take a breath of fresh air

Be one with nature along Southern Great Rivers Country. Take in the wildlife, and see a flock of over 1,500 swans. Go bird watching to see other avian varieties, like the majestic bald eagle at the Nature Institute. Then head down a hiking or biking trail to breathe in the crisp winter air.

Make sure to check with attractions ahead of time for up-to-date operating hours, travel policies and health and safety information.

  • Day 1: Brussels, Grafton & Godfrey

Your day begins at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in Brussels where you can see majestic trumpet swans. These beautiful birds come to the area from the northwoods of Wisconsin starting in early December and typically stay until February when they return to their homes to nest. More than 1,500 swans have been counted in the area over the winter showcasing the comeback of a once nearly extinct species.

Afterward, head over to Grafton for some cross country skiing and hiking in Pere Marquette State Park, Illinois’ largest state park. Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned hiker, with 8,000 acres, Pere Marquette has the perfect trail for you. 

Then, grab a bite to eat on the covered patio at Grafton Winery & Brewhaus. Located in the quaint river town of Grafton, along the Great River Road Scenic Byway, this winery and brewhaus overlooks the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and features an extensive menu of shareable plates. Pro tip: visit during sunset hours - you won’t regret it!

Overnight at the historic Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center, the perfect cozy spot to warm up after a day of wintry adventures. The rustic Great Room features a 700-ton stone fireplace and life-size chess set. The Lodge restaurant is known for its family-style chicken dinner and breakfast, favorites from pancakes to eggs Benedict.

In Godfrey, pay a visit to The Nature Institute, a non-profit land conservation and environmental education organization. During the winter, bald eagles come down from the north looking for open water and fish. You'll also find trumpeter swans year-round and residents like turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks and many more. All are much easier to see without leaves on the trees. Please note hiking trails are closed until April 1 to allow a rest period for wildlife and for any necessary property maintenance.

  • Day 2: Alton

Jump on over to neighboring Alton just in time for eagle watching season along the beautiful Mississippi River, which officially kicks off early January and lasts until late February. 

After getting your nature fix, head to downtown Alton to shop, eat and enjoy! Stop by Illinois Made Maker Mississippi Mud Pottery for unique pieces that are handcrafted right in the store. While in town, check out one of the many great places to grab a bite to eat. If you need a caffeine fix, head to Post Commons for classic drip coffee or tea if that tickles your fancy. It's located inside Alton's old U.S. Post Office building. Then, get some lunch at The Brown Bag Bistro - you can't go wrong with their fresh salads or warm hearty soups. But you'll definitely want to save room for dessert at Illinois Made Maker My Just Desserts, where you can stop for some homemade pie or brownies (some of the local favorites).

End your day with carryout from Old Bakery Beer, a certified organic brewery and Illinois Made Maker with amazing food options, including rotating daily specials from fried chicken sandwiches to vegan specials. Rest your head at the Best Western Plus Parkway Hotel to get ready to explore more of Southern Great Rivers Country.

  • Day 3: Collinsville & Edwardsville

Start your day hiking or biking along the iconic Madison County Transit (MCT) through nearby Edwardsville and Collinsville. The well-maintained trails wind through the communities and provide great winter hiking opportunities. 

All of that activity will have you ready you for lunch. Either dine in or carryout at Bandana’s BBQ, a southern-style barbecue joint specializing in award-winning smoked meats. On your way out of town, make sure to pick up something at Illinois Made maker Kruta Bakery, a 100 year old-bakery known for their eastern European treats— a sweet way to end your journey!