Locks & Dams

The Upper Mississippi River – the stretch between Minneapolis and St. Louis – is made up of a series of locks and dams that allow boats and shipping barges to navigate safely. The Lock & Dam system was constructed in the 1930s and helped to create the series of pools and channels you are seeing today. Driving the Wisconsin Great River Road is the ideal way to appreciate the commercial shipping industry on the river.

At Alma, Fountain City, Trempealeau, Genoa and just south of Lynxville, visitors are able to see ships passing through the locks. Each location has an observation deck that allows visitors to watch ships and barges pass through the locks. The best time of year for seeing commercial barge traffic is September, October and November, before the river freezes up.

Towboats pushing barges full of corn and other grains, as well as scrap iron, coal and other petroleum products move up and down the Mississippi River. A dozen or more barges can be strung together into huge groups. This group of barges connected to a towboat is called a tow. Tows can cover several acres in surface area. Tows make their way up and down the river, day and night. The typical crew of a towboat is twelve. The towboat crews work around the clock in six hours shifts. The 9-foot main channel is marked in the river by buoys or “day marks.” When traveling upstream, green buoys mark the left edge of the channel; red buoys mark the right edge.