A Tale of Two Rivers: Part 1

This little gal loved the Mighty Mississippi! She kept asking if she could dip her toes in the water!

Our summer flew by! It was packed with swimming lessons, soccer camp, more swimming, and many fun adventures. Instead of a big summer vacation, we opted for several little trips. Two of those trips inspired this two-post series: “The Tale of Two Rivers.”

We literally traveled from one side of Iowa to the other this summer (and many places in between)! In mid-June we had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding in Dubuque, IA.  We packed our weekend full of wedding festivities and exploration near the Mississippi River.




While the river was the focal point of our trip to Dubuque, the area was full of many fun things to see and do. In fact, my to-do list was longer than the time we had! Here are the highlights of our weekend away:

Mississippi River Walk:

I seriously couldn’t get enough of the beautiful views! The river at night was breathtakingly beautiful-no photos do it justice!

We arrived in Dubuque close to the girls’ bedtime, but after being in the car for several hours, we needed to stretch our legs. (The girls were so excited to stay in a hotel that there wasn’t going to be much sleeping anyway!) Directly behind our hotel, Grand Harbor Resort, was a paved walking path near the river. We took a leisurely stroll as the sun set and enjoyed the picturesque views of the Mississippi River. We were all in awe.

There is something majestic about a large body of water. The sights, the sounds, the smells; it all tells a story. While the uses of the river have changed over the years, the beauty still remains. Imagine being some of the first Iowans living along these banks. The river was a major source of transportation and commerce. While some of that remains today, only the Mississippi can recall the stories of its glory days.

Shot Tower has amazing architecture. It is worth the trip off the beaten path!

The River Walk was a great place to spend the evening. Along the way, we stumbled across an interesting looking building slightly off the beaten path. With the urging of the girls, we got took a closer look and learned that the tapered square-cut masonry building was Shot Tower. Built in 1856, the square cut masonry structure was once used to manufacture gun shot. It has been empty for decades but is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although you can’t see inside, the history and shape of this building make it worth seeing!

Historic Homes & Buildings:

Shot Tower wasn’t the only interesting building we found. Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city with a rich history. Take a drive through the city’s historic districts, and you’ll get a glimpse of what the city looked like in it’s early days. The well-preserved homes and buildings are beautiful. We took a little time to enjoy the ‘eye candy.’ From the backseat we heard many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and ‘wow’s along the way. The girls were just as impressed as I was.

Community leaders have worked hard over the last twenty-plus years to revitalize the city, and it shows. Dubuque offers so much to both residents and visitors. From historical sites, colleges, museums, beautiful parks, and the Mississippi River, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Grand Harbor Resort Water Park:

That big red bucket filled dumped on unsuspecting (or willing) water park goers every 8 minutes!

Grand Harbor Resort is home to a super fun water park. We all enjoyed spending a morning there! My favorite parts were the lazy river and the hot tub (have I told you I’m not a water person?). The girls loved the smaller water slides and climbing on the Huck Finn II Treehouse. Every 8 minutes, 350 gallons of water dumped from the top of the treehouse for a ‘four-story splash.’ By the time we were ready to leave, one kiddo would dash over to the dumping zone to be drenched while the other stood just far enough away to get her toes wet. I think she takes after me!

Cherry Lanes at Diamond Jo Casino:

These two enjoyed their first time bowling!

After enjoying a beautiful wedding ceremony and reception over the river the girls were getting restless. We needed a change of scenery and decided to go bowling at Cherry Lanes in Diamond Jo Casino across the street from our hotel/reception center. We had a blast! We all bowled horribly, but we laughed so much. I think next time I need the bumpers like the kiddos!

*If you take little ones there be sure to ask for children’s bowling balls; they have them! We learned this at the start of our 10th frame. Our poor girls got in a major arm workout!

Fenelon Place Elevator:

Another spot listed on the National Register of Historic Places was the Fenelon Place Elevator. Its claim to fame is being the ‘World’s shortest, steepest scenic railway.’ Your ride includes views of historic Dubuque, the Mississippi River, and three states. Unfortunately, we arrived at the elevator only to discover that it was closed for maintenance. We had two very disappointed kiddos and one sad mama! It just means we’ll be making another trip to Dubuque someday to go for a ride! And although we weren’t able to ride the elevator, I can only imagine the incredible views, so it made my list!

Eagle Point Park:

Checking out the lock and dam from Eagle Point Park.

Since Fenelon Place Elevator was closed we needed a quick plan B. We followed signs to Eagle Point Park to see what adventures we could find. It proved to be a really neat stop. We drove through the park and admired many beautiful shelter houses, perfect for picnics and parties. At one point, we parked the car to enjoy the beautiful day and the view. Eagle Point Park provided a splendid overlook of the Mississippi River and Lock and Dam #11. We could see Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin from our vantage point.

Learning how a Lock and Dam works.

After our drive through the park commenced, we drove down by the lock and dam to get a closer look. I’ve been to several lock and dam sites in my lifetime and am always amazed at how the system works. While some of it was over their heads, it was a great learning experience for the girls too.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium:

We got to touch these guys!

We ended our tour of Dubuque at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. The riverside museum campus is full of both indoor and outdoor exhibits which celebrate the culture and history of America’s rivers. We spent several hours admiring river animals and fish, learning about early river commerce and travel, and touring a steam-powered dredge built in 1934.

The girls were able to sit in a boat carved from a log. Can you imagine this being your mode of transportation?

The museum isn’t just for kids either. There is something for everyone! Get ready to get your hands dirty (or wet). We were able to touch stingrays, sturgeons, and crayfish, and make wood shavings in a blacksmith shop. A 4D theater, gift shops, and a cafe with a view of the river are all conveniently located on the museum’s large campus. If you have a few hours to spare while in Dubuque, be sure to stop at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. You won’t be disappointed.

I’d say we did pretty good hitting the highlights of this beautiful area! I can’t wait to head that direction again and explore even more of the majestic Mississippi River. But as the title of this post eludes, the Mississippi wasn’t the only river we enjoyed this summer. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our river adventures!

*See more photos from our Mississippi River adventures here.