The Illinois and Mississippi rivers converge, in Alton, Illinois
More than 200 years ago, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off on their fabled exploration of the wilds beyond the Mississippi. If you feel history looming large over the long weekend, here are three Illinois destinations for contemplating the duo’s epic westward journey:
- Dubois Departure
“The mouth of the River Dubois is to be considered as the point of departure,” noted Lewis in his 1804 journal. The 55-foot-long keelboat that figured in the departure remains near the historic spot—in the form of a replica inside the 14,000-square-foot Lewis and Clark State Historic Site. The expansive museum is the first stop on the 3,700 mile long Lewis and Clark Trail, which winds its way through 11 states from Illinois to Washington. The museum’s six galleries include a wealth of interactive exhibits, including detailed perspectives on how Thomas Jefferson’s “visions of empire” contrasted with those of the diverse populations of Native Americans that had been living for millennia in the “unknown” west.
GO Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, 1 Lewis and Clark Trail, Hartford; 618-251-5811, campdubois.com.
- Three rivers run through it
As its name implies, the National Great Rivers Museum (2 Lock and Dam Way, Alton; 618-462-6969) is a repository of all things related to the junction of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers. We like to think of it as a context-provider for the wealth of riverside biking trails nearby. Pedal the 20-mile Sam Vadalabene trail and you’ll end in Pere Marquette State Park, an 8,000-acre property with ten hiking trails, several of which reach hilltops that provide gorgeous views of the Illinois River Valley below. If you’re not up for a 20-miler, try the two-mile West Alton bike trail, a scenic byway that takes you past the William Clark Bridge, the Melvin Price Locks and Dams, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area.
GO Pere Marquette State Park, Rte. 100, Grafton; 618-786-3323. For detailed bike trail maps, click here.
- Fire Power
For a seasonally appropriate sonic punctuation to the long weekend, head for Fireworks Over the Confluence in downtown Grafton, where yes, the fireworks explode high above the confluence of the historic waterways.
GO 7/3 at 8:30 p.m. Fireworks Over the Confluence at Grafton Ball Field, Grafton; 618-786-7000, enjoygrafton.com.
Where to eat: In Alton, the family-owned Castelli’s Restaurant at 255 (3400 Fosterburg Rd., Alton; 618-462-4620, castellis255.com) has a loyal clientele (they’ve been serving up Italian dinners since the 1930s) and an equally loyal staff (several waiters have been serving for over 30 years.) Tip: The fried chicken is a bestseller. In Grafton, Aerie’s Riverview Winery (600 Timber Ridge Dr., Grafton; 618-786-8439, aerieswinery.com) offers an extensive wine list, a newly expanded dinner menu, and amazing, bluff-top views over the rivers below.
Where to stay: If you make your weekend base Pere Marquette, you won’t find anything more convenient than the cabins and cottages of Pere Marquette Lodge (13653 Lodge Blvd., on Illinois Route 100, Grafton; 618-786-2331, pmlodge.net); rates range from $125–$179 per night. If you want to stay at the southern end of the itinerary in Alton, the Jackson House (1821 Seminary St., Alton; 800-462-1426, jacksonbb.com) offers a luxury “cave” (an “earth house” overlooking a creek) and traditional rooms; rates range from $120–$165 per night.
Photograph: Courtesy of the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau