The Great River Road was developed by the Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC) and is maintained today in Wisconsin by the Department of Transportation and county and local road agencies. The MRPC works with federal, state, and local units of government to sign, promote, and develop highways and amenity projects along the Great River Road.
One of the nation's oldest and longest national scenic by-ways, the Great River Road is a 3,000 mile network of roads extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. During the early phases of Great River Road development, the parkway commission played an important role in planning, route designation, and funding.
Today, the MRPC works with state and local agencies to complete Great River Road development plans utilizing transportation enhancement, scenic by-way, and state and local funds. The MRPC facilitates regional studies, reports, and plans to support local, state and national development of theGreat River Road.
The Great River Road as defined in Wisconsin Statute 84.107(1):
The department shall designate and mark as the "Great River Road" the route in Grant, Crawford, Vernon, La Crosse, Trempealeau, Buffalo, Pepin and Pierce counties commencing at the Wisconsin-Illinois border and proceeding northerly on STH 35 to its junction with STH 133; then proceeding westerly on STH 133 to its junction with CTH "VV" near Cassville; then proceeding northerly on CTH "VV" to its junction with CTH "A"; then proceeding westerly on CTH "A" to its junction with CTH "X" in Bagley; then proceeding northerly on CTH "X" to its junction with CTH "C"; then proceeding easterly on CTH "C" to its junction with STH 35, with all of the preceding highways in Grant County; then proceeding northerly on STH 35 to its junction with USH 14/61 in La Crosse County; then proceeding northerly on USH 14/61 to its junction with USH 53; then proceeding northerly on USH 53 to its junction with STH 35; then proceeding northerly on STH 35 to its junction with Business 35/CTH "HD" near Holmen; then proceeding northerly on Business 35/CTH "HD" to its junction with STH 35; then proceeding northerly on STH 35 to its junction with USH 10 in Pierce County; and then proceeding westerly on USH 10 to the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.
Over the years, Great River Road-funded work has included purchases of right-of-way, scenic easements, abandoned railroad lines, boat landings, rest areas, playground equipment, park improvements, surfacing, recycling, reconstruction, shoulder widening and an archeologic study. Source: "Wisconsin Highways 1945–1984" by WisDOT.
WisDOT's excellent book "Wisconsin Highways 1945–1985" includes the following information on this route:
"The Great River Road has been one of Wisconsin's special promotions since the early 1930s. The Road was recognized by legislation in 1938 that established the Mississippi River Parkway Planning Commission. For convenience, the road in Wisconsin was marked on existing state trunk highways with the exception of short distances on some county trunks which were contemplated for eventual development to Great River Road standards."
"The road was planned for both sides of the Mississippi from 'the palms of Louisiana to the pines of Minnesota.' ... Between its inception and a Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973, Wisconsin used only state money to build the first segment on the entire route specifically as Great River Road. The special federal funds became available in 1977. The Federal Highway Acts of 1976 and 1978 continued the categorical funding for the Great River Road at a declining pace until phased out starting in 1983. While Great River Road funds were available, Wisconsin recieved some $21.2 million out of the $251.5 million allocated to the 10 states along the river."
The highway-by-highway routing for the Great River Road:
- Enters Wisconsin from Illinois on STH-35 in southern Grant Co near Dubuque, Iowa. The Road continues north on STH-35 to US-61/US-151.
- The route continues northerly on US-61/US-151/STH-35 to Dickeyville.
- At Dickeyville, the Great River Road continues northwesterly on US-61/STH-35 to Tennyson.
- The Road turns west at Tennyson to follow STH-133 to Cassville.
- The GRR turns northerly to follow CTH-VV to CTH-A.
- The route turns west on CTH-A to Bagley.
- At Bagley, the Great River Road continues on CTH-X via Wyalusing to CTH-C.
- The Road continues northeasterly via CTH-C to US-18/STH-35.
- The Great River Road turns northwesterly, heading into Prairie du Chien along US-18/STH-35.
- The route continues northerly from Prairie du Chien to La Cross via STH-35.
- The Road follows the route of US-14/US-61 into downtown La Crosse, rather than STH-35's route.
- In downtown La Crosse, the GRR continues northerly on US-53 through the remainder of La Crosse.
- At I-90, the Great River Road continues north on STH-35 through Onalaska.
- North of Onalaska, the route continues northerly on CTH-HD/BUS STH-35 through downtown Holmen.
- At US-53 north of Holmen, the Great River Road continues westerly along STH-35, then northerly into Centerville.
- From Centerville, the Road follows STH-35 northwesterly through Alma and Pepin into Prescott.
- The Great River Road turns west to follow US-10 from downtown Prescott into Minnesota over the St Croix River Bridge.
- Wisconsin Great River Road – concentrating on Wisconsin's portion of the Great River Road.
- The Mississippi River Parkway Commission – website by the organization behind the Great River Road for the past seven decades.
- ExperienceMissississippiRiver.com – Wisconsin – the Wisconsin section of the official ExperienceMississippiRiver.com website.
- Great River Road – from the America's Byways website.