Dean Klinkenberg stopped counting the miles he's cruised on the Great River Road when he hit 120,000. "I wore out one car, and I'm working on wearing out another," said the author of the recently released "Road Tripping Along the Great River Road."
For this former Minnesotan, every drive along the Mississippi feeds his love for the river – and his writing. Klinkenberg, who lives in St. Louis, is the author of seven guidebooks about the Great River Road, which runs from Lake Itasca State Park, at the headwaters of the Mississippi, to the tip of Louisiana. He also has written two mysteries set along the river, "Double Dealing in Dubuque," and "Rock Island Lines."
His latest book is Volume 1 of a series, and highlights 17 trips along the Upper Mississippi River, from Minnesota to Illinois. It details town histories, where to eat and sleep and ways to explore the river, including by kayak and canoe.
Klinkenberg became enchanted with the river when he left Albert Lea, Minn., to attend college at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. He recalls driving east through farmlands and then discovering a whole new landscape when the highway dipped downward, past bluffs, to the Mississippi. He grew ever more intrigued after frequent climbs up bluffs in La Crosse to look out on the water.
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The Black and La Crosse rivers merge with the Mississippi near this Wisconsin city. The resulting marsh complex is great for paddling and hiking, Klinkenberg said.
I asked him about his other top spots. The communities around Lake Pepin are a delight, allowing travelers to relish luxury or take a more frugal approach, he said. But he raved most about Bemidji, Minn.
"I love Bemidji," he said. "It is a fun little college town with a good art scene and so much to do outdoors. I created two chapters for Bemidji – one for summer and one for winter."