An Insiders Guide to the Perfect Picnic

SPREAD YOUR BLANKET.... Have you missed the feeling of lush, green grass on bare feet? Or the smell of fresh, summer air in the afternoon?

Have you missed the feeling of lush, green grass on bare feet? Or the smell of fresh, summer air in the afternoon? Take a road trip along Route 66 or the Great River Road where you can unpack your snacks and unwind your mind as you follow this Insider’s Guide for the Perfect Picnic in the Great Rivers & Routes region of southwest Illinois. (Please remember to practice social distancing and keep your picnic group to under 10 people!)

Choosing a prime picnic spot is easy with abundant riverside, bluff-top and open-spaced options! Cool off on a hot summer day along the banks of the Mississippi River in Alton at Riverfront Park in Alton, located at Landmarks Blvd. A delicious carry out meal from Brown Bag Bistro is only a few blocks away and accessible by the pedestrian bridge!

Or, visit one of Alton’s best-kept secrets, the Alton Marina at 1 Henry St. in Alton, for a relaxing view of the river and iconic Clark Bridge.

Riverfront Park in Alton

“What people don’t realize is we are open to the public and have a great deli, gift shop and outdoor pavilion,” says Karen Baker Brncic, manager of the 5 Anchor marina. “This is a great place to enjoy a picnic or simply sit and watch the river.”

Breakfast and lunch are available but please check the Marina website to ensure the deli and gift shop are open to the public. Breakfast skillets, biscuits and gravy, quiche, salads, burgers, pizza... and that's only some of it!

Order a BLT Pizza or the special Poor Boy of the week and explore the Ship Store while you wait! Find everything you might need like coolers, pool toys, summer hats, apparel, beautiful jewelry and so much more.

Don't forget to wash it all down! Grab one of Karen's "Famous Margaritas," some house wine or even a strawberry lemonade smoothie.

Find your way to the bluff tops and watch barges and boats slide along the Mississippi River while enjoying a legendary sandwich. Cathy Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Corner, 2000 State St., Alton, says, “I’d take our famous pork tenderloin sandwich, chips, some garlic cheese and crackers and head right up the road to Riverview Dr. at Bluff St. and go to Alton’s Riverview Park.

Take a break from biking on the 25-mile Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail and enjoy the views along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway at Clifton Terrace Park at Route 100 and Clifton Terrace Road in Godfrey. Clifton Terrace Park offers a playground, an informational kiosk and restroom facilities, making it the ultimate spot for anyone in need of the perfect rest stop or picnic hangout.

If you’ve ever picnicked with kids, you know that they need more than a great view to keep them occupied. Kick a soccer ball on the fields, walk the trails, run around large playgrounds and even cast a line in the waters of Godfrey’s Robert E. Glazebrook Community Park at 1401 Stamper Lane or Gordon F. Moore Community Park at 4550 College Avenue in Alton!

Looking for the best meat around for your picnic barbeque? Tony’s Restaurant and Third Street Café, 312 Piasa St., Alton, offers their signature pepperloins and fillets ready for the outdoor grill!

Owner Paul Ventimiglia lays out his plans for a family picnic, “I’d grab pepperloins or fillets and a pan of house or Caesar salad from Tony’s Restaurant and grill-out on the outdoor grills at Pere Marquette State Park.”

Riverview Park, photo by John Metcalf

With nearly 8,000 acres of scenic beauty, one is sure to find the perfect place to sit back and enjoy a picnic at Pere Marquette State Park, located at 13112 Visitor Center Lane in Grafton. Work up an appetite hiking, rock climbing or horseback riding through the trails.

Another Grafton favorite is Grove Memorial Park at the corner of Market and Main Streets.

Being a popular river town, Grafton is known to have some great fresh fish. Pick up a hot fish sandwich with homemade baked beans and hush puppies from Beasley Fish Stand, 1512 W Main St., Grafton. Check out the fish market if you feel like doing the cooking yourself.

Another local and visitor favorite for a bite of fresh fish is O'Jan's Fish Stand, 101 W Main St. in Grafton. Here, get a taste of simplicity as you enjoy quick and delicious meals on the banks of the Illinois River.

If you’re looking to think outside the box, rent a pontoon boat from Grafton Harbor at 215 W. Water St. in Grafton and picnic on the Illinois River! Snacks, Grafton Harbor Floating Winery wine and anything else you may need for your fun on the water can be found at the Marina Store.

Did someone say wine? Sit among orchards at Grafton Winery the Vineyards, 21028 Eckert Orchard Rd. in Grafton, as you sip award-winning Grafton Winery & Brewhaus wines! Owner Mike Nikonovich says that’s exactly what he does with wife and co-owner, Lori.

“Our ideal picnic is easy and we do it all the time,” says Nikonovich. “We grab a Charcuterie Platter, some wraps, chips and Grafton Winery wine and take it out to the Vineyards!”

Nikonovich says that Grafton Winery & Brewhaus is also in the process of putting together box lunches for picnics at the Vineyards. These would be available to pick up at Grafton Winery & Brewhaus, 300 W. Main St. in Grafton, or, if requested in advance, dropped off and ready to go at the Vineyards.

Head on up Route 66 for some classic picniking opportunities and a nostalgic trip on the nation's Mother Road. From giant pink elephants to a vintage gas station and monument to Mother Jones, an early 1900's union activist, there's plenty to check out before spreading your blanket and food at a welcoming picnic area.

Lake Lou Yaeger in Litchfield, a historic Route 66 community, has a variety of picnic options as does the nearby Shoal Creek Conservation area. Other than the reseverable Picnic Areas, various picnic tables and a few public grills are available at key interest points around the Lake. These are posted at sites such as the grass near Milnot Beach, at Marina 2, on the Peninsulas at Marina 1, and in other key points around the property. The public is encouraged to bring picnics and enjoy the setting. Call 217-324-5441 or 217-324-5832 to reserve a spot. Pick up a carryout meal at Nancy's Pizza or dessert from the delectable Jubelt's Bakery and Restaurant.

Enjoy the serene beauty of Edwardsville's Leclaire Park surrounded by a few of your besties. Take a fishing pole and try your hand at catching 'the big one' at the lake.

Willoughby Heritage Farm in Collinsville has picnic opportunities along with some great trails to stretch your legs before sitting down to eat. Or go to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and enjoy a picnic on the grounds at tables scattered among the prehistoric mounds. Work up an appetite with a climb of Monk's Mounds and enjoy the scenic vistas of downtown St. Louis and the famed American Bottoms. Just remember, indoor restroom facilities are closed!