Enjoy Diverse Cultural Activities Along Illinois Rivers

Activities, Site InSpections

Mighty waterways and Illinois rivers converge in three regions that offer a cultural experience full of unique sites to discover

While they all offer distinct personalities and cultural attractions, the three regions of Great Rivers & Routes, Illinois’ Heritage Corridor and the Quad Cities are all defined by the mighty Midwestern Rivers that pass through them. All three areas offer beautiful state parks, Illinois rivers, delicious food and engaging museums that enlighten visitors. Ascertain Illinois’ natural history, Native American heritage and innovative small businesses. Whether you seek a brisk hike or a leisurely afternoon of shopping, these three DMOs showcase the best of what Illinois provides.

Great Rivers & Routes – Illinois Rivers, Trails and Historic Sites

Illinois Rivers That Aided Lewis and Clark

Your adventure begins outside the city of Hartford at the Meeting of the Great Rivers: the convergence point of the Missouri and Illinois rivers. The famous Corps of Discovery Expedition spent the winter here at Camp River Dubois in 1804. Afterwards, they continued traveling along the Missouri River on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition’s legacy is honored at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site. Tours are offered Wednesday-Sunday and discuss the Lewis & Clark Expedition and its time in the Illinois Country at the Camp.

Head to Alton for Organic Beer

Continue north to the city of Alton, which famously hosted a Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 and today welcomes groups to the Old Bakery Beer Company. Housed in a former bakery dating back to the 19th century, this industrial space now offers groups a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the organic brewing process. In addition, samples of local favorites like citrus wheat and porter are available as are group dining opportunities.


Elsah, Illinois

Entire Village of Elsah is a Registered Historic Place

Step into the preserved streets of Elsah and experience the “village where time stood still.” A local historian can accompany your group as you walk along Lasalle Street (whose buildings pre-date the Civil War). Wander along beautiful Greek revival mansions and marvel at the old-town charm. In fact, the entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Another must-visit site in Elsah is nearby Principia College, which provides step-on driving tours of the campus. Before you depart, stock up on old-fashioned candy, locally sourced jam and vintage bottled soda in the Elsah General Store (which dates back to 1877).

A Visit to Charming Grafton

Your next stop will be the city of Grafton, a small city located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. While there, wander the streets lined with charming antique stores and galleries bursting with locally crafted items. Another attraction along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers includes the Grafton Winery & Brewhaus, which sells award-winning wines to please every palette. Similarly inspiring, visit the Hakuna Matata, a 49-passenger vessel that offers beautiful river cruises and group meals.

Downtown Grafton

Downtown Grafton, Illinois

Overlooking the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers

Take an enclosed gondola or open chair lift 300 feet into the air on the Grafton SkyTour, which offers spectacular views of the valley and access to Aerie’s Resort. Located on a bluff that overlooks the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, the property offers tastings at Aerie’s Winery, live music on the terrace and seven thrilling zip lines for adventurous group members.

Illinois’ Largest State Park

Conclude your Grafton experience at Pere Marquette State Park—the largest state park in Illinois. Visitors can learn about famous explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet at the visitor center. In addition, explore miles of hiking trails and observe migrating bald eagles December through February. Also available are group dining and lodging in the Pere Marquette State Park Lodge & Conference Center.

Aerie's Resort

Aerie’s Resort at the concluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers

Touring the Heritage Corridor – Where the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers Converge

Encompassing dozens of unique communities is the Heritage Corridor offering plentiful outdoor experiences. These communities are bonded by their proximity to Route 66 and waterways like the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers.

Prairie Tours

A must-visit Midwestern cultural site is located one hour from Chicago in the city of Wilmington. The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is 19,000 acres of beautifully preserved grassland waiting to be explored. In fact, it was the nation’s first federally protected prairie and preserves cultural significance of the area.

