Minnesota Scenic drives create an opportunity to explore a destinations uniqueness on your own time schedule. Whatever your mode of transportation, scenic byways are a great way to tour on the less traveled roads. Scenic Byways in Minnesota are well maintained to travel any time of year. There are eight nationally designated Scenic Byways in Minnesota: Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, Great River Road, Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, Gunflint Trail Scenic Byways, Historic Bluff Scenic Byway, Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway, North Shore Scenic Byway, and Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway.
According to Wikipedia: A National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation for one of the six “intrinsic qualities”: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and/or scenic. The program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-traveled roads and promote tourism and economic development. The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Most scenic byways are designated All-American Roads, which must meet two out of the six intrinsic qualities. The designation means they have features that do not exist elsewhere in the United States and are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.
City of Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Grand Rapids is located on two of Minnesota’s designated scenic byways: Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway and the Great River Road. The population of Grand Rapids is 10,869. A quaint rural community that boasts with charm. In Grand Rapids you will experience the balance of community and nature. Grand Rapids is positioned in the middle of the northwoods along the Mississippi River. You will feel welcomed by the small town charm of area businesses. There are several scenic drives that you can take and then return back to Grand Rapids where you will find warm and inviting lodging options with scenic views. The Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway is a scenic drive through forest and hills of northern Minnesota and was designated on September 19, 1996. The Great River Road is a scenic drive along the Mississippi River from its headwaters to southern Mississippi that goes through Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin; it was designated in Minnesota on June 15, 2000.
The Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway is a 47 mile route that connects several communities from Grand Rapids north to Effie, Minnesota. On this 47 mile byway you will find lakes and thick with aspen, birch, pine and maple forests that pop with color in the fall season. The road winds around 36 lakes, and through the Chippewa National Forest. The Chippewa National Forest is home to the largest population of bald eagles in the continental United States. Along The Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, there are selected Discovery Sites where you can explore the hidden natural and cultural history of northern Minnesota. As you drive the Byway, look on the east side of the road for green reference point markers approximately one mile apart.
The Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center is a visitor and environmental education learning center located at 49554 State Highway 38, Marcell, MN 56657. The Center is located 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. At the Center you will find a variety of interpretive displays & exhibits about the Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway and surrounding area. Their staff and volunteers are very knowledgeable about the scenic byway and its wildlife. They have an onsite gift shop, environmental education room, outdoor amphitheater, interpretive trail, fishing/wildlife-watching pier. They offer FREE naturalist programs throughout the summer. For more information call 218-832-3161 or visit Edge Of The Wilderness Discovery Center on Facebook. Check out the video below for more images and information about the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway.
The Great River Road is an extended roadway that follows (as closely as possible) the Mississippi River from the headwaters to the Gulf. Minnesota is the Mississippi Headwaters State and it offers the longest stretch of Great River Road than any other state — some 575 miles from Lake Itasca State Park to the Iowa border. As you navigate the Great River Road, look for signs with the green pilot’s wheel logo with the steamboat in the center to help guide your way. You’ll see both “National Route” and “State Alternate Route” signs along the byway. The National Route takes you on the officially designated Federal Highway Administration journey. The State Route is an alternate route along the opposite side of the river that will also take you to places of interest… sometimes a bit off the beaten path.
In Minnesota the Great River Road is split into 6 regional maps: Headwaters (Lake Itasca to Bemidji), Northwoods (Bemidji to Grand Rapids), Crossing (Grand Rapids to Little Falls), Scenic (Little Falls to Elk River), Metro (Elk River to Hastings), and Bluffs (Hastings to Iowa border). The two scenic drives that connects with Grand Rapids are the Northwoods and the Crossing. The Northwoods scenic drive is 100 miles in length and follows the Mississippi River from Bemidji to Grand Rapids. Along this scenic drive you will experience nature in the whisper of the pines and the crisp northwoods air. Follow the river from Lake Bemidji, Cass Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish and Pokegama Lake; all mighty lakes, with mighty good fishing. Discover the stories of the Ojibwe and the history of the lumberjacks. Visit Grand Rapids to tour the UPM Blandin Paper Company, Forest History Center and Judy Garland Museum. The Crossing scenic drive is 145 miles in length and follows the Mississippi River from Grand Rapids to Little Falls. This scenic drive plays host to thousands of vacationers each year who bike, golf, fish, bird or simply seek respite. Unique attractions along this section are: Schoolcraft State Park, Cuyuna Country Recreation Area, and Fort Ripley.
Check out the below video for more information and images about the Great River Road.
Whatever your mode of transportation, exploring Minnesota’s Nature on the many scenic drives can be done any time of year and on your time schedule. We encourage you to take some time to research the routes and destinations available along the Minnesota scenic byways and plan your trip. You will see beautiful scenery, learn about the history and culture and discover the uniqueness of each of the Minnesota communities along these routes.
For more information about travel to the Grand Rapids, Minnesota area download the Visitor Guide or check out the Visit Grand Rapids website or call a travel specialist at 1-800-335-9740. For more information about travel to the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway check out the Edge of the Wilderness website or contact them at 218-832-3161.