The Great River Road


For a scenic 12 mi (19.3 km) south of Nauvoo, the GRR returns after long absence to the banks of the Mississippi, shaded by native hickory and oak, and then sidesteps yet another opportunity to enter Iowa, this time via US-136 west to Keokuk. Staying on the east bank, the GRR follows a series of farm roads past gravel pits and fields for most of the 40-mi (64-km) run through Warsaw down to Quincy.

Warsaw lends its name to a variety of geode found locally in profusion; inside, Warsaw geodes grow calcite crystals. Across the Mississippi, Keokuk geodes grow quartzite crystals inside their stony spheres. South of town, the highway threatens to turn amphibious as it rolls down past a towering grain elevator to the Mississippi’s edge, bends south along the base of the bluffs past old house trailers, scruffy fields full of wildlife—including wild turkeys and river turtles waddling along the roadside—and old kilns visible in the limestone. The road passes, finally, back into Illinois’s signature cornfields, planted in the river’s fertile floodplain.


Midway between the Quad Cities and St. Louis, Quincy (pop. 40,042) is a modest-size city, Germanic enough in its heritage to consider Pizza Hut an ethnic restaurant. A bastion of abolitionists before the Civil War, Quincy was also home to Stephen Douglas, the incumbent pro-slavery senator from Illinois whose campaign debates with Abraham Lincoln put that tall country lawyer on the path to the White House.

The GRR follows the riverfront, with the giant span of the Bayview Bridge over the Mississippi leaving no doubt as to which way to turn to stay on track. However, most of the city perches on the tall bluffs above the GRR and is worth a drive through, if only to sample its textbook variety of residential architecture. Take a walk or drive through the East End, an area roughly bounded by Maine and State Streets between 16th and 24th Streets. Filled with historic mansions along quiet tree-canopied streets, it’s the perfect place to practice distinguishing your Queen Anne from your Tudor, and Prairie Style from Gothic Revival.

If you have thus far missed the tried-and-true cooking of the Maid-Rite (507 N. 12th St., 217/222-9767) chain, Quincy gives you a chance to fix this oversight: Perhaps the most intact of all the original Maids is here in Quincy. There’s also an exceptionally good Italian place, Tiramisu (137 N 3rd St., 217/222-9560). If you plan to spend the night, you’ll find the national chains downtown out on Broadway near I-172.

Maps of the Great River Road from Illinois to Missouri

Map of the Great River Road through Northern Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri
The Great River Road through Northern IL, IA, and MO.
Map of the Great River Road through Southern Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.
The Great River Road through Southern IL, IA, and MO.

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