Louisiana Great River Road – LA
- DesignationAll-American Road (2009/2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric, Cultural
- LocationAR, IL, IA, KY, LA, MN, MS, MO, TN, WI
- Length278 of 3292.5 total miles
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
Story of the Byway
For decades, the Louisiana Great River Road brings more people together with their history, culture and natural worlds than any other North American river and treasured road. The river and road have shaped the people and the land in this place.
Entering into Louisiana from Arkansas and near Vicksburg, traces of Grant’s Canal, dating to the American Civil War still exist. During the historic siege of Vicksburg, General U. S. Grant tried to divert the Mississippi River by cutting a canal at Lake Providence and using the bayous and rivers to bypass Vicksburg. His attempt failed; it is the only time in military history a tactic such as this was employed. Poverty Point World Heritage Site at Epps, commemorates the earliest North American culture known to exist on the continent. Artifacts found at the site date to between 1700 and 700 B.C. This site was designated a National Landmark in 1962; a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
Driving south to Baton Rouge, the traveler finds the monuments and stories Huey Pierce Long, Louisiana’s “Kingfish”, governor, United States Senator and would-be candidate for president in 1936 challenging Franklin Roosevelt.
Long built the iconic State Capitol building, Old Governor’s Mansion and Tiger Stadium. Visitors come to see where Long was assassinated and to view his grave and monument on the State Capitol grounds. Keen on “his” LSU university and football team, when the legislature denied his budget request for a new football stadium, a determined Long built men’s dormitories in the round with a football field in the center. LSU’s football stadium is the only one with men’s dormitories surrounding it. Long planned to challenge Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election; rumor is when he built his governor’s mansion, an exact replica of the White House, he wanted to know where the light switches were when he got there.
Continuing south, the River Parishes lay claim to one of the more unusual public December holiday lighting displays. On Christmas Eve, 20-foot-tall wooden structures are built on the levee and set ablaze. Why bonfires on Christmas Eve? Some believe they are from an ancient European tradition where bonfires initially honored successful harvests. Others claim the bonfires illuminates the way for Santa Claus (or Papa Noel, as the French say).
Around Burnside, the traveler finds the Louisiana Great River Road Museum and Interpretive Center at Houmas House. This 28,000-square-foot center highlights the history of the Lower Mississippi River and how it helped to create the culture of Louisiana. Historic maps of the river, folklore and information on commerce on the Mississippi River and the steamboats that brought entertainment up and down the river are exhibited.
Heading toward New Orleans, a traveler finds why Louisiana has a worldwide reputation for good food, good drink and good living. Celebrations such as Mardi Gras, the International Jazz and Heritage Festival and Tales of the Cocktail are annual traditions, as well as the Essence Festival, the largest African American music festival in the United States; each attracts millions of visitors to southern Louisiana for the food, music and culture.
The cocktail is said to have been invented by a New Orleans apothecary in the early 19th century. So, where else but New Orleans can a visitor find a museum dedicated to the cocktail. - the Sazerac House, a six-storied building with interactive exhibits and working distillery. Before or after the distillery tour, visitors can visit the National World War II Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum or one of several units of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Visitors Centers, among dozens of others, each telling its own unique story.
No other place can surpass the food found along the Louisiana Great River Road. The best foods can be found at service stations, specialty meat stores and restaurants. Louisiana food is greatly influenced by the many cultures that call it home. File’ originates from the Native Americans; okra, brought from Africa; Jambalaya, etoufee and sauce piquant have roots in Louisiana French ancestry. Other iconic foods found include café’ and beignets, king cakes, po’boys, muffalettas and gumbo.
Rich in history and culture, leisure travelers have been drawn to the stories, romance and experiences of the Louisiana Great River for decades. Rural towns, historic sites, plantations, New Orleans’ French Quarter, Louisiana’s State Capitol, Cajun and Creole culture and cooking, Jazz, blues, swamp tours and swamp pop, are long standing motivations for people to travel the Louisiana Great River Road and are expected to drive people here for decades to come.
Some 700 miles long, the Louisiana Great River Road route follows closely the west and east banks of the Mississippi River with connecting points to the Great River Road in Arkansas and Mississippi. Additionally, the route includes 11 Mississippi River crossings including bridges and ferries.
Points of Interest
Poverty Point World Heritage Site
Prehistoric earthwork constructed by the Poverty Point culture.
Delta Music Museum
Bluegrass to gospel to blues- all genres of music is preserved.
Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gin
Cotton plantation wiht tours showing changes in the cotton industry from the 1700s to modern day.
Port Hudson National Landmark
Location of an American Civil Wat battle- the sieze of Port Husdon in 1863.
Louisiana State Capitol Complex
Tallest building in Baton Rouge and tallest capitol building in the nation.
Louisiana Old State Capitol and Museum of Louisiana Political History
In downtown Baton Rouge, is a National Historic Landmark, and operates as a museum.
Louisiana Great River Road Museum and Interpretive Center - Houmas House
The museum tells the story of the MIssissippi River in Louisiana and the river's humble beginning in Minnesota to become the "MIghty Mississippi."
German-American Cultural Center
An interpretive center that celebrates the German immigrants who settled the area starting in the 1700s.
National World War II Museum
Musuem that tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world.
New Orleans French Quarter District,
Original section of New Orleans,
Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery
Site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
Mississippi River Overlook
Algiers Point Historic District and Ferr
USS Kidd Veterans Museum
Baton Rouge Waterfront
Culture, Music, Plantations and the Mississippi River
Begin at the Arkansas/Louisiana Border on Highway 65, following the Mississippi River on the west side. This byway invites you to immerse yourself in the Louisiana history and culture and enjoy the food along the way. First stop should be the Poverty Point World Heritage Site, west of Epps, for a lesson in the area’s prehistoric peoples. Two fun sites to see in Ferriday are the Delta Music Museum and Frogmore Cotton Plantation. In Vidalia, enjoy the views from the Mississippi River Overlook at the riverfront.
At the southwest corner of Mississippi, the Great River Road that followed the eastern side of the Mississippi River enters Louisiana, so the entire Great River Road is solely contained in the state of Louisiana.
On the western route of the Great River Road, cross over the Mississippi River for a stop at the Baton Rouge waterfront and visit the USS Kidd Veterans Museum. In Baton Rouge, the state capitol, tour the Old State Capitol Museum. Look for the newer, current Louisiana State Capitol. You can’t miss it. It’s the tallest building in the city and the tallest capitol in the nation! Still on the east side of the river, stop at the Great River Road Museum and Interpretive Center and Houmas House near Darrow.
Traveling on either side of the Mississippi River will lead you to New Orleans. In New Orleans, be sure to see the National WWII Museum, the Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery, and the Algiers Point Historical District. A “MUST” stop is the French Quarter. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the boutiques and food in the “Quarter.” Grab a room for the night in New Orleans to soak up even more the city has to offer.
In Gretna, a suburb, visit the German American Cultural Center. If on the east side of the Mississippi River, take the Pointe a la Hache Ferry to catch LA 23 south to Venice where the byway ends. You will need to turn around and return to the greater New Orleans area on LA 23 as you will be at the Gulf of Mexico and there are no other roads going in any direction.
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