The Best Scenic Drive in America
Time and again visitors are drawn to America’s rivers longing for adventure, a sense of the past, and the days of leisurely, family vacations and relaxing drives.
Return to a time of simplicity and American values along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway where the Mighty Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers converge.
The Great River Road, which is over 2,000 miles long, runs along the Mississippi River past 10 states and hundreds of historic, river towns. Certain portions of the Great River Road have been designated as a national scenic byway including the 33-mile stretch from Hartford to Grafton, Illinois. This beautiful, scenic portion is known as the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.
Cities Along Great River Road in the U.S. include:
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Quad Cities, Illinois/Iowa
St. Louis, Missouri
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
New Orleans, Louisiana
THE BEST KEPT SECRET IN THE USA!
Just 25 miles north of St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway (the Great River Road in Illinois) is truly a Midwestern treasure with beautiful stretches of roadway cradled by the rolling waters of the Mighty Mississippi River and majestic limestone river bluffs.
It is here along the byway that visitors encounter 33 of some ofthe most beautiful miles of the Great River Road. As you drive along the byway, you will find that the beauty of the region is a masterpiece of nature with whistling birds, colorful trees, unique plants and etched river bluffs.
The Alton region is the perfect place for that perfect weekend getaway from Chicago or St. Louis for families or couples! The Great River Road runs through Alton, Grafton, Godfrey & Elsah!
PERFECT FOR ALL SEASONS
The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway is the perfect drive during any season of the year. In the Spring, nature awakens as luscious green blossoms and a rainbow of wildflowers dance across the bluffs. There is no better time than summer for outdoor dining, picnicking and engaging in the many seasonal
festivals and fairs along the river on the byway.
Fall in love with the byway in the autumn as the bluffs burst with fiery fall colors and you pick-em orchards dot the landscape of southwest Illinois.
Click here for more fall information including three of the best fall colors drives in the Midwest!
WHERE HISTORY MEETS THE GREAT RIVER ROAD
Historic River Towns Along the Great River Road
Visitors to the area are greeted by several quaint little towns – Alton, Elsah and Grafton, all in southwest Illinois.
In its early days, Alton was a bustling river town, much larger than Chicago. Alton was built on industry - flour mills, quarries, brick making, pottery making - and relied on the Mississippi River. The "Steamboat Era" played an important role of the growth of Alton, and riverboat traffic can still be seen from the riverfront up and down the Mighty Mississippi River. MORE: Learn more about historic, river communities along the Great River Road You can delve deeper in to the history at the Alton Museum of History and Art or the Hayner Genealogy Library.
It is here that visitors will also encounter the World’s Tallest Man – Robert Wadlow. Known to the locals as the “Gentle Giant,” Robert grew to be the World’s Tallest Man, reaching an exceptional height of 8 feet, 11.1 inches tall. Across the street from the museum, visitors can see how they measure up to this life-size bronze statue, standing in honor of his character and inspiring life story.
The entire Village of Elsah is on the National Registry of Historic Places. This village, with a population of around one hundred people, is often referred to as the
town where time stood still. Visitors to Elsah can escape back to the Americana of the early 1800s with quiet streets and 19th century stone homes. This “picture perfect” village nestled in the valley is a perfect place for photographers – amateur and professional – anxious to capture
a glimpse of the past.
Located high upon the bluffs in Elsah, visitors are invited to tour the campus of Principia College,the only Christian Scientist College in the nation. Designed by
renowned San Francisco architect, Bernard Maybeck, the entire campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is truly an architectural masterpiece.
Just beyond the river bend, the residents of Grafton readily embrace visitors, inviting them to celebrate life on the Mississippi River. Grafton, resting under the Mississippi River bluffs, is home to several wineries, flea markets, antique shops, restaurants and views like no other along the river. Bed & Breakfast Inns and Guests Houses scattered throughout the town offer views of the river and taste of life in a river town. With barges just a stone’s throw away on the Mississippi River, you are guaranteed to gain a new perspective of what living on the river really means.
History of the Region
Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804
The byway journey begins in Hartford at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers where Lewis & Clark’s journey west began. It was in Illinois that Lewis and Clark prepared for the journey as common men became soldiers organized for a military expedition. It is here in Hartford that visitors can experience the Illinois side of the Lewis & Clark story at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site. The center features five exhibit rooms and a full-scale cut-away keelboat, showing how Lewis & Clark “packed” for the journey. Lewis & Clark
Abraham Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail
The threads of our nation’s history run deep beneath the streets and on the banks of Alton. Some say that the anti-slavery movement in the United States began in Alton, Illinois.
