As the winter wind blows in from the north, it’s time to head over to the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway and let your eagle watching adventure begin. Just 25 miles north of St. Louis, Alton is located on the banks of the Mississippi River, and it is the perfect place to become immersed in Mother Nature and the magnificence of the American Bald Eagle migration.
Eagle Watching Hotspots
Begin your adventure with a stop at the Alton Visitor Center to pick up the newest Eagle Watchers Guide. This booklet lists all eagle watching hotspots, eagle events and other eagle promotions in the region. Head northwest on the Great River Road towards Clifton Terrace Park. This area is a great spot to pull in and pull out your binoculars or camera. Right along the riverfront, eagles like to settle in this spot. Turn right onto Clifton Terrace Road and then another right on Route 3 to The Nature Institute.
There are several trails here that you can walk for bluff top views of eagles roosting and soaring over the river. Make your way back to the Great River Road to head further west to Piasa Harbor. Get a close up view of the eagles and the river at this harbor that’s situated between Grafton and Alton. Make sure to save time so you can stroll through Elsah, watching for eagles soaring over the river. Finally, head northwards to TreeHouse Wildlife Center to see live bald eagles every weekend in January and February.
On day two, make your way to the Grafton Riverfront. Walk the riverfront to view eagles perched in the trees and soaring over the river. Further west of the city near the Brussels Ferry entrance, eagles are active. Your third stop of the day will be at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge at Gilbert Lake. The trees out in the field often have eagles perched there. A three-mile hiking trail connects with Pere Marquette State Park. After a short break, cross the Illinois River on the Brussels Ferry.
Stop by the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center at Swan Lake. There will be scopes for viewing eagles. There also are trails at Swan Lake. Drive north to Hardin from there as there are great riverfront restaurants perfect for viewing eagles while you dine. Finally, head south to Pere Marquette State Park, the largest state park in Illinois. There are several lookout points that are great to watch for eagles.
On the third day, stop at The Audubon Center at Riverlands. Eagles can be seen in the Ellis Bay refuge. You can also watch for eagles by using the indoor spotting scopes at the Center. Cross back over the Mississippi River and stop by the National Great Rivers Museum and Melvin Price Locks & Dam #26. Watch eagles fish for an easy catch at the largest Lock & Dam on the Mississippi. Head south to the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower where you can view eagles in action. If you have time, stop by Edward and Pat Jones Confluence Point State Park and the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area to see eagles.