Think the Mississippi River only runs from north to south? Look again. In Alton, Ill., the river does something unusual: it bends and flows west to east. That’s just one characteristic that makes the river, and Alton, an out-of-the-ordinary destination for boaters. Home to the largest lock and dam on the river, the city also boasts a truly haunted heritage along with a strong culinary reputation and a world- class boat marina.
Alton’s history as a major river port along the mighty Mississippi rivaled nearby St. Louis as a hub for commercial riverboats in the early 1800s. Today, Alton, a community of about 28,000 people, retains its place along the river as a must-stop location for leisure boaters and Loopers. American Cruise Lines has also made the city its home port in the region starting in 2020.
Nestled along the city’s riverfront district, the Alton Marina is a full floating facility with a nearby public boat ramp. The marina offers slip holders, both permanent and itinerant, full dock to boat concierge services, refueling station, wireless internet, a convenience store, hot food and cold drinks, a vehicle parking lot for 300 and a large swimming pool with deck area and spas. It even has an outdoor patio for events and gatherings, including the marina’s anniversary party the last Saturday in August.
Not far from the marina, and permanently docked on the city’s riverfront, is Argosy Casino Alton. The casino made a name for itself as Illinois’ first-ever gambling facility. It continues to deliver gaming facilities on its stylized steamboat along with casual and formal restaurants.
A short walk from the marina, the Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater creates its own energy on the city’s riverfront, hosting national rock and country stars each summer, along with food truck events, massive fireworks and community festivals.
If you aren’t afraid of things that go bump in the night, then taking a haunted tour of downtown Alton is the perfect evening entertainment. Alton is considered the most haunted small town in America, with its spine-tingling experiences. Available tours range from haunted history, haunted craft beer, ghost hunting and haunted mansion quests, with more tours available each September and October. Tours take place on Broadway Street, within walking distance of the marina.
A short walk on the pedestrian walkway from the marina brings you to the heart of the Alton arts, antique and entertainment district. Once you shop up an appetite, tempt your taste buds with some dining options downtown. They include authentic Irish fare served-up at Morrison’s Irish Pub and comfort food at nearby Mac’s Time Out. The options are endless for multiple days and nights of meals. Check out the Copper Bar at State Street Market and Solera Wine Bar for a relaxed wine tasting experience.
Desserts take center stage at My Just Desserts, located on Broadway, or take a short walk to The Brown Bag Bistro and Bluff City Grill for tasty sandwiches, soups and entrees. For eclectic fare visit Gentelin’s on Broadway. If you are looking for organic craft beer and a farm to table dining menu offering gluten-free and vegan options, look no further than Old Bakery Beer Company.
And, of course, cold beer and cheap food are the draws of Fast Eddie’s Bon Air, a legendary destination for anyone over 21. Located one mile from the riverfront, this legendary spot brings all walks of life together for nightly live music.
Sitting at river mile 200.78 and three miles downriver from Alton sits the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, the largest and most technologically advanced system on the river. The National Great Rivers Museum housed at the site showcases the impact the river has on the history, environment and economy of the region. Tours of the lock and dam are available daily.
Just across the river, many boaters like to hit the trails at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and check out bird sightings from the Audubon Center at Riverlands. For the more artistically minded, Jacoby Arts Center has local art and special events.
For history buffs, Alton is steeped in Civil War and Abraham Lincoln lore with monuments, trails and more.
For more information visit: https://www.riversandroutes.com/