The Upper Mississippi Great River Road
Scenic Byway Guide, Part 1.


Great River Bike Trail, Fulton, IL
A loop of the Great River Bike Trail runs along the river in front of the Fulton Windmill

Mississippi Great River Road – Rock Island to Thomson, Illinois

The Upper Mississippi River Visitor Center located in the Corps of Engineers Locks and Dam #15 facility marks the beginning of the Upper Mississippi Great River Road. Open seven days a week and on weekends they give guided tours of the lock and dam. Even without the tours, it is a worthwhile visit to see the museum/education area with multi-media exhibits. There is also an observation deck to watch ships come through the locks.

Upper mississippi visitor center
Watching the ships and barges coming through the locks at the Rock Island Mississippi River Visitor Center

Queen of the Mississippi passing through the locks at Trempealeau
Queen of the Mississippi passing through the locks at Trempealeau

While you are in the Quad Cities, there are two other conveniently located attractions you should see. The Visitor Center is actually located on the grounds of the Rock Island Arsenal. If you are golfer, you might enjoy the Arsenal’s golf course, the oldest golf course in the Quad Cities area.  But the main attraction is the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, the Army’s second oldest museum, with a history of the establishment of the Arsenal on the island, the arms manufacturing process used at the Arsenal, and exhibits of over 1200 large and small arms collections.

rock island arsenal museum

John Deere Pavilion

As you are leaving Arsenal Island to the east, you can stop in another significant Quad Cities attraction: The John Deere Pavilion. After you cross the bridge over the river, turn right on River Drive and it is a block down the street. To learn more about these attractions, see our earlier article on the Mississippi Visitor Center and the John Deere Pavilion.

John Deere Pavilion
When in the Quad Cities a visit to the John Deere Pavilion is a must.
John Deere Pavilion
Kids of all ages will enjoy climbing up into the big rigs

Fulton, Illinois

Fulton Windmill
The operating windmill at Fulton, Illinois creates old fashioned stone ground grain for sale in the Mill store and museum

After leaving the John Deere Pavilion, head east and north on River Drive until it joins with State Highway 84 (The River Road). Then head north towards the historic Dutch community of Fulton. You’ll have some nice views of the river along this route. As you arrive in the outskirts of Fulton, be sure to take the drive into the downtown area to see the famous De Immigrant Windmill and Museum. If you are there at the right time you may see them grinding flour in the mill. Fulton has a number of quaint shops and several nicely restored historical buildings. It is also on the Great River Bike Trail. We did an earlier article on Fulton and the Windmill on our QuiltingPathways website. Learn more about Fulton and its De Immigrant Windmill here.

Fulton Windmill Cultural Center
The Fulton Windmill Cultural Center houses an extensive collection of 22 European windmills. The windmills vary in size up to six feet tall.
Street scene fulton illinois
Sample some of Fulton’s Dutch Heritage in the shops along Main street


Thomson Causeway Campground

Thomson Causeway RV and Camping Park
Paved roads, spacious paved semi-wooded camp sites
Thomson Causeway Nature Trail
A pleasant nature trail, an easy 40 minute hike

RV users wanting to spend the night or a few days in the Fulton area should check out the Thomson Causeway Corps of Engineers Park. It is about 8 miles north of Fulton off highway 84. Thomson has 131 campsites, 120 with electric hookups. Wooded, nicely spaced sites. Paved roads and parking pads. Typical 5 star Corps quality. Popular for fishing, canoeing  and boating and a good place for families as it is far enough from town and busy highways that you can let the kids “off their leash.” Its also a good campground for biking as the Great River Bike Trail runs adjacent to the park.

River Road Scenic Drive from Quad Cities to Thomson, Illinois.
River Road from Quad Cities to Thomson, Illinois.

See our complete Upper Mississippi River Road Map here

Travel Links

mississippi palisades park
Savannah, Illinois Mississippi Palisades State Park has many outstanding scenic overlooks,
some decent hiking trails, and a spacious campground