Iowa's Great River Road mostly hugs the Mississippi along the state's eastern edge. It combines numerous country byways and passes through some beautifully isolated riverfront towns. Meet the route in Iowa’s far northeastern corner at Lansing, an attractive resort town with a grand panorama of three states from the top of Mt Hosmer Park.
Continue south to Effigy Mounds National Monument, where hundreds of mysterious Native American burial mounds lie in bluffs above the Mississippi River. Listen to songbirds as you hike the lush trails.
Neighboring Marquette and McGregor are next up. Both are delightful historic villages whose main drags are worthy of a quick stroll. The latter is the gateway to Pikes Peak State Park, a nature reserve at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers with 10 intertwined hiking trails and sweeping views from the hilltop campground.
Dip down into Guttenberg, a modern town with a strip of shops and eateries along the riverfront, before entering the regional hub of Dubuque where you can learn about life on the Mississippi at the impressive National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Part of a vast riverfront development, its exhibits span steamboating, aquatic life and indigenous Mississippi River dwellers.
Along an especially scenic stretch of the road south of Dubuque you'll find Bellevue, which lives up to its name with good river views and some verdant, rural scenery. Stop at Potter’s Mill, an old grain mill where you can chow down on hearty Southern cooking while listening to live jazz and blues music. Further south, Clinton embraces the river with waterfront walkways and Eagle Point Park, which has sweeping river views from a 100-foot bluff (and a castle!).
The landscape flattens out from here with wide-open vistas as you enter the bustling streets of Davenport, the largest of the so-called Quad Cities. Further south, Burlington has an excellent welcome center and is good for a quick break before you finish up the journey past Old Fort Madison, a reconstruction of the Midwest's oldest American military garrison on the upper Mississippi, in Keokuk.
Get more info on the route at www.iowagreatriverroad.com.