Best Things to Do
It's the largest river system on the North American continent and the fourth longest in the world. The Mississippi River rises in Minnesota and flows south for 2,320 miles into the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. The closest beaches to New Orleans are about an hour east along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, beginning at Pass Christian.
Native Americans had long inhabited land along side the river, and when European settlers arrived, marking off territories for New France, New Spain and other U.S. terrain, it served as a border. Over the centuries, the river inspired business ventures, projects and record-breaking feats. During the 19th century, the river became an important route for trade and travel by steamboat. This type of commerce was so prevalent that Mark Twain wrote a memoir called Life on the Mississippi. Water skiing was also invented here during the early 20th century by Ralph Wilford Samuelson who practiced on Lake Pepin, a wide portion of the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The river is also a major geographical divider in the United States. Beginning in the 1920s, the Bureau of Navigation began licensing land-based radio stations and assigned call letters — "K" for Western stations and "W" for Eastern ones. Although, due to some confusion that occurred at the time, you may find some East Coast stations with a "K" and vice versa.
A popular tourist attraction here is the Moonwalk, named after former mayor Moon Landrieu. The walk surmounts floodwalls and levees to reach a wooden riverside promenade affording a panoramic view of the Mississippi River. The port of New Orleans is the city's raison d'être, and the river bustles with tankers, freighters and tugboats. For most of the city's existence, the riverfront has been strictly functional, and warehouses and wharves cut it off from the public. The Moonwalk, built in the 1970s, was the first attempt to provide access to the river, and the idea of a recreational riverfront picked up steam in the 1980s. Woldenberg Riverfront Park opened in 1989, stretching from Jackson Square to the site of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
There are seven National Park Service sites along side the Mississippi River, one of which is the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Several New Orleans plantation homes also dot the land by the river, including Nottoway, Oak Alley and Whitney Plantation. In 2002, Martin Strel, a Slovenian long-distance swimmer, swam the entire length of the river in 68 days! There's no question that the Mississippi River has remained awe-inspiring over the centuries and continues to be a major tourist attraction.