Iowa Scenic Drive: Great River Road

Things To Do Along the Great River Road

Iowa Division of Tourism Morning view over Lock and Dam 11 and the Mississippi River from Eagle Point Park, Dubuque, Iowa.
Iowa Division of Tourism Morning view over Lock and Dam 11 and the Mississippi River from Eagle Point Park, Dubuque, Iowa.

Geology, the hydrologic cycle, and erosion are among the big stories that the Mississippi River and the Great River Road tell in Iowa. The forces of nature can be seen in how the river has cut a deep channel in ancient limestone layers in the northern reaches. The ever-changing channel of the river, the deposition of sediments, and the broad floodplain of the Mississippi River in the southern part of the state speak of a different natural dynamic. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the state's oldest and most popular wildlife refuge. Many other state, county, and city parks provide opportunities for spotting and watching wildlife.

Recreational Qualities of the Great River Road

Recreational opportunities abound along the Iowa Great River Road. Water activities include boating, sailing, fishing, waterfowl hunting, and swimming. For decades, the Iowa Great River Road and its side roads have been popular pleasure routes for sightseeing. Numerous multipurpose trails and support facilities are available along the road.

Scenic Qualities of the Great River Road

The magnificent scenery of the Great River Road is centered around the Mississippi River. The river is almost continuously visible from the Great River Road (or is within a few miles of the byway). Dams along the river create large pools of open water upstream. Along the northern part of the river, steep limestone bluffs descend directly to the banks. Downstream, the floodplain opens to afford long, uninterrupted views of the valley. Roadside spots, shady parks, and locks and dams of the Mississippi River offer places for you to stop and take in the scenic beauty of the Great River Road and the Mississippi River.

The four seasons provide dynamic backgrounds and changes in the vegetation and activity on the water. The rural landscape provides a multitude of settings for small farms, protected wetlands, streams and rivers, and woodlots and forests. The residential and main street architecture of small towns and river cities offers much interest and contrast to the rural images. Many efforts exist to protect the countryside landscape character.

The next section will detail some of the historical sights you'll see as you pass along the Iowa stretch of the Great River Road.

Find out more useful information related to the Great River Road:

  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Iowa? Here are more than 100 throughout the United States.
  • Iowa Scenic Drives: The Loess Hill Scenic Byway is one of many scenic drives in Iowa. Check out all the Iowa Scenic Drives.
  • Loess Hills Scenic Byway: On the western border of Iowa, the ecologically unqiue Loess Hills offer great scenery. Learn where to drive through it.
  • Cities: Burlington, Clinton, Davenport, Dubuque, Harper's Ferry and Keokuk are among the Iowa cities along the Great River Road.