Great River Road 36 - Driving the Great River Road - Was It the Best Drive in America?

Our high, lows and thoughts about driving the Great River Road.

The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from the headwaters in Itasca, MN down to Venice, LA - the most southern place you can drive to along the river (but a few miles shy of where the River enters the Gulf of Mexico).

The route is approximately 2400 miles and includes all 10 states that touch the Mississippi.

We completed the entire drive in 7 weeks starting in October of 2015.

Here are the top five highs and lows from each of us:


There’s a lot to recommend about this drive. It slices through the heart of America. So much of our history and culture revolve around the Mississippi River. Portions of the road have gorgeous views of the River - and we were there in peak fall color season.

Here are each of our top 5 highlights from the trip:


  1. Headwaters, Itasca MN
    Storybook fall color.
  2. Curling Lessons in MN
    A fun new experience, a good workout, and all free.
  3. Lock and Dam 15
    A civil engineering marvel.
  4. City Museum
    Literally a place like no other.
  5. Sun Studio Tour, Memphis TN
    An authentic, unrestored shrine to music in America.


  1. Lock and Dam 15
    Fascinating to watch.
  2. St. Jude Children’s Hospital
    Just wow for me.
  3. Lake Itasca
    Beautiful fall weather, crossing the start of the Mississippi, the trip was fresh.
  4. National Eagle Center
    Great presentation.
  5. Trail of Tears State Park
    I became aware of a piece of history I never knew.


  1. Johnny Cash Boyhood Home
    I liked seeing where he lived as a child and what the houses in the Dyess community were like.
  2. City Museum, St. Louis
    Just wow. So much to see and do! Amazing that a building can hold that much.
  3. Gateway Arch, St. Louis
    Going up in the little car and looking out from the top.
  4. Visiting Cousins in St. Paul
    First time I had been with teenagers since Harrison moved out.
  5. Sun Studio Tour, Memphis, TN
    Johnny Cash first got recorded here, and I really liked learning about the Million Dollar Quartet.

Low Points

With 2400 miles to drive it’s not all going to be great. Here are the 5 low points of the experience from each of us:


  1. Effigy Mounds in IA
    Pretty hike, but the mounds themselves are unremarkable and we know little about them.
  2. Wyalusing State Park
    Crazy expensive for a state park.
  3. St. Louis
    Truck broken into and items stolen.
  4. Kentucky
    Poor Great River Road signage leads to stress and a bit of trailer damage.
  5. Venice, LA, End of the Great River Road
    There is just no there, there.


  1. Effigy Mounds in IA
    They are mounds of dirt in shapes that might be interpreted as bears.
  2. Lock and Dam 15 
    It was interesting when we were in it on the houseboat, but watching tows go through taking at least an hour per tow was not interesting.
  3. Incident in Kentucky
    I was in the truck at the time and I didn’t like the sound, the jolt, or the Mother’s screams.
  4. BB King Museum
    I’m not that much into blues music.
  5. Superman in Metropolis
    I do not remember ever watching Superman, and I am not a big superhero fanatic.


  1. Theft in St. Louis
    Getting broken into sucked, although I enjoyed the bike ride over the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
  2. Blues Crossroads
    Navigation issues made this tough to get to with the RV attached.
  3. KY close call
    We got out, but it could have been disastrous.
  4. Wyalusing State Park 
    Way too expensive for what we got.
  5. Drive to the end of the Great River Road 
    The lack of a formal end point left us feeling like the trip was unresolved.

Other Thoughts

Canada to Gulf?

The main logo of the Great River Road contains the phrase Canada to Gulf.

This is misleading. At the Northern end the GRR does not enter Canada and at the Southern end you can’t drive the GRR to where the River enters the Gulf.

Promotional Fail

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The Great River Road has an over-arching marketing effort with website, blog, itineraries, etc.

We were setting out to do the very thing that the Great River Road marketing exists to encourage people to do - so we contacted them to see if we could arrange some cross promotion in the form of blog posts, an Instagram photo series, etc.

I got no response after 3 attempts. Not even so much as a “not interested”.

I also contacted the 10 states along the route. Two of them worked into anything, with Arkansas being the most responsive.

Leveraging Success

This trip was the first time we tried leveraging our blog in exchange for waived entrance fees to attractions. We succeeded and will do more of that in the future (don’t worry - won’t devolve into “5 Things To Do At Disney With Kids” type website).

“Best Drive”?

The Great River Road is described by the marketing as “The Best Drive in America”.

So, was it?

We have 10 unvisited states on our map - so maybe we aren’t the experts quite yet. However with 5 years and ~90K miles of travel in the US under our belts we’ll throw an opinion out anyway.

“Best” is hard. Especially considering the length of this route. Parts were awesome. Parts were great. Parts of it were mundane. And parts of it just plain sucked.

So we don’t like the word “best”.

Most American Drive

Paul Bunyan. Superman. Popeye. Blues music. Jazz music. Country Music. Cotton. Bald Eagles. Westward expansion. Lewis and Clark. The Mormon Trail. The Mississippi Delta.

The Mississippi River runs through our country, through our history, and through our culture.

We’re not sure if it’s the “best” drive, but the Great River Road might just be the Most American Drive in America.

What Say You?

Have you driven any part of the GRR?

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1 Comment Great River Road 36 - Driving the Great River Road - Was It the Best Drive in America?

  1. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkNovember 26, 2015

    I wanted to add - the optimal timing for this trip would have been about 2 weeks earlier (so starting in mid-September).

    You should still have some fall color, and more of the campgrounds and attractions would be open as you make your way down the river. 

    There were places to stay and things to see that we wanted to experience, but had closed by the time we got there.

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