Three great rivers – the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Illinois – meet Route 66 for an unforgettable experience.
The Great Rivers & Routes of Illinois is where incredible scenic drives featuring rivers, forests and bluffs converge with the nostalgia of the USA’s Route 66 era. It’s the only place in the USA where the Great River Road joins with the iconic Mother Road of Route 66.
The region was also the site of the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas (it was a prelude to the 1858 Congressional elections), as well as the birthplace of jazz legend Miles Davis. Take a drive on the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway, which runs along the Mississippi River, and visit these amazing historic and cultural spots. Continue on Route 66 to experience a road trip filled with wonders of Americana from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Outdoor Fun at Pere Marquette State Park
First on your itinerary is Pere Marquette State Park. In this 3,240-hectare park, not only can you enjoy spectacular views of the Illinois River, but you can also participate in lots of fun-filled activities. During autumn, beautiful fall foliage covers the trees.
Named for Jacques Marquette, who was the first European to map the mouth of the Illinois River, the park includes evidence of its early Native American inhabitants – approximately 150 Native American burial mounds are scattered throughout the area. Begin at the visitors’ center, where you’ll get information about the plants, animals and trails you’ll see in the park, helping you appreciate all it has to offer.
Overlooking the Illinois River in Pere Marquette State Park
Adventures for the Whole Family
Hike on the park’s well-marked trails – about 20 kilometers of trails accommodate everyone from beginners looking for a leisurely stroll to advanced hikers seeking an escape from everyday life. Home to 230 species of birds, the protected area is excellent for birdwatching. From December to March, you might catch a glimpse of bald eagles – majestic birds with a wing span of about 2 meters. Horseback riders will enjoy riding along 32 kilometers of equestrian trails on a horse from Pere Marquette Stables, which operates from May through October.
The park also offers lots of opportunities for fishing for bluegill, carp, catfish, crappie and largemouth bass. There are launch ramps and plenty of parking for your fishing party. Looking to hunt squirrel, turkey or deer? You’ll find an 809-hectare public hunting ground as well, with an additional 526 hectares eight kilometers north of the park. You must obtain a free permit at the visitor center during approved hunting season.
Petting horses at Pere Marquette Stables
Exploring Lewis & Clark State Historic Site
Take a journey back to the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the trip that helped shape the course of American history. Stop at the Interpretive Center of the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, just outside Alton, where you can see a full-scale replica of the expedition’s keelboat as well as other captivating exhibits documenting the explorers’ historic trek into the wilderness west of the Mississippi River. Check out the reconstruction of Camp Dubois, Lewis and Clark’s 1804 winter camp where they trained the men who would join them on their expedition, and the launch site where it all began. Local volunteers regularly perform reenactments that bring this period of history to life.
Exploring exhibits at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site
Impressive Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
In Collinsville, you'll find a historical site that will immerse you in centuries-old Native American history: the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, once a thriving city of 20,000 Native Americans who lived here from 700 to 1400 A.D. Of the original 120 mounds at the site, 80 remain today, including the largest man-made earthen mound in North America, called Monks Mound. At the interpretive center, take a self-guided tour and learn more about this fascinating place, which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Use your device to download audio tours for convenient, on-the-go information. Note that if you want to see the entire site, it’s fairly expansive, and you’ll want to plan your day accordingly. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the grounds less than a kilometer from the Interpretive Center.
Climbing the stairs to the top of Cahokia Mounds
Route 66 Nostalgia
The last 160 kilometers of Route 66 in Illinois are filled with amazing stops, including classic diners, town squares, old-time gas stations, antique shops and roadside attractions – including pink elephants and the world’s largest catsup bottle.
A stop in Litchfield will welcome you to the longest-running restaurant on Route 66, the Ariston Cafe. Litchfield also boasts the oldest original drive-in theater on the route, the Sky View Drive-In, where you can stop in for some summer movie fun.
As you travel down the road, be on the lookout for elephants – pink elephants, specifically. The Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Livingston has roadside attractions and photo opportunities galore, with a number of giant statues and oddities dotting the property. Another larger-than-life attraction along the route is the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville.
Route 66 comes alive at memorabilia-rich places like Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton and Weezy’s Route 66 Bar & Grill in Hamel. History itself is on display with stops like Edwardsville’s Wildey Theatre and the Chain of Rocks Bridge, where Route 66 crosses into Missouri. Be sure to leave time to experience all there is to see and do on this stretch of the majestic Mother Road.