If you find yourself taking the pilgrimage to visit us out in LeClaire, Iowa—-we have the perfect road trip for you to take! Our shop in LeClaire sits right on the Historic Great River Road—-a National Scenic Byway that stretches from northern Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico—winding through 10 states, 3000 miles, and countless small river towns.
Created in 1938, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway is the longest designated roadway and one of the oldest at that! A lot like other famous byways; the Blue Ridge Parkway and Route 66 for example—the Great River Road has received an All-American Road designation. In order for a roadway to receive such a title it must be nationally special and feature one-of-a-kind sights and experiences that do not exist elsewhere. The idea is that the roadway itself is the destination, pretty cool, right?
The Great River Road is made up with a series of different roads and highways that roughly follow every bend and curve of the mighty Mississippi River (look for the white signs displaying the green pilot’s wheel logo). The entire route takes about 36 hours of straight driving but one of our favorite sections of the Great River Road is just a couple hours drive starting from our shop in LeClaire and takes you up north to the “Driftless” areas of Iowa. These areas, unlike most of the Upper Midwest were bypassed by the last continental glaciation—which left rolling hills, underground water sources, caves, bluffs, and made way for the Mississippi and surrounding rivers and creeks. Welcome to the Great River Road, the Main Streets of the Mississippi!
Imagine driving down the highway with rolling green hills and fields, speckled with grazing cattle and horses and then right before you eyes—the scenery shifts. You’re now looking right at the Mississippi River lined with trees and cliffs. This is Bellevue, Iowa which actually means “beautiful view.” This gorgeous little river town has a population of about 3k and is a true Iowan hidden gem. Take in the sights from the towering bluffs at Bellevue State Park—the perfect spot for family hiking and camping! And after working up an appetite, grab a seat at Richman’s Cafe for some mouth watering comfort food. Our favorite is their breakfast burritos and don’t forget a slice of pie (a la mode of course).
Guttenberg is most known for its well preserved pre and post civil war architecture. Especially, the large number of limestone structures dating from before the Civil War and some built as early as the mid-1840’s! Not only is the architecture historical here but so is the history of the Mississippi River! Lock and Dam No. 10 is located in Guttenberg and is also home to the sole remaining lock master house on its original site on the Upper Mississippi River. Now a museum, the Lockmaster’s House was where the lock master of Lock & Dam No. 10 was required to live! Tour the home and imagine what it was like to oversee this section of the mighty Mississippi! Another favorite spot of ours is the Guttenberg Gallery & Creativity Center—a local gallery that supports local artists by exhibiting and selling their work! It also doubles as a community art studio for children and adults. During May-August, enjoy the “Paint Your Own Pottery” studio and much more!
For most Iowans, Dubuque needs no introduction. This city is well known for it’s family fun experiences, historic sites, art museums, theaters, etc.! It’s also home to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium—a family favorite that melds together river history, science, & wildlife for a one of a kind experience! See just how big catfish can get in the Mississippi and Pilot a river boat, all in one visit! Located directly across the river in Dubuque, IL is home to one of our favorites, Timmerman’s Supper Club. Grab a drink and let’s keep traveling north!
One of Mike’s favorite Iowan towns, McGregor is a must see. This town features one-of-a-kind sights like the Effigy Mounds National Monument. Here they have preserved more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by pre-Columbian Mound Builder cultures. Numerous mounds are shaped like animals; including bears and birds. Get a birds eye view of the Mississippi from a 500 foot bluff at Pikes Peak State Park—-you can also hike and camp this park and take in all of the natural beauty of this Driftless area. Maybe something a little more spooky is what you’re looking for—-let’s go to Spook Cave Campground!
Don’t be fooled by the name, Spook Cave is far more fun than scary! This is a flooded cave that was discovered in 1953 and opened for business in 1955. Here you can rent a cabin or hut and enjoy the great outdoor with fishing, swimming, paddling, hiking, boat rides through Spook Cave, and relaxing around a campfire. Don’t forget to explore downtown McGregor too! Go back in time at River Junction Trade Co.—-which specializes in old west clothing, dry goods, accessories, and more! Another favorite shop of ours is Paper Moon—shop a unique selection of gifts and books we guarantee you’ll love.
Out last stop on our Great River Road Trip has a population of just 429 and is known as “Iowa’s Best Kept Secret.” Nestled right in the bluffs of the Mississippi, this area boasts numerous outdoor activities like; fishing, angling, hiking, camping, and more. Learn more about this unique topographical area at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre—they host fun, interactive educational experiences for families of all ages! Also, don’t miss the Marquette Depot Museum an learn all about this town’s railroad history and historic railroad artifacts!