2022 will see the introduction of the Viking Cruises Mississippi river cruise. These are larger passengers vessels, bigger than the typical smaller river cruise boats that currently travel along the river. (Just under 400 passengers per boat). A couple of the Viking Cruises itineraries have Dubuque Iowa as a port of call! The cruise ships dock at the Mississippi Riverwalk, close to the downtown area. Here’s a guide to the Port of Dubuque and the Dubuque riverwalk!
Mississippi Riverwalk Dubuque
🕖10 minutes (one way)
The Mississippi Riverwalk is actually a pretty short walk. It’s built on top of the flood defence, between the Dubuque Harbor and the railway bridge at the historic Shot Tower. The walk covers around 0.5 miles and takes around 10 minutes to walk one way without stopping. However there is plenty to see and do in the area! For those that are driving, rather than arriving by boat, there is free parking at the Port of Dubuque. There are benches to sit and enjoy the views, as well as trash cans to keep the area clean and tidy.
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque is one of Iowa’s top tourist attractions! It is one of only a handful of establishments that is accredited by BOTH the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The museum is split into 2 main sections, the National River Center and the Mississippi River Center (which focuses on the history and wildlife found along the Mississippi).
One part of the museum is the ‘Gulf of Mexico’ exhibition. All rivers eventually end up in a sea and the Mississippi River’s final destination is in the Gulf of Mexico! It takes 90 days for a single drop of water to travel the length of the Mississippi River and reach the Gulf of Mexico. (Viking Cruises can do it in 15 days!).
The River Museum is home to a giant floor to ceiling salt water aquarium, full of tropical fish and even a sea turtle! Dot the turtle is a much loved attraction by herself! She was rescued after being hit by a boat. Her back ‘legs’ are paralysed and she now suffers from Bubble Butt Syndrome (real life scientific term), which means she struggles to release gas which makes her bottom float upwards.
Other exhibits include: a stingray touch tank, observation deck, the William M. Black is a paddle steamer dredger boat (tours available), the Mississippi River Center and a 4D cinema. Events are also held throughout the year.
‘Art on the River’
Back out on the river walk is the ‘Art on the River’ sculpture exhibit. There are approximately 12 sculptures altogether, mainly by Midwest artists. Each year there is a new theme. 2021 – 2022 was Resiliency Flows, which focused on overcoming the impacts from the pandemic. You can see the current sculptures and some of the meaning behind them on the Art on the River webpage.
Grand Harbor Resort
The Grand Harbor Resort and water park is located right on the riverwalk in Dubuque. Many of the rooms have uninterrupted river views. One of the main attractions is the indoor water park. It has tube slides, hot tubs, a dump bucket and more. Guests of the hotel get to use the waterpark for free but you can pay to get a day pass for the waterpark. You’ll also find a fun arcade where the games have ticket rewards which can be switched for prizes!
Tony Roma’s restaurant is located within the Grand Harbor. Some of the tables have river views and they do great food.
Grand River Conference Center
The Grand River Conference Center has a variety of event and exhibition spaces. The River Room is a completely glass ‘triangular’ room that actually hangs out over the Mississippi Riverwalk. It’s a pretty impressive space! I have attended weddings at the Grand River Center. The ceremony was held outside alongside the riverwalk, with the evening reception taking place in one of the inside rooms.
The riverwalk is a popular place for photos. From weddings, to proms and more. It’s a convenient location for those attending events being held in the center.
Dubuque Star Brewery & Stone Cliff Winery
The Dubuque Star Brewery dates back to 1898. They made Dubuque Star beer here until the beginning of the Prohibition in 1920. Once the Prohibition finished, the Dubuque Star Brewery never quite fully recovered. The building got flooded several times, damaging a lot of the equipment.
In 2007, Stone Cliff Winery took over part of the building. They have a tasting room, serve food at lunch times and often have live music. There’s also an outdoor seating area to enjoy the warm summer days and evenings alongside the river.
Dubuque Shot Tower
The Shot Tower was built in 1856 and is one of the last remaining shot towers in the USA. It was used to provide lead shot to the military and then went on to be a fire watch tower for a lumberyard. Ironically the shot tower ended up suffering from a fire itself during this time!
This particular part of the riverwalk finishes at the train line bridge.
Diamond Jo Casino
Set back from the river (but still opposite the Dubuque River Museum), is the Diamond Jo Casino. The lower level (mostly over 21s only) has: the casino, the Mississippi Moon Bar music and entertainment venue (often has free shows) and some dining options. Upstairs is the Cherry Lanes Bowling Alley which is open to all ages. There is also space upstairs for conferences and events.
Pyatigorsk Park to Lock and Dam 11 Riverwalk Dubuque
🕖45 minutes (one way)
The Mississippi Riverwalk in the Port of Dubuque is the main Dubuque river walk. Alternatively there’s a longer walk between Pyatigorsk Park and Lock & Dam 11. There’s a small parking area alongside the road that leads onto Schmitt Island (where the Q Casino and Mystic Ice Center are).
It takes around 45 minutes and is just over 2 miles in one direction to reach the dam. This riverwalk is for both walking and cycling. There are a couple of areas with benches and trash cans, but it mainly goes around the outside of Dubuque’s industrial area.
The riverwalk passes by the Yardarm Riverfront Bar & Grill and AY McDonald Park. The park has a couple of parking areas, public toilets and a playground. Continuing on, the walk finishes up at Lock & Dam 11. You can actually go on a tour of the lock and dam on Sundays during the summer season! There’s also a viewing platform next to the lock where you can watch the huge Mississippi River barges.