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Drive alongside the Mississippi River and experience an era when paddleboats surged along the current and vital cargo fueled an expanding nation. The history of this amazing artery of commerce is almost as compelling as the jaw-dropping river views.

1. Burlington

Starting Point • History, Quirky

Go to Burlington, where, in 1805, settler Zebulon Pike (the Pike in “Pike’s Peak”) raised the U.S. flag on the handsome bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Soon, this river port town bustled with steamboat and railroad trade. Today, many of the town’s buildings enjoy spots on National Register of Historic Places. How about a visit to Snake Alley, the world’s “crookedest” alleyway?

2. Quad Cities

Drive 78.2 miles, 1 hour, 46 minutes • History, Nature, Outdoor Recreation, Quirky

The Quad Cities Metro Area is actually four cities in two states, united by the mighty river. In earlier days, life was all about riverboat traffic; today, fun activities include visiting the world’s largest truck stop, gazing at plants at the botanic center or attending concerts. Take Mississippi River cruise aboard the 750-passenger Celebration Belle paddleboat.

3. Dubuque

Drive 97.8 miles, 2 hours, 12 minutes • Entertainment, History, Nature

Dubuque’s lovely architecture is matched only by the beauty of its Mississippi River location. Visit the Shot Tower and see how bullets were cast in the old days. Stroll Dubuque’s lovely Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, then ride up and down Mississippi’s bluffs via the Fourth Street Elevator, the steepest and shortest railroad on the planet. And don’t miss the famed National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.