Eagle-watching season is in full swing along the Mississippi River, where a lack of foliage means unobstructed views of the magnificent birds. Here, three ways to see the national symbol soaring free from the confines of common currency and zoo aviaries:
- The Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford, Illinois reaches 180 feet up, making its three viewing decks (at 50, 100, and 150 feet) ideal for eagle watching. Perched at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers, the tower, after years of fund-raising and construction, officially opened last summer and marks the departure point for Lewis and Clark’s great expedition. On a clear day, you can see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, 19 miles south. You have to be part of a tour in order to access the tower; tours start every half hour and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
GO Confluence Tower, 435 Confluence Dr., Hartford, Illinois; 618-251-9101, confluencetower.com
- Less than eight miles from the Confluence Tower, the Alton Visitors Center will host a “meet and greet” with eagles from 10 a.m.to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Visitors can get up close and personal with eagles on loan from the World Bird Sanctuary (based in Valley Park, Missouri), which cares for birds that have been injured and are unable to survive in the wild. An eagle expert from the sanctuary will answer questions. The event will be followed by a guided trip down the Great River Road to see eagles in the wild.
GO Alton Visitors Center, 200 Piasa St., Alton, Illinois; 800-258-6645, visitalton.com
- A bit closer to home, the Great Hall at Starved Rock Lodge in Utica hosts “Eagle Watch Weekend” on Saturday, January 22nd, and Sunday, January 23rd. Trolleys will depart throughout the day to take visitors on eagle watching excursions in the park. Inside the Lodge, naturalists from the Illinois Audubon Society will give free lectures alongside exhibits about birds of prey, while representatives from the World Bird Sanctuary will host “raptor awareness” presentations at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.
GO Starved Rock State Park, Routes 178 and 71, Utica, Illinois; 815-667-4211, starvedrocklodge.com
Where to stay: In Alton, the Beall Mansion (407 E. 12th St.; 618-474-9100, beallmansion.com) is convenient to both eagle watching and downtown St. Louis; rates start at $169 per night. In Utica, Starved Rock’s Lodge and Inn is convenient; rates start at $130 per night. If the park’s lodgings are full, try the Brightwood Inn (2407 N. IL Route 178, Oglesby, Illinois; 888-667-0600, brightwoodinn.com) roughly four miles away; rates range from $135 to $255 per night.
Where to dine: We’re not gonna lie—dining can be a challenge in off-season Utica and small-town Alton. The former has Duffy’s, (101 Mill St., Utica; 815-667-4324, duffystavernandgrill.com), a friendly Irish pub that serves standards like fish and chips and Reuben sandwiches. In Alton, Gentelin’s on Broadway (122 E. Broadway, Alton, Illinois; 618- 465-6080, gentelinsonbroadway.com) is a family-owned place with gorgeous views of the river and a reputation for great steaks.