The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Its waters play a part in our history, commerce, natural resources, and recreation. The river truly offers something for everyone.
Interested in history? Visit Prairie du Chien, the oldest settlement on the Upper Mississippi River. Just across the river at Effigy Mounds National Monument, you’ll find burial mounds constructed by prehistoric peoples in the shapes of mammals, birds and reptiles. Just south of the city in Wyalusing State Park, you’ll see where Marquette and Joliet first saw the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers in 1673. In the city, you can visit Villa Louis to experience how three generations of frontier entrepreneurs lived in the Victorian era. And that’s just a start.
Interested in commerce? There’s no better place to view commercial transportation than along the Mississippi. Watch boats and barges lock through Lock and Dam #8 near Genoa or Lock and Dam #9 near Lynxville. One barge can carry 52,500 bushels of grain or 453,000 gallons of fuel. One 15 barge tow can carry 787,000 bushels or 6,804,000 gallons—the equivalent of 870 large semis—and it’s as long as two 100-car trains. And speaking of trains, active railways run the entire length of the Great River Road. Between 75 and 80 trains pass by per day, to the delight of avid train spotters on area observation decks.
Interested in wildlife and natural resources? The Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a continuous stretch of river, wetlands and forests, offers unparalleled natural habitat. Over 300 species of birds, 51 species of mammals, and 119 species of fish can be found here. The area has over 250 bald eagle nests and 15 colonies of herons and egrets. And 40% of America’s ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl fly along the Mississippi River on their fall and spring migrations. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise.
Interested in recreation? It’s all here. There are campgrounds that are part of state parks or near river towns, and the river’s many islands also offer free places to pitch tents. There is boating—motor, paddle, or sightseeing. There is fishing— by boat in the side channels, off barges and piers, and on the ice during the winter. There is hiking in state parks like Wyalusing or Pike’s Peak and in state natural areas like Rush Creek near Ferryville. There is biking (pedal and motor) along the Great River Road.
And there is simply enjoying the view. Whether you’re taking it all in from a motorcycle parked on the edge of a bluff, gazing from the seat of an antique car during a fall color tour, or observing from the deck of a boat out on the water, you won’t find a more diverse and thriving scene. The 52 miles of Highway 35 between Stoddard and Prairie du Chien are part of the 250-mile Wisconsin Great River Road, the state’s only designated National Scenic Byway. With the river on one side and rugged bluffs on the other, the scenery is spectacular. And when you need a break, the main streets of historic river towns, often right along the river, offer the perfect stopping places to enjoy a meal, make a purchase from a unique shop, or stay overnight.
There’s something for everyone, in every season.