In the early 1830s, abolitionist and publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy was assassinated while defending his printing press. An angry mob shot Lovejoy in retaliation for the anti-slavery views expressed in his newspaper, The Observer. The Lovejoy Monument, dedicated to his courageous life, is the tallest monument in the state of Illinois.
Alton’s Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail takes you on a walk with Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Civil War soldiers from both North and South, to 10 significant historic sites located throughout the city. Experience the life of a young Lincoln as a lawyer, duelist and orator.
Witness the last of the great Lincoln-Douglas Debates, which took place in Alton more than 150 years ago. With the issue of slavery on the minds of spectators, more than 6,000 people gathered to see the debate that launched Lincoln into national prominence.
As the Civil War erupted, its impact was felt on Alton’s riverbanks as Confederate soldiers were held captive at the Alton Prison. Many soldiers perished at the prison and laid to rest beneath the Confederate Monument, one of the northernmost monuments to the Confederate soldiers. Finally, see the home that was residence to Senator Lyman Trumbull, who authored the 13th Amendment, putting an end to slavery in the United States. MORE: Learn about the Underground Railroad Trail in Alton & Godfrey
The winding river road is the perfect backdrop for recreational activities all along the byway. Whether biking, hiking, fishing, boating, or taking in a round of golf, you’ll never run out of things to do and places to see.
At the northern end of the byway, Pere Marquette State Park is the largest state park in Illinois, with more than 8,000 acres of land to explore. Hiking trails, fishing docks, horseback riding or the perfect spot for a picnic can be found within the borders of the park.
In addition to the park, experience nature untouched by civilization abundant with rare birds, wildflowers and beauty all found at the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and The Nature Institute..
Enjoy hiking through the bluffs on the many hiking and nature trails for beginning and advanced hikers alike.For one of the most scenic views of the Mississippi River, hop on your bicycle and pedal your way along the river on the 22-mile Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail from Pere Marquette to Alton. Continue your ride on the Confluence Bike Trail, which will take you from Downtown Alton along the Berm Highway past the National Great Rivers Museum to the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Within miles of Alton, visitors can enjoy more than a dozen bike trails winding through southwestern Illinois and Missouri along rivers, across ferries and through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Midwest.
For those that like to flounder with the fish, water recreation is a favorite for visitors to the region. Family water recreation can also befound in the summertime at Raging Rivers Water Park in Grafton. Sail down the bluffs on a waterslide with a full view of the Mississippi River while you play. Also, along the Great River Road,
you will encounter the Mighty Mississippi River and see if from a new point of view from eight stories in the air on top the Melvin Price Locks & Dam #26.
Tours of the Locks & Dam are available daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at no charge. At the base of the locks & dam, visitors can connect to the river at the National Great Rivers Museum. This state-of-the-art museum is dedicated to telling the story of life on the Mighty Mississippi River and how it has shaped our culture, history, economy, ecology and people of the region. The museum has more than 20 interactive displays focusing on the cycles of the river,
nature, barge traffic, water consumption and much more.
Time To Play
Antiques & Shopping
Besides historic places and scenic views, the Alton region is home to great food, great shopping, and loads of fun. On Alton’s “Antique Row,” you will discover
more than 50 dealers offering antique items and unusual gifts from the simple to the hard to find. Just beyond Alton, there are numerous antique stores and specialty shops in Grafton, Elsah, and Jerseyville that are a shopper’s dream come true.
The Great Rivers byway region also provides visitors with over 50 unique restaurants for both fine dining and home-cooked meals. Visitors' favorites include: The Loading Dock, Fast Eddie's Bon Air, Grafton Winery & Brewhaus, Old Bakery Beer Company, Aerie's Winery, and Pere Marquette Lodge.
Where to Stay
Visitors looking for a place to stay in the region for a weekend getaway or relaxing escape won’t be disappointed with more than 20 Bed and Breakfast Inns and Guest Houses, as well as other family-friendly and convenient hotels, available to guests.
Located in Alton, this romantic getaway spot was voted Best B&B in Illinois. This historic house is layered with a rich history and lavish
luxury once reserved only for the turn of the century elite.
This B&B, which also has cabins, sits on top of the bluffs along the Mississippi River providing guests with one of the most breathtaking
scenic views in the Midwest.
MORE: Take Advantage of Amazing Deals When You Spend the Night in Alton