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On the Road: Upper Mississippi River Reflections — Historic Towns, Trails and Tales

Program Number: 14948RJ
Start and End Dates:
10/6/2013 - 10/12/2013; 8/23/2015 - 8/29/2015; 9/13/2015 - 9/19/2015; 9/27/2015 - 10/3/2015; 10/11/2015 - 10/17/2015;
Duration: 6 nights
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Price starting at: $1,495.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: On the Road; History & Culture Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 17; 6 Breakfasts, 5 Lunches, 6 Dinners    

Navigate Upper Mississippi river to discover rich history, quaint culture, explorers and storytellers who called the Mighty Miss their home. Three very different floating excursions reveal new insights into the commerce, historic towns and nature's foliage waiting around every bend. Enjoy experts, local residents and themed dining as they weave your overland and river excursions into an unforgettable adventure.


• Enjoy three uniquely different river excursions into special places where the big boats can't go.
• Visit charming river towns in four states: Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois.
• Have "nose-to-beak" encounters with bald eagles at the National Eagle Center, then look for eagles in the wild.

Activity Particulars

Must be able to climb two flights of stairs on riverboats. Will need to tote own luggage between bus and hotels. Must be able to climb 4 motorcoach steps within 10 seconds and several times per day, and walk/stand up to one hour at a time with stops.

Date Specific Information


Lead Instructors are Diane Van Wyngarden and Tom Quinn. This week is the best chance to see beautiful fall foliage along the Mississippi. Cool nights, warm days. The Mississippi is very active at this time. Hotel on 10/8 (Tuesday) is the historic DeSoto House in Galena, Illinois. Hotel on 10/9 (Wednesday) is the new Cobblestone Inn, overlooking the Mississippi in Marquette, Iowa. All program dates include all activities, but use different midweek hotels to accommodate changes in riverboat routes and city ports of boarding.
Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.


August offers very warm sunny days with gardens in full bloom and farm crops ripening. It is a peaceful time before the urgency of fall harvest and migration begins. We spot Bald Eagles in the refuge and watch fledglings practice their new flying skills. This date offers the most hours of daylight for early morning or evening walks.
Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.


September is an exciting time on the river. Moderate temperatures and mostly sunny days make September a very pleasant time to explore the Upper Mississippi. Gardens are blooming, grain fields are ripening, and towboat traffic increases as everyone prepares for harvest. Wildlife is also on the move, as migratory birds join Bald Eagles in the refuge.
Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.


River activity revs up in late September. We see harvest in action as we explore the countryside, and watch towboats busily move ripened grain down river. More migratory birds arrive each day to join Bald Eagles in the refuge. A mix of sunny days and crisp nights create a gentle first hint of fall colors as October nears.
Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.


Small group! This exclusive date is for persons wishing to explore the Mississippi in a smaller social setting. Max enrollment is 24 participants on a chartered riverboat. October is the best chance to see beautiful fall colors, which the Upper Mississippi’s famous bluffs display in dramatic fashion. Fall colors are produced by crisp temperatures, so this is jacket weather. Evenings are chilly, but average daytime highs are 60-70 degrees. Harvest is in full swing and river barge traffic is busy. Migratory birds increase in numbers each day. .
Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., 1 night; coach to Onalaska, Wis., 1 night; boat to Dubuque, Iowa, 2 nights; coach to Galena, Ill; boat to LeClaire, Iowa; boat and coach to Onalaska, 1 night; coach to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.; 1 night; departure.

Coordinated by Iowa State University Extension.


The 24 lakes now contained within Minneapolis inspired Minnesota schoolmaster Charles Hoag to combine the Dakota word for water with the Greek word for city, resulting in today’s modern moniker. Once the global center of the timber milling industry, Minneapolis is the state’s largest city and adjoins twin city and Minnesota capital St. Paul.


Considered one of the best-preserved 19th-century towns in the Midwest, nearly 85 percent of this community near the Mississippi River bluffs is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Highlights include Ulysses S. Grant's stately home and the Vinegar Hill Lead Mine and Museum, featuring the industry that helped to build Galena.


Wabasha promotes the stewardship of the local environment through programs at the National Eagle Center, a 15,000-square-foot facility opened in 2007 on the banks of the Mississippi River. Here visitors can learn about the hundreds of eagles that inhabit the Upper Mississippi River environment and meet the rescued eagles that reside at the center.


