Pack some snacks and round up your family and hit the road: September is Drive the Great River Road Month.
Throughout September, the Mississippi River Parkway Commission — the national group that oversees the Great River Road — is encouraging folks to plan trips along the Great River Road, a scenic byway that follows the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, according to the MRPC.
“It’s a trip through beautiful wilderness, charming river towns and bustling big cities, all with America’s most iconic river as your backdrop,” said Susanne Thiede-Barnet, Managing Director of the MRPC.
“Drive the Great River Road Month is a time for us to celebrate the states, communities and businesses that make their homes along the 3,000-mile route. It’s a way to let people know about the great things to see and do on the Great River Road and raise awareness of this national treasure.”
Since 1938, the Great River Road has welcomed road trippers. “While COVID has impacted a lot of things (this year), a fall-color tour is still a great social distancing activity,” Thiede-Barnet said. “There are lots of scenic overlooks, parks and other great spots along the Great River Road where it’s easy to safely keep your distance.”
Thiede-Barnet also advises folks to follow state and local guidelines when they are out and about.
If you’re not ready to travel right now, Thiede-Barnet said, the MRPC offers a free 10-state map and a Drive the Great River Road app to plan a trip now or in the future.
For Quad-Citians who are comfortable hopping in the car and going for a drive, the MRPC recommends a few places to stop:
• Loud Thunder Forest Preserve, Illinois City — About 30 minutes from Davenport, you’ll find camping, hiking trails, picnic spots, boating and fishing opportunities at this 1,500-acre forest preserve, according to the MRPC.
• Bellevue State Park, Nelson Unit, Bellevue — About an hour and 10 minutes from Davenport, this park is located on a 300-foot limestone bluff with great views of Bellevue and the river, according to the MRPC.
• Mississippi Palisades State Park, Savanna — About an hour and 15 minute from Davenport, this 2,500-acre scenic park is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple Rivers, states the MRPC.
• Mosquito Park, Burlington — About an hour and a half from Davenport sits this riverside park, which features a good view of a nearby lock and dam on the Mississippi River, according to the MRPC.
Whether you never leave the car or you make stops along the way, there is plenty to see and do along the Great River Road. The MRPC map highlights interpretive centers along the route, and there are loads of communities and businesses that “cater to visitors.”
“(There) are restaurants, local shops, museums and more that show off the spirit of the Great River Road. They’re ready to serve you, and we encourage travelers to do what makes them (feel) safe,” Thiede-Barnet said.
For those who are looking to stay outdoors, “active couples can hike or bike riverside trails, kids can marvel at the barges passing through the locks and dams, and empty nesters can enjoy a scenic fall picnic. Or, you can change the ages on all those activities and they still work,” she said.
Jessica Waytenick, Public Relations and Marketing Manager of Visit Quad Cities, said there are plenty of places folks can take advantage of right in the Quad-Cities, too, in and outside of the car.
“(The) Ben Butterworth Parkway section of the trail (in Moline) is always a popular section” to walk or bike, she said. “(The) Great River Trail goes from the Quad-Cities to Savanna,” which is a “60-mile ride if you’re really adventurous,” she said, or you could do it in bits and pieces.
Especially in light of COVID-19, people are looking for options that are “maybe not your typical fall events,” Waytenick said. “I think The Great River Road is a great opportunity for that. … It gives people small towns to explore if they want to make the Quad-Cities their home base and travel outward in either direction.”
The MRPC also has launched the Drive the Great River Road Month Sweepstakes, which runs through Sept. 30, and will award one winner with $500 to spend on their next Great River Road trip, according to a news release. To enter, and for more information, visit experiencemississippiriver.com.
No matter the route or the places you stop to take in the scenery, “I think the river is just for serenity and sanity,” Waytenick said. “Any time that you can just sit and admire and enjoy that view is something that’s needed.”