Take a (Summer) Roadtrip in Southwest Illinois

Hit the road this spring break and explore the Great Rivers & Routes region on a road trip, weekend getaway, or day trip and make the most of your time off with the kids, away from class, or with your friends. From quirky Route 66 adventures to gorgeous hikes, tasty eats, museums, arcades, and more, discover the fun waiting just east of the Mississippi!

Route 66 Mashup

What’s more American than a road trip down Route 66? Travel the Mother Road in southwest Illinois and see the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, visit old-school diners, unique museums, and classic Americana you won’t find anywhere else!

Doc’s Just Off 66 - Since 1884, Docs has served the people of Girard as a pharmacy, general store, soda fountain, museum, and Route 66 icon. Started by pharmacists Wyman and Robert Deck and adding a traditional soda fountain in 1929, the shop once sold drugs, paints, glass, books, and stationery. The shop has become a landmark of Girard and the Mother Road and is part of the Route 66 Hall of Fame of Illinois. Today, diners can order American cheeseburgers, patty melts, roast beef, shakes, floats, and more.

The Ariston - A road trip down famous Route 66 wouldn't be complete without a nostalgic meal at the Ariston Café of Litchfield. Known as the longest-operating restaurant along entire Route 66, the Ariston has been a staple of classic Americana on the Mother Road since 1924 and serves fried chicken, house-made pies, and down-home food favorites!

Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center - Welcoming travelers and locals alike, this museum in the heart of Litchfield aims to both educate and entertain visitors with the history of Litchfield and the famed Mother Road. Located on the site of the historic Vic Suhling gas station, the museum is home to many displays and is a perfect stop for a history lesson and photo opportunities.

Country Classic Cars - What started as a weekend hobby for a Midwestern farmer has now become a classic car business- take a detour from your Route 66 adventure and browse Country Classic’s large inventory of classic cars just outside Staunton. From Ford Model T's to old-school muscle cars, the inventory list is extensive- and most of the cars are for sale!

The Pink Elephant Antique Mall - Located in the former Livingston High School building, the Pink Elephant Antique Mall showcases the wares of more than 50 antique dealers. The Pink Elephant also has the Twistee Treat, a 50’s style diner offering burgers, nachos, sandwiches and refreshments. Save room for ice cream, visit the candy and fudge shop, and pose for pictures with oversized outdoor statues including the pink elephant, original 1960s Futuro house, an authentic "muffler man" and more!

Wildey Theatre - The Wildey Theatre is a premier gathering spot for cultural events along Route 66. First opened in 1909, the theatre served as an opera house that hosted concerts, dance performances and movies. In 1984, the Wildey closed as a full-time movie theater. The Wildey has since been restored by the city to its original glory and is now a premium venue for guests to experience live performances, classic films, and local events.

Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower - At 170-feet tall, the largest water tower in the world is the Brooks Catsup Bottle in Collinsville. It was built in 1949 to supply water to the catsup plant below. The water tower was refurbished at the request of the Catsup Bottle Preservation Society. Now it is a beautiful, historic attraction off Route 66 known worldwide.

Granite City Art & Design District - Fall into an urban explorer’s wonderland in a place imagined by both artists and horticulturists. Centered on a set of abandoned buildings and lots downtown, the GCADD non-profit is redeveloping the site as garden space complete with outdoor sculptures and multiple art galleries. See local artworks, architectural oddities, sculptures, and swing in a ten-person wooden swing!

Chain of Rocks Bridge - The Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of the most interesting bridges in America- one mile long with a 30 degree turn in the middle, Chain of Rocks is named after a natural line of stone ledges under the surface of the Mississippi nearby. The stone “chain” creates rough and dangerous waters that are difficult to navigate in low-water conditions. Chain of Rocks Bridge was used as a river crossing on Route 66, but now it is only open to foot and bicycle traffic.
(Route 66 attractions above listed in North to South order)
Find more Route 66 fun here!

Travel Tip: Make stops along the Mother Road to see fourteen Route 66 Mural Trail murals and eight Route 66 Larger than Life Monuments- they make for a great photo-op!