Onalaska is a city of 18,000 in western Wisconsin, near the Minnesota border. Built on the scenic, wooded bluffs above the Black River (a tributary of the Mississippi), it is an outdoor paradise, great for activities including cycling, birdwatching, snowmobiling and especially fishing. Onalaska is known as the “Sunfish Capital of the World.”

Prairie Du Chien

 Established by French explorers in the 1600s, Prairie du Chien is Wisconsin's second-oldest city. It is situated near the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers amid beautiful geologic formations and bluffs. The city abounds with fascinating Native American and fur trade history.


Dubuque is a Mississippi River city in the Tri-State Area of Iowa. This hilly city boasts Victorian architecture adorning its bluffs and the Fenelon Place Elevator, a short, steep funicular railway. Dubuque is working to become the “first integrated, smart city” in America, with interlocking systems connecting water, electricity and transportation.

Le Claire

A historic town of 3,765 on the scenic bend of the upper Mississippi River, LeClaire was home to brave river pilots who navigated the treacherous Upper Rapids. Also the birthplace of Buffalo Bill Cody, the town annually takes on Port Byron, Ill., in a tug of war across the mighty Mississippi and offers the best viewing of Bald Eagles in the U.S.


Named after the inventor of movable type, the town of Guttenberg, Iowa, is situated between the Mississippi River and limestone bluffs. Guttenberg’s past is preserved today in the limestone buildings built by German immigrants in the mid-to-late 19th century.


Nestled between towering bluffs on the west side of the Mississippi River, McGregor, Iowa, is a hamlet of 871 with a colorful history and downtown business district that has been preserved from its 1870s boom years. McGregor is renowned for its charm, bevy of antique stores and proximity to Pikes Peak State Park just south of town.

Red Wing

For its "impressive architecture and enviable natural environment," The National Trust for Historic Preservation added Red Wing to its Distinctive Destinations list in 2008. Overlooking the Mississippi River and with a vibrant manufacturing economy, Red Wing is the all-American idyllic town.

Upper Mississippi River

United by tributaries, river communities and a series of dams, the Upper Mississippi River has a unique landscape and character. From Lake Itasca, Minn., to Cairo, Ill., the Upper Mississippi flows through dozens of cities and 29 locks, providing habitat in three national wildlife refuges and hosting a rich natural and human history.

Three-star hotels.
Meals and Lodgings
   Homewood Suites by Hilton - Mall of America
  Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota 1 night
   Stoney Creek Inn
  Onalaska, Wisconsin 1 night
   DeSoto House
  Galena, Illinois 1 night
   Cobblestone Inn
  Marquette, Iowa 1 night
   Stoney Creek Inn
  Onalaska, Wisconsin 1 night
   Homewood Suites by Hilton - Mall of America
  Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota 1 night
 Homewood Suites by Hilton - Mall of America
Type: Three-Star Hotel
  Description: All rooms are suites, with separate living and sleeping rooms. Conveniently located across the street from the Mall of America, the largest enclosed mall in the United States and the Light Rail Train to Downtown Minneapolis. Only 8 minutes (5 miles) from the airport with complimentary shuttle.
  Contact info: 2261 Killebrew Drive
Bloomington, MN 55424 USA
phone: 952-854-0990
  Room amenities: All rooms feature suites with separate living and sleeping areas. Each has a fully-equipped kitchen with full-size refrigerator, microwave, stove and dishwasher. Plus all the comforts of home - two TVs, complimentary high-speed internet and two phones with voice mail.
  Facility amenities: Complimentary Hot Breakfast; Elevators; Business Center; Fitness Room; Indoor Swimming Pool; Coin Laundry; Complimentary Van Shuttles Within 5 Mile Radius Including Airport, Mall of America and Light Rail Station to Downtown Minneapolis; Luggage Hold; Baggage Storage; On-Site Convenience Store; Safety Deposit Box; Room Service; Onsite Dining - Chevy's Mexican Restaurant. Many other restaurants nearby.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: seasonal rates Contact the hotel directly for additional nights at the best rates. Mention Road Scholar group.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: seasonal rates Contact the hotel directly for additional nights at the best rates. Mention Road Scholar group.
  Check out time: 12:00 PM

