Eagles Over Grafton

The great outdoors and the City of Grafton go hand in hand- the river town is a fantastic place to see wildlife, including our national bird, the American Bald Eagle. Nestled directly on the Mississippi River, with dramatic limestone bluffs and sweeping views of the river, visitors can watch wintering bald eagles hunt over icy waters, see active eagle nesting sites, and take tours to see eagles in the wild.

Searching for Eagles

What do you picture when you think of an American Bald Eagle? Most would picture a huge but elegant bird soaring under blue skies- but did you know eagles are more active in the ice and snow? The attractive birds love gray days and there’s nothing better to do on a drab winter’s day than take the family out on an eagle-spotting trip!

Get out of the house and take a drive down the Great River Road heading to Grafton, surveying the skies, tree line, and river bluffs for eagles as you go. You can also ride your bike or walk the Sam Vadalabene Trail alongside the road, but be sure to dress for the weather and don’t let the family forget their binoculars!

Grafton is home to Pere Marquette State Park, the largest state park in Illinois, and an opportune place to spot all sorts of wildlife - from eagles to white-tailed deer, waterfowl, and many animals both big and small. Stay at the Pere Marquette Lodge or the state park campground and go for a hike through diverse, hilly woodlands with scenic overlooks of both the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

Eagle-hunters can also take a trip across the Brussels Ferry crossing from Jersey County to Calhoun County. Open year-round and operating daily, the free Brussels Ferry provides an opportunity to see eagles flying overhead and is one of the few places visitors can get a view from the middle of the river in winter.

An Eagle Lunch

Don’t go eagle watching in the cold on an empty stomach! Go to The Loading Dock and Loading Dock Ice Rink for a bite to eat, ice skating family fun, and watch for eagles on the Loading Dock’s outdoor deck only steps away from the river. The Grafton Winery & Brewhaus serves up hot eats to warm your bones on your winter eagle search and also rents heated igloos. Watch for eagles in style and comfort from one of the igloos that seats eight people and overlooks the Mississippi from the winery’s patio.

Want an eagle-eye view? Aerie’s Resort's Terrace offers one of the best views in the Midwest that stretches for miles. You can see the Mississippi and Illinois River Confluence and watch eagles as they soar on high over the dramatic landscape- have a glass of wine and dine at one of the highest vantage points in the region.

Seeking seafood? Eagles like fish too! The Grafton Oyster Bar is the only floating restaurant in the Midwest, allowing you to keep your eye on the river while you enjoy some of the best seafood in the region.

Eagle Tours & Meet & Greets

Want to see eagles with a guide? Take an eagle tour for Bald Eagle Days at Pere Marquette State Park January through March. Start your morning bright and early at the Pere Marquette Park Visitor’s Center and follow guides as they lead you to eagle-watching hot spots near the park! Be sure to wear your coat and mittens, shoes that can get muddy, and don’t forget your camera!

Not feeling up to searching for an eagle in the cold? Go to a Grafton Eagle Meet & Greet at the Grafton Visitor’s Center in January and meet an eagle up close! Take photos with the magnificent bird and learn interesting facts from an expert without braving winter’s chill. The Eagle Meet & Greet is free and a great way to introduce kids to eagle-watching!

About the Author

Kayla Howland

Kayla Howland is a local writer and artist who lives in Alton, IL with her Cairn Terrier, Ripley. She enjoys fiction and non-fiction writing, graphic design, painting, drawing and photography. Kayla is a graduate of Southwestern High School and Lewis & Clark Community College. She has worked doing freelance graphic design, photography and commissioned paintings since 2012.