July 4th weekend, 2020, we decided it was time to get away, if even for a couple of days, so we embarked on an Iowa Mississippi River road trip. As with many of you who travel, we have canceled many trips due to Covid and have been itching to travel. Of course, like others, we want to travel safely so we decided a social distancing road trip in our own state would be a great idea. We had talked about driving along the Mississippi and decided now was a good time to go for it.
What is the Iowa Great River Road?
Iowa is bordered on the east side by the Mighty Mississippi River. The Great River Road is a highway system comprised of state and local roads which travels along the Mississippi River. Of course, you are not always right along the river, but these roads traverse through beautiful hillsides, towns, and along the river as well. In Iowa you can follow the Mississippi River Road from the southernmost part of the state at Keokuk to the northern part of the state at Lansing which makes for a nice road trip! There are many small towns, parks and sites to see along the route. We of course did not make it to all of them so I am just including where we stopped. You can follow this link for the entire Iowa Great River Road Trip
Our Mississipi River Road Trip
Our original plan was to drive the entire length of the Mississippi River starting in the southern part of Iowa and road trip for 3 days. We ended up deciding 2 days would be enough for our first venture out and started in the south at Le Claire, Iowa and headed north ending at Effigy Mounds National Monument. The night was spent in Dubuque, Iowa. We are all about social distancing so we packed the cooler and took our meals with. We figured the less higher contact areas we went to, the more safe it would be.
Our first stop was a good one! This cute little town along the river was really a lot of fun to wander through. Few people were town. Many stores were not opened, although I’m not sure if that was because of the time or the Covid.
We did find a great coffee shop and ordered cold drinks to go! It was hot out!! We also found a chocolate shop with a clever name, The Shameless Chocoholic. I was very proud of us, we bought one piece of chocolate each! Not that we are that good, it was hot and we didn’t want extras melting in the car when we stopped again!!
We also walked the short half block to the river and discovered a Freedom Rock there. Very nicely done. A riverboat sat at the dock but did not appear to be operating.
Buffalo Bill Homestead
Driving along, I saw a sign pointing to the Buffalo Bill Homestead. It took a bit of persuasion (Begging) to get Steve to follow the sign. I love this kind of thing and he tolerates this in me. This was a surprise stop as I didn’t remember seeing it when I researched the trip. Bill Cody lived here during his early childhood. I thought it was a pretty cool house, but I thought the rolling green hills it was setting on was more spectacular. I think it cost just a few dollars each to take the self-guided tour, which we did. It was a short stop. I think we were only there about 15-20 minutes.
We stopped at Clinton to walk along the riverfront. Here we took in the views of the lighthouse and the bridge over the river.
It was time for lunch so we drove up to Eagle Point Park in Clinton and had a picnic lunch by the historic stone tower. Built by the WPA from 1933-34. I am not sure of it’s purpose but you can take the steps to the top and view the area. Not a spectacular view due to many trees. After the leaves fall you should be able to view the Mississippi River from here.
We also stopped to see the views from the Eagle Point Lodge area. It is said this is the widest part of the Upper Mississippi River. You can sometimes see Eagles here but we were not that lucky.
St. Donatus, Iowa
St. Donatus is known as the Luxemburg of Iowa. The town, found by a group of immigrants from Luxemburg over 150 years ago, has kept its European style charm.
This little village is special to me as it is where my Grandmother was born. She lived in the stone house next to the church. It is still standing but I did not post a close up photo as it appears people live there.
We visited the St. Donatus Catholic Church and walked through the cemetery then walked up to the Pieta Chapel.
The walk to the Pieta chapel was hot and steep. We climbed to the top of the hill where the chapel is located by way of the stations of the cross path. This path has small grotto type structures representing each station of the cross all the way up the hill. I remember my Mom talking about these when I was a child. We also passed many sheep on the way there as well. The views on the way up and at the top were gorgeous.
Mines of Spain, Dubuque, Iowa
Mines of Spain in Dubuque is a recreation area that once was a lead mine. You can read more about this in one of my earlier posts about the Hiking the Mines of Spain.
Horseshoe Bluff Hike
Horseshoe Bluff Hike is a short hike within the park that has 3 levels to hike on. You can do as much or as little as you want and loop back to the beginning from each level.
