The Great River Road in Minnesota travels 575 miles beside the legendary Mississippi River. It is a network of roadways that offers a bounty of river experience, including the pristine Mississippi headwaters in Itasca State Park, lush forest, lakes, rich farmland, the metro bustle of the Twin Cities and the awe inspiring bluffs of Minnesota's southeastern border.
Nature lovers will find ample opportunity to view wildlife along the byway and unique geological features throughout 11 state parks and numerous scenic areas that border the route. Ten National Great River Road Interpretive Centers tell the river's stories and history. Stop to take a hike on a woodland trail, paddle down river in a kayak or canoe, catch breathtaking views, or shop in unique local communities. There's something for everyone!
Six distinct regions - or destination areas - with unique travel experiences have been identified along the Minnesota Great River Road, "anchored" on either end by larger cities that offer a variety of lodging, dining, entertainment and transportation options. The "destination area" concept for the byway is designed to help travelers navigate shorter, more focused trips. For the adventurous traveler, with about a week to travel, the wonders of the entire byway await... Enjoy the ride!
The Minnesota Great River Road is part of the National Great River Road, which offers travelers a variety of river experiences through ten states. For information on the Great River Road in all ten states, visit www.experiencemississippiriver.com.
Length of Scenic Drive
Highlights and Key Points Along the Route
Six Unique Destination Areas
Mississippi Headwaters - Itasca State Park to Bemidji (30 miles): Tiptoe across the river's humble source in Itasca State Park. Hear the call of the loon and watch bald eagles soar above the majestic virgin pines along Wilderness Drive. Visit Bemidji - first city on the Mississippi - and be sure to capture a photo memory with legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his faithful pal, Babe the Blue Ox.
Mississippi Northwoods - Bemidji to Grand Rapids (100 miles): Experience nature in the whisper of the pines and the crisp northwoods air. Follow the river through Bemidji, Cass, Winnibigoshish and Pokegema - mighty lakes, with mighty good fishing. Discover the stories of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and its rich heritage. Learn the history of the lumberjack. Visit Grand Rapids to tour the paper mill, Forest History Center and Judy Garland's birthplace.
Mississippi Crossings - Grand Rapids to Little Falls (145 miles): By river. By rail. By road. People of this region have traveled the Mississippi for centuries. Today it plays host to thousands of vacationers each year who bike, golf, fish, bird or simply seek respite. Come to play and to explore the historical routes inspired by the river. Grand Rapids, Aitkin, the towns of the Cuyuna Range, Brainerd and Little Falls will be your hosts.
Scenic Mississippi - Little Falls to Elk River (92 miles): Wild and Scenic River is the designation given to this pristine section of Minnesota's Mississippi. The river here is ideal for canoeing, picnicking, fishing and scenic biking. Remarkable main street architecture, historic museums, the boyhood home of aviator Charles Lindbergh, lovely parks, magnificent gardens and scenic rural farmscapes provide a backdrop for a relaxing river experience.
Metro Mississippi - Elk River to Hastings (75 miles): Abundant parkland and trails invite you to the riverfront renaissance taking place in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Enjoy theater, major sports venues, museums, concerts, headline entertainment and shopping; while thoughtfully preserved riverfront parks, historic sites, and the falls of St. Anthony inspire the essence of nature on the fringe of commerce.
Mississippi Bluffs - Hastings to Iowa Border (140 miles): Bring binoculars to bluff country because the river vistas are remarkable and the wildlife viewing - especially birding - is some of the best in the country. Follow the river through more than a dozen charming river towns complete with historic main streets, riverboats, unique shopping, museums and warm hospitality.