Iowa Scenic Drive: Great River Road

History of the Great River Road

Although most of Iowa was settled in the mid-1800s, the Mississippi River made it an accessible territory long before the United States became a nation. Native Americans and explorers alike saw the raw, unharnessed power of this beautiful passageway. One of the first outposts was Fort Madison, where history is recreated today. Like much of the United States, the Great River Road was under Spanish and French rule until the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Soon after, settlers and industry came to Iowa. Bustling river towns created cultural landmarks such as Snake Alley -- the curviest road in the United States. Little towns along the road grew and became the cities they are today. During the booming days of river trade, writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) captured the atmosphere and the time period in his novels. When the Civil War came to Iowa, most of the people living there fought for the Union. Civil War memorials are now found in several of the towns on the byway.

Archeological Qualities of the Great River Road

A primary site on the Great River Road is the Effigy Mounds National Monument, the site of 195 mounds. Of these 195 mounds, 31 are effigy outlines of mammals, birds, or reptiles. Eastern Woodland Indian culture built these sites between 500 B.C. and A.D. 1300. They are preserved and interpreted for the public. Additional property was being added to the monument site to expand its protection of these unique resources. Other important sites are found at the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area and the Toolesboro Indian Mounds National Historic Landmark.

Iowa's portion of the Great River Road offers a variety of historical sights, recreation areas, and charming towns to visit along your way.

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.