Riverboat mural on the Great River Road

The Great River Road

Who wouldn’t find romance on the Mississippi River?  I grew up loving Mark Twain’s tales about Tom and Huck along the Mississippi. Therefore, when Kenny was planning our route to Glacier National Park, I was quick to suggest traveling the Great River Road.  We found some things along the way that we expected and several things that we didn’t!

Town along the Great River Road in Illinois
Mississippi River
Riverboat mural on the Great River Road

Historic Elsah

We drove for around eight hours from our home in Kentucky to our starting point in Elsah, Illinois.  As I have talked about before, Kenny is an excellent travel planner.  He searched for weeks for the best stops to make on The Great River Road.

The historic village of Elsah was top of the list.  We were not disappointed.  The village is perfectly set back from the river.  As a matter of fact, when we left the village we were greeted with an unobstructed view of the big river.  Elsah is very small and we easily walked it the next morning.  We went in mid-June so the flowers and landscaping were absolutely breathtaking. 

The Greentree Inn

We stayed at the Greentree Inn which is beautifully decorated, landscaped, and situated.  I am not sure if the inn is historic; however, it blends perfectly with the other buildings in the village. Innkeepers, Connie and Gary, were very friendly and inviting. They gave us suggestions for things to do in the nearby town of Grafton. 

We wandered around the shops that are beside the river and I had the best ice cream ever there.  I wish I could remember the name of the shop and the ice cream! A nice couple who lived out of their motor coach gave us several travel tips for our trip. We drove to the nearby Pere Marquette State Park, which they recommended, and checked out the beautiful river bluffs.  Then we had a wonderful dinner on a patio overlooking the mighty Mississippi.  

We ended our overnight visit with a gourmet breakfast beautifully served at Greentree Inn.  The best part for me was meeting and talking to the other guests at the inn along with Connie and Gary.

The Greentree Inn along The Great River Road

Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri

We traveled The Great River Road most of the next day with a stopover at Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of Mark Twain.  The museum and exhibit with the homes of the folks who inspired Twain’s characters were very interesting for me.  The town itself pays homage to Twain and is adorned with flags printed with his quotes all over downtown.  There is also a statue of Tom and Huck, two of my favorite fictional characters, surrounded by flowers.  From there, steps (a lot of them) lead up to a lighthouse erected in honor of Twain  overlooking the river.  We only stayed a few hours there but really enjoyed the stopover.

statue of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn along The Great River Road

The Gehlen House Inn at St. Donatus, Iowa

We decided to drive a faster route since we had spent quite a bit of time in Hannibal. Our next Airbnb sounded unique and we wanted to get there in time to explore.  After driving what seemed like hours and hours through flat farmland, we finally started seeing the land change to rolling hills. 

When we pulled into the Gehlen House Inn, we could immediately see that it was a very old stone building.  It had baskets of flowers on every window and we couldn’t wait to see the inside.  We were to pick up the key from the barn turned brewery behind the inn.  The barn itself was said to be the oldest barn in Iowa and was built in 1839.  When we stepped inside, it was unbelievable!  Every detail was perfectly rustic, comfortable and gorgeous at the same time. 

Inside the Beer in the Barn Brewery
oldest barn in Iowa along The Great River Road

As our host led us inside of the inn, we loved it, too.  There were narrow, thick wood stairs leading up into a small kitchen with lovely old bead board and stone. It was also filled with antiques which Kenny and I loved.  We though the wide plank floors painted brown were perfect.  Our room was very nicely furnished; however, the stone wall behind the bed along with the very wide window sills stole the show.  The innkeepers here really had used the perfect balance of old and new things to make this space very special.

Gehlen House Inn along the Great River Road

Bellevue Deserved A Longer Stop

After being wowed by our accommodations in St. Donatus, we drove to nearby Bellevue. We saw beautiful views of the river and a nicely landscaped walking path along the river.  They were having an art show the weekend that we were passing through and I would have loved to stay!  It was here that I started missing my paintbrush.

After eating muffins and bagels at the Gehlen House Inn, we headed out early going toward Minnesota.  We did a quick drive through of Dubuque knowing we might never travel that way again.  The houses on the bluffs above the river amazed us.  Kenny had planned for us to see Eagle Point Park and sweeping views of the Mississippi were worth the stop.  We then drove several hours through the Wisconsin farmland still getting on and off parts of the Great River Road. Rural America’s crops and barns on this part of the drive were very interesting.

Duluth, Esko, and the Yurt

The landscape became a little more wooded and remote feeling as we traveled into Minnesota and toward Duluth.  There was also a dramatic change in the weather which really caught us off guard.  The day was sunny and hot until just before we reached Duluth. Suddenly, the temperature dropped nearly thirty degrees into the mid 50’s within an approximate twenty mile distance.  When we got out to get gas before heading to our Airbnb, we couldn’t believe the difference.  We continued traveling a few miles outside of Duluth and into the forest to our evening’s destination.

Our home for the last night of the Great River Road part of our trip was an Airbnb near the north shore of Lake Superior.  Our host, Sue, met us at our car.  It was foggy, misty, and the wind was whipping!  She led us on a short hike through the forest where we would be spending the night in a yurt.  The yurt was solar powered to be able to have soft lighting and charge our phones which was a plus.  However, we would not have indoor plumbing.  We would have the use of a portable potty that was several yards away and not visible from the yurt.  Did I mention it was not visible from the yurt and my biggest concern about staying at this location?? 

Magical Night on the great River road

When Sue showed us the yurt, we were so surprised with how beautifully decorated and squeaky clean that it was.  My favorite thing about it was a massive, antique, four poster, wooden bed.  It also had beautiful string lights all around the interior and artwork on the walls!  She told us there was a sink and potable water out back for our use.  Even that was almost magical the way that it was set up. 

Yurt in Esko, MN along the Great River Road

We went into Duluth for supper and watched some barges pass by on Lake Superior, then headed back to the yurt.  The wind was still blowing hard and we were cold in our summer clothes.  We walked around the meadow for just a bit and then went inside to get away from the mosquitoes.  We made our last trip to the potty a little before ten and it wasn’t completely dark.  Watching the lightning bugs on the way back to camp was so peaceful.  Although we were both a little worried about being back in the trees in all that wind, we had a wonderful night. 

The next morning, Sue’s husband left us a thermos of coffee on a bench along the path. We enjoyed that cup of coffee immensely before packing up and heading out.  Kenny said this was his very best night’s sleep on the trip. Although it wasn’t my best night’s sleep, it was my favorite night so far.  That is saying a lot because I LOVED both previous inns!

The Headwaters traveling The Great River Road

An hour or two after leaving the yurt we crossed the mighty Mississippi River one last time before heading westward.  It was so small and beautiful here that it was hard for me to believe it was a river at all.  The origins of the Mississippi River are very interesting and you should read about it!

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