A Break Outdoors

After being inside the classroom or on the daily grind, a day outside sounds better than ever- go hiking, biking, or paddling, zip down the state’s only alpine coaster, and enjoy an adventure in the fresh air this spring!

Hiking & Walking Trails

Audubon Center at Riverlands – West Alton
Beaver Dam State Park – Macoupin County
H & B Bremer Wildlife Sanctuary- Hillsboro
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge – Calhoun County
Horseshoe Lake State Park- Granite City
Lake Lou Yaeger - Litchfield
McCully Heritage Project – Kampsville
MCT Trails – Madison County
Pere Marquette State Park – Grafton
Route 66 Hike & Bike Trail - Litchfield
Shoal Creek Conservation Area – Litchfield
The Nature Institute – Godfrey
Watershed Nature Center – Edwardsville
Willoughby Heritage Farm - Collinsville

Bike Trails & Bike Rentals

Covered Bridge Bike Rentals – Glen Carbon
Crossroads Bike Tours – Glen Carbon
MCT Trails – Madison County
Pedego Electric Bikes – Edwardsville
Route 66 Hike & Bike Trail – Litchfield
Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail – Great River Road

Outdoor Adventure
Aerie’s Alpine Coaster - Grafton
Bing Field Paintball & Airsoft Park – Alton
Gateway Kartplex at WWTR – Madison
Grafton Zipline - Grafton
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge – (stables, fishing, ATV-trails, stables) – Calhoun County
Lake Lou Yaeger Recreation Area (fishing, paddling) - Litchfield
Mission Ready Laser Tag – Brighton
Otter Lake Park & Campground (fishing, paddling) - Girard
Pere Marquette Riding Stables – Grafton
RIDE Organic (Moto-facility) – Alton

Find more Outdoor Recreation in Southwest Illinois here.

Travel Tip: Love animals? Check out this blog on Watchable Wildlife to see the best spots! Want to make it a farm day? Willoughby Heritage Farm, Boonies Farm, Kamaroo Farms, or the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary offer meetings with goats, kangaroos, camels, and rescued mustangs!

An Afternoon Away

Traveling for Spring Break during a chilly day? Chill out for the afternoon at the arcade, go axe-throwing, see a live show, go to a museum, or visit the region’s only cat café!

Village of Elsah – this charming 1800’s town has been described as “the village where time stood still.” Nestled in the bluffs of the Mississippi River, this quaint little village was the first village in its entirety to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Once an important steamboat landing, Elsah is better known today for its picturesque beauty, stone houses and lush gardens. Take a tour of picturesque Principia College on the bluffs above the village, visit adorable village shops, and take in original 19th century architecture on your trip.

Game On – put in a coin, smash those buttons, and watch those flippers on an afternoon at the arcade- you can find pinball machines, old favorites, and new challenges at Atomic Pinball Arcade or The Pump House in Wood River, Leve1Up Arcade in Granite City, and Edison’s Entertainment Complex in Edwardsville- you can also spend the evening playing board games at the Boardgamery in Granite City!

A Trip to MeowTown - MeowTown is Alton's first and only cat cafe! Come in for a cup of coffee, a fresh cookie, and have a visit with some kitties! You can even adopt a cat through the Metro East Humane Society during or after your visit!

Edwardsville Children’s Museum – The Edwardsville Children’s Museum is committed to stimulating curiosity and cultivating learning at the age of wonder- interactive exhibits can provide hours of fun for the kids and regular events, crafts, and demonstrations make every visit a different experience.

Museums & Historic Stops- southwest Illinois has a wealth of history to explore- visit the largest pre-Columbian Native American settlement at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site in Collinsville, the childhood home of legendary musician Miles Davis at House of Miles East St. Louis, or the ‘Million Dollar’ Macoupin County Courthouse or Macoupin County Cannonball Jail in Carlinville. Learn about America’s famous westward expedition at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, the importance of the nation’s largest rivers at the National Great Rivers Museum, or learn about the famous labor rights activist Mother Jones at the Mother Jones Museum & Monument in Mount Olive.

Travel Tip:
Need a pick-me-up on your trip? Visit these delicious coffee shops for a cup of coffee, tea, and a fresh-baked pastry to fuel your day! Need something stronger? Visit local breweries and wineries.

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.