 Stoney Creek Inn
Type: Three-Star Hotel
  Description: This nearly new hotel features a north woods decorating theme and the property rests in a wooded setting inside the city of Onalaska. If you'd like to stretch your legs while enjoying the great outdoors, a new walking trail runs along the hotel.
  Contact info: 3060 Kinney Coulee Rd. S.
Onalaska, WI 54650 USA
phone: 608-781-3060
  Room amenities: We will enjoy upgraded deluxe rooms with a refrigerator and microwave, cable TV, coffee maker, hair dryer, iron and board. All rooms are nonsmoking. A unique north woods decorating theme is featured throughout the hotel.
  Facility amenities: This hotel features an indoor/outdoor heated swim-through pool, whirlpool, dry sauna, expanded continental breakfast, fitness center, guest laundry and business center with high speed Internet. The hotel also offers a small gift shop and Lumber-Jacks Saloon. We are greeted with fresh cookies, and coffee is available 24 hours a day.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

 DeSoto House
Type: Hotel
  Description: Step into the lobby of this historic hotel to see why it hosted such notable guests as Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas and William Jennings Bryan, as well as serving as a presidential campaign headquarters for Ulysses S. Grant. The warm surroundings and historic charm will transport you back to the 1850s. The DeSoto House was named for Hernando DeSoto, the European discoverer of the Mississippi River. Conveniently located in the heart of downtown Galena, it is steps away from charming shops, restaurants and historic landmarks.
  Contact info: 230 South Main Street
Galena, IL 61036 USA
phone: 815-777-0090
  Room amenities: Each guestroom is unique and historically restored with high ceilings and beautiful decor. Merging history with modern conveniences, each room offers a private bath and cable TV.
  Facility amenities: This Galena legend was opened in 1855 and was historically rennovated in the late 1980s. Nestled in the heart of downtown Galena, the DeSoto House puts you in the midst of fine antique shops, restaurants, boutiques, historical points of interest and picturesque 1800's architecture.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

 Cobblestone Inn
Type: Hotel
  Description: This new hotel (opened January, 2013) is located along the Mississippi River. It offer beautiful views of majestic landscapes, including the Marquette & Joliet Bridge, which stretches across the Mississippi from Marquette, Iowa to Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. This new facility is a result of creative small town planning and partnering. New city hall offices are housed on the ground floor, with guest rooms enjoying the views on floors 2-4. The top floor features a guest lounge with river views. The hotel chain's mission is "Big City Quality, Small Town Values".
  Contact info: 100 North Street
Marquette,, IA 52158 USA
phone: 563-873-8900
  Room amenities: Microwave, mini-frig in every room, plus coffee service, free high-speed Internet, flat panel television, upgraded bedding, hair dryer, iron and board. This hotel is 100% nonsmoking.
  Facility amenities: Guests have free access to a private upper level lounge, which features majestic Mississippi River views. The facility offers complimentary WiFi, 24-hour business center, fitness center, onsite beer and wine bar, onsite convenience store, free weekly newspaper, guest laundry, hot breakfast bar. This new hotel is 100% smoke free.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Your hotel room is ready by 3:00 p.m. Program begins 4:45 p.m. in our hotel's meeting room with important announcements and orientation; followed by welcome dinner. You will be staying at Homewood Suites by Hilton - Mall of America that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends following breakfast in our hotel on your own schedule. You will be staying at Homewood Suites by Hilton - Mall of America the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required.
  Parking availability:
Parking is available at our hotel.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
  Nearest airport:  MSP International
  From End of Program
  Location: Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

St Paul


From Airport




Hotel Shuttle
Homewood Suites Hotel
phone: 952-854-0900


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


8 minutes 




5 miles


A complimentary airport shuttle is provided by our hotel. Call the hotel from the airport baggage claim area. Airport taxi service is also available.

