Florida Man on the Run

Great River Road in Mississippi: A Visitor’s Guide to the Mississippi Delta

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It’s hard to separate the Great River Road in Mississippi from its counterpart, the Blues Highway. The history explored by these two routes is not only the story of Mississippi, but also America in a way. The blues music which arose from the Mississippi Delta has in many ways come to define modern American music. There is a deep history to be found here, and driving the Great River Road through Mississippi is the best way to explore it. The Mississippi Delta features four main cities, so I’ll focus this guide on each of them. By no means is this all you’ll find on your drive, but in your few days driving through the deep south they are a great place to start.

Gotta take a sign selfie when you’re cruising down the Great River Road in Mississippi

Clarksdale

You’ll leave Memphis and the Tennessee portion of the Great River Road travelling down US 61. Speeding past open fields, it won’t be long until your come to the city of Clarksdale. While the big city lights of Memphis get all the attention, Clarksdale is where blues begins. It’s the home of Muddy Waters and countless other blues musicians. Every night of the year you can find live blues music, not to mention multiple blues festivals throughout the year as well.

The Delta Blues Museum is a must see along the Great River Road in Mississippi
The Delta Blues Museum is the star attraction in Clarksdale

To start your blues journey in Clarksdale, you’ve got to head to the Delta Blues Museum. Open six days a week, it’s a loving preservation of the story of blues. There is a wonderful collection of artifacts and memorabilia from across blues history. The museum also features a section dedicated to local blues legend, Muddy Waters. I greatly appreciated all the museum had to offer, especially as a blues novice. For blues aficionados, it’s an absolute must visit. As an added bonus, while you’re driving around here you can put on my blues heavy playlist of Mississippi River songs.

Don’t let the cover fool you with this amazing music venue!

If you’re not just driving through, then you’ll want to find some grub while you’re in town. During our trip down the Great River Road in Mississippi, we stopped at Zee’s Barbeque for an amazing home cooked lunch. It also happens to be next door to the New Roxy. We didn’t get a show there but it’s hands down one of the coolest music venues I’ve ever seen. Given then chance, I highly recommend staying a night in town to catch a show. If you’ve got the opportunity, don’t pass up spending time in Clarksdale on your trip down the Great River Road in Mississippi.

Greenville

The next city you’ll come to is Greenville. This major hub of trade and blues is also one of the few places where you can cross into Arkansas to drive the Great River Road. The city of Greenville, and its neighbor Leland, serve have deep histories well worth exploring. Like many towns in the Mississippi Delta, blues permeated the streets. You can continue to see and hear that heritage to this day. The Highway 61 Blues Festival, in June, and Delta Blues Festival, in September, are both great times to visit the area or make the drive down the Great River Road in Mississippi.

You'll drive right past the Winterville Mounds on the Great River Road in Mississippi
It’s super easy to walk around these massive mounds outside Greenville

However, blues isn’t the only history you’ll find in the area around Greenville. Just to the north are the Winterville Mounds. On our trip, we nearly sped right past these on State Highway 1. They represent some of the best preserved Native American mounds in all of Mississippi. It’s a great location to learn about the people who lived here hundreds of years before European contact. The large open field is perfect for stretching your legs or letting the kids burn off some energy as well.

Who wouldn’t want to make a stop where Kermit was born?

One famous son, Jim Henson, also hailed from this area. A wonderful stop for families is the “birthplace” of Kermit the Frog in Leland. Sitting on the banks of Deer Creek, Jim brought Kermit to life. From that time, he has gone on to entertain millions of kids. It’s a stop that is easy to miss because we certainly did on our trip and I’m a bit disappointed to say the least. Greenville (and Leland) aren’t necessarily worth an overnight stay, but definite deserving of a couple hours during your drive.

Vicksburg

Any trip down the Great River Road in Mississippi will require you to spend some time in Vicksburg. This historic city is full of fantastic views, great food, and lively entertainment. It’s a quintessential Mississippi River port town that has certainly seen its fair share of ups and downs over the years.

Monuments like this are found all around the Vicksburg battlefield

The main “attraction” of Vicksburg is most certainly Vicksburg National Military Park. This site protects and preserves much of the battlefield from the Siege of Vicksburg. Visitors will stand on the same battlelines that Confederate and Union soldiers battled over decades before. Its definitely a humbling feeling. Vicksburg served as a major turning point in the Civil War, a critical part of the history of the Mississippi Delta and America. If you want to read more about the park (and others like it), check out my post on the best National Military Parks in America.

