Explore the Meeting the Ohio River Region
by Geographical Area
After the Mississippi River passes St. Louis it begins to change character. greatriverroad.com has divided this into sections - Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Western Kentucky. The Meeting the Ohio region offers it visitors a wide variety of options of activities to do and sites to see. Whether you’re looking for historical, cultural sites, or enjoying nature you’ll find it here.
greatriverroad.com’s coverage of Southeast Missouri consists of four counties. Perry and Cape Girardeau Counties lie north of Crowley’s Ridge and the topography is primarily uplands that consist of farms dotted with stands of hardwood forests. Perry County is especially colorful in the fall and the eastern portion retains the influence of the Germans who immigrated to the county in the 1830s, particularly in the small communities of Frohna and Altenburg. Cape Girardeau is the region’s largest and oldest town and has historical and cultural museums as well as natural features. As the river reaches Scott County the Mississippi Embayment begins. Both Scott and Mississippi Counties were covered by swamps with cypress trees and virgin bottomland hardwood forest. At the beginning of the 20th century a group of businessmen set out to transform the swamp that was Southeast Missouri in the largest drainage project ever attempted at the time. The Little River Drainage District turned half a million acres of swampy cypress forests into some of the state's most fertile agricultural land. Cotton became a staple crop in the region and its influence on the region is celebrated annually at the Cotton Festival in Sikeston.
The Southern Illinois area of the Meeting the Ohio region is dominated by the Shawnee National Forest. Most of the land added to the Forest was exhausted farmland and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted pine trees to prevent erosion and help rebuild the soil. There are numerous state parks and natural sites located within the Forest including Giant City State Park and Lake Murphysboro State Park. There are a few communities that lie on the riverbank. The city of Cairo is located the confluence of the two rivers and was an important community during the latter half of the 19th century. Grand Tower is more atypical as it lies directly on the banks of the river. Grand Tower provides an excellent view of Tower Rock, a landmark rock formation of the Mississippi. One of the most popular tourist attractions in the region is the Shawnee Hill Wine Trail which is a collection of approximately a dozen wineries that are nestled in the heart of the Shawnee Forest. This region of southern Illinois is particularly colorful in the fall and provides many interesting places to enjoy nature’s beauty.
Most of western Kentucky lies on a series of bluffs which provide the sharp eastern boundary of the Mississippi River Valley past the confluence with the Ohio River. At this point in geological time the Mississippi River runs right up against the Kentucky bluffs rather than through a course through the alluvial plain of the Mississippi Embayment. Because the confluence of the two rivers doubles the volume of the Mississippi River towns south of Cairo no longer are located on the riverbank but are situated on high bluffs. A good example is the Kentucky town of Columbus which moved from the riverbank to the bluffs after the flood of 1927 destroyed the town. In 1927 when looking for a new site on the bluffs for flooded town of Columbus a Red Cross agent came across the remains of the Confederate fortifications of Fort DeRussey which was referred to as the "Gibraltar of the West." This site became Columbus-Belmont State Park which interprets that turbulent period of the Civil War along the river. The Mississippian culture of the Native Americans can be explored at Wickliffe Mounds, a historical site with a museum interpreting life along the river 1,000 years ago.