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Great River Road Scenic Drive

galena, IL
Many things to see and do in historic Galena, Illinois

Great River Road Scenic Byway - Links to Travel Sections:

- Fulton to Prairie Du Chien
- Prairie to LaCrosse to Winona
- Winona to Red Wing

Scenic Byways Directory

Also see - to search the Great River Road category for recent blogs on interesting things to see and do along the upper midwest Great River Road.

The Mississippi River runs from a small stream in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Roads running adjacent to the river have been designated as parts of the Great River Road Scenic Byway. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder; truth be known, some parts of the Great River Road aren't so scenic! Being upper midwesterners, we have a natural bias towards our section of the drive. Aside from our provincial view, however, Mother Nature has created some unique geography that blesses our portion of the Mississippi with some exceptional scenic views. The portion of the river from Fulton, Illinois stretching north to near Hudson, Wisconsin lies within the geological zone called the "Driftless Area." It is a section that escaped the grinding impact of glaciers during the glacial periods that formed the topography of the upper midwest. This resulted in a more rugged topography with high bluffs with prominent rock outcroppings, steep ravines, fertile valleys, numerous tributary streams and rivers, and heavily wooded sections of forest. In our view, the portion of the Great River Road lying in the unglaciated driftless area is the most scenic and interesting part of driving the Great River Road Scenic Byway.

So we begin our river road profile near the southern end of the driftless area in historic Fulton, Illinois. Galena, Illinois. If you are coming from the east, Rockford-Chicago, you'll arrive in Galena from the south on Route 20. If you are coming from the north (Wisconsin) most will take Route 84, south of Hazel Green, WI.

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Fulton to Galena

Fulton is at the intersection of the Lincoln Scenic Byway ( US 30 - coming from the Chicago area) and the Great River Road Scenic Byway (at this point Illinois Highway 84).

De Immigrant Fulton WindmillInteresting shops and an authentic Netherlands Windmill are among the attractions making Fulton a popular visit.

red triangleGo Here for things to do and see in Fulton, Illinois

Palisades OverlookBetween Fulton and Savanna there are several recreation areas and trail heads associated with the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge. Just north of Savanna, a must-see stop is the Mississippi Palisades State Park (click here for more info). The park offers several scenic overlooks of the river, picnic areas, a variety of hiking trails, and a large campground with RV utilities and showers.

galena fall color
< < < Fall color along Blackhawk Road between Hanover and Galena

Galena to Prairie Du Chien

Grant Park - Galena, ILGalena was laid out as a town in 1826. By the 1840s it was a thriving city - when Chicago was still a land of swamps. It was a major Mississippi River port, even though technically it is located on the Galena River, a few miles from Big Muddy.

galena main street

Its shopping district along Main Street is extensive and populated with historical buildings dating back to the 1850s. (And yes, quilters, there is a nice quilt shop in Galena to feed your habit!)

red triangleGo Here for more things to do and see in Galena, Illinois

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Mississippi River Road, Galena to Praire Du Sac

Going North on the River Road. Once leaving Galena, take US Highway 20 north and west to Dubuque, Iowa (see map to the right).

Dubuque is Iowa's oldest city, founded in 1788 by French explorer and trader Julien Dubuque. Its attractions include touring the arts and antiques district, the National Mississippi River Museum, the Harbor Riverwalk, the Grand River Center, casinos, and Mississippi Riverboat tours.

Dubuque, Iowa
red triangleGo Here for more interesting things to do and see in Dubuque, Iowa

Dubuque, Iowa

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On leaving Dubuque heading north towards Prairie Du Chien, the River Road traveler has two options: cross back over the river into Wisconsin and go north on Wisconsin Hwy 133 or stay in Iowa and proceed via Hwys C9Y and X56 through Balltown, Guttenberg, and McGregor, and Marquette.

We like the Iowa Scenic Byway Drive better. Much more scenic views of the river and the river valley, whereas the Wisconsin route to Prairie du Chien is largely inland - 90% of it away from a view of the river or the river valley.

