The Ultimate Guide to a Mississippi River Road Trip
The United States is filled with picturesque routes that make for a killer road trip. If you’re looking for a socially-distanced way to cover a lot of ground in about a week, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway is the way to go.
This route and itinerary follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles, passing through hundreds of towns in 10 states.
The Great River Road is one of the longest and most famous scenic byways in the country, filled with breathtaking natural beauty and significant historic sights. From top to bottom, the route takes approximately 36 hours to drive, so most people make the journey in about a week or so. With an abundance of attractions to see, places to stay, and food to eat, this Mississippi River road trip is one you won’t forget.
So pack up your car – from top to bottom, here is the ultimate guide to a Mississippi River road trip:
Park Rapids, Minnesota
Your journey begins in Park Rapids, where the Mississippi River begins. Visitors can get a great view of the headwaters of the river, along with the glacial Lake Itasca. This stop is perfect for nature lovers, as there are plenty of recreational activities to choose from. Hiking, fishing, kayaking, and camping are among the many ways to experience this beautiful area.
Where to Stay: Tucked away along Long Lake just 3 miles outside of Park Rapids, the Cedar Shores Lodge and Resort features pristine cabins with incredible views. The cabins are available year-round and are all fully-equipped with everything you’ll need for your stay.
Where to Eat: It may surprise you to know you can find authentic Italian food in northern Minnesota, but don’t take my word for it. Check out Necce’s Italiano Ristorante for yourself and see why it’s a local favorite. This casual yet elegant stop provides a delicious way to start your trip.
Twin Cities, Minnesota
Minneapolis and St. Paul make up the largest metropolitan area along the Mississippi River and boast plenty of things to do. With world-famous sites like the Stone Arch Bridge, scenic nature parks, and a plethora of impressive museums, the Twin Cities form one of the liveliest stops on your Mississippi River road trip.
Where to Stay: Located within 10 minutes of several well-known art museums in the center of downtown Minneapolis, 300 Clifton is a refined bed and breakfast that makes for the perfect place to wind down after a day of driving. 300 Clifton is set inside the Eugene J. Carpenter Mansion and is truly stunning inside and out.
Where to Eat: Revival is one of the most popular restaurants in Minnesota for good reason. With locations in both St. Paul and Minneapolis, you can enjoy their mouthwatering southern comfort food no matter which side of the Twin Cities you’re staying in.
St. Louis, Missouri
Famously known as the Gateway to the West, St. Louis is a thriving city and popular tourist destination along the Mississippi River. The city is teeming with incredible historical sights like the Gateway Arch and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, regular live music performances, and a ton of craft breweries.
Where to Stay: For a luxurious stay right in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Live! by Loews is the place to be. This contemporary hotel is located just steps away from the famous Busch Stadium and features several restaurants and an outdoor rooftop terrace with a greenspace.
Where to Eat: Beffa’s is a St. Louis hot spot that has been around for 113 years and has tons of loyal regulars. The cozy atmosphere and classic American cuisine provide guests with the ideal place to relax with a beer and a bite to eat. Be sure to try the grilled cheese sandwich, you won’t regret it!
Memphis is known around the world as the “Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Famous for its lively environment, musical entertainment, and rich history, Memphis is a must-see stop on your journey down the Great River Road. While you’re in town, make sure to grab some iconic Tennessee barbecue and check out Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley.
Where to Stay: Big Cypress Lodge is an impressive lodge-themed hotel located inside the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid in downtown Memphis. With lavish accommodations, unique dining and entertainment options, and picturesque river views, Big Cypress Lodge is the ultimate family-friendly adventure destination.
Where to Eat: For some killer seafood in a casual atmosphere, Soul Fish Cafe is a fantastic choice for southern comfort food in Memphis. Located in the hip neighborhood of Cooper Young, menu favorites include the blackened catfish and hush puppies.
New Orleans, Louisiana
If you’ve never been to New Orleans, chances are it’s probably on your bucket list. A Mississippi River road trip makes for the ideal time to finally experience this world-famous city.
Best known for its vibrant music scene, abundant history, and the internationally known Mardi Gras festival, New Orleans is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. However you can find some epic places off the beaten track, try Kermit’s Mother-In-Law Lounge, it’s the best time you will have with your clothes on.
Also take a ride on the river with the Natchez Steamboat, after all it IS the Mississippi River. There are plenty of great food cooking classes to master Gumbo and all the other amazing food you will find in the south. It’s easy to see why so many love “The Big Easy”, it’s one of my favorite cities in the US.
End your journey on the Great River Road with a bang by celebrating in New Orleans.
Where to Stay: Located in the iconic French Quarter, the St. James Hotel is a luxury hotel set in a building that’s been up since the 19th century. From the stunning swimming pool to the on-site steakhouse, this magnificent hotel is sure to provide a relaxing stay. If you’re not too exhausted from the drive, set aside some time to explore the French Quarter when you get in.
Where to Eat: Brigsten’s serves up some of the best modern Creole fare in the city and is run by Frank Brigsten, who has a long list of accolades for his work in the culinary world. Set in a Victorian-style cottage, this stunning restaurant is a can’t-miss.
I hope you enjoy this curated list of places to visit on The Ultimate Guide to a Mississippi River Road Trip.
There are hundreds of small towns hidden away en-route, so keep an eye out for unusual places and stop overs offering amazing food.
Been to these places, or have suggestions, let us know in the comments below.
Dan has been working in the photography industry for over 20 years mostly in the commercial space. He re-focused in travel and travel content 5 years ago after a long career in commercial studio, interior and advertising content for industry leaders in many genres.
Published many times in print with Professional Photographer, Sony, Culture Trip, Countryside Magazine, NY Tourism Guide, New York Times, many real estate marketing magazines throughout the USA and many online publications. Dan has also co-authored “Creative Photography : The Professional Edge”.
Dan also runs yearly photography tours in Alaska at alaskabearcruise.com where he is the guide and company co-owner. He also runs a successful nationwide photography business.
Current principal sponsors include Think Tank Photo and Lumix, also a previous British Photography Awards Ambassador.