In need of a jolt of road trip inspiration? Draw from one of the most important routes in American history to uncover small towns overflowing with soul, and big cities bursting with culture along the Great River Road. The journey follows the Mississippi River, from one end outside the vibrant city of New Orleans, to its humble start in Minnesota. Along the way, you'll cruise through areas that birthed music genres such as blues and soul, into towns that inspired authors like Mark Twain, and past historic cities that draw in tourists to this day.
Built in 1833, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is home to stories rich in history and mystery alike. This cemetery can be found in the Garden District of New Orleans, which is a charming area you'll be dying to explore after your time at the cemetery-- it's worlds away from the crowds of Bourbon Street (not that there's anything wrong with a night of fun in the French Quarter)! But back to the cemetery. Lafayette contains the remains of immigrants from 20+ countries, Judge Ferguson (of Plessy vs. Ferguson), many New Orleans musicians, and even fictional characters from Anne Rice's "The Witching Hour." Greenery spread amongst the tombs makes this spot a beautiful place for visitors to experience one of New Orlean's most popular tourist to-do's, exploring cemeteries! The intricate details of the old cast iron gates, the stones, and the vaults will leave you feeling the historic relevance of the cemetery-- almost as if you've gone back in time.
3645 LA Highway 18, South Vacherie, LA, US
A double row of stunning large oak trees on each side creates a dramatic "alley," drawing you into one of the most popular plantations in the state. Oak Alley Plantation was built in 1839, and has experienced some pretty key moments in American history. Take a tour of the multiple exhibits in the mansion, or walk the nearly 30-acre property, which boasts a garden, an insightful exhibit on slavery at the plantation, and a blacksmith shop, just to name a few highlights. For all of you ghost enthusiasts, legend has it that the plantation is full of spooky spirits and strange happenings; the mansion was even investigated by the television show "Ghost Hunters" in 2008. Oak Alley has been the set of movies, television episodes, and even one of Beyonce's music videos. Gorgeous scenery-- mixed with the very important slice of history laid out here-- makes for a fantastic way to spend the afternoon in Louisiana that will leave you feeling like part of the south.
The Old State Capitol of Louisiana is a marvel to look at, and when visiting, you'll feel as if you've arrived at a Gothic castle straight from a movie. The building proudly overlooks the Mississippi, and now wears many hats in the community of Baton Rouge. It's conveniently located in the heart of the city, and primarily attracts visitors from across the country to its Museum of Political Science. You'll be in awe as you step through the door into a magical space beneath a kaleidoscopic ceiling. Educational events and fun happenings take place in the capitol constantly. The Old State Capitol is a treasured landmark that allows you to dive right into Baton Rouge and see what it's truly all about.
Straight up the Mississippi towards Baton Rouge is a KOA Holiday® that's perfect for relaxing after an exciting day. The campground is great for seasoned travelers, families, newbies, and solo roadtrippers alike. Cabin options are available to glampers of all kinds, and tents sites are readily available for the outdoors enthusiast. The town of Denham Springs is home to an antique village and other great shops and activities, and being right outside Baton Rouge makes for another great option: city fun. The Baton Rouge KOA Holiday has a pool and hot tub, a dog park, and mini golf for those wanting to keep the fun rolling. With the location and amenities offered, you'll have no worries during your stay and feel at ease being able to experience Louisiana both inside and outside the property.
"Vicksburg is the key," Abraham Lincoln said, as the fighting during the Civil War came to a pivotal point. Vicksburg National Military Park preserves the historical significance of the Union's victory here; it gave them control of the Mississippi River. Drive through the park on a self-guided tour in the comfort of your own vehicle, or take advantage of other options offered in the visitor center. You can even hire a ranger to ride with you and give you the full breakdown of every monumental moment that took place at this fascinating location. A "walker's lane" throughout the park allows for pedestrians to get outside and experience various features up close. There are also hiking trails for those wanting to get off the beaten path! If you're ready to cool off, be sure to pop in the USS Cairo Museum for more fun.
