For centuries, the Mississippi River has been an artery of American life. It’s where North meets South, where East meets West. It has carried the nation’s lifeblood of industry, commerce and culture. Beyond barge traffic and fishing boats, the mighty Mississippi has shaped the people who live on its banks and deltas, and allowed their musical styles and food traditions to travel to areas up and down the river.
From the northernmost port to the Gulf of Mexico, these cities along the Mississippi embody the everlasting yet ever-changing nature of the river.
St. Paul, Minnesota
When people think of the Mississippi River, “they don’t often think about the Twin Cities like they think about New Orleans or St. Louis,” said Nick Cusick, marketing and media relations manager for Visit Saint Paul. “But St. Paul in general could be considered the Mississippi River capital.”
St. Paul is home to the northernmost port on the Mississippi River and has more river shoreline than any other city. It’s also the largest contributor to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, which protects a 72-mile, 54,000-acre corridor of green space along the river.
“All these factors add up that we represent the Mississippi River as well as any destination,” Cusick said.
Both sides of downtown St. Paul’s riverfront are lined with greenways and parks that visitors can explore on foot, on rented bikes or on a Segway tour.
On the south bank, Padelford Riverboats has its dock at Harriet Island Regional Park and runs public sightseeing cruises and private charters on its three-boat fleet that includes a 160-passenger stern-wheeler, a 300-person side-wheeler and a 300-capacity party barge.
Groups can get closer to the water during guided urban kayaking tours with the Minnesota Adventure Co. The outfitter meets groups at Harriet Island and buses them to Fort Snelling State Park, where they kayak down the Minnesota River to the Mississippi River “and right to the St. Paul skyline,” he said.
At the Science Museum of Minnesota, guests can take in river views from a balcony overlooking the Mississippi and learn more about it at the museum’s Mississippi River exhibit. Just off the museum lobby, the free Mississippi River Visitors Center offers videos and interactive exhibits.
Many downtown hotels are near the river, and some, such as the Hampton Inn and Suites and the Hyatt Place, which is housed in the city’s historic custom house building, offer river views. Both hotels opened in 2016.
Red River Kitchen is a food truck that operates a seasonal restaurant in City House, a historic, riverfront grain elevator where diners can watch river traffic pass by.