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Iowa’s Upper Great River Road & Six Small Towns Not to Miss This Summer
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Iowa’s Upper Great River Road & Six Small Towns Not to Miss This Summer

Green pastures and corn fields are only a few treats that Iowa's landscape has to offer. But this American heartland is also bordered by the Mississippi River to the east. If you don't have the time to take the entire Great River Road winding through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana - just follow the course of the river in beautiful Iowa, and take in all there is to enjoy.

Apart from scenic views of the Mississippi River, Iowa river towns have so much to offer tourists. Jump in the car and hit the Great River Road!

Here’s what you shouldn't miss on the upper side of the mighty Mississipp:


The Great River Road in Iowa starts in Lansing, which is a quaint little town. This 19th-century riverside town still retains its old charm and is also home to the Mount Hosmer City Park. Mount Hosmer is a 450 ft bluff that overlooks the town and is popular among photographers for the panoramic views it offers.

Also worth seeing is the Our Lady of the Wayside Shrine and the Fish Farm Mound- an Indian burial site. You can also take a wildlife cruise on the river.

Harpers Ferry

This town is just 15 miles away from Lansing and is one of the oldest settlements in Allamakee County. The retail shops, restaurants, lakes, islands, and trout streams entice locals as well as tourists.

Three miles from this town is the Yellow River Forest. The forest is open to hunting and cross country skiing. There are hiking trails and you can also take in the views in a snowmobile or on horseback. There are campgrounds too and streams brimming with trout, bass, and pan fish.

Another two miles south will bring you to the Effigy Mounds National Monument which is located in one of the most scenic sections of the Upper Mississippi River valley. The monument is an American Indian burial and ceremonial site and features over 200 mounds in the shape of birds, bears, and other animals. The mounds are still considered sacred by American Indian tribes that are culturally associated with the monument.


This city is named after the Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette, who discovered the Mississippi River east of the city in 1673. Marquette, along with McGregor in the south, served as a railroad terminus, and later was home to a major rail yard. Today, Marquette is famous among tourists for its antique shops, hiking and camping parks, fishing piers, and riverboat casinos.

The Effigy Mounds National Monument Visitor Center in Marquette has displays of local Mississippian and Woodland artifacts and a herbarium too. The city is also home to the Eagles Landing Winery which you can visit to take in the sights and sip on their award-winning wines.


This city had become the busiest shipping port to the west of Chicago in the 1870s. The construction of a permanent pontoon bridge between McGregor and Prairie du Chien across the river in Wisconsin put an end to the system of ferrying railroad cars and trains across the river.

The city's population began to decline soon after but it remains a popular tourist destination due to its location beside the river and its colorful past. The downtown business district still has several buildings that were constructed during McGregor's boom years. The city's antique stores are also well known.

The Pikes Peak State Park that lies to the south of the city is one of the most photographed places in the state. The 500 ft bluff offers majestic views of the Mississippi River and the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. The Bridal Veil Falls are worth a visit. You can also see over 60 conical and linear shaped effigy mounds built by the American Indians. There are hiking trails too.


The city was initially named Prairie La Porte or 'the door to the prairie' in 1673 by French explorers. Early businesses in the city included wagon shops, general supply stores, blacksmiths, and hotels. German immigration began in 1845 and in just five years, the town had become nearly all German. The city takes its present name from the inventor of movable type, Johannes Gutenberg. You can see a copy of the Gutenberg Bible on display at the Guttenberg Public Library.

Guttenberg is an angler's paradise. Bluegill, walleye, bass, and catfish can be caught right off the river bank or you can dock at the Department of Natural Resources Boat Ramp. The two mile river-walk at Ingleside Park is great for fishing, jogging, and picnicking. At the Guttenberg Aquarium and Fish Management Station, you'll get to see several species of fish found in the Mississippi river and streams.


Dubuque is the tenth largest city in Iowa and lies at the junction of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. It is a major tourist destination due to its location and unique architecture. The Fourth Street Elevator or the Fenelon Place Elevator is a narrow gauge funicular railway and the world's shortest and steepest railroad, and the best way to see spectacular views of the city, the river, and the states of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Stroll along the Mississippi river-walk to see points of interest such as the Dubuque Shot Tower, the Dubuque Star Brewery, the River's Edge Plaza, and the Alliant Energy Citizen’s Amphitheater.

Eagle Point Park offers splendid views of the Mississippi, and Illinois and Wisconsin. The park is well known for sightings of the Bald Eagle. The park also has gardens, pavilions, nature trails, barbecue grills, tennis courts, playground equipment and restrooms.


Iowa's Great River Road has it all- historical sites, pretty towns, fun recreational areas, and lots more. Ready to map out that summer road trip and recharge your batteries on the road?

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