502 Nelson St, Greenville, MS, US
For some real Mississippi eatin', Doe's Eat Place is where you'll want to head. This authentic, family-run restaurant has been serving up home-cookin' to hungry customers since 1941. Doe's is known for hot tamales, which have been made the same way since Day One, when husband and wife Dominick (Doe) and Mamie Signa began whipping up delicious food. The eatery is also praised for steaks, and fills stomachs in multiple locations across the South. The Greenville original is the heart of it all though, and a trip through Mississippi wouldn't be complete without a hearty southern meal to top it all off. Doe's is known and loved by many, and while it's got that hole-in-the-wall feel, a step inside and a hot meal later, you'll be wanting to return to this hidden treasure each time you find yourself in the area.
2955 State Highway 44, Marianna, AR, US
Across the border in Arkansas, take either The Great River Road or the Crowley's Ridge Parkway (or both!) for a scenic tour of the beautiful landscapes the area offers. Meander into Mississippi River State Park and you'll find trails, water, and plenty of forests and wildlife to explore. The visitor center has activities for kids, a gift shop, and plenty of picnic areas. Bear Creek and Storm Creek Lakes are perfect for swimming and other water activities, allowing for a day of fun in the sun in this off-the-beaten-path haven. If you want a break from the hustle of sightseeing, this state park is one where you will truly be able to get away from it all. Take in the warm fresh air and breath a sigh of relief as you enjoy the pure beauty of southern nature at its finest.
3764 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN, US
You've more than likely heard of Elvis Presley's mansion in Memphis, where people from far and wide flock to celebrate the beloved American icon. Graceland, however, is so much more than what you expect. Take an interactive tour with commentary by Elvis and his daughter themselves; visit the "Jungle Room," and meditation garden, see Elvis's grave and some of his signature stage costumes; and so much more. The museum has been around since 1982 and is less than ten miles from the heart of Memphis. Exhibits of the star's cars and planes outside the house, draw in an even wider fanbase, making Graceland the second most-visited place in the United States, right behind the White House. Don't let this scare you away though. Get there a tad early and it'll be well worth it. Stepping into the life of such a huge American legend is an experience that folks who visit Graceland treasure greatly.
7037, AR, US
After a day of rockin' and rollin' with the King himself, the Memphis KOA Journey® is the place to go for your camping wants and needs. From here, you can sign up for a tour of Memphis and be shuttled right from the campground, so you won't have to worry about parking in the city. A pool and bike rentals are available for kids and adults of all ages, and BBQ (a Memphis staple) is served right on site! The kind hosts at the Memphis KOA Journey are ready to make your stay as easy and simple as possible, allowing you to fully enjoy your time in Memphis without worrying about accommodations. Away from the bustle of the city, yet close to so many landmarks and attractions, this KOA is one you'll want to take advantage of.
8th Street, Cairo, IL, US
Cairo, Illinois, was once a port town alive with business and trade and easy access to both the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Now a ghost town, the town presents those traveling through with boarded-up windows and empty streets. The location of the town itself, however, makes Cairo's story intriguing to dive into. The town is at the southern end of Illinois, surrounded by where the Ohio and Mississippi meet, so one would think the accessibility of its location would be enough to keep things booming throughout town. General Ulysses S. Grant made Cairo his headquarters during the Civil War. After the war was over, businesses began popping up on every corner and things were going swimmingly. So what on earth happened? The automobile eroded the need for port cities, and racial tensions in the slowly-integrating South further pushed Cairo into decay. It's a mystery why the town collapsed altogether, but looking into the history is interesting, and important for understanding the backbone of America, and where we came from.
11 North 4th Street, St. Louis, MO, US
American landmarks have been instilled inside us ever since we were children. St. Louis' Gateway Arch is something we've seen in pictures and movies, but have you ever truly experienced it? A tram ride will take you to the top, 630 feet up, where you'll get the entire experience in about an hour. You can also choose to just tour inside the base of the arch if heights aren't your thing. Notably, the Gateway Arch is the tallest monument in the U.S. You heard that right! Taller than even the Statue of Liberty or the Space Needle. Completed in 1865, the Arch is a tribute to Thomas Jefferson's idea of expanding westward. A brand new museum will be free and open to the public as of July, 2018, making this historical landmark more accessible and the experience much more fun.
