Big bluffs, mighty rivers, the largest state park and one giant birdyou'll find them all along the Sam Vadalabene Great River Road Bike Trail. This unique rail-trail starts in the 8,050-acre Pere Marquette State Park (named for the first European to step on Illinois soil) and follows the Illinois River to its confluence with the Mississippi River. The enormous state park (the largest in Illinois) has a rich history and limitless sights, from Native American burial mounds to educational displays to lookouts with sweeping river views. It is best known, however, for its vivid fall foliage and a winter population of the majestic bald eagle.
Shortly after the park, the trail travels over a series of short but fairly steep hills and gullies. Around mile 5 you enter the town of Grafton, where the trail crosses the road and starts its run right along the riverbank of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Across the river sits the state of Missouri. This is a beautiful 0.5-mile stretch with turtles, herons and a plethora of waterfowl. Soon the trail veers off the rail corridor and passes through the quiet streets of Grafton.
The trail merges with the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, otherwise known as Highway 100, outside of Grafton, traveling along a 3- to 4-foot-wide painted bike lane that parallels the river, offering excellent water views. Traffic moves fast on this stretch, but the bike lane is wide enough for comfortable travel.
Just south of Grafton is a visitor center with knowledgeable staff and a wide array of informative publications. Four miles from Grafton, you'll find a pleasant detour in the town of Elsah. Turn off the Scenic Byway at Mill Street to take a spin through the hamlet. Stone and brick houses line the narrow streets, lending Elsah a step-back-in-time quality that earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Continuing on the Scenic Byway, in stark contrast to the wide river on your right, sheer limestone cliffs tower over the far side of the road for most of the 8 miles traveled along the roadway from Grafton to Piasa Harbor. After passing the commercial harbor developments at Piasa Harbor, the bike lane crosses the road and resumes as trail.
The final 6 miles roll along between the highway and the dramatic bluffs looming above. As you approach the southern trailhead at Piasa Park, look up at the huge limestone bluff to see a 48-by-22-foot Native American petroglyph painting of the fierce, warrior-killing Piasa Bird. From Piasa Park you can follow green bike-route signs to continue your journey on the 4-mile Alton Trail (mostly along city streets), which connects to the Madison County Transit Confluence Trail
To access the northern trailhead in Pere Marquette State Park, take Interstate 270 to State Route 3 and follow it north for 6.6 miles. Turn left on Great River Road/Berm Highway and continue for 5 miles. Merge onto Great River Road/McAdams Parkway and head north for 20 miles. Turn right into the driveway to the Pere Marquette Lodge; the trailhead is on the right, parking is on the left.
To access the southern trailhead in Piasa Park, take Interstate 270 to SR 3 north and travel 6.6 miles. Turn left on Great River Road/Berm Highway and go 5 miles. Merge onto Great River Road/McAdams Parkway north for 0.8 mile. Piasa Park is on the right, just past Alton.
A recent review mentions that the trail needs some work...and it does. But the good news is that you can continue on the VERY wide (7-8') shoulder of the road for most of the rough patch. The scenery was incredible, quite a few herons and turtles out ...
I've ridden this trail several times and the scenery is second to none. My only complaint is the condition of the trail especially between the starting point in Alton and Cliffton Terrace! The pavement is buckled and potholed in several spots, weeds growing ...
The good, scenery is nice. Bad - the smell of dead fish and runs right next to highway with lots of traffic. I didn't feel it was unsafe, as bikes have their own area but it did take away from the enjoyment having heavy traffic zooming by the whole way. ...