The Great River Road

In its 140-mi (225-km) course across Iowa, the GRR passes swiftly but unmistakably across the cultural and geographical North-South divide. Separated by the Mississippi River from the rough topography of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region, the southeastern corner of Iowa offers instead a taste of the state’s trademark rolling plains covered with corn and soybeans. Menus are different, too: Cattle here are raised for meat instead of milk, and Iowa is a leading producer of hogs. One of the state lottery games is called Bring Home the Bacon, while radio ads encourage you to “Eat more pork—the other white meat.” So say good-bye to walleye and hello to barbecue.

Running along the western bank of the Mississippi, our route tends to the tops of the bluffs rather than to their base, which means the river is often spied from a distance and seems unrelated to the rolling landscape; fortunately it continues to guide the curves of the road. Other than Dubuque, our route passes through towns so far from the beaten path they don’t even rate a fast-food strip or Walmart—appreciate this while it lasts.

Top Stops Along the GRR in Iowa

  • Marquette: Explore more than 200 distinct burial mounds at Effigy Mounds National Monument
  • Dubuque: See the “World’s Steepest, Shortest Scenic Railway”

Map of the Great River Road in Iowa

Map of the Great River Road through Iowa.
Map of the Great River Road through Iowa.

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