• DesignationAll-American Road (2000/2021)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric, Cultural
  • LocationAR, IL, IA, KY, LA, MN, MS, MO, TN, WI
  • Length550 of 3292.5 total miles
Byway Visitor Information
Great Rivers Country
Statewide Byway Partners
Illinois Department of Transportation
Illinois Office of Tourism
Great River Road – IL
Public domain Photo


The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River, the second longest river in America, begins as a trickle at Lake Itasca headwaters and grows and strength as it travels south to create state lines for 10 states. The byway lines both sides of the river in Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The river was important for settlement of the western United States as goods were shipped north. Logs, from northern forests, were shipped downstream to be cut into lumber for new settlements. The Mississippi River is teeming with history and culture as riverboats moved people up and down the river and gave travelers the opportunity to enjoy its music, like the blues in Tennessee, or the Cajun and Creole culture from New Orleans’ French Quarter, and Louisiana’s cooking, jazz, and blues.

The Mississippi offers a variety of recreational opportunities. Limestone cliffs line the river allowing for overlooks to see Mississippi’s splendid panoramas, or to enjoy the wildlife that calls the Mississippi River home, or to watch boats and barges as they navigate the Lock and Dam systems. Waterfalls, forests, prairies, and communities of every size dot the Great River Road. Be sure to allow time to enjoy its parks, beaches, museums, music, and food.

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

The Great River Road in Illinois stretches along the Mississippi River on the western border of the state and features all kinds of attractions, from historic sites of regional, national, and international importance to stunning scenic overlooks and hiking trails. Travelers can sample a variety of outdoor land and aquatic activities, immerse themselves in the rich histories and cultures of the localities that border the great River, and relish in that well-known Midwestern hospitality all up and down this remarkable route.

Driving Directions

From Galena to Cairo, the Great River Road in Illinois runs north to south on the western border, along the Mississippi River. The northern region stretches from Jo Daviess County to Henderson County and is sprinkled with towns, historical sites, and beautiful outdoor recreation spaces. From Hancock County through Madison County, the central region offers wonderful art museums, the thriving cultural community of Quincy, as well as an abundance of natural beauty and hiking opportunities that surround the junction of mighty Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers. The southern region of the byway, from St. Clair County through Alexander County, presents a stellar selection of outdoor recreation, with many state parks and lakes that are ideal for family friendly outings, boating, fishing, biking, and more.

Points of Interest

  • Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park

    A public space that is positioned directly across from the Gateway Arch and is home to Gateway Geyser, the tallest water fountain in the country.

  • Shawnee National Forest

    Breathtaking national forest located between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in southern Illinois that is full of outdoor recreation opportunities year-round

  • Fort de Chartres in Prairie du Rocher

    A French fort built in the 1750s that served as the French seat of government and chief military installation in the Illinois Country. The current Fort de Chartres is built on those foundations and a restored powder magazine in the fort is believed to be the oldest building in Illinois.

  • Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

    Remains of the largest prehistoric city in North America are preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

  • Mississippi River Visitor Center

    Arsenal Island Watch boats navigate the Mississippi and lock through Locks & Dam 15, take a tour of the lock and watch bald eagles in winter.

  • Black Hawk State Historic Site

    The Hauberg Indian Museum is located in this 200-acre nature preserve and features exhibits depicting the daily life of the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes.

  • Villa Katherine

    Built in 1900, this Moroccan style home offers sweeping views of the Mississippi River and a visitor center tha can guide you to more of Quincy's diverse architecture.

  • Pere Marquette State Park

    Located just north of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, the park offers spectacular views of the Illinios River and its backwaters and the visitor center features exhibits on the river, wildlife habitat, and local history.

  • National Great Rivers Museum and Melvin Price Locks & Dam.

    Dedicated to describing how the Mississippi River shaped our country, the National Great Rivers Museum also offers tours of one of the largest lock systems on the Mississippi River.

  • Pierre Menard Home State Historic Site

    Built in 1815 for Illinois' first lieutenant governor, this home is one of the best examples of French Colonial architecture in the central Mississippi Valley.

  • Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site

    Built by the French in 1759, Fort Kaskaskia was used to protect the village of Kaskaskia. Only a scenic overlook of the Mississippi and the outlying earthworks remain.

  • U.S. Custom House Museum

    Built in 1872, the building was originally the location for collecting tariffs on imports traded along the Mississippi River. Today it houses a museum which includes exhibits on the Civil War and Ulysses S. Grant.

  • Mississippi Palisades State Park

    This 2,500-acre park offers lofty cliffs, intriguing rock formations, and 15 miles of trails, including 4 scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River.


  • A Peak into the History of Riverfront NW Illinois

    Starting from Galena, heading south along the Great River Road of Illinois, relish in a splendid tour of the Mississippi River and its charming historic towns. In the historic town of Galena, shop around Main Street, celebrated for its 19th century buildings that today house modern stores, galleries, and restaurants. Galena Trolley Tours offer great views of local landmarks and historic sites such as the Ulysses S. Grant Home. Next, continuing south on the byway, visit Moline, the hometown of farming hero John Deere, and learn about his contributions to the world’s agricultural landscape at the John Deere Pavilion and John Deere Collectors Center. To round out the night on the Mississippi itself, enjoy dinner and dancing aboard the 800-passenger Celebration Belle or roll some dice at Bally's Quad Cities Casino and Hotel.

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