Minnesota Scenic Drives: Great River Road

Cultural Qualities of the Great River Road

The Great River Road in Minnesota takes you along the southeast end of the state, providing a look at the culture that began and continued on the banks of the Mississippi. This is where you find the Great River and the source of the development of civilization in Minnesota.

It began with the American Indian nations of the Sioux and Chippewa, who lived in the area for many years before they began to interact with the Europeans in fur trade. When wildlife grew scarce, new settlers began an industry of logging, which forced native nations out of the area so that logging could proceed.

Although many people initially came to the area for jobs in the logging industry, tourism was blossoming as people traveled to see the beautiful Minnesota forests. In the 1930s, people began to restore the once-great forests of giant red and white pines. An appreciation of nature is still part of the byway culture today.

Cultures of the past have left traces of the past. Native American languages can still be found in names like Lake Winnibigoshish and Ah-Gwah-Ching (Leech Lake), while the heritage of the European settlers resounds in the names of communities all along the road. You will also find more recent pieces of American culture in Lindbergh State Park and the Lindbergh home, a memorial and a glimpse at the boyhood of the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh.

The Great River Road communities in Minnesota offer many festivals that celebrate the legends, products, immigrant culture, and art found along the byway. For example, as you travel from Itasca to Bemidji, you can experience the Annual Ozawindib Walk, the Annual International Snowsnake Games, and the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers Reunion and Show.

You can also enjoy the Annual Winter Bird Count, Art in the Park in July, and the People's Art Festival in November. Finally, you can visit the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues that were erected in 1937 for a winter carnival.

In the Minneapolis to St. Paul area of the byway, you can experience 1840s food, dining, and preparation. Special events include Children's Day, Historic Mendota Days, the Mill City Blues Festival, the Capital City Celebration, and a New Year's Eve party.