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Mississippi River Cruises


The area of the Mississippi River basin was first settled by hunting and gathering Native American peoples and is considered one of the few independent centers of plant domestication in human history. Evidence of early cultivation of sunflower, a goosefoot, a marsh elder and an indigenous squash dates to the 4th millennium BC. The lifestyle gradually became more settled after around 1000 BC during what is now called the Woodland period, with increasing evidence of shelter construction, pottery, weaving and other practices.

A network of trade routes referred to as the Hopewell interaction sphere was active along the waterways between about 200 and 500AD, spreading common cultural practices over the entire area between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. A period of more isolated communities followed, and agriculture introduced from Mesoamerica based on the Three Sisters (maize, beans and squash) gradually came to dominate.

After around 800AD there arose an advanced agricultural society today referred to as the Mississippian culture, with evidence of highly stratified complex chiefdoms and large population centers. The most prominent of these, now called Cahokia, was occupied between about 600 and 1400AD and at its peak numbered between 8,000 and 40,000 inhabitants, larger than London, England of that time. At the time of first contact with Europeans, Cahokia and many other Mississippian cities had dispersed, and archaeological finds attest to increased social stress.

French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette began exploring the Mississippi in the 17th century. Marquette traveled with a Sioux Indian who named it Ne Tongo ("Big river" in Sioux language) in 1673. Marquette proposed calling it the River of the Immaculate Conception.

When Louis Jolliet explored the Mississippi Valley in the 17th century, natives guided him to a quicker way to return to French Canada via the Illinois River. When he found the Chicago Portage, he remarked that a canal of "only half a league" (less than 2 miles (3.2 km), 3 km) would join the Mississippi and the Great Lakes. In 1848, the continental divide separating the waters of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley was breached by the Illinois and Michigan canal via the Chicago River. This both accelerated the development, and forever changed the ecology of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes.

Mark Twain's book, Life on the Mississippi, covered the steamboat commerce which took place from 1830 to 1870 on the river before more modern ships replaced the steamer. The book was published first in serial form in Harper's Weekly in seven parts in 1875. The full version, including a passage from the then unfinished Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and works from other authors, was published by James R. Osgood & Company in 1885.

The first steamboat to travel the full length of the Lower Mississippi from the Ohio River to New Orleans was the New Orleans in December 1811. Its maiden voyage occurred during the series of New Madrid earthquakes in 1811–12. Steamboat transport remained a viable industry, both in terms of passengers and freight until the end of the first decade of the 20th century. Among the several Mississippi River system steamboat companies was the noted Anchor Line, which, from 1859 to 1898, operated a luxurious fleet of steamers between St. Louis and New Orleans.


The current form of the Mississippi River basin was largely shaped by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet of the most recent Ice Age. The southernmost extent of this enormous glaciation extended well into the present-day United States and Mississippi basin. When the ice sheet began to recede, hundreds of feet of rich sediment were deposited, creating the flat and fertile landscape of the Mississippi Valley. During the melt, giant glacial rivers found drainage paths into the Mississippi watershed, creating such features as the Minnesota River, James River, and Milk River valleys. When the ice sheet completely retreated, many of these “temporary” rivers found paths to Hudson Bay or the Arctic Ocean, leaving the Mississippi Basin with many features “oversized” for the existing rivers to have carved in the same time period.

The Mississippi River Delta has shifted and changed constantly since the formation of the river, but the construction of dams on the river has greatly reduced the flow of sediment to the delta. In recent years, the Mississippi's mouth has shown a steady shift towards the Atchafalaya River channel, but because of floodworks at the river's mouth, this change of course—which would be catastrophic for seaports at the river mouth—has been held at bay.

Vacation Cruises

The Mississippi River offers vacation cruises unlike any other river in the world. The rich history, beautiful scenery, and abundant wildlife all make the Mississippi River a true natural treasure.

The Spirit of Peoria offers several 3–5 day cruises from Peoria, IL to St. Louis, MO throughout the year.


The Mississippi River has the third largest drainage basin or “catchment” in the world. The basin covers more than 1,245,000mi2 (3,220,000km2), including all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces. The drainage basin empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Mississippi River Trivia

Length 273mi (439km)
Length 2,320mi (3,734km)
Source Lake Itasca, elevation 1,475ft (450m)
Mouth Gulf of Mexico, elevation 0ft (0m)
Average Discharge 450,000ft3/s (12,743m3/s)
Cities Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; Davenport, IA; St. Louis, MO; Memphis, TN; Baton Rouge, LA; New Orleans, LA
Other Facts The name Mississippi comes from the Anishinaabe people who called the river ‘Misi-ziibi’ which means ‘great river’. It is also known as the Mississippi-Missouri.
The Great River Road was created in 1938.
The Great River Road runs through about 110 counties and parishes.
In the year A.D. 1250, the ancient metropolis of Cahokia, Illinois, was home to more people than London.
Iowa’s 500-foot Pike’s Peak was named for Zebulon Pike, who explored the Upper Mississippi River in 1805.
Water Skiing was invented on Lake Pepin, located between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
It takes 90 days for a drop of water to travel the entire length of the Mississippi River.
From its source in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River drops 1,475 feet.
The Mississippi River is home to 360 species of fish, 326 species of birds, 145 species of amphibians and 50 species of mammals.
The Mississippi River is the third largest watershed in the world.
The deepest place on the Mississippi River is 200-feet deep and is located near Algiers Point in New Orleans.
Tennessee boasts some of the finest and most famous whisky distilleries in the world.
Kentucky is widely renowned as the center of the time-honored art of distilling fine bourbon.
Mississippi’s catfish farms produce the majority of the nation’s farm-raised catfish.
Louisiana was named after the Fourteenth King of France.
Iowa is the birthplace of President Herbert Hoover.
Missouri is known as the “Show Me” state.
Illinois has the largest population of all the states located along the Mississippi River.