Illinois’ Great Rivers Area Tour
ILLINOIS AUTO TOUR 1
The communities, state parks and historic sites included in this tour offer a “great get-away vacation” to some of the most scenic and historic places in Illinois and the Midwest. This is where the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail begins. Where you can relive history and discover America the Beautiful as you circle on and off the trail in Illinois.
1. East St. Louis
An wide array of attractions awaits visitors in the East St. Louis area.
They include the Frank Holten State Park, the Gateway Geyser and the Malcolm M. Martin Memorial Park. The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum and the Cahokia Courthouse State Historic Site are located in Cahokia. Visitors can see the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville or Horseshoe Lake State Park in Granite City. Belleville attractions include the Henry White Experimental Farm, the Schmidt Art Center & Gallery, the Cathedral of St. Peter and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. The world’s largest Catsup Bottle is at Collinsville.
Upriver at the mouth of the Missouri River, Hartford and Wood River rightfully claim their designation as Site Number 1 on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, the “Point of Departure” for the Corps of Discovery.
Hartford is marked by the inspiring 150 foot high Confluence Tower where visitors get a spectacular view of the Missouri and Mississippi River Confluence. The tower’s welcome center also serves as the gateway interpretive center for the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway, a 33-mile stretch of the Great River Road Scenic Byway filled with natural and historic scenic wonders. The Lewis & Clark State Historic Site includes the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center with a full-scale replica of the Lewis & Clark Expedition’s keelboat, a re-constructed Camp River Dubois, their Winter Camp from 1803-04, and exhibits portraying the legacy of Corps of Discovery who in 1804 ventured into the vast wilderness beyond the Mississippi. Camp River Dubois is temporarily closed for repairs, but tours of the cabins and area around the camp are available.The Hartford area also has great scenic hiking and biking trails along the mighty rivers.
3. Wood River
At nearby Wood River you can imagine being a member of Lewis & Clark’s Corps at an authentic full-size re-creation of Camp Dubois near the actual site of the original frontier encampment.
The re-created fort provides a unique outdoor venue for groups and weekends. Wood River is rich with area history and has a fascinating Community Heritage Museum and the historic Vaughn Hill Cemetery with Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War grave sites. The entire family will enjoy Wood River’s Aquatic Center.
Nearby Alton has an array of attractions including the Melvin Price Lock and Dam and National Great Rivers Museum, the Alton Museum of History and Art, Alton’s Lincoln and Civil War Legacy Trail, the Lincoln Douglas Square where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had their final debate, and the Confederate Prison and Cemetery.
Trail travelers can enjoy great scenic vistas as they bike along the Sam Vadalbene Bike Trail, viewing eagles and watching river traffic. The Ellijay P. Lovejoy Memorial, the abolitionists’ newspaper editor, the Underground Railroad Tour, and the Robert Wadlow Statue, the life-size sculpture of the tallest man in the world, are also at Alton.
Upriver from Alton at Grafton are great outdoor adventures at the Pere Marquette State Park and Visitors Center.
The Grafton area offers river cruises, parasailing and awesome scenic vistas over the Mississippi, zip lines in the woodlands, a waterpark, and the Mississippi River State Fish and Wildlife Area, plus an outstanding antiques district and wineries.
Across from the mouth of the Illinois River is the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge where the regal bald eagles fly.
Driving east on I-70 to Vandalia, vacationers will be inspired by one of the 12 Madonna of the Trail sculptures honoring pioneer-era mothers erected in 1928 on the historic Vandalia Statehouse State Historic Site.
Vandalia is on the Historic National Road Scenic Byway and visitors can experience the area’s heritage at the National Road Interpretive Center, the Fayette County Museum and the historic downtown district. Vandalia is where Abraham Lincoln began his political career, gave his first anti-slavery speeches and debated Stephan A. Douglas. The city houses a unique Lincoln Collection and visitors can take in the picturesque scenery at Lincoln Park across from the Old State Capitol. Kids will enjoy the huge fire-breathing Kaskaskia Dragon sculpture adjacent to US 40. The massive Carlyle Lake Fish and Wildlife Area is south of the city.
Returning west to St. Louis this loop tour includes Edwardsville that features the Children’s Museum, the historic 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House, the Watershed Nature Center, plus one hundred miles of bikeways on the Madison County Bike Trails.