The next stop you’ll be making in Vicksburg is Washington Street. This main thoroughfare is home to a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and museums. On the museum front, these are all dedicated to Vicksburg’s history. The Lower Mississippi River Museum and Vicksburg Civil War Museum are both well worth stopping in. The highlight of our trip to Washington Street was Key City Brewery. This brewery and eatery had an amazing atmosphere. The beer is brewed right on site, and the food was delicious, hot, and really hit the spot after a long day on the road. Highly recommend you take one dinner at Key City.

This was one of the best flights we had on our entire Great River Road trip

I’d definitely say you need to spend at least two days in Vicksburg. The battlefield itself needs an entire day dedicated to it in order to fully explore and appreciate. There is enough downtown and around Vicksburg to occupy your second day, not to mention ample food and bar choices to fill a second night as well. I enjoyed our time in Vicksburg and wish I had planned a second full day in town on our trip, so don’t make the same mistake as me!

Natchez

The final major stop on your trip through the Mississippi Delta on the Great River Road is Natchez. Natchez has served as a meeting place for hundreds of years. The Old Natchez Trace Trail ends here, and in modern times it serves as the end of the line for the Blues Highway and the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Great River Road in Mississippi follows both of the aforementioned routes on its journey, with travelers having the option to continue following it south to Louisiana or crossing the river in Natchez into Louisiana.

Make sure you take in the bluff views from Natchez when travelling the Great River Road in Mississippi
The views from the bluffs are amazing

As a natural “stopping” point, it’s also a great town to wrap up your trip. The bluffs in the city offer seriously impressive views up and down the river. In fact, these are the final scenic overlooks like this you’ll get on a journey down the Great River Road. Staying at a place like the Natchez Grand Hotel gives you a chance to catch the amazing views of sunset over the river. Once you’ve done that, head on down for dinner at the Kitchen Bistro & Piano Bar for an excellent meal. Alternatively, Pig Out Inn Barbeque offers a more laid back approach with some delicious BBQ.

Natchez is also a wonderful place to explore the arcitecture and homes of the historic period the town “grew up” in. One of the best is the Rosalie Mansion & Gardens. Built in 1823, it will celebrate its 200th birthday this year! The home and grounds are beautiful, with amazing overlooks of the river as well. Stanton Hall is another wonderful old home that you are able to visit as part of semiannual Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.

The Rosalie Mansion is one of the most beautiful homes on the Great River Road in Mississippi
The Rosalie Mansion is one of the most beautiful you’ll find along the Mississippi River

All in all, Natchez is a perfect place to wrap up your trip. There is a lot of hustle and bustle before you get here. Take advantage of a relaxed final day or so once you get here and enjoy what the town has to offer. If you aren’t feeling like you’re quite done though, check out the last section to learn how you can extend your trip beyond the confines of the Great River Road in Mississippi.

How Much Time to Spend on the Great River Road in Mississippi

Like many other states along the entire ten state Great River Road journey, how much time you choose to spend is largely dependent on how long of a trip you’re taking overall. When we drove the whole thing north to south, we spent two days and one night travelling the delta. I’d honestly recommend potentially trying to squeeze in two nights, minimum, for a full length journey. There is plenty to see and experience, especially in towns like Vicksburg and Clarksdale.

Luckily, you can do this trip without needing to drive the entire length of the Mississippi River. With that as an option, I’d suggest four nights total. Spend at least one in Clarksdale, so you can really enjoy a night in an authentic blues club. You’ll also need two nights in Vicksburg. There is honestly too much to see, especially if you’re a history buff. That leaves you a final night to spend in Natchez. With four or five days to explore the surrounding area, this trip will fully immerse you in life along the Great River Road in the Mississippi Delta.

A mural of blues musicians in Clarksdale along the Great River Road in Mississippi
Be on the lookout for some cool art on your trip like this mural in Clarksdale!

Extending Your Journey Past the Great River Road in Mississippi

The obvious choice when you finish with the Great River Road in Mississippi is to simply keep driving it! If you’re following the north-south direction, then Louisiana is your next stop. However, the road also connects to Arkansas and Tennessee where you can find plenty of adventure as well. In fact, driving the road south-north is an excellent way to make the trip in the Spring!

Ending up in Natchez at the end of your trip also gives you a chance to head back north along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Like Blue Ridge Parkway, this scenic byway is protected and improved by the National Park Service. You can drive the parkway all the way from Natchez back to the honky tonks of Nashville, Tennessee.

One final option would be heading back east along US 98 to Hattiesburg and then south to the Gulf Coast in Biloxi. You’ll have a grand time along the pleasant gulf shores in a part of Mississippi that so many people forget even exists. No matter what option you choose when you extend your trip along the Great River Road through Mississippi, you’re going to have a wonderful time.

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