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!
20 thoughts on “Weekend Roadtrip: Iowa’s Great River Road”
Thank you for this literary trip, you articulate a beautiful scene and adventure. I Love this country.
Looks like a good side road trip to do in the Fall while I’m visiting my Sis in Des Moines from Boston!
Yes! And it’s even more beautiful in the fall too!
Definitely! So many fun things to do in LeClaire! http://www.visitleclaire.com
Brilliant Mike thanks for sharing 👍
Thanks for reading!
You are a wonderful tour guide. I enjoyed the pictures and through your words, I felt as if I were there. I watch your show and have seen all of your episodes. I love antiques and watching you discovering them. I have a tiny collection myself after watching you. Even my cat watches your adventures. Thank you and keep on picking.
We appreciate that so much! Thank you!
Highly recommend this trip. I saw all these places as a child growing up in Oelwein, Iowa on weekend trips. Been back since and it’s still just as wonderful.
It’s one of the best! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Antique Archaeology for this great story. Glad I took the time to read up on this area. Hope I can visit it someday.
Best wishes from California
Thank you so much! We appreciate it! We hope you can come visit too!
Hey Mike, love what you do! I’m collecteder always have been. Have hot wheels and much more in rock and roll. Happy travels?
Thanks so much! Happy travels to you!
So how is Frank doing, not heard a thing ,not on t.v. or website?Loved it when you were in Ocala Fl. At Rich’s place.New show are ok ,but 1 hr. Of reruns after boreing. Had family &friends in De Witt ,small-town your bike shop was neat bar there! Mother & stepdad had farm in charlotte.3 MI north -west of town on rt. 136 Keep on picken. Jim
Mike, We have loved your show since the beginning. If we have to miss one, we tape it for later. I’m a senior , 85 yrs. and just want you to know how much we miss Frank. The two of you were the perfect compliment to each other and your obvious affection and caring was always present. You, Mike have a high level of excitement and enthusiasm. Frank was more low key and perfectly balanced out your personality. You were both so much fun to watch. Can’t you possibly work things out? You have both invested so much time (and probably, money) in such a popular, family-oriented program and our country needs your type of programming. Please consider showing our young people (and old ones, too) that misunderstandings and hurt feelings can be worked out. You are both good men, and capable of getting beyond mistakes that were made. Remember all the positive things you shared in the past. I bet if you made a list, the laughs and good things would easily outweigh the negative ones. Forgive me for being so bold as to give you advice, just look at me as a wise old grandmother who has lived long enough to realize
that forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. Love to you both,
OMG, I’m going to be driving right by you in LeClaire this Wednesday, Sept 14, following the GRR with Adventure Caravans! I’ve been going over our trip log and following along the route to make sure I know where I’m going and in researching the road through Balltown to Dubuque I came across this blog. I am for sure going to stop by and say Hi. My husband is going to be sooo jealous and disappointed that he didn’t come along on this trip. (we live in Reno, NV)
That is so cool, Darlene! Please tag @ontwolanes in all your photos! We’d love to see where you go! Thanks for sharing!
This article bought back some great memories traveling through Iowa and those towns mentioned. Coming from Australia the local people I met were genuine and down to earth and always welcoming. I still love watching your show, keep it up. JB