Winter Fun in Southwest Illinois

Get out of the house and fly down a coaster or visit a cozy coffee roaster- connect with history, solve a mystery, or visit a wildlife sanctuary- it’s another fun day in wintry southwest Illinois!

Get Outside!

Being stuck inside all winter is the worst- you need fresh air, clouds, to get up and move more than just from the couch to the fridge or mill around the hotel lobby. When you come to southwest Illinois, you’ve come to the right place to kick those winter blues!

Journey down the Great River Road and go eagle spotting on your way to the historic Village of Elsah where you can shop and admire the charming stone architecture of the village nestled in one of the Mississippi River's sunken hollows. Make a stop in Grafton to skate at The Loading Dock Ice Rink, fly down Aerie’s Alpine Coaster at Aerie’s Resort, go for a hike at Pere Marquette State Park, or take the Brussels Ferry across the river to visit the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge.

Take the family to the Melvin Price Locks & Dam and National Great Rivers Museum to see barges rise to new heights on the river or search for swans and waterfowl at the Audubon Center at Riverlands.

Animal enthusiasts can learn about rescue and rehabilitation efforts of Illinois animals at the TreeHouse Wildlife Center, see wild horses at the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary, take a walk at the Watershed Nature Center or The Nature Institute, hike at Shoal Creek Conservation Area or participate in the Snowflake Search at H & B Bremer Wildlife Sanctuary.

Want to see America’s national animal, the American Bald Eagle? The fierce raptors love cold and gloomy winter days and can be seen in abundance in the region January through March. Take an Alton Eagle Watching Shuttle Tour or Grafton Eagle Watching Shuttle Tour this winter to see the elegant birds in action.

You can take to Madison County Transit Trails for a day of smooth biking, play a game of pickleball, go shopping at the Goshen Winter Market and, if you’re not feeling like exercise but still want a day out of the house, take a self-led jaunt on the Historic Alton Driving Tour to see some of the region’s extraordinary old homes!

Want to celebrate all things icy? The National Great Rivers Museum hosts Ice Jam at the Dam every winter- listen to live music, see live animal programs, take tours, get food and drink from vendors, watch for eagles on the river, and learn about winter on the river!

Agavero Grill & Cantina in Collinsville, IL

Get Hungry

There’s something special about going out to eat in winter; spending time with friends and family in a cozy dining room and ditching the cold with a savory soup or sandwich is a Midwest winter tradition.

Go to Alton and have a bowl of Bubble and Squeak at Morrison’s Irish Pub or spoon up a special at My Just Desserts or Food A Fare in East Alton. Get zesty gumbo and seafood at Gumbo 2 Geaux, spicy fried tenders at Heaterz Hot Chicken, and food to warm the bones at Lovett’s Soul Food before taking a trip down the Great River Road.

Snuggle up inside an igloo at the Grafton Winery & Brewhaus with dinner and drinks, or enjoy a warming bourbon bacon burger at The Terrace at Aerie's Resort overlooking the winter Mississippi.

Indulge in smoked barbecue at Carver’s Southern Style BBQ in Alton, or Doc’s Smokehouse in Edwardsville. 1929 Pizza & Wine in Wood River, Alfonso’s Pizza in Carrollton, and Peel Wood Fired Pizza in Edwardsville offer up rich, melty slices of pizza.

Enjoy unique family style dining at Wittmond’s Restaurant in Brussels or the Diamond Mineral Springs in Grantfork with dishes like crispy fried chicken, sausages, and mashed potatoes, order a steak at Tony’s Steakhouse in Alton or Porter’s Steakhouse in Collinsville, or get spicy with Mexican dishes from Agavero Grill & Cantina in Collinsville or Chava’s Mexican Restaurant in Edwardsville.

Wanting a drink to warm you to your toes? Have dinner and a drink at the 1933 House of Bourbon or Mississippi Culture in Staunton, Old Herald Brewery & Distillery in Collinsville, or Old Bakery Beer in Alton.

Blackbird Bakery & Cafe in Staunton

Get Warm & Cozy

Going outside in the cold isn’t for everyone but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in the house or be cooped up in your hotel room. Escape the chill by seeing a live show at the Alton Little Theater, the Alfresco Performing Arts Center in Granite City, or Hard Road Theatre Productions in Highland.

Take a historic tour of the 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House in Edwardsville, go on the Beall Mansion Tour in Alton, or learn about the famous Mother Road at the Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center. The kids will appreciate a day of play at the Edwardsville Children’s Museum and those interested in the strange and macabre can find a collection of curiosities in The Soul Asylum in Alton.

See a musical performance at The Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville or Miner’s Theatre in Collinsville or go to one of Gateway Convention Center’s floor shows. Put on your detective hat for a Wild Pickins Murder Mystery, play chess or checkers with a drink at Pere Marquette Lodge, or see a movie at Alton’s NCG Cinema, AMC Edwardsville, The Orpheum in Hillsboro, or Jerseyville’s Stadium Theater.

Want to get crafty? You can take art and crafting classes at The MAC Macoupin Art Collective in Staunton, Jacoby Arts Center, Party on Broadway, and Black Crow Designs in Alton, at the Edwardsville Public Library or the Glen Carbon Library.

How about a pastry and a cup of piping hot coffee? Coffee houses are like public living rooms where everyone can come together and relax. Places like Post Commons in Alton, Verona Coffee in Collinsville, Goshen Coffee Roasters in Edwardsville, Black Rabbit Coffee Roasters in Hillsboro, and Blackbird Bakery & Café in Staunton serve as community anchors from which to start your morning, take a needed break, or get warmed up as you explore the region. There are even more cozy coffee shops to explore in southwest Illinois- start your winter adventures off right with some of the delicious bean juice, hot cocoa, or hot tea!

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.