Driving Directions
  From the East: From the East-I 94: Take I 94 to 494 South. Take 494 South to 494 West to 24th Avenue South. Follow 24th Avenue Southbound to Killebrew Drive. Take a right onto Killebrew Drive. Take a left at the first set of lights into parking lot; hotel is located immediately on left side attached to Chevy's Mexican Restaurant.
  From the North: From the North-I 35: Take I 35 South to 35E South. Take 35E South to I 494 West. Take I494 West to 24th Avenue. Follow 24th Avenue Southbound all the way to Killebrew Drive. Hotel is located on the corner of 24th Avenue and Killebrew Drive, attached to Chevy's Mexican Restaurant.
  From the South From the South-I 35: Take I 35 North to 35E North. Take 35E North to 494 West to Hwy 77 South. Take Hwy 77 (Cedar) South to Killebrew Drive. Killebrew Drive goes one way around to the south side of the Mall of America. At the second stoplight on Killebrew Drive go right into parking lot; hotel is immediately on left hand side, attached to Chevy's Mexican Restaurant.
  From the West: From the West-I 94: Take I 94 to 494 East. Take 494 East to Hwy 77 (Cedar) South. Follow Hwy 77 (Cedar) South to Killebrew Drive. Killebrew Drive goes one way around to the south side of the Mall of America. At the second stoplight on Killebrew Drive go right into parking lot; hotel is immediately on left hand side, attached to Chevy's Mexican Restaurant. .
  Parking Parking is available at our hotel.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Program begins at 4:45 p.m. with important announcements, welcome dinner and orientation.
(Sunday, October 6)
 Afternoon: Independent Arrivals. Free shuttle service provided from the MSP airport to our hotel. Hotel rooms are ready by 3:00 p.m. Check in a the front desk for your hotel room key. Meeting room opens 4:45 p.m. to pick up materials and select a seat. Program begins at 5:00 p.m. in our hotel's meeting room with important announcements and program orientation.
 Dinner: Dinner is served at 6:00, followed by introductions.
Accommodations: Homewood Suites by Hilton - Mall of America
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: A fun day! Historic Wabasha, MN provides "nose-to-beak" encounters with bald eagles at the National Eagle Center, followed by a personal behind-the-scenes visit at the Mississippi Research Center in LaCrosse, WI.
(Monday, October 7)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in our hotel.
 Morning: We follow the Mississippi by chartered coach, stopping at interesting small towns, including Wabasha, Minnesota - home of the new National Eagle Center and movie site of "Grumpy Old Men".
 Lunch: Lunch is included.
 Afternoon: We visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota and learn "nose-to-beak" about the American Bald Eagle. Then we cross the river into Wisconsin, to the Mississippi Research Center in La Crosse, WI, before continuing to our hotel in Onalaska, WI.
 Dinner: Dinner is served in a popular local restaurant near our hotel.
 Evening: Hotel check in.
Accommodations: Stoney Creek Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Our first river day! A special half day narrated river excursion exclusively for our group through locks and the National Wildlife Refuge. Then we travel through Iowa to our hotel night in Galena, Illinois.
(Tuesday, October 8)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in our hotel.
 Morning: Let's get a close look at the river! Today we board the "Mississippi Explorer". Our river pilot narrators serve as experts for many organizations, including the Smithsonian, and their river knowledge is extensive. Our half day cruise from Lansing, Iowa to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, provides an in-depth exploration of the Mississippi River's ecosystem, navigation, and history. Our day will include 'Locking thru' Lock and Dam #9 at Lynxville, Wisconsin, and bald eagle watching along the remote scenic bluffs of Effigy Mounds National Monument. The "Mississippi Explorer" is a 60-passenger boat, which can be closed and heated on chilly days. It has a toilet on board and benches with padded seats and backs -- or you can go outside for open bench seating if you prefer. This cruise is chartered exclusively for our Road Scholar group.
 Lunch: We enjoy a box lunch during our river expedition.
 Afternoon: Our coach travels the Great River Road through Iowa to our evening destination. AAA magazine declares this section of The Great River Road to have some of the "best vistas of the Mississippi River in America". We continue to Galena, IL for hotel check in, stopping for dinner along the route.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant.
Accommodations: DeSoto House
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Our morning offers free time to visit sites of your choice in Galena or the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque. We then travel to McGregor, Iowa, where we are guided through the Mississippi's backwaters on a special chartered excursion with a clammer on his pontoon boat.
(Wednesday, October 9)
 Breakfast: Breakfast provided.
 Morning: Free time this morning provides your choice - visit sites in Galena, Illinois; or take the shuttle (included) to the Mississippi River Musuem in Dubuque, Iowa.
