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Explore the Mississippi River on the Great River Road in Illinois

June 25, 2016 Destination North America No Comments Print Print Email Email

Annually, thousands of visitors make plans to drive theMeeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway all around Alton, Illinois during every season of the year. Just 25 miles north of St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway is truly a Midwestern treasure with 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 three great rivers converge – the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers.


The 33 mile Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway begins in Hartford at the intersection of Illinois Route 3 and New Poag Road, just a few miles from the Route 66 Mother Road. The byway winds west and north via Illinois Routes 3, 143 and 100. Illinois Route 100 takes visitors outside of Alton and bends along the forested river bluffs approximately 25 miles to its ending point in Grafton at Pere Marquette State Park. The byway is truly a natural wonder of the region where visitors can see the convergence of three great rivers – the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois. The grandeur of the limestone bluffs and the rolling waters of the river add to the beauty of this scenic roadway. In addition to the natural and scenic beauty of the byway, visitors enjoy the many historic and cultural attractions that can be found in the many byway communities.

The byway journey begins in Hartford with the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers where explorers Lewis & Clark began their journey west. The Lewis & Clark State Historic Site is National Trail Site #1, highlighting the five months Lewis & Clark spent in Illinois preparing for the expedition. Opened in May 2010, the new Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower allows visitors to gaze upon the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers from platforms at 50, 100 & 150 feet in the air.

At the center of the byway, Alton is home to numerous historic landmarks and museums. At the National Great Rivers Museum, visitors connect with the Mississippi River exploring the interactive exhibits of the museum and touring Melvin Price Locks & Dam, the largest locks on the river. Along the Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail, visitors encounter the story of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, the last of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, one of the northernmost monuments to Confederate soldiers and a six other sites building Alton’s connection to America’s history. Visitors also enjoy seeing the legendary Piasa Bird, the world’s tallest man –Robert Wadlow and some of the oldest Underground Railroad sites in Illinois.

The byway winds along the river bends through the quaint town of Elsah, a small village on the National Register of Historic Places. Often referred to as the “village where time stood still,” Elsah offers a glimpse at early Americana. High upon the bluffs, Principia College is the only Christian Science College in world. Designed by famed architect Bernard Maybeck, the campus is a National Historic Landmark.

Further down the road the Mississippi and Illinois rivers converge in Grafton, where visitors can experience a real river town and celebrate life on the river with wineries, antiques, fine dining and unique festivals and fairs year round. The roadway joins the main artery of the Great River Road just north of Grafton at Pere Marquette State Park, the largest state park in Illinois.

The Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic 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 hundreds of American Bald Eagles soar all around Alton reclaiming their winter nests on the byway.

Planning a trip along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway is simple at www.GreatRiversByway.com or www.VisitAlton.com. Travel Planners are available for download at the website or by calling +1-618-465-6676.

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