Balltown Iowa

Breitbachs, Balltown IowaAnother plus of the Iowa route is going through Balltown via County Road CY9 (which is Iowa's Great River Road Scenic Drive in this region) and stopping at Breitbachs, Iowa's Oldest Bar & Restaurant - now in its sixth generation of operation by the Breitbach Family. > > >

Breitbachs, Balltown Iowa

Breitbachs, Balltown Iowa

The decor, filled with antiques and old time memorabilia was neat . . . and service and food quite good.

red triangleSee More on Balltown Iowa and Breitbach's Restaurent

red triangleSee our Breitbach's restaurant review.

Ballpark at Balltown Iowa

Balltown actually does have a ball field and one with a great scenic view. A towering home run over the left field fence will roll a long way before it comes to rest !! > > >

Scenic Overlook, Balltown Iowa

Just outside of Balltown is a nice scenic overlook of the Mississippi River valley.

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Continue north of Balltown on CY9 until it rejoins Hwy 52. We took a side trip to see where the Cassville Ferry docks, but don't recommend you bother unless you actually intend to use the Ferry. Guttenberg is an interesting looking town, but we didn't have time to stop and explore it. (maybe next time). Just north of Guttenberg, you want to catch another county highway, X56, in order to stay on the scenic river road.

On the way north, you'll pass Pikes Peak State Park - a nice park with terrific views of the river, decent hiking trails, and nicely spaced campsites. We'll be profiling the park, with more info, at a later date. Soon you will arrive in downtown McGregor, Iowa. It is set in a niche between two steep hills. Due to its location the town is primarily a very long main street with a few side streets here and there. Some antiques and interesting shops there. Continuing north, now on Highway 18, you soon arrive in Marquette - almost a twin city to McGregor, but smaller - except for its River Boat Casino.

Prairie Du Chein, Mississippi River
Scenic View - Mississippi River from Effigy Mounds National Park. In the background is the bridge to Prairie Du Chien

Cross the bridge at Marquette and you arrive in Prairie Du Chien, one of Wisconsin's oldest communities, tracing its roots back to a 1683 encampment of Fathers Marquette and Jolliet.

Among the attractions are Villa Louis, a plantation era restoration and museum maintained by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Cannery Antique and Gift Shop is a neat place - large enough to get lost in. And lucky for quilters, there's a cute little quilt shop just a few doors down from the Cannery. Its big annual Festival, The Prairie Villa Rendezvous, is a fun-filled four day event the second week in June.

Gals, if up to this point you've been dragging a Significant Other through quilt shops and antiques stores, the Prairie is time for his reward. Just north of town is Cabela's Upper Midwest Warehouse Store - chock full of fishing, hunting, camping, and outdoor gear.

red triangleGo Here for More on Things to See and Do in Prairie Du Chien

red triangleGo Here for More on Things to See and Do in McGregor, IA

red triangleGreat River Road: Prairie Du Chien to Winona . . .
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Directory of Scenic Drives & Byways

quiltbulletLake Superior Circle Tour, Part 1. & Circle Tour Part 2. -
invisible Minnesota, Wisconsin, Upper Peninsula, and Ontario

quiltbulletGreat River Road Scenic Byway, Part 1. - Fulton to Galena, Illinois to
invisible Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin

invsibleFulton, IL
invsibleGalena, IL
invsibleDubuque, IA
invsiblePrairie Du Chien, WI
invsibleMcGregor, IA

quiltbulletGreat River Road Scenic Drive, Part 2. - LaCrosse, Wisconsin to
invisible Winona, Minnesota
invsibleLa Crosse, WI
invsibleWinona, MN

invsibleFall Color Train

quiltbulletGreat River Road, Part 3. - Winona, Wabasha to Red Wing, Minnesota
invsibleWabasha, MN
invsibleRed Wing, MN

quiltbulletOzarks Mountains Scenic Drives - Ozarks National Forest Scenic Drives
invisible and Scenic Highway 7
invsibleArkansas Ozarks Scenic 7 Byway
invsibleMountain View, Arkansas
invsibleHot Springs, AR and Hot Springs National Park
invsibleBuffalo National River and Buffalo River National Park

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