Twain-esque Road Trip
August 17, 2010 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Road trip filter: what should we see on our trip up the Mississippi between St Louis and Iowa City? (more inside)

My best friend and I are doing a road trip next week, traveling north-bound between St. Louis and Iowa City along the Mississippi. I would like to (roughly) stick to scenic routes, traveling along MO 79 and IL 100/96. I am from Central IL but do not know a lot about this area, though I have checked out this site and a few others. We will be staying in Alton and visiting the City Museum in St. Louis. I'm looking for recommendations on diners/restaurants, swimming holes (please!), and any can't-miss sights in the region. Thanks, MeFi!
posted by sideofwry to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
While in Iowa seek out a Maid-Rite and enjoy one or two of their original loose-meat sandwiches.
posted by Work to Live at 9:20 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, Alton Brown did a TV series called Feasting on Asphalt, and in the second season they went up the Mississippi, hitting many places to eat along the way. Check out Wikipedia's episode list for episodes 4 and 5 which overlap with your route. There are clips from the series scattered around Youtube, too, including one where they visit a Maid-Rite as mentioned above.
posted by zsazsa at 9:25 AM on August 17, 2010

Along Illinois route 96 is, of course, Nauvoo. The temple is worth at least five minutes to gawk, I'd think; Twain would have been familiar with the burned-out wreck of the first one. Be forewarned: there are no decent sit-down restaurants in Nauvoo or within something like 40 miles. We were desperate enough to eat at the Ponderosa in I think Mason.

Across the river is Fort Madison, home to a recreation of a significant War of 1812 site (Black Hawk fought his first battle against US troops there; it's the only "real" 1812 battle fought west of the Mississippi.) The director of the museum is HIGHLY motivated to tell you ALL about it and his funding woes/battles to preserve the site. There is a highly adequate KFC/Taco Bell in town; it costs nothing to get to Iowa across the bridge most of the time, but I've yet to get back to Illinois without paying a toll.

This is about where I'd start heading west from the river toward Iowa City, but I'm a Mormon and a history geek. Google Maps has you veering off a little before Keokuk, it looks like. This is a one hour detour, but 96 actually goes through Nauvoo, so. Watch out for crowds of Mormons if you go in the next week or so. In any case, get food before you get this far north.

Also, watch out for numerous Bugs of Unusual Size at all the scenic outlooks by the river this time of year. Scarred for life, yep.
posted by SMPA at 10:00 AM on August 17, 2010

Fairfield, Iowa is home to the Maharishi movement, and is a very interesting little town (considering it's nestled in the middle of nowhere). Check out the school of management or the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, or eat at one of the many quirky vegetarian restaurants.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:37 AM on August 17, 2010

Re: swimming holes - as a midwesterner, you probably know this, but I just thought I'd mention it for good measure: don't try to swim in any old place along the Mississippi, especially on this stretch. It's the widest part of the Mississippi (getting up to over a mile wide at Clinton), and the current can get upwards of 40 mph. If you're gonna do Mississippi swimming, definitely find a backwater area.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:39 AM on August 17, 2010

Yeah, unless you're super into Mormon history and endless detours and roads that just end, avoid the Keokuk/Ft. Madison area. Just got back from there a couple days ago. We thought we'd have a pleasant drive along the river, but there was really nothing pleasant about it.

Hannibal was ok. Wanted to see the Mark Twain cave, but no time.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:44 AM on August 17, 2010

I've made the trip from St Louis to Iowa City well over a dozen times, and I hate to say, there isn't much interesting along the way. Hannibal is marginal, rundown and tourist-tacky, and anything off of US 61 starts to get too far out of the way to be worthwhile. That said, I've never been along the Illinois side of the river route, but I imagine that could be picturesque in parts.

Once you're in Iowa city, check out John's Grocery for beer, and the Hamburg Inn for kickass diner food.
posted by slogger at 12:38 PM on August 17, 2010

Right across the Mississippi from St. Louis is the ruins of Cahokia, the largest indigenous city north of the Rio Grande.
posted by escabeche at 2:19 PM on August 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. The Alton Brown hint was great!
posted by sideofwry at 9:34 AM on August 19, 2010

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