” along the lakeshore is a popular activity (provided Lake Superior is frozen enough).
Getting there: The headquarters of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (located in the nearby city of Bayfield) is 4 hours (390km) from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
Other National Park sites in Wisconsin:
Illinois – Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
Visit Nauvoo—a charming town on the Mississippi River in west-central Illinois—to find the start of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. The trail commemorates the voyage of Mormon founders as they fled from religious persecution in the mid-1800s, traveling for 2,000 kilometers through five states before eventually settling in Salt Lake City in Utah. In Nauvoo today, visitors can learn about the founding of the Mormon religion at several historic sites. There are also several scenic sites along the Mississippi River, including Nauvoo Landing (where emigrants ferried across the river to start their journey) and Linger Longer Park (located in Iowa, offering a panoramic view of Nauvoo).
Getting there: Nauvoo is a 3-hour drive (275km) from St. Louis Lambert International Airport in Missouri or 4 hours and 15 minutes (430km) from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Other National Park sites in Illinois:
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site
- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
- Pullman National Monument
- Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
Missouri – Ozark National Scenic Riverways
A beautiful river system tucked into the woods and sandstone cliffs of southeastern Missouri, Ozark National Scenic Riverways is a scenic area created to protect 215 kilometers of the Current River and Jacks Fork River in the Ozark Highlands. The rivers’ clean, clear waters are a popular destination for boating, canoeing, swimming, fishing and tubing, and the surrounding areas offer great hiking and bird watching opportunities. There are more than 300 caves in the area to entice daring explorers, and camping sites are plentiful along the rivers. Several outfitters in the area offer canoe and kayak rentals as well as guided tours of the area.
Getting there: The Ozark National Scenic Riverways visitor center is a 2 hour, 45-minute drive (250km) from St. Louis Lambert International Airport in Missouri and a 3 hour, 15-minute drive (300km) from Memphis International Airport in Tennessee.
Other National Park sites in Missouri:
- Gateway Arch National Park
- California National Historic Trail
- George Washington Carver National Monument
- Harry S. Truman National Historic Site
- Oregon National Historic Trail
- Pony Express National Historic Trail
- Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park
- Santa Fe National Historic Trail
- Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
- Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield