The Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers join to form the Meeting of the Great Rivers.
With so many beautiful rivers in North America, it is hard to choose one favorite. So, I chose three, all coming together in one place. The Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers join to form the Meeting of the Great Rivers. The joining of these rivers creates a massive 35,000-acre flood plain that offers the most adventurous traveler a bevy of activities to enjoy.
The best way to explore the Meeting of the Great Rivers is to drive along the 33-mile route from Alton’s city to Grafton, ending at Pere Marquette State Park. The road takes you next to limestone bluffs covered with forests, historic 18th-century river towns and provides you gorgeous views along the Mississippi River. This portion of the Great River Road is so spectacular that it was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1998. Here are some of the highlights for the traveler on the National Scenic Byway that shouldn’t be missed.
This historic river town is a great place to start your adventure along the Mississippi River. Alton is known as the last winter camp of Lewis & Clark before their expedition out west in 1804. It’s also known for being the last Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debate site in October 1858 and its role during the Civil War.
But there is more than history to Alton; there is fun. Like enjoying a haunted tour, grabbing a bite at Fast Eddies Bon Air, trying your luck at the Argosy Casino, or even give your arm a whirl at Axe Throwing at Riverbend. If you want to spend more time along the mighty Mississippi, take a tour at the Melvin Price Lock and Dam. Explore the National Great Rivers Museum or take a higher view at the top of the Confluence Tower.
For a different view of Alton, spend time at the Audubon Center, a sanctuary for all sorts of birds, making it a world-class bird-watching site. With so much to see and do in Alton, this city makes it the perfect place to start your traveling adventure along the Mississippi River.
Grafton is a fun river town with plenty of activities. Since the early 1800s, Grafton has been one of the largest freshwater fishing ports on the Mississippi River. Even today, people drive to Grafton on the weekend for a delicious fish dinner.
During the summer months, Grafton’s riverfront is bustling with tourists and antique shoppers. Go boating, enjoy wine tasting, and of course, try the famous turtle soup and fried fish sandwiches. Remember to take a ride on the Grafton Sky Tour to Aerie’s Resort. You will have one of the best views of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
Ride a ferry
One of the few remaining free ferries operating in the United States, the Brussels Ferry is slightly north of Grafton. Why would you want to take a ferry over the Illinois River? The scenery alone is a lovely reason, but another great excuse to make the trip across the river is to explore the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge. Located near the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers’ confluence, this 8,501-acre refuge plays host to endangered species and migrating birds like Bald Eagles during the winter months. When you visit the wildlife refuge, bring binoculars and your long-range camera lens. There are so many birds to see here.
Pere Marquette State Park
Pere Marquette State Park is the last stop on the National Scenic Byway for the Great Rivers Meeting, and it is the largest state park in Illinois. This is a beautiful park to stop and spend the day hiking the multiple trails in varying distances and durations. Make sure to pick up a trail map before you start to know which path to choose and where the scenic overlooks are located. If you’re not a hiker, try the scenic drives through Pere Marquette State Park. They are legendary for fall foliage. In the spring, you can marvel at the colorful blossoms and watch the Bald Eagles’ migration during the winter.
Be an Eagle Watcher
You can expect to see Bald Eagles soaring high above the limestone bluffs or diving into the river for food during the winter months. The eagles migrate to the confluence of the three rivers and stake this area as their winter home. Like people going to Florida for the wintertime, these snowbirds head to the Great Rivers area when the water turns to ice in the northern states.
Expect to see the Bald Eagles in this area in late December. They usually stay until late February. Hundreds of Bald Eagles will be looking for open water and a fresh food source while nesting here in the warmer climate. You can see the eagle’s nest very quickly as the nests range from two to four feet in diameter. If you want to photograph the eagles, sign up to go on one of the Pere Marquette State Park Bald Eagle spotting tours. This full-day adventure will take you to many places the Bald Eagles commonly nest.
The National Scenic Byway only takes an hour to drive the complete route. But, if you want to partake in all the activities along this road, allow two days to enjoy the entire byway. There are great Airbnb’s, bed and breakfast inns, and hotels in Grafton and Alton that would love to get you started on your journey to the Meeting of the Great Rivers.
About Heather Raulerson—Heather is a freelance writer, photographer, and social media influencer based in St. Louis. She is the owner of Raulersongirlstravel, a travel website sharing her solo adventures and photographs around the world. She loves SLOW travel, where she can stay in one place and get-to-know the local scenery and culture. You can always find her exploring with her camera. She has been published in GoNomad, Travel Post Monthly, NewsBreak, Weekend Notes, and Travel World International Magazine. See more of Heather’s work on her website, RaulersonGirlsTravel, or follow her on social media – Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.