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Great River Road

Updated on September 10, 2014

The Great River Road in Illinois

A wonderful day trip from St. Louis is to follow the Great River Road from Alton, Illinois to Grafton, Illinois. The Great River road is a series of roads that follow the Mississippi river through 10 states cutting a path through the center of the United States.

On a recent holiday weekend my husband and I joined some friends for a day of exploring a portion of the Great River Road. We started out in the morning and headed across the Clark Bridge to Alton, Illinois. Alton is a Mississippi river town that was discovered in the early 1800's. It started out as a heavy industrial town but in recent years has reinvented itself as a popular tourist area.

In this lens, I will take you through our travels past Alton and north on The Great River road. I will share my photographs of our journey to see the Piasa, the charming 19th century town of Elsah, the river town and port of Grafton and finally a stop at Pere Marquette state park.

photos by mbgphoto.

The Piasa

Legend of the Piasa

I had recently read a book entitled The Flight of the Piasa and this peaked my interest in visiting the drawing that the book was based upon. I had heard the legend before but had never actually visited the site so I was anxious to take some photos.

The drawing is on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi just about 1 mile past the downtown Alton area. There is a nice little park area with plenty of parking for anyone wanting to get out and take photos or walk on the nearby trails.

Flight of the Piasa - Dr. Raymond Edge

Here is the book that I had read on the Piasa. The author, Raymond Edge, attended one of our book club meetings and I really enjoyed hearing him talk about his book and how he came to write the story.

I highly recommend this book.

Elsah, Illinois

Elsah Church

As you visit the town of Elsah you feel that you have stepped back into an earlier time. It is a very small town, but everything is well maintained from the small stone cottage type homes to the lovely gardens surrounding the homes.

I thought this church in charming looked really in character for a 19th century looking town.

Gardens in Elsah

Gardens in Elsah
Gardens in Elsah

Grafton Illinois

Grafton Lighthouse

I had heard there was a faux lighthouse in Grafton so it was one of the stops that I did not want to miss. Grafton's lighthouse is not a navigational aid, but rather a symbol to mark the rise of Grafton from The Great Flood. In 1993 the city of Grafton was nearly destroyed by the flood and in 2007 this symbolic lighthouse was dedicated to the people of Grafton and their hope for the future.

Piasa Winery - Grafton, IL

There were several wineries in Grafton. It seems that the grapes are grown not far from this small river town. The Piasa Winery was recommended to us by a friend so we stopped to taste some of their wines. They had a nice variety of red and white wines and offered free tasting to those that stopped by.

The winery also offered food and various beers and the atmosphere was great. They had both indoor and outdoor seating and the view from their back deck was looking out onto the river. It was a nice relaxing place to spend some time. Oh...and the people who worked their were very friendly

Pere Marquette

Pere Marquette Park

mississippi river scene

Pere Marquette park is located off the Great River Road just north of Grafton, Illinois. The park has a campground, a great lodge, picnic grounds, lots of trails and a wonderful scenic drive. This photo was taken at one of the overlooks for the Mississippi river during the scenic drive.

Stops on the Great River Road in Illinois

Elsah, IL:
Elsah, IL

get directions

Grafton, IL:
Grafton, IL

get directions

Have you ever traveled any part of the Great River Road? - stop by for a visit

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      If you do travel the Great River Road near Alton, IL check out the River Road Audio Tour App which you can download by going to

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 

      5 years ago

      The great river road is fascinating, the nature-scenery are gorgeous, and the human intervention is fitting so well with the environment. Thanks Angel Dust is send in your way.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      5 years ago from Canada

      The world truly is a beautiful place. I have not visited the Great River road but perhaps one day. We are planning some traveling this summer.

    • SayGuddaycom profile image


      6 years ago

      No but it looks stunning!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      7 years ago

      Good people, the Illini

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Yes, I was born and raised next to the Mississippi and enjoyed the small towns and the river scenes...would like to go back some time. Great pictures, as usual.

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 

      8 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      :-) The Great River Road is by far my favorite local day trip, the closest thing St. Louis has to a BEACH! Great tribute to it here, all well done and especially enjoy your own photos! Thumbs up, lensrolled, & faved.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      8 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I've never traveled the Great River Road, but from your lens it looks like something I'd like to do. The pictures of the butterflies on the thistles were my favorite.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      8 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I always enjoy your pictures. I remember the flood of 1993. It was big news in California too.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      8 years ago from United States

      What a beautiful weekend journey! I love the legend. That is so awesome! Of course, your photos are gorgeous!

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 

      8 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      I've been through Illinois, but don't remember ever being in this section. It looks like a beautiful place!

    • KarenTBTEN profile image


      8 years ago

      I have never been in Illinois -- nice pictures, though, of the scenery along Great River Road!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      8 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      I want to go see that Piasa! And thanks for the lovely photos of places on the Great River Road.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I've never traveled Great River Road, but I have heard of it! This would be a great way to see a lot of the country.


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