If you're looking for a fun day trip or weekend getaway, take the drive up the Great River Road to the Alton, Illinois area. There's plenty to do any time of the year. Winter is prime time for bald eagle watching. During the summer months there's great hiking and boating. In Autumn, the drive along the Great River Road can't be beat for taking in the beautiful fall colors. Here are some of the region's best attractions, unique restaurants and places not to miss during your time in Alton.
Pere Marquette is the largest state park in Illinois and it offers year-round activities for everyone. There are more than 8,000 acres for camping, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. If you want to stay for a weekend, book a room or a cabin at the Pere Marquette Lodge. The park is also a great spot to enjoy the fall colors or see bald eagles in the winter. Pere Marquette is located just west of Grafton in Jersey County.
The Melvin Price Locks and Dam, located south of the Clark Bridge near Alton, is essential to keeping barge traffic moving along the Mississippi River. Watching barges and other river traffic navigate the locks is well worth the visit, especially for kids. While there, check out the National Great Rivers Museum next door. The museum uses dozens of exhibits and interactive displays to teach about the Mississippi River and its impact on the St. Louis region. At the museum, you can also sign up for free tours of the locks and dam.
Visit a statue honoring one of Alton's most famous citizens. Robert Wadlow still holds the Guinness record as the tallest man who ever lived. At the time of his death in 1940 at the age of 22, he was 8 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed more than 400 pounds. You can stand next to Wadlow's life-size statue and see how you measure up. It's located in th 2800 block of College Avenue on the grounds of SIUE's Dental School.
Try your luck at the first casino opened in the St. Louis area. The Argosy Casino in Alton has all of your gaming favorites including slots, blackjack and poker. The casino is open from 8 a.m. to 6 a.m. every day. If you're more in the mood for non-gambling entertainment, Argosy's Music Hall features popular artists like The Little River Band and Jan & Dean.
Fast Eddie's Bon Air is Alton's legendary roadhouse, known up and down the Great River Road for its extra cold beer and high-energy atmosphere. But you'll really be amazed by the food. Fast Eddie's thrives on serving great tasting food at exceptionally low prices. You can get a 1/2 pound burger, homemade bratwurst or a basket of fries for just 99 cents each. Live music keeps the place hopping Thursdays through Sundays. However, Fast Eddie's is not the place to go if you're bringing the whole family. This restaurant is strictly for those 21 and over.
The Alton area has are many ferries that shuttle people and cars across the Missouri, Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Riding one can be quite an experience, even if you're just crossing the river, turning around, and crossing right back again. Such whimsical crossings aren't a problem at the Brussels Ferry, just west of Grafton, which is free. It makes routine trips across the Illinois River all day, every day (weather permitting). Or take the Golden Eagle Ferry across the Mississippi River between Calhoun County, Illinois and St. Charles, Missouri. A one-way ticket is $6. In the summer, stop in at the adjacent Kinder's Restaurant, for a river view table and a great burger or BLT.
The Piasa Winery in Grafton offers you the chance to sit back, relax and try some award winning local wines. The winery's River Road White won a gold medal at the 2006 Illinois State Fair. If wine isn't what you're looking for, Piasa also carries a very respectable selection of domestic and imported beer. Whatever beverage you choose, you'll want to drink it down on the winery's outside deck. The deck overlooks the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, and there's live music every weekend during warmer months. The deck overlooks the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, and there's live music every weekend during warmer months.
Fish are everywhere at the Fin Inn. They're certainly a big part of the menu, but the restaurant's best known for the giant aquariums that line its walls, and adjoin most of its booths. Ponder whether it's odd eating catfish while watching catfish and other native fish swimming alongside your table. Luckily, if that proves to be a problem, The Fin Inn's full menu also features burgers, chicken and salads.
Grafton Fudge and Ice Cream
If you're in the mood for a sweet treat, check out Grafton Fudge and Ice Cream in Grafton. The shop features more than a dozen varieties of homemade fudge, including favorites such as chocolate-walnut, peanut butter and rocky road. Grafton Fudge and Ice Cream also serves ice cream, and it's two level shop is full of homemade jams, salsas and other food stuffs for you to take home.