And suddenly the idea of escaping winter’s four walls and getting back outside – stretching your legs on scenic trails – has become something of a necessity. Why not explore nature and the Great Outdoors inside the Midwest in the Great Rivers & Routes region of southwest Illinois?

Nestled between four national byways and three great rivers, this six-county area located just north of St. Louis in Illinois, provides the perfect natural getaway.

Take a few days to explore the natural wonders of this region which is full of stunning scenic views, abundant wildlife and unrivaled outdoor recreation adventures.

Here are just a few places you can check off on your nature getaway bucket list.
  1. Load the kayak on to the top of the car and discover the natural fun of kayaking on the Mighty Mississippi River. Follow the Mississippi River Water Trail which encompasses 121 miles of this famed river and includes the confluence of the national’s two longest rivers – the Mississippi and Missouri in addition to the merging of the Illinois with the Mississippi. The trail includes access ramps and some primitive camp sites. Be sure to stop in the historic river town of Grafton for a refresh. This water trail parallels the Great River Road in Illinois – a scenic delight.
  2. With more than 8,000 acres, Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton is Illinois’ largest state park. Perched on the banks of the Illinois River, the park has miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult; equestrian trails, scenic drives and even some highly featured limestone formations great for rock climbing with over 60 climbing routes in use. The adjacent lodge and conference center has its own story to tell but most people are simply awed by the 700-ton fireplace in the lodge great room. 
  3. Get a one-of-a-kind look at the natural wonders of the wooded limestone bluffs lining the Mississippi River with a ride on the new Aerie’s Alpine Coaster. Hop on board a coaster and fly down the natural bluff terrain above the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in Grafton. Speeds vary but top speed is 28 miles per hour and the gravity fed coaster rides includes seven hairpin turns and eight waves and twists.
  4. Need to check off a few birds on your bird watching list? The Audubon Center at Riverlands, sitting along the Mississippi River near Alton, is a bird lovers paradise. The center sits right in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway – the avian superhighway for spring and fall migrations. See flocks of American White Pelicans, harrier hawks, owls, ducks and others on trail walks or from the spotting scopes at the center.
  5. A road trip along the Mother Road of Route 66 is always full of fun stops and surprises. In Litchfield, the legendary highway is memorialized with a museum/welcome center, a vintage drive-in movie theater, historic restaurants and nature and outdoor fun at Lake Lou Yaeger. The 1,400-acre lake is home to recreational boating and is a top-notch fishing spot. Take in the scenic views on the Route 66 Hiking/Biking trail – a 6.6 mile unpaved trail perfect for a natural getaway. 
  6. A massive hiking and biking trail system stretches over 130 miles highlighting the natural prairies, woodlands and famed American Bottoms. The Madison County Transit Trail systems is the ideal link to the natural wonders of the region.
  7. Add a little history with your outdoor adventure at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville. This population of this prehistoric Native American settlement once rivaled that of London, England. More than 51 mounds of varying shapes and sizes remain. Hikers can climb to the top of Monk’s Mound which stands more than 100 feet high and has two separate plateaus.