Driving along the 53-kilometer Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, where you can see the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers, is absolutely one of the most beautiful stretches of roadway I’ve come across in the USA.
The byway is a part of the Great River Road and wending your way along the bends of the river, stopping to discover the charming river towns along your way, is an adventure everyone should experience. One must-stop town is lovely Alton, Illinois. Home to the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas – the debate was a prelude for the 1858 Congressional elections in which both men were candidates – as well as the birthplace of Jazz legend Miles Davis, Alton is also home to a historic downtown and should definitely be on your itinerary.
Where Lewis and Clark Set Sail
There is great shopping in the area, delicious dining and a lot of culture to absorb with several wonderful museums to visit. One favourite is the interesting Lewis and Clark State Historic Site. The Interpretive Center tells the story of where and how their historic journey across the USA started. There are many wonderful exhibits to view, including a very cool 17-meter full-scale replica of the keel boat used on their expedition and a gift shop to explore.
Scenic overlook of the mighty Mississippi River
The Amazing Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance to understanding the history of North America, the amazing Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site just a little way south is a must-see. Dating from 700 to 1400 the area was once the largest city and urban center of its time and now is the largest archaeological site north of Mexico.
Walk up the steps to the top of the mounds, which include Monks Mound, the largest earthen monument in all of the Americas, and take in spectacular views. More than that, standing there really captured my imagination thinking about the city that once was.
You should definitely visit the interpretive center to peruse the very well-presented exhibits, artifacts and films to discover more about what made this once-thriving city. The center even has a life-size replica of the village, the people and their activities to wander through. After you’re done exploring, why not have a picnic out on the grounds?
Learning about Native Americans at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Revel in Nature at Pere Marquette State Park
Another wonderful stop on my journey was a true nature lover’s paradise, Pere Marquette State Park. Named after Jacques Marquette, who was the first European to map the mouth of the Illinois River, the 3,237-hectare protected area is home to 230 species of birds. You can have fun horseback riding or hiking along the miles of trails and stop by the visitor center, which has exhibits on ecology and the local history.
There was more to see and do than I could have imagined in the Alton area. I loved the opportunity to learn about culture I had never heard of before and enjoy myself in some of the most picturesque nature I have visited. You will love it, too, so start planning your holiday to Alton today.
Viewing exhibits at Pere Marquette State Park, Alton