Spanning an astonishing length of 3,370 kilometers, the mighty Mississippi River traverses 10 States, including Iowa, Illinois, and of course, Mississippi. Along the way, numerous charming towns dot the river's course, either on its banks or near the water, each with its own history and unique attractions.
The seat of Adams County, the historic town of Natchez, is one of the most fascinating places to explore along the Mississippi River. Initially founded by French explorers in 1716, the area around Natchez eventually fell under Spanish control before entering American hands at the end of the 18th century. Today this town of just under 15,000 residents maintains its historic character and is a great place to enjoy the beauty of the waterfront. Known for its warm winters and hot summers, Natchez was a prominent center of cotton production in the pre-Civil War South and a major center of trade along the Mississippi River. Visitors to the town can explore several historic buildings and sites, each with a story to tell of the growth of this important riverside hub.
From the Selma Plantation to the Natchez National Cemetery, the United States Courthouse (1853), and numerous antebellum-style mansions, Natchez is full of remnants of America's most complex past. And naturally, taking a steamboat ride along the River is always the most fun and nostalgic exercise for anyone looking to get a real idea of authentic Southern charm.
Located along one of the Mississippi River's tributaries, the Galena River, this small Illinois town of the same name was founded by French settlers in the 1690s. This charming historic town, named after the mining mineral, is now home to just over 3,000 residents. In the Galena Historic District, visitors will surely get a feeling of stepping back in time. Stops through Main Street or past the many lovingly preserved 18th and 19th-century buildings will bring a certain sense of nostalgia. Here, one can take an authentic early 20th-century trolley ride, try a meal at any locally owned restaurant, or spend an afternoon discovering the region's history at nearby museums.
Situated on a wide bend of the River, the historic town of Nauvoo was founded by Mormon pioneers in the early 19th century. From a Hebrew phrase meaning "They are beautiful," the town of Nauvoo today is home to a modest population of just 950 inhabitants. This town has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historically significant center for the Mormon faith. Here, one can stop by the Nauvoo Temple and marvel at its exquisite Greek Revival style design, stroll through the Historic District and learn more about the town's development, or simply take in all the splendor of the riverside. Wagon tours of the banks and the historic buildings of importance are also available, making a visit to this charming town all the more memorable.
Right along Iowa's eastern border, Davenport is the largest of the famed Quad Cities and the third largest in Iowa. Founded in 1836, Davenport's modern population is 101,724 inhabitants, making it one of the largest urban centers along the Mississippi River. With its mild winters and warm summers, Davenport is also a comfortable place to explore year-round and boasts a variety of historic attractions, galleries, restaurants, and riverside fun. Indeed the city is home to more than 50 parks, trails, and recreational areas perfect for enjoying the unique beauty of the Mississippi River. In addition, Davenport hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, including the Mississippi Valley Fair and the Blues Festival. Several historic districts also exist in town, highlighting different stages of Davenport's development and importance along the River.
Right in the heart of the Mississippi Delta (where the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers meet), the historic town of Greenville is a marvelous delight for all to discover. Formally incorporated in 1870, modern-day Greenville is home to just under 30,000 inhabitants and is known for its hot southern summers and warm winters. With a rich plantation history, visitors to Greenville will certainly have plenty of fascinating stories to hear. The town offers several historically preserved antebellum-style buildings and the sounds of the Blues at the famed Nelson Street, where many music clubs from the 1940s continue to operate. The waterfront area is a great place for nature lovers to enjoy jogging, biking, strolls with loved ones, or boating in the river.
Only 29 kilometers from St. Louis, Missouri, Alton is where fascinating human history and natural wonder come to meet. Once the site of the Illinois State Penitentiary, during the Civil War (1861-1865), some 12,000 Confederate soldiers were held as prisoners of war here. Meanwhile, along the edge of the Mississippi River, Alton is widely known for its exquisite limestone bluffs, which make for a tremendous visual treat. Here, one can travel along the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route, a 53-kilometer-long trail through the path of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The Piasa Bird mural is also a great attraction. The restored mural, depicted on a majestic limestone cliffside, is a fine example of indigenous art and an ode to the wonder of nature.
Located along the Mississippi River and the Tri-State Area of the borders of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, Dubuque is a historic river town founded in 1833. Besides the obvious waterside activities and natural beauty to be found here, visitors to this town of just under 60,000 have plenty of charm and fun to discover. The town hosts sites like the Fenelon Place Elevator (a funicular that brings its passengers to the bluffs overlooking the city), the Mines of Spain recreation area, Eagle Point Park, and the Mathias Ham House (featured on the National Register of Historic Places).
Situated at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers (a major tributary of the Mississippi River), Ottawa is a stunning place of historical and natural beauty. With no relation to the Canadian capital, Ottawa is about 128 kilometers from Chicago and is affectionately known as "The Middle of Everywhere" for its many diverse attractions. Along the riverbanks, incredible hiking trails, green spaces, and leisure spots can be found and enjoyed throughout the year. Easy access to several State Parks make Ottawa an excellent hub destination. In addition, this town of 18,840 residents has a plethora of historic landmarks and buildings that track the growth of this river town and the Midwestern United States.
The Mississippi River is one of America's greatest natural treasures, and anyone along its path will surely be filled with awe. Along its tremendous 3,370 kilometers, numerous towns find themselves forever shaped by their proximity to this mighty river. These charming towns on the Mississippi River have a great history, stunning scenery, and rich culture unique to America, ready to discover on every journey.