 Lunch: Box lunch on our motorcoach as we travel to our next state.
 Afternoon: Back on the river! We hear the personal story of a local clammer, as he takes us into Mississippi backwaters on his large covered (open sides) pontoon boat. The boat seats up to 29 passengers in plastic deck chairs and has a small restroom with a chemical toilet on board. This river excursion is chartered exclusively for our Road Scholar group to gain a local personal story and river perspective, and to view backwaters not accessible by larger vessels. In contrast to a plush commercial cruise, this excursion offers a close up experience with the river and its backwaters ecology, and insights into local personal connections with the river.
 Dinner: Catered dinner of Iowa local farm foods.
 Evening: Evening in Marquette, Iowa along the Mississippi.
Accommodations: Cobblestone Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Enjoy a half day excursion on the type of riverboat Mark Twain called a "floating palace", with live entertainment and river lore. We travel via motorcoach to Onalaska, Wisonsin for hotel check in.
(Thursday, October 10)
 Breakfast: Breakfast provided
 Lunch: Lunch provided.
 Afternoon: Our final river excursion is a large paddlewheel riverboat. Explore all four decks, visit with the captain in the pilot house, relax with a book, or enjoy live entertainment inside. Lunch is prepared and served on board.
 Dinner: Dinner provided.
 Evening: Onalaska hotel check in.
Accommodations: Stoney Creek Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Explore interesting sites as our coach returns towards the Twin Cities. We stop for lunch in charming Red Wing, MN; then travel down St Paul's Summit Ave of mansions and visit the Mill City Museum in downtown Minneapolis.
(Friday, October 11)
 Breakfast: Breakfast provided in our hotel.
 Morning: Our exploration of this area includes interesting stops of this region and final views of the river.
 Lunch: Lunch provided in charming downtown Red Wing, Minnesota, which is home of Red Wing pottery and shoes.
 Afternoon: As our coach returns us towards our program's starting point in the Twin Cities, we travel down St Paul's famous Summit Avenue of mansions and we visit the interesting Mill City Museum in downtown Minneapolis.
 Dinner: Farewell dinner in local restaurant.
 Evening: We return to our Twin Cities hotel for our final night and farewell dinner together.
Accommodations: Homewood Suites by Hilton - Mall of America
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Program ends with breakfast at your own schedule in our hotel. You may schedule an early flight if you wish.
(Saturday, October 12)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in our hotel.
 Morning: Our program ends following breakfast in our hotel.
Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota Downtown Minneapolis
A complimentary shuttle from our hotel can take you to the light rail train station (located at the Mall of America) for an easy and inexpensive ride to downtown Minneapolis.
  Historic Galena, Illinois
Galena has a charming downtown historic district, with interesting shops and fun restaurants, and is home to many restored examples of 1850's architecture. You may also choose to visit the Grant House during your hour of free time in Galena during our program ($5 Grant House entry fee).
  Mall of America
A free shuttle is provided from our hotel to the nearby Mall of America to explore acquarium exhibits, an indoor amusement park, 14 movie theaters or shop at over 500 stores -- all under one roof.
  Onalaska, Wisconsin
A new walking path runs adjacent to our Onalaska hotel to enjoy a walk in the autumn air. The hotel is located in a wooded area inside the city limits.
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi

Author: John O. Anfinson

Description: Detailed history by a retired engineer and former member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Immortal River: The Upper Mississippi in Ancient and Modern Times

Author: Calvin Fremling

Description: Mississippi River geology, ecology, geography, anthropology and history.

Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi

Author: William J. Petersen

Description: This is an edited reproduction of the book first published in 1937.

Around the Bend: A Mississippi River Adventure

Author: C.C. Lockwood

Description: Narrated photography by a wildlife photographer from the river's source to its mouth. River scenery and landscapes.

Kenny Salwey's Tales of a River Rat: Adventures Along the Wild Mississippi

Author: Kenny Salwey

Description: The film entitled, "Mississippi: Tales of the Last River Rat", is part of our program and is an Emmy-winning documentary produced by BBC. The film features wildlife along the river as well as the author of this book.

Upper Mississippi River History: Fact-Fiction-Legend

Author: Ron Larson

Description: The author sorts Upper Mississippi River facts from fiction.

Discover! America’s Great River Road. Volume 1: St Paul to Dubuque, Iowa

Author: Pat Middleton

Description: Guide to heritage, natural history and recreation of the Upper Mississippi River and Great River Road from St. Paul, Minnesota to Dubuque, Iowa.

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