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Can’t-miss attractions in Illinois’ Great Rivers & Routes region

It's the only place in the country where the Great River Road and Route 66 meet. Here's what makes this region of southwestern Illinois so special.

Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail, Grafton (Ryan Donnell for Meredith Corporation/Illinois Office of Tourism)

Southwest Illinois’ Great Rivers & Routes region boasts and impressive collection of activites, attractions, and events, from road trips along Route 66 and the Great River Road to scenic recreation along the mighty Mississippi to charming river towns. Here’s a closer look at what makes this region so special.

Route 66 & The Great River Road

The Great Rivers & Routes region is the only place in the United States where two of the country’s most iconic roadways—Route 66 and the Great River Road—meet, making it an ideal destination for roadtrippers and those interested in experiencing a taste of classic Americana. Great Rivers & Routes is home to the last 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the Great River Road in Illinois (the famed roadway starts in downtown Chicago in the northeastern corner of the state), and motorists will find iconic attractions along the way, including the Pink Elelphant Antique Mall in Livingston, the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in Madison.

The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from its source in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, and this National Scenic Byway and All-American Road follows the banks of the Mississippi River as Highway 100 through Great Rivers & Routes country, passing must-see attractions like the National Great Rivers Museum and the Melvin Price Locks & Dam #26 in East Alton, the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford, and Pere Marquette State Park (Illinois’ largest state park) in Grafton.

There is another National Scenic Byway in the area, too—the Meeting of the Great Rivers Byway covers more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) and passes through some beautiful scenery at the confluence of the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri rivers.

The Mississippi River

The Great Rivers & Routes region offers a lot of scenic and recreational opportunities along its waterways, including America’s most famous river. The cities of Grafton and Alton sit right on the banks of the Mississippi River, and visitors will find restaurants, parks, and other attractions on the waterfront. Those who want to cruise the river can hop aboard an authentic paddlewheeler like the Spirit of Peoria or Grafton River Adventures’ Hakuna Matata. For canoers and kayakers, the Mississippi River Water Trail passes several intriguing attractions, including the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge and Pere Marquette State Park (which offers paddling on the Illinois River).

Bikers can pedal along the Confluence Bike Trail, which stretches for 20.5 miles (33 kilometers) alongside the Mississippi River from Alton to Granite City. Stops include the National Great Rivers Museum, the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site, and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which is only open to cyclists and pedestrians. The Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail is a paved route that follows the Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, offering views of the river on one side and towering limestone bluffs on the other.

For scenic views, try the Grafton SkyTour, which takes riders from the banks of the Mississippi River 300 feet (90 meters) in the air on a chairlift or in an enclosed gondola to reach the top of the bluffs at Aerie’s Resort. Aerie’s is also home to its own alpine coaster, where riders can speed down the bluff on a thrilling ride on a coaster car.

Other notable attractions

  • Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site: This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Collinsville shares the history of the largest prehistoric civilzation north of Mexico
  • Raging Rivers Water Park: A popular summer destination in Grafton, Raging Rivers offers watery fun for visitors of all ages
  • Lake Lou Yeager Recreation Area: Anglers  and boaters enjoy recreation oppotunities on this 1,400-acre (5.7 square kilometers) lake; the surrounding recreation areas offer hiking, biking, swimming beaches, campgrounds, and equestrian trails