Big cities are great to visit, but we all sometimes need a break from the busy pace and the crowds. If you’re ready for a place where life runs at a slower pace, but one that still has enough going on to make a visit satisfying, then I’ve got a suggestion for you—27 of them, in fact.

It just so happens that along the Mississippi River, there are quite a few communities where life is not running at jet speed, yet they still have plenty going on. You can still get a good meal, and, because of their location on the Mississippi River, they offer not only pretty views but hiking and biking. In some communities, there are even easy ways to get on the water, even if you don’t have a boat of your own. And maybe best of all, these are places where it’s not hard to turn a stranger into a friend.

I’ve been traveling along the Mississippi River for over ten years, getting to know river towns large and small. After all those visits and meals in diners and cafés and walks along the river, I’ve put together my own list of must-see small towns. You can read about these communities in my newest book, Small Town Pleasures.

The choices weren’t easy, but each of the 27 places I chose had to:
• Have a population under 10,000 people, and
• Offer visitors a mix of activities to pass the time (e.g., museums, hikes, dining, etc.); a good view and a diner or two wasn’t enough.

Many of these places are easy day trips from major cities. While a half-day may be long enough to tour a few towns, you’ll want to stay for a long weekend in others. You might even be so enchanted by a few that you’ll be scanning real estate listings.

This list includes communities along the entire Mississippi River, but most are along the Upper Mississippi. As I note in the book, there are a couple of reasons for this, but it really boils down to the fact that the river channel has been more stable up north than down south, so communities have had a better chance to develop next to the river. Still, the book includes several towns south of St. Louis, including one town in Mississippi, one in Arkansas, and three in Louisiana.

Here’s the full list.

1. Little Falls, Minnesota
2. Stockholm, Wisconsin
3. Pepin, Wisconsin
4. Lake City, Minnesota
5. Wabasha, Minnesota
6. Alma, Wisconsin
7. Fountain City, Wisconsin
8. Trempealeau, Wisconsin
9. Lansing, Iowa
10. Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
11. McGregor/Marquette, Iowa
12. Guttenberg, Iowa
13. Potosi, Wisconsin
14. Galena, Illinois
15. Bellevue, Iowa
16. LeClaire, Iowa
17. Nauvoo, Illinois
18. Grafton, Illinois
19. Kimmswick, Missouri
20. Sainte Genevieve, Missouri
21. Chester, Illinois
22. New Madrid, Missouri
23. Rosedale, Mississippi
24. Lake Village, Arkansas
25. St. Francisville, Louisiana
26. Plaquemine, Louisiana
27. Donaldsonville, Louisiana

Feel free to tell me about your favorite small towns, and to tell me why my list is horribly wrong!

Small Town Pleasures is available here. You can buy a print copy or a PDF. I’ll even send you a free PDF; just sign up for my mailing list.

©Dean Klinkenberg, 2017