In charming Alton, Illinois, three great rivers – the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Illinois – come together.
This was the site of the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas (it was a prelude to the 1858 Congressional elections), as well as the birthplace of jazz legend Miles Davis. Take a drive on the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway, which runs along the Mississippi River, and visit these amazing historic and cultural spots.
Outdoor Fun at Pere Marquette State Park
First on your itinerary is Pere Marquette State Park. In this 3,240-hectare park, not only can you enjoy spectacular views of the Illinois River, but you can also participate in lots of fun-filled activities. During autumn, beautiful fall foliage covers the trees.
Named for Jacques Marquette, who was the first European to map the mouth of the Illinois River, the park includes evidence of its early Native American inhabitants – approximately 150 Native American burial mounds are scattered throughout the area. Begin at the visitors’ center, where you’ll get information about the plants, animals and trails you’ll see in the park, helping you appreciate all it has to offer.
Adventures for the Whole Family
Hike on the park’s well-marked trails – about 20 kilometers of trails accommodate everyone from beginners looking for a leisurely stroll to advanced hikers seeking an escape from everyday life. Home to 230 species of birds, the protected area is excellent for birdwatching. From December to March, you might catch a glimpse of bald eagles – majestic birds with a wing span of about 2 meters. Horseback riders will enjoy riding along 32 kilometers of equestrian trails on a horse from Pere Marquette Stables, which operates from May through October.
The park also offers lots of opportunities for fishing for bluegill, carp, catfish, crappie and largemouth bass. There are launch ramps and plenty of parking for your fishing party. Looking to hunt squirrel, turkey or deer? You’ll find an 809-hectare public hunting ground as well, with an additional 526 hectares eight kilometers north of the park. You must obtain a free permit at the visitor center during approved hunting season.
Exploring Lewis & Clark State Historic Site
Take a journey back to the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the trip that helped shaped the course of American history. Stop at the Interpretive Center of the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, just outside Alton, where you can see a full-scale replica of the expedition’s keelboat as well as other captivating exhibits documenting the explorers’ historic trek into the wilderness west of the Mississippi River. Check out the reconstruction of Camp Dubois, Lewis and Clark’s 1804 winter camp where they trained the men who would join them on their expedition, and the launch site where it all began. Local volunteers regularly perform reenactments that bring this period of history to life.
Impressive Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
About a half hour south of Alton is a historical site that will immerse you in centuries-old Native American history: the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, once a thriving city of 20,000 Native Americans who lived here from 700 to 1400 AD. Of the original 120 mounds at the site, 80 remain today, including the largest man-made earthen mound in North America, called Monks Mound. At the interpretive center, take a self-guided tour and learn more about this fascinating place, which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Use your device to download audio tours for convenient, on-the-go information. Note that if you want to see the entire site, it’s fairly expansive, and you’ll want to plan your day accordingly. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the grounds less than a kilometer from the Interpretive Center.