Julien Dubuque Monument
This monument is in honor of the founder of Dubuque, Iowa. Setting high up on a bluff, this is also the burial place of Julien Dubuque.
We arrived at Dubuque, Iowa late in the afternoon. This was our overnight stop on our Iowa Mississippi River road trip. Dubuque is the oldest town in Iowa and has many historic buildings and shops. A drive through the downtown streets was fun. If you have time, Dubuque is a great town to explore with lots of historic buildings and mansion lined streets.
Fenelon Place Elevator
Also known as the Fourth Street Elevator, or just the Elevator. The elevator is a funicular type railroad and is claims to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world. It runs from the bottom of the hill on fourth street and goes to the top of the hill to Fenelon Place. At the top of the hill there is a lookout and you can see views of the Mississippi River, Illinois and Wisconsin.
There are two cable cars that pass each other in the middle, one going up while the other goes down. Originally built in 1882 for private use and later used for the public. After a fire it was rebuilt in 1893 and is still in use.
The shot tower is another landmark in Dubuque and was built in 1856 for the purpose of producing ammunition in the form of lead shot. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the few remaining shot towers in the United States. For more information as to the process of making shot you can follow this link. Dubuque Shot Tower.
The hotel we were staying at did not practice social distancing or mask wearing as we would have liked. Although we wore masks and the staff did, that was about it. We decided the breakfast area was too crowded for us so we went in search of a coffee shop.
Habits Coffee and Mini Donut Company
It was the Fourth of July and we found a lot of closed coffee shops but turned the corner and came across Habits Coffee and Mini Donut Company. Great choice! We ordered donut holes and coffee to go. The staff were friendly and the donuts were made to order while we waited. They all all kinds of options for toppings and you could mix and match. If you are in the area, look this place up!!!
Eagle Point Park, Dubuque
We drove up to another Eagle Point Park and had our donuts and coffee overlooking dam #11. There are 29 locks and dams on the Mississippi River between St. Paul and St. Louis. These were built to lift or lower boats and barges from one level of water to another within the lock. Then slowly moving them through to the other side of the dam.
Eagle Point Park has more great views of the Mississippi River and is a know place to site Eagles. We had no luck, but we did see some vultures.
Driving Through the Countryside
After our scenic breakfast we continued on our Mississippi River road trip by driving north through the scenic Iowa countryside. We saw many farms and cattle throughout the rolling hills. A very pretty drive.
We pulled over at another scenic overlook just before Guttenburg to check the view. There were a couple of local vendors there and we bought some local honey and homemade jam.
Once in Guttenburg we were ready to get out and walk around. This pretty town is right along the river and was settled by Germans years ago. The town has many stone houses and shops. The town was incorporated in 1851 and many building date back prior to that period. This is another town that is special to me as my Grandpa grew up here and I have fond memories of traveling around this area in the fall with him to see the leaves change. Many of the shops were not open but we were able to check out a couple of places.
We watched a barge go through Lock and Dam #10. Very slow process but amazing to see how it work!!
Pike’s Peak, Iowa
The next stop on our Iowa Mississipi road stop led us to Pike’s Peak, Iowa. Not to be confused with the famous Colorado Pike’s Peak. Both the Iowa and Colorado Peaks are named after early explorer Zebulan Pike.
We enjoyed another view of the river from the scenic overlook.
We ate our socially distant picnic lunch here. It was nice, but I really miss going to restaurants on a trip!
We then hiked a short hike to Bridal Veil Falls. The paths and boardwalks were well maintained.
To read more about this area you can follow my earlier post, A Hike at Pike’s Peak, Iowa
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Our final stop was Effigy Mounds National Monument. This monument contains about 200 burial mound built in shapes, most conical or elongated but some in effigies of birds and bears. This is really a great hike that we enjoyed even though the day was hot and muggy. To read about the hike in more detail,can click on my post of Effigy Mounds.
We had a great time on our 2 day road trip following the Iowa Great River Road along the Mississippi River. The changing scenery from the southern area up to the bluffs in the northern area was fun to see. We would have loved to travel further north, but being 3.5 hours from home we were ready to call it a day. Maybe someday we can road trip the entire Mississipi River from Minnesota to New Orleans.
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Effigy Mounds, July 2020