A Complete Guide to the Mississippi River Road Trip

New Orleans, Louisiana

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You can find a great American road trip along the banks of likely the most iconic river in the United States: the Mississippi River. The legend of this body of water has existed since before the creation of the U.S. and the mythos that surrounds it makes for a fantastic road trip. The route passes through 10 different states as it traverses nearly the entire length of the U.S. from north to south for 2,340 miles (3,765 kilometers), ending right at the Gulf of Mexico.

This road trip doesn't follow a single highway, but rather a series of local and state routes that follow the river and are collectively known as the "Great River Road." You'll know you're on the right path by the distinctive green and white signs showing the form of a ship's steering wheel that line the route.

Making this drive in spring or early fall is the best time to do it, when you don't have to worry about icy Midwest snowstorms or the sweltering summer heat of the South.

01 of 07

First Stop: Park Rapids, Minnesota

Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Minnesota, USA

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The Mississippi headwaters are located in Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, about four hours north of the Twin Cities if you use the most direct highways instead of the Great River Road. If you want to fully experience the Mississippi River, you have to see where this mighty body of water is born.

You’ll be in the heart of the action by staying right in the park. You can hike the trails, take a kayak out on the water, go birdwatching, or bike around the area. Bring your fishing pole to this area to fish Lake Itasca itself.

Where to Stay

The state park has all options for accommodations, including campsites, RV hookups, log cabins, and even a hostel. All of the basic amenities are provided throughout the campgrounds, including bathrooms with flush toilets and showers. The park also has picnic areas, a boat ramp, fishing dock, and playground right on-site, so it's easy to keep everyone entertained while enjoying the wilderness.

Time to Twin Cities: 6 hours

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02 of 07

Second Stop: Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota, City View

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The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have plenty of options to keep you entertained, from a thriving art scene to cultural events to nature parks, and travelers could easily spend a few days exploring the area if they have the time. After camping out in Itasca, you may want to spend some time in the cities seeing museums such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Mill City Museum, or the Museum of Russian Art. Other points of interest include the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Minnesota History Center.

If you’re still outdoor-minded, try Minnehaha Park, Lake Harriet, the Lake of the Isles, or nearby river-tubing.

Where to Stay

For staying in the Twin Cities, there are hotel options for all tastes and budgets, from the family-friendly Hampton Inn to the luxurious Hotel Ivy. If you are in an RV or camping, you'll have to be outside of the city limits of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Lebanon Hills Regional Campground in Apple Valley, Minnesota, is about 30 minutes south of Minneapolis, but it's a beautiful setting near the city with spacious RV sites that offer full utility hookups. Numerous campsites are also available for those who prefer to pitch a tent and sleep on the ground. Enjoy amenities such as laundry facilities, full bathhouses, fire pits, picnic tables, and more.

Time to Quad Cities: 7 hours

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03 of 07

Third Stop: The Quad Cities, Indiana/Iowa

Centennial Bridge, Davenport, Iowa
Mark Gibson

After the Twin Cities, continue down the river until you reach the Quad Cities. Confusingly, the Quad Cities are actually a group of five towns, not four, that straddle the border of Iowa and Illinois: Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois.

Davenport is the largest of the five and will likely be the base for your activities in the area. Try Vander Veer Botanical Park, the Figge Art Museum, and the delicious culinary creations found at Chocolate Manor. The Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science also has some great regular and seasonal exhibits to entertain both you and the kids. For a relaxing evening by the water, head down to the riverfront to watch the passing boats and barges. 

Where to Stay

West Lake Park in Davenport, Iowa, is the camping spot of choice around the Quad Cities. This highly-rated park is outfitted with plenty of amenities for RVers and tent campers, such as full utility hookups, dump station, hot showers, restrooms, and playground, all in the middle of a lovely public park. You can't reserve a spot in advance, however, and all sites are booked on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Time to St. Louis: 5 hours, 30 minutes

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04 of 07

Fourth Stop: St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis Gateway Arch and Lake

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St. Louis, Missouri, is known as the gateway to the West, and what better way to appreciate its legacy than by checking out the famous Gateway Arch or even taking an elevator all the way to the top. St. Louis is a big city so there will be plenty to do. If you like being outside, you can try the Missouri Botanical Garden or Forest Park. If you you're looking for activities for the kids, you can try out the St. Louis Zoo or Grant’s Farm. Other points of interest include City Museum, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, and the Missouri Civil War Museum.