Midewin National Tallgrass Priairie in Illinois

Afterwards, stop by the learning center to ascertain the land’s former use as the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. Of course, this was before an immense effort was made to restore the area to its original beauty. In addition, groups can observe a bison herd, hike along Prairie Creek and embark on a ranger-led tour to admire the delicate ecosystem.

“Farm-to-Foam” Tour in Ottawa

Follow the Illinois River downstream to the city of Ottawa and Tangled Roots Brewing Company. This “farm-to-foam” craft beer establishment prides itself in locally sourced hops and barley. The unique combination results in delicious, artisanal creations like the Forty1 Eighty8 pale ale and the Devil’s Paint Box IPA. Schedule a brewery tour for an overview of modern operations, a history of the 1888 building and samples of delicious beers.

Explore Starved Rock

The region’s signature attraction is Starved Rock State Park. This landscape of exposed sandstone formations along the Illinois River was formed 15,000 years ago by melting glacier floods. The park offers 13 miles of hiking trails to view spectacular waterfalls and archaeological sites. Visitors will also want to stop in the Starved Rock Lodge, which was constructed during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps and modeled after the game lodges of the American West. From there, embark on a trolley tour that integrates short hikes, lunch and informative narration from a local guide.

Across the river from Starved Rock State Park is the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, where you can learn how water transportation crucially impacted the state’s development.

Starved Rock State Park courtesy of Flickr

I&M Canal Historical Tour in LaSalle

Continue to the city of LaSalle for a journey back in time aboard the Volunteer, a mule-pulled 1840s replica canal boat that travels along the I&M Canal. Built in 1848 as a link between the Michigan and Illinois rivers, this canal became a crucial connection between agricultural regions. First, tours include orientation from a costumed guide who introduces you to your mules. They then explain the historical background about the buildings that line the aqueduct route. After you disembark, sign up for a one-hour tour at the Hegeler Carus Mansion. This immense estate includes 57 rooms and remains a pristine example of Second Empire architecture in 1870s America.

Quad Cities Region – Cultural Activities and Island Adventures

A two-state region united by the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities boast outdoor activities and indoor attractions that reflect the region’s manufacturing and engineering history.

Moline Agriculture

Begin your visit at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline. Here you can learn about how a modest blacksmith began to sell handmade shovels and eventually developed America’s premier agricultural equipment company. This glass-enclosed space houses vintage equipment, interactive tractor exhibits and previews of 21st century farming innovation. Additionally, be sure to visit the adjacent company store for gifts to bring back home.

Moline, Illinois

Downtown Moline Shops and Eateries

Nearby Downtown Moline is easily walkable and features numerous restaurants, microbreweries and live music venues. Be sure to stop for a sweet treat at Lagomarcino’s Confectionery, an authentic soda fountain and candy store that sells delectable chocolate and ice cream creations. Also available are bike rentals at the Quad Cities Visitor Center. Your group can explore by bicycle along the Great River Trail, a multipurpose route that passes by the Quad City Botanical Center, Schwiebert Riverfront Park and the Rock Island Arsenal.

Rock Island Activities

An immense Department of Defense manufacturing facility, the Rock Island Arsenal traces its military history back to 1816. In fact, it encompasses an entire 946-acre island between Illinois and Iowa. Attractions on the island include the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, which houses weapons used in the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Also available to visit are the Colonel Davenport House and the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Here you can see Lock and Dam No. 15, an engineering marvel and the largest roller dam in the world. Register for a tour to learn about the lock and dam. Ascertain how enormous metal cylinders and hydraulic technology allows recreational and commercial vessels to pass through the facility’s locks.

Mississippi River Lock and Dam No.15

Groups will also enjoy spending time at the Black Hawk State Historic Site, a hardwood forest that provides a habitat to 175 species of birds. Additionally, the site can be explored on four miles of hiking trails. In fact, this area was once home to the Sauk and Meswaki people. Ascertain their culture and heritage at the John Hauberg Indian Museum on the property.

Uncover more uniquely Illinois group adventures when you subscribe to the current issue of Leisure Group Travel today.


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