Plan Your Experience
Need some ideas to get you started? Here's a sample five day itinerary -
Begin your adventure at the Mississippi River headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park in northwestern Minnesota, where the river is but an ankle-deep trickling stream. Take the famous 15 stone steps across the river, then enjoy a hike or iking adventure along the park's scenic trails. Make sure to stop by the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center~ a national reat River Road interpretive site and the largest visitor's center in Minnesota. Travel just a few miles north to Bemidji where 18-foot high statues of the legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe his Blue Ox provide a great Minnesota north woods photo opportunity. Visit Bemidji Woolen Mills, makers of the traditional red & black checkered lumberjack clothing, provide tours of their factory and outlet shopping for fine woolens. Overnight in Bemidji.
Follow the byway through Minnesota's dense northwoods to Grand Rapids, which thrived as a lumbering center with many logging camps in the late 1800s. One of these camps is preserved for today's visitors at the Forest History Center, a Great River Road national interpretive site. After learning more about logging life, head south through the central Lakes area of Aitkin and Brainerd, stopping to enjoy the "up north" small town ambiance, homemade bakery goodies and local cafes all along the way. Try your hand at fishing or any number of water recreation opportunities. Overnight in the Brainerd Lakes area.
Continue south to charming Little Falls , boyhood home of Charles Lindbergh, the American aviator who made the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. Visit the Lindbergh Interpretive Center and Lindbergh's boyhood home on the banks of the Mississippi River. A little farther south, in the bustling city of St. Cloud, you'll find the beautiful Munsinger /Clemens Gardens stretching along the riverbanks. Near Elk River, the Oliver Kelley Farm, now a state historic site, portrays rural life in the 1860s. Continue the drive south to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for your overnight.
The Mississippi loops through the heart of the Twin Cities. Start the morning with a guided sightseeing tour of Minneapolis and/or St. Paul, culminating with lunch at the Mall of America, the largest enclosed shopping and entertainment complex in the United States. Follow your shopping experience with dinner in either river city and a relaxing evening of area theater,ranging from Broadway musicals to comedy clubs to Shakespearean drama. Or you might prefer a paddleboat cruise on the Mississippi or to cheer on your favorite professional sports team at a Minnesota Wild hockey, Minnesota Timberwolves basketball, Minnesota Vikings football or Minnesota Twins baseball game... depending on the season! Whatever your preference, the Twin Cities will entertain you.
A short morning drive along the Mississippi River brings you through lovely Hastings and on into Red Wing on the outheastern border of the state, the entrance to the heights of the Mississippi River we call bluff country. Browse through shops in historic downtown Red Wing, at the Pottery Place Outlet Center or through charming antique shops that dot the region. Continue the drive along the river through scenic Lake City to Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center, with a magnificent eagle viewing platform overlooking the Mississippi. At nearby LARK Toys in Kellogg, visitors can ride the hand-carved carousel, watch the woodcarvers craft toys or view hundreds of toys on display. As your journey continues, enjoy the wonders of nature as thousands of tundra swans, snow geese, ducks, herons and birds of
prey migrate throughout the Mississippi River corridor. Make sure your Minnesota Great River Road adventure includes a visit to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, with world class art in view of the Mississippi herself. Continue south for a tour of La Crescent, a Mecca of sprawling apple orchards. A late afternoon drive along the bluffs overlooking the river provides a spectacular panoramic view of the river valley. If time permits, you can continue your adventure south from Minnesota through the entire 10 state stretch of the Great River Road to the Gulf of Mexico, some 2,552 miles (4,100 km). If, however, you need to head back to Minneapolis / St. Paul to catch a connecting flight, you may want to consider completing the river bluff loop by crossing the river in Winona or La Crescent and taking the Wisconsin Great River Road north to Hastings and then back into the Twin Cities.