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Spirit of Illinois

It might be called the Prairie State, but Illinois offers an enticing array of boating destinations and activities.

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Alton River Bluffs
Gene Kunz

At the meeting point of three great American rivers — the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri — the Alton region is as beautiful and authentic as they come. The area is blessed with stunning bluffs, rolling countryside and abundant wildlife, with quaint villages and friendly people throughout. Along with the scenic qualities that make Alton and its surrounding communities an outdoor recreation hot spot, you’ll appreciate the historic attractions, quirky culture and many entertainment options located along the 33-mile long Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, which ties it all together.

You can’t miss National Great Rivers Museum, located at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton, where you can learn about the Mississippi’s rich history and its impact on our nation. A profile of the museum its 20 interactive and educational exhibits is available in our story “Now That’s Edutainment” (April).

The new Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center near Hartford, Ill., consists of more than 14,000 square feet of exhibits, displays, artifacts and multimedia renderings that emphasize the preparation that went into the famous expedition. A highlight is the 55-foot, full-scale replica of the expedition’s keelboat, which allows visitors to walk through the vessel to examine the supplies that were brought along and the manner in which they were stowed.

Perhaps the best way to experience the outdoor wonders of the area is on a hike to the top of McAdams Peak at Pere Marquette State Park or a bike ride along the Sam Vandalabene Bike Trail, which parallels 20 miles of the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway.          

Tie up at Alton Marina for a protected harbor and first-class features including concierge-level dock service, swimming pool and spas, private bathroom suites and a courtesy shuttle to area shopping, restaurants and attractions. It also offers gas and diesel fuel, pump out and mechanical service.

Piasa Harbor is another option in Alton, and nearby Grafton Harbor serves area boaters with quality amenities right in the heart of this charming town just 19 miles upriver. Numerous restaurants, wineries, shops, and hiking and biking trails are all within walking distance.

Mark your calendar the colder weather months to have a chance to spot bald eagles soaring over the bluffs. Each year, thousands of the majestic birds migrate to the area for the fish found in the cold waters of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The eagles begin arriving in late December and stay until March, before flying back up north, so you’ll have to plan carefully if you intend an eagle watching cruise here.

Visit nearby St. Louis, Mo., right across the river, for a look at one of the most important ports in the history of America’s westward expansion. The 630-foot-tall Gateway Arch stands as the iconic centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also features a museum in which you can explore the world of the American Indians and 19th-century pioneers. Just a short walk away, you’ll find Laclede’s Landing, the city’s oldest district and top riverfront entertainment destination. Imagine a nine-block area with cobblestone streets, gas lamps and open-air cafes, clubs and shops in refurbished storehouses, and you get the picture.

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