Where History Meets the Road
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 cliffs.
The byway journey begins in Hartford at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers where Lewis and Clark’s journey west began. It was in Illinois that Lewis and Clark prepared for the journey as common men became soldiers organised for a military expedition.
Continuing the journey along the Great River Road, you will encounter the mighty Mississippi River and see if from a new point of view from eight storeys in the air on top of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam #26. At the base of the locks and 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.
On the banks of the Mississippi River, Alton is one of America’s great river cities. The threads of our nation’s history run deep beneath the streets and on the banks of this quiet little river town. Alton’s new Lincoln and 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.
Historic River Towns
Along the byway, visitors to the area are greeted by two quaint little towns – Elsah and Grafton. 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.
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.
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.