River Retreat in Alton
Discover links to the past and scenic beauty of the present in Alton, located along the 33-mile stretch of the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. In this community of about 30,000 residents, majestic bluffs overlook the waters of the Mighty Mississippi.
Chain of Rocks Bridge (bikers and pedestrians only)
Confederate prison ruins
Lincoln Douglas Square
Pere Marquette State Park
Alton Museum of History & Art
Historic Museum of Torture Devices/Ghost Tours
Lewis & Clark State Historic Site
Fast Eddie’s Bon-Air
Founded in 1837, Alton sits 15 miles north of St. Louis at the confluence of three significant rivers: the Illinois, the Mississippi and the Missouri. Native Americans roamed the area for hundreds of years before Alton became a river trading town in the 19th century. Alton played an important role in the abolishment of slavery because Illinois was a free state (across from the slave state of Missouri), and many escaped slaves crossed the Mississippi via the Underground Railroad to find shelter in Alton.
Hear the tales of former slaves and trace their paths in the tunnels beneath the streets of Alton on the J.E. Robinson Underground Railroad Tour, available by appointment. The tour allows visitors a glimpse into the network of secret caves, barns, basements and passageways that helped runaway slaves find freedom.
Follow in the footsteps of famous explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with a visit to the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site in Hartford. On December 12, 1803, the explorers pulled up on the southern bank of the River Dubois and established Camp Dubois, partaking of wild game that roamed the area and visiting with Native Americans. Learn more on Dec. 14 and 15 at Camp Dubois’ annual Lewis & Clark Arrival Day with guided tours, re-enactors and exhibits featuring vintage tools, guns, rocks and minerals, artillery and Native American artifacts.
During a few short weeks in winter, you can go bald eagle watching, as thousands of the birds migrate to the area to fish in the cold waters of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Stop in the Alton Visitors Center to sign up for a guided eagle tour or pick up an eagle-watching guide.
Places to Eat
Take in some of America’s most beautiful scenery by driving the 33-mile Meeting of the Great Rivers Byway, which winds through Alton and takes about an hour to drive. The byway begins in Hartford and ends in Grafton at Pere Marquette State Park. Download the byway brochure online or pick up a copy at the Alton Visitors Center.
Make time to explore the 8,000-acre Pere Marquette State Park, where you can hike, bike, fish, camp or stay in the rustic Pere Marquette Lodge with its giant 50-foot-tall fireplace. The lodge has gained local fame with its family-style dining, including a popular Sunday brunch.
Chain of Rocks Bridge
Bikers and pedestrians can get a bird’s-eye view of the Mississippi River from the Chain of Rocks Bridge, which connects Madison, Ill., to St. Louis. An unusual 30-degree turn midway through the mile-long bridge cemented its place in history. During its construction in the late 1920s, riverboat men successfully argued that the bridge had to bend; otherwise, its piers would block the view of rocky rapids, making it dangerous to navigate. This chain of rocks has been underwater since the 1960s, but the bridge underwent renovation and reopened as a greenway in 1999. Today, it offers spectacular views from 60 feet above the Mighty Mississippi.
Paranormal experts have called Alton one of the “most haunted cities in America,” thanks to its abundance of seemingly haunted places, from McPike Mansion to Mineral Springs Mall. Some blame the hauntings on the fact that many structures were built on foundations of stone from Alton’s former Civil War prison, where many Confederate prisoners of war died from severe overcrowding and smallpox. Partial remains of the Confederate prison can still be seen today at the intersection of William and Broadway streets. Ghost tours are offered by Mineral Springs Haunted Tours, Alton Haunted Odyssey Tours and Alton Hauntings Tours.