Recognized as one of the best scenic byways in the U.S., the Great River Road follows the winding Mississippi River along Iowa’s eastern border. This itinerary makes planning a trip along Iowa's portion of the byway even easier, featuring the area’s stunning sights and thrilling attractions. Start from any destination and prepare for an exciting river road adventure.
Learn about what makes northeast Iowa so special at the 10,000-square-foot Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center. It’s three levels offer amazing views of the limestone bluffs and mighty Mississippi River alongside exhibits that include everything from native wildlife to stories about the Native Americans and European settlers.
Then, stop by Safe House Saloon, a gastro pub that has become a local favorite due to its huge selection of craft beers. Pair it with a delicious homemade thin crust pizza, a wide variety of appetizers or excellent hot wings. They offer carry out and delivery so you can enjoy their tasty meals anywhere.
2. Harpers Ferry
Enjoy a short 20-minute scenic drive to Harpers Ferry, park the car and explore Yellow River State Forest. Home to stunning views, beautiful woodlands and meandering trout streams, it offers some of the best outdoor recreation in northeast Iowa. Explore the park’s 8,900 acres, divided into six units, to discover stunning hiking trails, mountain biking, equestrian trails and canoe and kayak launches.
Next, make your way to McGregor (25 minutes south) and book a stay inside one of the four lodging options at Grumpster's Log Cabins. The cabins sleep 5 to 12 people and provide all the luxury amenities you need, from full kitchens and private bedrooms to whirlpool tubs and satellite TV.
Grab dinner and drinks at Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery. This family-owned establishment boasts mouthwatering food and a variety of tasty local and commercial beers.
Continue the adventure by embarking on a 1.25-hour drive to Dubuque, where endless fun awaits at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. It's the country's largest museum & aquarium dedicated to the rich history, culture, life and ecosystems of the Mississippi River and its watershed. The museum campus features interactive exhibits inside and outside and aquariums full of fish and other wildlife found in the Mississippi.
Then stop by 7 Hills Brewing Company. Tucked away in the Millwork District, this full-service brewery and restaurant boasts a 10,000 square-foot open floor plan that ensures there’s always a seat available, and their wine and craft cocktail options are sure to please visitors of all preferences.
Take a pit stop in Bellevue (just 30 minutes south) and spend an evening at the Mont Rest Inn. This stunning bed & breakfast offers a bluff-top view of the Mississippi River alongside queen/king beds, luxury whirlpool baths, fireplaces, antique furnishings, cable TV and free internet access. Visitors can also enjoy a full breakfast and homemade cookies.
Continue 45 minutes further along the byway and stop by the Sawmill Museum in Clinton. Designated as a Great River Road interpretive center, this unique museum tells the story of how Clinton ruled the lumber industry from 1870-1900. Stop by to learn the stories behind this rise to fame and the equipment and workers that made it possible.
For a unique view of the river, visit the Lock & Dam 13. Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this lock and dam features a viewing deck that’s open year-round. Stop by in the fall to enjoy some of the best views of the colors and water, or admire bald eagles during the winter months.
Then, grab a bite to eat at Lyon's Tap & Grill. Located in the Historic Lyons District, this eatery features some of the area’s best wings, beer and sports watching.
7. Quad Cities
Continue on with a scenic 1-hour drive to the Quad Cities. Dive deep into world and local history at the Putnam Museum & Science Center, an exciting, hands-on museum. Visit their famous 3,000-year-old mummy, explore the region's history or discover the Science Center Galleries’ interactive stations that make science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts fun for all ages.
You won't want to miss a visit to Front Street Brewery. Recognized as the oldest brew pub in the state, it not only offers delicious American cuisines and craft brews, but also beautiful views of the Mississippi River.
Next, head to Muscatine (45 minutes away) and spend a night in luxury at The Merrill. Named the #1 Hotel in Iowa by the U.S. News & World Report, the community's lone boutique hotel offers a luxurious stay for the most relaxing night. Perfectly placed in the heart of the downtown, it not only offers unobstructed views of the Mississippi River, but also comfortable amenities that will make you feel right at home.
Once you've settled in, head across the street to experience the Muscatine that was once known as the "Pearl Button Capital of the World." The National Pearl Button Museum's first floor shares the story of the community's involvement in the "gold rush of the Midwest" in the 1890s, when river towns across the country extracted beautiful white pearls from their waters, contributing to nearly 1/3 of the world's pearl buttons. The second floor delves into Muscatine's thriving manufacturing industry throughout the 1940s and 50s.
For dinner, enjoy a night out at the Missipi Brewing Company, whose combination of great food, great music and the finest spirits west of the Mississippi River makes it a must-stop. This family-owned restaurant offers a casual experience with that ole' time pub feel.
On the last leg of the trip, enjoy a thrilling stop in Burlington (1 hour south). Stop by FunCity to create your own exciting adventure. This resort features fun for the whole family with their 100+ interactive arcade games, go-karts and bowling. Or for an adult retreat, head to the casino.
For modern entertainment paired with history, stop by the Capitol Theater. Located in the heart of the downtown, this restored theater recaptures an era when movies and live entertainment centered around a stunning space. Catch a classic film or performance from local, regional and national touring artists while admiring the 1937 Art Deco architecture.
For the last stop, step inside Burlington's oldest stone house, which was transformed into Good Restaurant & Lounge. This unique eatery offers brunch, lunch and dinner. For a more intimate experience, plan ahead to book the private Atlas Room, where you and five guests can enjoy a prefixed menu in a beautiful, cozy setting.