The Great River Road

The Great River Road is a bit of a misnomer for it isn’t a single road. Rather it’s many different roads cobbled together along a common theme, tracing a scenic route along the Mississippi River. This scenic designation runs contiguously through ten of the United States and by extension into two Canadian Provinces, a total length of 3,765 kilometres (2,340 miles).


Great River Road Logo
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, released to the Public Domain

Travelers focus on special signage to remain on course, a unifying element making it difficult to get lost even with frequent route number changes. Drivers easily recognize the vintage river vessel framed by a ship wheel in its distinctive green hue. Of course, seeing "Great River Road" arcing across the top half in a large font gets the point across too. The logo displayed above is generic. Actual roadsigns also have the name of the State or Province arcing across the bottom, or may convey other information such as at the northern terminus in northwest Ontario.

The logo evokes a historic nineteenth century period when steam-driven paddlewheelers delivered passengers and goods alike, deep into the North American interior. Back then the river was the road. Today the road follows the river.

Mississippi is thought to derive from an Ojibwe Indian word misi-ziibi, meaning "Great River" so the name chosen for the road provides additional historical context.



View Larger Map

The Mississippi River forms a border between several of the mid-western and mid-southern States. That might pose a dilemma. On which side of the river should the Great River Road run? That’s not an issue for portions of Minnesota and Louisiana where the river is wholly encompassed within their respective borders, but it could be problematic for the much larger stretches of river shared by two States. The Great River Road is intended to be a tourist draw in addition to recognizing remarkable history and scenery. Which States should be able to reap the economic benefits and which should not?

Actually they all benefit. The Great River Road runs on both sides of the Mississippi River simultaneously. Travelers have the option of riding on the western bank or the eastern bank, or switching back-and-forth when reaching any of twelve official bridge crossings or one of several ferries.

Ontario and a corner of Manitoba in Canada also benefit although neither of them actually contains territory within the Mississippi River watershed. In fact, as I noted in an earlier article, only two tenths of one percent of the Canadian landmass — a tiny chip of Alberta and Saskatchewan — drains to the Gulf of Mexico. Never mind. If they’d like to be part of the Great River Road, let’s add them to the list and give them a scenic designation. It’s the least we can do.

Within the United States, each of the States has its own commission to administer its section of the Great River Road. These, in turn, coordinate their efforts and work in cooperation through the Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC). They all work together to forge a common identity and brand, for their individual and mutual benefit.

It sounds like an ideal time for a road trip.


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