7 Places You Must Stop While Traveling The Great River Road In Iowa

Pike’s Peak. Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

The Great River Road runs the entire length of the Mighty Mississippi, from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The river serves as the entire eastern border of Iowa and gives residents and visitors 328 miles of historic towns and panoramic views of the lengthy water feature. The Great River Road is a destination in and of itself because of the incredible scenery. However, you will find various attractions and places worth visiting along the way. 

If you are traveling Iowa’s stretch of the Great River Road, check out some of these places:

Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center, Lansing

1944 Columbus Rd.

Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center
Photo courtesy of Allamakee County Conservation

The Mississippi River Valley has a long and rich cultural and natural history. The Driftless Area, which includes northeastern Iowa, was never covered by ice during the last ice age, so it has different characteristics than areas along the Great River Road further north in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The three-level, 10,000-square-foot Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center sits along the river in Lansing. Visitors can learn more about the natural history of the Driftless area on the first level and check out some of the river’s native species. The upstairs level helps kids understand more about hunting, trapping, and trading with interactive displays. 

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harper’s Ferry

151 Highway 76

Effigy Mounds
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

You can find American Indian mounds throughout the nation, but Effigy Mounds National Monument is a must-visit when you travel the Great River Road. It’s the largest concentration of animal effigies in the U.S. The monument is over 2,500 acres, giving you plenty of areas to explore. Visitors love the 2-mile roundtrip Yellow River Bridge Trail and Fire Point Trails where they can observe the wetlands and view more than 20 of the 200 mounds preserved at the monument. You can also find some of the best views overlooking the Mississippi River from Hanging Rock and other lookout points. Don’t forget to stop in at the visitor center to learn more about the mounds and get some tips for exploring the area. 

Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor

32264 Pikes Peak Rd.

The view looking east from Pike’s Peak State Park in autumn. Jack VandenHeuvel/Getty Images

Pikes Peak is famous for its breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and Iowa. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts must stop and explore the park’s 11 miles of trails when traveling the Great River Road. The trails lead visitors through a lush, green canopy that conjures images of favorite childhood fairytales. Point Ann is a favorite lookout point that offers scenic views of McGregor, and visitors can also climb to the Crow’s Nest to see the convergence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. However, you can’t leave Pikes Peak State Park without walking the half-mile trail to Bridal Veil Falls, the most iconic feature of the park. 

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque

350 E. Third S.

Entrance to the National Mississippi River Museum

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque is on almost every travel list for Dubuque and eastern Iowa because it’s incredible. We’ve included it again because learning about the river is the perfect stop when traveling the Great River Road in Iowa. The facility is part museum, aquarium, and science center. Visitors can find various species found in the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and other national river systems. Exhibits also include animal habitats and items that portray the cultural history of the river, including boats and a blacksmith ship. Other exhibits specifically highlight the Mississippi, Native American life, settlement, trade, and conservation. 

Putnam Museum and Science Center, Davenport

1717 W. 12th St.

Putnam Museum
Photo courtesy of Putnam Museum

If you’re traveling the Great River Road with kids, you cannot miss the Putnam Museum in Davenport. The museum offers the perfect mixture of cultural and natural history and science. The varied exhibits include opportunities to learn about Anne Frank, Ancient Egypt, and an exhibit that focuses on the Mississippi River and the area surrounding Davenport, specifically the way of life for early inhabitants. Putnam also has an extensive collection of fossils from the Mazon Creek area of Illinois and minerals found in Iowa and the Hall of Mammal, showcasing wildlife from the river bluffs and prairie. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy and learn about at Putnam 

George M. Verity Riverboat Museum, Keokuk

Victory Park at Johnson Street

George Verity Keokuk
Photo courtesy of George M. Verity Unofficial Facebook Page

Paddleboats were once a major part of moving goods up and down the Mississippi River. Large barges and other faster methods have replaced them for the most part, unless you are going for a lovely riverboat cruise or hanging on a riverboat casino. The George M. Verity paddleboat was built in 1927 by the federal government to try to bring back river transportation, and it remains one of only three steam-powered towboats in the U.S. Keokuk received the boat in 1961 after its retirement. The city drydocked the boat and turned it into a museum. The boat is a small museum but worth the visit to learn about life on the river. Make sure you visit from April to November because the city closes the museum during the winter months. 

by Jessica Lee

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