Why You Need to Experience Grafton This Weekend
Sweeping views of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers is just one reason Grafton, Illinois stands out from the crowd as a vibrant river town planted at the confluence of America’s two great waterways.
Located just minutes from the St. Louis region by river ferry or 30 minutes north of St. Louis by car, Grafton offers a growing shopping, restaurant, boating, winery and adventure scene.
Stroll along the historic streets of Grafton to experience the history and charm of the community that once reportedly hosted outlaw Jesse James and had its own sort of Wild West persona and see how it has evolved into a quintessential destination and a thriving riverfront community.
Escape to Grafton
Mississippi River near Grafton
Travel by ferry, boat or car to make your way to Grafton. Located along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byways, the community is known not only for its scenic location along the banks of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers but as a great place to make a weekend escape.
The growing number of adventure and entertainment options available in Grafton make it an adventure lover’s paradise.
Take a leisurely cruise of the Mississippi River on Grafton River Adventures’ 49-passenger excursion boat. Offering enclosed seating on the first deck and open air seating on the upper deck, the Hakuna Matata has daily weekend river cruises and scheduled scenic and themed cruises from May through October.
Click here for details.
The family-friendly boat also features a cash bar for guests who want to sip a cool drink during a cruise.
High above the confluence of the two rivers, Grafton Zip Line Adventures provides soaring entertainment on the bluff line 150 feet above the town of Grafton. The two-hour zip line gives adventurers the chance to rappel down platforms (or take it easy with steps) and zip through the tree canopy that sits on top of the bluffs lining the rivers.
Grafton Zipline Adventures
Afterwards, enjoy a meal or drink at The Winery at Aeries Resort which boasts some of the best views in the Midwest.
The Winery at Aeries Resort
Ready for more fun? Once a month, Big Muddy Adventures offers paddling adventures on the Mississippi River in Grafton. Grab an oar and climb into a replica fur trader canoe and make your way with other like-minded thrill seekers as you paddle down the river learning more about the river’s history and highlights. Some adventures even stop at an island in the middle of the river for a relaxing boxed lunch.
For more information, click here.
When it’s time to relax and just enjoy some down time, there are a variety of options along Grafton’s riverfront.
The iconic Loading Dock Restaurant seated at the edge of the Mississippi River provides a serene view of the river. Enjoy sandwiches, dock salsa and nachos and a local wine or craft beer while watching barges, tow boats and recreational boats slide by.
The Loading Dock
Grafton’s history along the banks of the rivers runs deep. The early settlers of Grafton saw the potential of this plat of land in 1836 and it wasn’t long before this little river town became a center for riverboat traffic, and the riverfront was packed with manufacturing companies, mills wharfs, and loading docks.
Resting under the Mississippi River bluffs, Grafton became known as a lucrative quarry town. Literally tons of magnesium limestone was discovered in the town making quarries one of the richest and most extensive of the town’s resources.
Grafton stone was use locally to construct buildings and homes. It was also transported to St. Louis for use in structures such as the Old Cathedral and the Eads Bridge.
Along with the rise and fall of industry in Grafton, came the rise and fall of the rivers. Floods have always been a part of the rhythm of life in the city. The first official flood in the city occurred in 1844. The most devastating flood occurred in 1993 when waters rose and covered much of the community. The Flood of 1993 reached a record 38.2 feet of water in the town. While much of the city was engulfed in water, that didn’t stop residents from pulling together.
The Grafton Lighthouse
After the waters receded, the town was rebuilt. A lighthouse on the riverfront stands as a symbol of resilience and determination in Grafton.
Enjoy a Historic Walking Tour of Grafton by downloading the guide here.
Where Napa Valley Meets Mississippi Valley
There is no shortage of wineries in Grafton. From award-winning wines, created from vineyards planted in soil enriched by the rolling waters of America’s great rivers, to small, signature, specially blended wines exclusive to Grafton, sample each of the varieties available throughout town.
Grafton Winery The Vineyards
Grafton Winery The Vineyards
21028 Eckert Orchard Road, Grafton • (618) 786-3004
Settled among orchards and sprawling farmland, the 11,000-square-foot Grafton Winery, aptly named “the Vineyards,” has ample space for a new wine production facility, comfortable seating, a bar and a fireplace. A 5,000-square-foot pavilion with a view of the new vines offers space for outdoor seating, wedding receptions, corporate events, team building, family reunions, and class reunions. With a dressing room and wedding events already booked, the owners plan on the winery becoming a popular wedding destination.
