Fesatured Photo Credit: Goldmoor Inn (Gelena, IL)

FAQ’s on the Great River Road

Did you know sharks have been spotted as far north as Illinois in the Mississippi?  That’s crazy! Got a question? We’ve got the answer! Let these FAQ’s guide your River Road Trip, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo Credit: Perrot State Park (Trempealeau, WI)

How long is the Great River Road?

2,069 miles stretching from just south of the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.

What is the Great River Road?

Less of a road and more of a route, this scenic drive features a collection of state and local highways that follow the course of the Mississippi River.


Photo Credit: Itasca State Park  (Park Rapids, MN)

Where does the Great River Road start?

Lake Itasca State Park, about 20 miles north of Park Rapids, Minnesota. This is where you’ll find the Mississippi River headwaters and the start of the Great River Road.

Where does the Great River Road end? 

The river dumps into the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans. The road itself ends in Venice, Louisiana.


Don’t want to Jump in? Check out these boat rides!

Can you swim in the Mississippi River?

Absolutely! Water sports are very popular up and down the river. However, keep in mind that the current is strong and should be treated as such. If you’re an experienced swimmer with a life vest, go for it!

Why is it called the Mississippi River?

Native Americans first called it Mississippi (or Misi-ziibi), which fittingly means “great river.” Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle made it official when he included the name on his map in 1695.


How many states touch the Mississippi River?

Ten states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

How long does it take to drive the Great River Road?

With no pit stops, the drive takes 36 hours from north to south. But, with an abundance of fun river towns and beautiful scenery, most travelers take between four and ten days to enjoy the sights.


Photo Credit: American Queen

Can you drive along the Mississippi River?

You can and you should! The Great River Road takes travelers on a designated route that follows the winding Mississippi pretty closely. Just look for the green pilot’s wheel road signs to lead you—they’re clearly marked along each highway.

Are there alligators in the Mississippi River?

There are a few in the southern river road states, like Mississippi. You might see one there in spring when there’s low vegetation and sunshine for basking. You might also hear one—mating season makes them more vocal.​

Photo Credit: City of Fort Madison (Fort Madison, IA)

Are there sharks in the Mississippi River?

Yes. Despite the crazy Shark Week stories, there have been only a handful of sightings. Bull Sharks can live in both salt and freshwater, so it is possible, but not likely you’ll encounter one. That being said, they have been reported as far north as Alton, Illinois.

How fast is the current on the Mississippi River?

The speed of the river changes based on factors like width and depth. At Lake Itasca, the current flows at about 1.2 mph. In New Orleans it’s more like 3 mph, which is about how fast people walk.


Photo Credit: Missouri History Museum (St. Louis, MO)

Where is the deepest part of the Mississippi River?

New Orleans at Algiers Point, where it reaches 200 feet. South of Cairo, Illinois, average depths range from 50-100 feet.

What is the widest part of the Mississippi River?

Minnesota’s Lake Winnibigoshish is over 11 miles wide. That’s a big change from the narrow 20-30 foot headwaters just an hours drive away. For shipping purposes, the widest navigable portion is Lake Pepin, a 2-mile wide section of the Minnesota/Wisconsin border.


Photo Credit: Charles Lindbergh House & Museum  (Little Falls, MN)

How long does it take for water to reach the end of the Mississippi River?

Water from Lake Itasca will flow into the Gulf of Mexico in about three months time.

Where is the mouth of the Mississippi River?

The Gulf of Mexico. South of New Orleans is where the Mississippi and its tributaries converge to flow into the ocean.


Photo Credit: Franconia Sculpture Park  (Shafer, MN)

Who discovered the Mississippi River?

Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto. While on his quest to find gold in America, de Soto and his troops first crossed the river south of Memphis, Tennessee.