Where to Stay

Hotels are aplenty in a major city like St. Louis, so you just need to look at your budget and preferences to select from the many available options.

One of the more unique RV parks you'll find along the route is Casino Queen RV Park, which feels more like a Las Vegas resort than an RV park. The sites are pull-through and outfitted with full utility hookups, and also come with cable and wireless internet access. The bathhouses and laundry facilities are kept clean and the park can satisfy that late-night snack attack thanks to the on-site convenience store. The casino at the park is open 24/7, so parents who need a break from the kids can head out at night while the little ones are sleeping.

Time to Memphis: 5 hours

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05 of 07

Fifth Stop: Memphis, Tennessee

Beale Street at night in Memphis, Tennessee
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Memphis, Tennessee, is known for its musical roots, which feature a blend of influences including blues, country, rock n' roll, hip-hop, and soul. Start out at Graceland, the one-time home of the King of Rock n' Roll himself, Elvis Presley. He recorded several of his biggest hits at Sun Studio in downtown Memphis, which is open to visitors. For live music, try one of the bars on Beale Street, which is the hub for nightlife in the city center.

A powerful and educational stop for all should be the National Civil Rights Museum, located inside the building of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

Where to Stay

To enjoy the best of the city without being too far out, look for Memphis hotels that are near the city center or Beale Street, such as the family-friendly Hampton Inn and Suites.

The Graceland RV Park and Campground is across the street from the eponymous museum, and RV sites come with full utility hookups along with a choice of 30-amp or 50-amp electrical units. The well-maintained grounds house bathhouses and laundry facilities, Wi-Fi access, and a camping store. On top of all that you’ll get hiking and biking trails, a swimming pool, and 24/7 security patrol at the park.

Time to Greenville: 3 hours

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06 of 07

Sixth Stop: Greenville, Mississppi

Greenville Cypress Preserve

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Between the urban stops of Memphis and New Orleans, you’ll find the beautiful and river-minded community of Greenville, Mississippi. This is one of the best places along the route to enjoy the waters of the Mississippi River itself, and you can hike around the lush Greenville Cypress Preserve to experience the river up close. The Winterville Mounds are prehistoric man-made hills used by Indigenous groups in the area from nearly 1,000 years ago—centuries before Europeans arrived on the continent.

If you or your kids are fans of the Muppets, it's worth paying a visit to the Jim Henson Museum, named for the Muppets creator who was born in Greenville. You can also hit up one of the local casinos, such as Harlow's Casino, for a little gambling after nearly a week on the road.

Where to Stay

A great park right on the banks of the Mississippi River in Mississippi is at Warfield Point Park. There are 52 sites for tent campers and RVers, all of which are decked out with full utility hookups of water, sewage, and electricity. Some sites even come with their own fire pits for relaxing around the fire. The bathhouses are kept clean and the park has its own fun amenities like a disc golf course, horseshoe pits, volleyball court, and boat ramp if you happen to be hauling a watercraft.

Time to New Orleans: 6 hours, 30 minutes

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07 of 07

Seventh Stop: New Orleans, Louisiana

Potted plants in balcony of building at French Quarter

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New Orleans is one of the magical cities that truly has no counterpart in the world. The oldest and most popular neighborhood is the French Quarter, with its ebullient atmosphere, non-stop music, and mouthwatering dishes. Here you can grab a Hurricane cocktail, go dancing, or check out the French Quarter’s famous street buskers. It's also a bit touristy, so don't limit yourself and remember to see other parts of the city, such as the artsy Bywater neighborhood or the photogenic area of Bayou St. John. There's also Jackson Square, New Orleans City Park, and the National World War II Museum.

Where to Stay

The Mississippi River road trip ends with one of the best RV parks you will stay at on your trip. French Quarter RV Resort is home to 52 large and level spaces outfitted with full utility hookups as well as cable TV. You’ll be able to take care of any end-of-trip cleanup with the park’s private bathhouses and public laundry facilities, and the entire park is monitored with 24/7 on-site security personnel. On top of these great basic amenities, you’ll also get a pool, Jacuzzi, rec room, fitness center, and more.