120 N Main St, Hannibal, MO, US
When you visit the famous author Mark Twain's home in Hannibal, Missouri, you're getting so much more than just a tour. You additionally will be able to experience the Becky Thatcher House, John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office, Grant’s Drug Store, and the Huckleberry Finn House. This museum has been open to the public and celebrating the beloved American author since 1912, and its incredible exhibits are treasured by literature lovers everywhere. Within the museum, you will see Twain's desk, typewriter, clothing, and a great number of letters written by him. Fifteen Norman Rockwell paintings, based on Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, show just how influential Mark Twain was and how, in a lot of ways, his works have stood the test of time. The interpretive center is full of information and history; for those wanting to learn, be sure to give yourself a full afternoon to get through everything you plan to see. This isn't your average museum. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is a perfect stop in Missouri for readers and those who appreciate American history alike.
28995 Lansing Road, Dyersville, IA, US
Heading north through the country brings you to another important landmark, more recent in pop culture history. The Field of Dreams Movie Site in Dyersville, Iowa, is a baseball field built in the late 1980s on two farms for the movie. Once the film was released in 1989, it was an instant hit. On location, you can take a tour and hear countless stories of the field and filmmaking experience, and additionally attend events. Walk the field, sit in the bleachers, and feel like a part of the movie that is near and dear to many hearts. Admission to the ballfield is free, making it a perfect stop on anyone's trip, especially if you're a baseball fan! And remember... if you build it, they will come.
5232 65th Ave SE, Rochester, MN, US
No matter what direction you're headed, the Rochester / Marion KOA Journey® is a great stop, central to many options. Enjoy Minnesota's infinite nature, or take a day trip to the legendary Mall of America in Minneapolis. Back at the KOA, the campground is nestled right in the trees, allowing you to enjoy some quiet time in your tent or RV without a care in the world. A pool, tree swings, and bike rentals add to the fun for everyone in your party, and the dog-friendly atmosphere and dog park allow your furry friend to join in! This KOA is a great stop that has all the basics for your adventures ahead!
4801 S Minnehaha Dr, Minneapolis, MN, US
Just a bit up the road is one of the area's most popular parks, and for good reason! Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis is located right on the Mississippi River, and spans over 150 square miles. Here, a pool, gardens, playground, and much more make for an afternoon of fun, especially on a warm day. The real gem is the 53-foot-tall waterfall that cascades into a gorge prior to joining the Mississippi. Beloved poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow aided in the popularity of the falls in "Song of Hiawatha," a story about a Native American romance. A staircase leads you to the bottom of the falls, where you can experience a different aspect of the area’s natural beauty. The park is popular in the summer, when events are held, and bikes are available for rent. Additionally, there is a restaurant right in the park, for those who have worked up an appetite or just want to eat amongst nature. Minnehaha Park is a Minneapolis treasure that plucks you out of the city and into a world of its own.
You have reached the peak of the trip, the start of it all: the headwaters of the Mississippi. Itasca State Park is the oldest park in the state for this very reason. It was created in order to preserve and protect Lake Itasca and its flowing waters that swell into the massive river and wind all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. The park offers lodging for those wanting to revel in its beauty and remain in the thick of it all-- and believe me, you'll want to. Even in the winter, the white pine trees, frozen waters, and majestic surroundings are simply unbeatable. In the summer, you're free to get in the water and feel proud that you're in the headwaters of a system that travels 2,552 miles to the other side of the country. The park itself is over 30,000 acres, and crisscrossed by miles upon miles of trails. You'll quickly fall in love with the cooing of the loons in the mornings and evenings, the smell of the fresh pines, and the endless views stretching for miles on end.
The Mississippi stretches through completely distinctive areas of the United States that all have unique gifts to offer travelers passing through. However, the shared bond of American history is what ties it all together. The north and south are connected in a powerful way that has brought the country strength through much trial and error. With each stop, it is easy to find simple beauty. You'll definitely learn something new and meet some great people along the journey.
Roadtrippers founder & proud CEO of the best team in travel. Born and raised on the road. A lifetime of adventures lay behind me, but the best ones are yet to come :)