Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River

Officially, the Great River Road is 2,069 miles long. In my 90-day road trip, keeping pace with a raindrop called "Serendipity" along the entire course of the Mississippi, I was often on the GRR and, frequently, I followed whatever back road seemed to beckon. In my wandering, looping way, I drove more than 7,000 miles. 

I discovered dramatic changes in geography, climate, lifestyle, cultures, accents, agriculture and foods as the river traveled from the north woods of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. In the midst of all these changes, what did not change was the warm, inclusive, welcome I found everywhere. People I met in farm fields, on porches, in cafes and even while stopped for road construction, simply invited me into their lives. I went to birthday parties, barbeques, was invited home to dinner and out on the river in everything from a canoe and a sea kayak to the amazing opportunity to spend 24-hours aboard a working barge. 

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Latitude: 47.132587 Longitude: -95.056702 Elevation: 1566 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Gayle Harper

Length of Scenic Drive

As long as you like!

Driving Directions

The very best way to discover the Mississippi by road trip is to leave behind the idea of directions and destinations and let it reveal itself to you! There are countless beautiful overlooks and parks and fascinating history to be discovered everywhere. 

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

As clicking through the photos above will show, you can pick any point along America's greatest river and follow it north or south, as your time allows, and find breathtaking scenery, warm open-hearted people, music, history, fun and a rich diversity of cultures. You can follow the Great River Road if you choose or wander, as I did, taking whatever back road invites you.  You will learn much about America’s greatest river, how it is woven throughout our history and our very identity as Americans.

The Mississippi River touches 10 states on its roughly 2,400 mile journey from the headwaters in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, and in every one there are opportunities to discover spectacular views of the river, like Lake Pepin, Wisconsin, where the river widens into a lake, and Grafton, Illinois, where the Illinois River contributes its water to the Mississippi.

Whether you consider yourself a “history buff” or not, the river is the keeper of countless compelling stories. In Minnesota, you can visit a recreated lumberjack camp at the Forest History Center near Grand Rapids. In Muscatine, Iowa, you can learn of the city’s reign as the “Pearl Button Capitol of the World” and at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, at the Trail of Tears State Park, you can read the heart wrenching words of those who experienced this page of history.

If you’re a birdwatcher or a fisherman or a hiker, there are rich environments to explore like the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and the fascinating wetlands of south Louisiana. There is music everywhere along the river, from Native American flutes and drums, to polkas to the Delta Blues and Dixieland Jazz. And, there are foods that celebrate the rich diversity of cultures you will find, from wild rice soup in the north to bratwurst and corn pudding of the Midwest, to the famous hot tamales of the Delta, to Louisiana’s crawfish and beignets.

There are great cities with museums, nightlife and shopping like Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans. There are also scores of smaller cities and towns that will surprise you with their offerings, like Ste. Genevieve, Missouri’s historic architecture, Clarksdale, Mississippi’s vibrantly creative music scene and the magnificent antebellum homes of Natchez, Mississippi and along the Louisiana Great River Road.

When I read on the National Park Service website that a raindrop falling into the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota would travel the river for 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico, I knew that my own road trip would last 90 days. I knew that would follow this great river from its source to the sea, while keeping pace with an imaginary raindrop that I would call “Serendipity.” At the end of my 90 day journey, I knew that I could travel it ten more times and still discover only a portion of the River’s beauty, her stories and her amazing people. “Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River,” is my way of sharing this journey with you.  It celebrates America and this river that is one of our greatest treasures. 

Your journey will be your own – whatever your interests, your budget, your time frame and your physical abilities, I have no doubt you can find it here!

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