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 all around Alton, Illinois.
ABOUT THE GREAT RIVER ROAD
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
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- La Crosse, Wisconsin
- Dubuque, Iowa
- Grafton, Illinois
- Alton, Illinois
- St. Louis, Missouri
- Cape Girardeau, Missouri
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Vicksburg, Mississippi
- 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 the 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 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, you pick-em orchards and pumpkin patches as you drive. Finally, even the winter yields an incredible drive as the eagles soar all around Alton reclaiming their winter nests on the byway.
Fall colors make the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway one of the best drives during fall! 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.
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 into the history of the city at the Alton Museum of History & Art. 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.
MORE: Best of Alton, Illinois
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.
MORE: Explore Grafton, Illinois
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 Attractions
Lewis & Clark State Historic Site
Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower
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 new 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
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.
MORE: Visit A Nature Trail in Alton
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 be found 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.
The Alton 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, Elijah P's, Aerie's Winery, Pere Marquette Lodge,
Where to Stay
Visitors looking for a place to stay in the Alton 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.
Events & Festivals
The region is the perfect spot for both the young and old looking for an exciting family daytrip or a weekend getaway along the Great River Road in the St. Louis region. You’ll fall in love with the unique history, distinct river culture, and spectacular views along the bends of the Mississippi River. Visitors never seem to run out of things to do “All Around Alton.”