Road Trip Through Mississippi Crossings on the Great River Road

Though I hate to admit it, and sure it doesn’t feel like it, summer is nearly half over. So if there was ever a time to start checking items off your summer to-do list, it would be now. Something I think should be on everyone’s? A road trip. And as you can tell from my past posts on the Northwoods and Southeastern Minnesota, I’m slightly partial to the Great River Road. But who could blame me? Scenic views, river towns, unique stops—it’s the perfect Minnesota drive. Here’s what you can do and see if you tackle the Mississippi Crossings portion.

Just about 100 miles north of Minneapolis lies the little town of Little Falls. Here you can learn about many aspects of our state’s history, with stops at places like the Minnesota Military Museum, Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Museum, Minnesota Fishing Museum and Charles A. Lindbergh’s home and history center (plus the 436-acre park dedicated to him, located just across the street).

Photo by Bob Sherman

Next make a stop at Crow Wing State Park for a canoe ride on the river, a hike through the pine and hardwood forests, or to see the Woods Trail, where ox carts used to carry supplies from St. Paul to the Red River settlements. Nine miles away you’ll find the four-season resort town of Brainerd, filled with countless lakes to swim, tube, ski or fish, championship golf courses, and 50 paved miles of the Paul Bunyan Trail.

Brainerd is just the gateway to the Brainerd Lakes Area, which also includes the Cuyuna Range Area, and the towns of Crosby, Deerwood, Ironton, Riverton and Aitkin. Once a place for miners, the area now attracts mountain bikers to the 25 mile dedicated trail. Divers also enjoy exploring the more than 20 lakes here, all with clear waters and depths of up to 500 feet.

Next travel to the Savanna Portage Trail, which was walked by fur traders and Dakota and Ojibwe Indians more than 200 years ago, and is located at Savanna Portage State Park. Here you can also hike the Continental Divide Trail, which marks the separation of water that flows into Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.

Make your last stop Grand Rapids, best known for its fishing lakes, forests, and being the birthplace of Judy Garland. Learn about the actress while touring her childhood home, be transported back to fur trader days at the White Oak Fur Post, or see what life was like in a logging camp at the Forest History Center.  

Now that you have your itinerary, all that’s left is to gas up and go! (Don’t forget your road-tripping must-haves.)