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  • Exploring exhibits at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center near Hartford, Illinois
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    Alton: Meeting of the Great Rivers

  • The Greek-revival Nauvoo Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois
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    Nauvoo: Small Town, Rich Cultural Experiences

  • Showcasing farming machinery at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois
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    Moline: Riverside Landmarks

  • Taking a walk on historic Main Street in Galena, Illinois
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    Galena: Friendly Small Town with Historic Charm

Cruising along the Mississippi River on the Great River Road in Illinois
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Traveling Illinois’ Great River Road: Scenic Stops along the Mississippi River

  • Route distance:
    570.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    3 days

Cruise through riverside communities and historic attractions on a road trip along Illinois’ Great River Road.

This National Scenic Byway spans 885 kilometers along Illinois’ western border and the fourth longest river in the world – the Mississippi River. Explore charming downtown locales, scenic stops and historic landmarks as you take an idyllic drive that the United Kingdom’s Wanderlust Magazine named one of the Top 50 Trips of 2017.

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Exploring exhibits at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center near Hartford, Illinois
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Alton: Meeting of the Great Rivers

Fly in to St. Louis Lambert International Airport, rent a car and drive 30 minutes over the Mississippi River into Alton, Illinois, birthplace of Miles Davis and the tallest person in history, Robert Wadlow. (Take a picture next to his life-sized statue on College Avenue.) Downtown Alton is welcoming and walkable, with its locally owned shops, galleries and restaurants. Take a free tour of one of the largest locks and dam systems on the Mississippi River. The Melvin Price Locks & Dam offers an outstanding view of the river, nearby Riverlands Audubon Center and historic Alton. Just south of Alton is the small riverside community of Hartford, home of the 1803-1804 winter camp of American explorers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. See a replica of the crew’s keelboat and other interesting displays at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, then climb 46 meters to the top of the Confluence Tower, a structure dedicated to the expedition. Stretch your legs out at Pere Marquette State Park, Illinois’ largest state park just north of Alton, with hiking, biking and fishing. Be sure to stay overnight at the renowned Pere Marquette Lodge.

262 km
3 hours by car
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The Greek-revival Nauvoo Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois
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Tom Simpson

Nauvoo: Small Town, Rich Cultural Experiences

Break up the three-hour drive to Nauvoo with a stop in Quincy, remarkable for having more than 3,500 buildings on the National Historic Register. Take in the amazing architectural variety before heading onward to the tiny town of Nauvoo. Nauvoo was established by Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS, or Mormons). Many of Nauvoo’s landmarks are related to or conducted by the church, such as the striking Greek-revival temple at the town’s center; the inside isn’t open to the public, but the exterior makes for a great photo op. Learn about local history at the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center and check out the sculptural depictions of women’s traditional roles in the church at the Monument to Women Memorial Garden. See Old Nauvoo from a free, narrated wagon tour through the many historical sites and homes, some dating back nearly two centuries. Plan for a tour and tasting at Baxter’s Vineyards & Winery, the oldest winery in the state.

170 km
2 hours by car
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Showcasing farming machinery at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois
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John Deere

Moline: Riverside Landmarks

The Great River Road from Nauvoo to Moline is quiet, passing through small towns with the Mississippi River to the west. The action picks up in lively Moline, one of the Quad Cities of northwest Illinois and Southeastern Iowa. Moline is home to the world headquarters of John Deere, the largest agricultural manufacturer in the world. At the John Deere Pavilion, you’ll get to sit in the driver’s seat of huge farming machines and learn from family-friendly, interactive exhibits. It’s surprisingly fascinating! Another must-do activity: a riverboat cruise aboard the Celebration Belle. The 750-passenger paddleboat itself is photo-worthy, as are the beautiful views of the cities from the water. Tempt your sweet tooth at Lagomarcino’s, an old-fashioned soda fountain and candy shop that opened in 1908. Everything from the soda to the candy is made in-house – try their ice-cream sundae for an iconic Moline experience. As you head further north, be sure to stop at De Immigrant Windmill in Fulton, a real, working Dutch windmill that produces all sorts of flours. Purchase some at the Windmill Cultural Center, and check out the collection of 22 model European windmills, some up to 2 meters tall.

138 km
2 hours by car
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Taking a walk on historic Main Street in Galena, Illinois
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Galena: Friendly Small Town with Historic Charm

Even with a population of just under 3,500, Galena is a big tourist destination, named one of the Friendliest Cities in the World by Condé Nast Traveler readers. Once a mining town, Galena gained fame during the Civil War when nine generals, including Ulysses S. Grant, lived here. Today, the majority of Galena is a National Historic District and a delight for history lovers. Take a walk on Main Street to discover locally owned shops, restaurants and galleries housed in buildings dating to the 1800s – there’s not a chain store among them. Enjoy lunch at a cozy bistro, then take a picture (or a tour) of the 1826 Dowling House, Galena’s oldest, also on Main Street. Stay overnight at the Jail Hill Inn, a luxury bed and breakfast located right in downtown. Not surprisingly, this building served as the town’s jailhouse from 1878 to 1977, but you’d never guess it by the impeccable décor and service. It’s a 2.5-hour drive east to Chicago’s O’Hare or Chicago Midway International airports to return your rental car and bid goodbye to the Great River Road.

Official Illinois Travel Site