The Winery at Aerie's Resort
600 Timber Ridge, Grafton • (618) 786-VIEW
Aerie’s Riverview Winery opened in 2001 high upon the bluffs in Grafton. Visitors love the incredible view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. A full service restaurant and live music on the weekend add to the wine tasting and sipping experience.
Grafton Harbor Floating Winery
215 Water St. • (618) 786-7678
Located at Grafton Harbor, visitors can enjoy a glass of wine with gently floating along with the river. The Grafton Harbor Signature Collection offers six different wines, in addition to a variety of imported, domestic and local labels.
Grafton Winery & Brewhaus
300 W. Main St., Grafton • (618) 786-3001
Award-winning wines and craft beers are prepared on-site at the Grafton Winery & Brewhaus. Made from a combination of California and locally grown grapes and fruits, more than 15 wines are featured under the Grafton Winery label, including the ever-popular Apple Crisp. The winery features a full service restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The brewhaus can be found on the lower level with bar and table seating, as well as food service from the restaurant.
Mary Michelle Winery
13653 Lodge Blvd., Grafton • (618) 786-2331
Mary Michelle Winery in Carrollton, Illinois is closed to the public in order to preserve the vineyards and pristine wine making process. Pere Marquette Lodge houses the Mary Michelle Winery wine tasting room, providing the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the award-winning wines under the Illinois Cellars and Mary Michelle Winery wine labels.
Delicious Dining Options
From riverfront dining to fresh fried fish sandwiches at local iconic food stands, the essence of the river flows through local restaurants.
The beautiful views at The Loading Dock make it the go-to dining spot in Grafton. Only open on weekends from November – March, dine seven days a week from April – October. Fish tacos, whitefish sandwiches, hot wings and the Loading Dock’s own special recipe dock salsa highlight the menu. On weekends and evenings, enjoy live music at The Loading Dock with the mighty Mississippi in the background.
Oysters, shrimp and all things Cajun and Creole spice up the menu at the Grafton Oyster Bar which sits atop the gift shop at Grafton Harbor. Offering both inside and outside dining, this is the place to enjoy the annual Crawfish Festival each May. Seafood inspired dishes include Shrimp Voodoo, alligator sausage, and Crawfish Enchiladas.
Beasley Fish Stand and O’Jan’s Fish Stand offer quick, hot fried fish sandwiches. Fresh caught fish is transformed into hot fish sandwiches daily. Choose from a buffalo-style or catfish sandwich served with signature coleslaw, catfish fritters and beans at picnic tables beside the river at Beasley’s. O’Jan’s serves up hot fish sandwiches including tilapia and Pollock, frog legs and more on Grafton’s riverfront.
The Fin Inn (Photo by @chelebelle1974)
The ever popular Fin Inn Restaurant, known as the aquarium restaurant, has been serving its famous Turtle Soup since 1981 in Grafton. The building is crafted from local limestone and creek rock and has 2,000-gallon aquarium tanks lining one wall of the dining room. One aquarium is home to a 100-year-old Loggerhead turtle which weighs over 100 pounds!
Stop in for breakfast or lunch at A Peace of Quiche located on Grafton’s Main Street. This café with a cause serves up freshly prepared, homemade recipes including its Quiche of the Day. Browse the Fair Trade Market after the meal.
Historic Ruebel Restaurant bar from 1904 World's Fair
And don’t forget to visit the historic Ruebel Restaurant for dinner. A conversation starter is the historic 1904 World’s Fair bar which holds a place of honor in the center of the restaurant.
Shop on Main Street
Buena Vista Art in downtown Grafton
Small businesses play a big role in Grafton. From fudge shops to ice cream, handmade wood furniture to custom crafted jewelry and more, a weekend stroll along Main Street will strike the interests of anyone looking for a one-of-a-kind gift or treasure.
Click here for shopping options.
Spend the Night
Create a weekend getaway in Grafton with an overnight stay at one of the many local guest houses and bed and breakfast inns. From the homey and historic Ruebel Hotel to Lucy Mae’s Guest House and The River House, located within walking distance of dining, shopping and nightlife, to the striking views from bluff top cottages and inns like Tara Point and Aerie’s Resorts, there is no shortage of quaint, scenic and comfortable lodging options.