Alton, Illinois…. Where’s that, you ask?
Great question! I had not heard of Alton, despite its historical significance, until a few years ago. Alton’s one of those hidden gems — especially for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts.
When I planned Ben’s and my Great Illinois Road Trip earlier this summer, I knew Alton had to be on the list. Ben is my active kid. He also happens to be a history nut!
So, we set off for Alton, ready for whatever we might find…. and wow! Alton’s a great place! Here’s why, in no particular order.
10 reasons to visit Alton, IL
1. Civil War History. Throughout Alton, monuments and parks tell the story of America’s Civil War. From the prison wall that housed confederate prisoners to the confederate monument on the opposite side of town, Alton preserves history fairly. Even though Illinois was a Union State, the city sits just across the Mississippi River from Confederate Missouri. The story jumbles, and Alton shares it all — the good, the bad and the ugly.
2. President Abraham Lincoln History. Of course, President Lincoln is Illinois’ most famous citizen, as their “Land of Lincoln” license plates proudly announce. Alton, perhaps second only to Springfield, lays claim to much Lincoln history. The CVB has a downloadable Walk with Lincoln self-guided tour that ties both Lincoln’s history and Civil War history together… as it has to be.
3. Mrs. Ledbetter’s Chocolate Pie. At My Just Desserts, owner Ann Badasch serves up homemade cooking that’s filling and tasty. Was it good? Definitely! We had to park a few blocks away because the road was closed for construction. We wondered if the construction would keep people away. Oh no. We waited 20 minutes for a table. Lunch was worth the walk… and the wait. (As an added bonus, Ann gave me the recipe for her famous pie. I’ll post that tomorrow, so be sure to come back!)
4. Alton’s Gentle Giant. My favorite statue in this monument-laden city honors Alton’s own Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man. Robert lived only 22 years, but his love for Alton and Alton’s love for him was quite special. Standing next to a life-size statue of him, I just could not wrap my head around how very difficult everyday life must have been for him. Yet, he lived each day to its fullest.
5. Parasailing on the Mississippi. Okay, so this is just down the Great River Road in Grafton… maybe I’m cheating to include it on a list of reasons to visit Alton, but it’s parasailing with Captain Andy.
You know what? Mark Twain never wrote about Huck Finn parasailing on the mighty Mississippi. He would if it existed back then! Did you know you can’t parasail in Chicago (where everyone guessed we sailed)? It’s too windy! Also, it’s only possible here because of geography. The combination of the river bend with the confluence of the Illinois River gives Captain Andy plenty of options to catch the perfect wind for a successful parasail.
6. Lewis & Clark State Historic Site. The State Historic Site includes outbuildings replicating Camp Dubois where Lewis & Clark’s crew wintered before heading west. Within the museum, which is free, guests get a sense of the meticulous planning needed for the expedition to succeed.
7. State Street Market. Farm to table, small batch cooking is all the rage, and Alton’s State Street Market delivers! The new owners, Glenn and Terri, both have culinary and business backgrounds. Their goal with State Street Market is to do one thing well and enjoy life. Their food is fresh, balanced and delicious, so they have that part down. I hope they’re enjoying life too!
8. Pere Marquette State Park. Heading back up the Great River Road to Grafton, outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do at Pere Marquette State Park. Biking, camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing and swimming are just some of the adventures that await. We opted to hike one of the more difficult trails (it really was!), but the view across the Mississippi River is worth every sweaty step!
9. Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower. Speaking of views, another great place to visit is the Confluence Tower. On a clear day, you can see The Gateway Arch in St. Louis — that’s 15 miles away according to Google maps! In the winter, this tower is a great place to see bald eagles.
10. The Mississippi River. The one thing that ties this region together is the Mississippi River. The Great River Road, which connects Alton and Grafton, runs alongside the river. Across the road, bluffs overlook the river, paying quiet respect to this force of nature. Barges float up and down 24/7, 365 days per year, carrying loads of coal, rock or corn to New Orleans and beyond. The river is the heart of America.
Lewis & Clark respected the Mississippi. Captain Andy could not have his parasailing business without her. It seems only fitting that a gentle giant would grow up here — he as tall as she is deep. We loved Alton’s history, Ann Badasch’s homemade pie and our parasailing adventure. What we will remember most is seeing this mighty river in person for the first time.
You know what? With the kids back in school and a bit more quiet around the house, I’m going to reread Huckleberry Finn! I’m sure I’ll have a greater appreciation of Twain’s love for this river too.