Let's face it, the last 12 months have been rough. And there is a lot of pent up energy with people eager to travel and get outside.
The weather has warmed up, tulips and daffodils have bloomed. Spring is officially here! And that means one thing: it's time to shake off the winter blahs and head back outside for some fresh air and spring adventures.
The Great Rivers & Routes region is chock full of outdoor activities. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in the spring!
1. Outdoor Dining and Drinks
Because of COVID, area restaurants have had to be nimble and provide outdoor dining options for their guests. That makes finding outdoor patios a whole lot easier. Discover your place in the sun at Old Herald Brewery & Distillery in Collinsville which has both covered and uncovered dining areas. Sip on one of their craft brews or signature cocktails while snacking on an order of Bacon Fat Popcorn or share a Paper Route Pretzel with horseradish sauce or beer cheese. Order a signature burger, wings (boneless or not) or sandwich wrap to round out the experience.
Old Herald Brewery & Distillery in Collinsville
For a more intimate setting, State Street Market in Alton offers a European-style outdoor courtyard for its guests featuring patio heaters in case the weather turns a bit chilly. The wine selection at this eclectic restaurant has been enhanced. Ask the server, or the hands-on owners to suggest a new vino to pair with your soup, salad or panini.
In the mood for an outdoor pizza with a crisp pint of beer? Peel Wood Fired Pizza in Edwardsville is a great spot to unwind with friends. Order one of their specialty pizzas (think Thai Red Curry or Maple Bourbon Pork) and add in one of their original craft brews like Blood Orange Wheat or a Belgian Strong Ale.
If its coffee you crave, then you are in luck. The region is full of artistic, fun, intimate and comfortable coffeehouses and coffee cafes. Goshen Coffee Cafe in Edwardsville features the bold and smooth blends of their in-house roasted beans. No cup of Joe is complete without a side order so enjoy pastries, toasts and salads at Goshen Coffee Cafe as well. In the heart of Alton, Maeva's Coffeehouse sits in the historic Milton Schoolhouse. Take a seat at the new outdoor patio and enjoy a cup of fair-trade coffee made from Goshen Coffee beans. Local baked goods are also on hand. The menu changes daily.
Roll your windows down and take a trip along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway between Alton and Grafton and be sure to stop in at the Grafton Winery & Brewhaus. Renowned for its award winning wines and outdoor dining options, this is a top choice to sip a glass of Apple Crisp wine while looking out over the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Aeries Winery, on top of the bluffs in Grafton with arguably one of the best views in the Midwest, is another favorite outdoor gathering place for anyone who wants to reconnect with the simpler side of life. New to the Grafton scene is the recently opened Grafton Oyster Bar which sits riverside at the confluence of the two rivers. Enjoy fresh oysters, shrimp and other tantalizing seafood options on the outdoor deck.
No outdoor dining experience is complete without a stop at The Loading Dock in historic Grafton. This riverside restaurant offers up close views of the Mississippi River while diners bask in the warmth of the spring sun. Open on weekends in the early spring, by April The Loading Dock is a destination in itself among travelers.
2. Hiking and Biking Along the River
Dust off your bicycle or hiking shoes and prepare to be awed by the scenic trails that criss-cross the six county Great Rivers & Routes region.
If hiking is your thing, check out the trails at Pere Marquette State Park for scenic vistas of the Illinois River and the bluff top forests that bump up to the river. The Nature Institute in Godfrey offers public hiking trails which can take nature lovers deep into the bluffs along the Mississippi River and through some of the most naturally protected areas in the region. Take a leisurely stroll along the levy which stretches between Alton and the National Great Rivers Museum. If you are up for a day-long hike, trek along the levy to the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site where the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers come together.
Bicyclists rave about the 137 miles of Madison County Transit trails that wind through the region. The trails link communities throughout Madison County and feature:
- 10 distinct bikeways
- 1,600 acres of greenspace
- 48 bridges
- 22 tunnels
Take a ride on the Sam Vadalabene Trail which starts in Alton and travels along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway to Grafton. Much of the trail hugs the bluffs along Illinois Route 100 and offers magnificent views of the Mississippi River as it laps against the roadway.
3. Boutique Shopping
Stroll between shops on Broadway Street in downtown Alton while enjoying the fresh spring air. This is the perfect time of year to put together your own Shop Hop with friends and family. Check out new age shops in the historic Mineral Springs Hotel, browse antiques all along Alton's historic Antique Row including the Country Meadows, and Tinner's Anvil Antiques, Watch artists make pottery right in front of your eyes at Mississippi Mud Pottery.
Downtown Edwardsville is a great place to get your spring steps in. Stop in the Gingham Buffalo for home decorating tips and ideas or Vintage 71 where the home decor and antique inventory is always changing.
While in Grafton walk along Main Street to Harrison's Gifts for an eclectic variety of home, garden and women's accessories. Another must stop is Pajarito, also located on Main Street, for a variety of handmade Native American jewelry along with western-style decor.
For more great spring escape and outdoor recreation ideas, click here.