Last Updated on March 18, 2023
This city has a rich and vibrant history. It opened to settlers after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and played a vital role in the Civil War, Lincoln Douglas Debates and the Underground Railroad.
Alton’s most significant role – surviving the 1993 flood. The flood consumed the Great River Road, Grafton, and Elsah, and eventually downtown Alton. The Mississippi River crested at 42.7-feet in Alton (21.7-feet above flood stage). The high-water line is marked with a red line painted on the ConAgra grain silos. Alton has since thrived.
Here Are 12 Best Things to Do in Alton, Illinois:
- Stand Next to the World’s Tallest Man
- Walk in the Footsteps of Lincoln
- Test Your Luck at Argosy Casino
- Grab Some Grub and Beer
- Haunted McPike Mansion
- Marvel at the Piasa Bird
- Great Rivers Scenic Route
- Rivers, Locks & Dam
- Mississippi Mud Pottery
- Go to the Top of the Confluence Tower
- Lewis & Clark State Historic Site
- Miles Davis
12 Best Things to Do in Alton
Stand Next to the World’s Tallest Man
I can’t imagine how life would be if you were almost nine feet tall. But you can imagine what some things would be like when you visit the Robert Wadlow – World’s Tallest Man Statue in Alton, Illinois. At eight years old, he was 6 feet 2.5 inches, taller than most average grown men. You can stand next to his statute and put your foot next to his size 37 shoes, and there is also a replica of his chair made to accommodate his large frame that you can try and get in to get your photo.
This gentle giant was comfortable with people staring at him, watching him duck through doors and dodging storefront awnings while strolling downtown, Alton. He was an extraordinary man growing at a warp speed but humble as well. He was an ambassador for the city of Alton and traveled extensively to promote the city. Unfortunately, he passed away at the young age of 22 at the height of 8 ft 11.1 inches, but still holds the Guinness Book of World Record title for World’s Tallest Man.
Walk in the Footsteps of Lincoln
Alton was thrust into America’s most prominent issues of slavery, commerce, westward expansion, and war due to its location. The three great rivers and the Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail were born from these issues.
The trail itself includes debates, duels, murders, railroads, and riverboats. There are 11 sites on the Lincoln Legacy Trail for you to explore.
Stand where the last Lincoln Douglas Debate took place on the issue of slavery. Visit where Confederate soldiers were held as prisoners during the Civil War. Honor the site where Alton resident and U.S. Senator Lyman Trumball authored the 13th Amendment that ended slavery in the United States.
Test Your Luck at Argosy Casino
Stop into the Argosy Casino to try and win a little cash! Opened in 1991, the Argosy Casino is a riverboat casino moored at downtown Alton’s base with 827 slot machines and 12 table games for you to enjoy.
Unlike other casino’s in the St. Louis area, there’s no lodging offered here. It does, however, have a couple of restaurants to dine at. My family and I like to drop in to press our luck and play a few games for an hour or so. The casino is on a smaller scale, making it more intimate and friendlier to hang out with family or friends while playing the games and hoping to win the big one!
Grab Some Grub and Beer
In 1921, a yellow brick building was built by Anheuser-Busch on the Mississippi River to serve as the local watering hole for Alton, Illinois. Fast Eddie’s has expanded and now features 800 seats, a large outdoor patio, and is the number one volume bar for Anheuser-Busch products in the Midwest.
If you are a beer enthusiast, check out Eddie’s memorabilia. It includes an original Busch Bavarian sign over the bar. The sign is one of three known to exist. Another sign features St. Louis Arch before the arch was even completed.
In addition to this beer memorabilia, another historical relic on display is a case featuring Robert Wadlow’s shoes, Alton’s Gentle Giant.
Fast Eddie’s is the place to enjoy delicious, inexpensive food, hang out with friends, and listen to live music any day of the week.
Haunted McPike Mansion
Built in 1869 on the highest point in Alton (Mount Lookout), the McPike Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places. However, weather and time have taken their toll on this Italian-style mansion; it is currently being restored slowly to its former glory. You can sign up to take one of their seasonal haunted tours offered throughout the year.
McPike Mansion is the epitome of a haunted house. It has been investigated by numerous paranormal investigators who have found the haunting of the McPike Mansion to be authentic. When you are there, you might see balls of light that can’t be explained or human-shaped outlines appearing in the windows that might be the former McPike family or servants.
Marvel at the Piasa Bird
The Piasa Bird (pronounced Pie-a-saw) legend comes from a 1673 expedition down the Mississippi with Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette. They saw an image of a giant monster on the face of the bluffs. Over time the image faded but has been recreated for everyone to appreciate and respect the Indigenous culture.
You can read more of the Piasa’s origins and the story of its demise at the hands of the Indigenous population, which is carved in stone at the park. Piasa Park is found right outside downtown Alton on the right as you head out on the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.
Great Rivers Scenic Route
The Great Rivers Scenic Route is 33-miles that takes you next to limestone bluffs covered with forests, historic 18th-century river towns. The route has magnificent views of the Mississippi River along the way.
The Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway begins at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site. It goes north through Alton to Pere Marquette State Park. This is a road trip that you can do in a day or multiple days if you want to stop off and explore some of the river towns, including Alton.
Be sure to stop into the Alton Visitor Center and pick up extra inspiration for places to explore in the area. Another stop is the Riverfront in Alton. You will get a great view of the uniquely designed cable-stay Clark Bridge. You can catch a concert or festival at the Riverfront Amphitheater during summer.
Rivers, Locks & Dam
The Army Corps of Engineers built the National Great Rivers Museum as a component of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam. Through interactive exhibits, the museum shows you the story of the people, nature, and wildlife that have shaped the Mississippi River. You will be able to try your hand at moving water through the lock and dam system and even navigate a towboat through the locks on a simulator.
And once Spring officially arrives, you will be able to see the beginning of the navigation season on the Mississippi River through the Melvin Price Locks and Dam. The tour takes you up eight stories to experience the Mississippi River as a center of commerce and transportation at one of the largest locks & dams on the Mississippi River. The museum is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is self-guided; however, the daily tours are guided for the Melvin Price Locks and Dam at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. All programs and tours are free.
Mississippi Mud Pottery
Mississippi Mud Pottery is a beautiful shop where you can get handmade pieces crafted right before your eyes. Their creative, colorful pottery is made from natural clay materials. Which makes the pottery functional, durable, and amazingly dishwasher, microwaveable, and even oven safe.
Make sure to pick up a souvenir, and why not go for the ceramic fish! An actual fish was caught and used to create the mold, and after adding clay, glaze, and color, you can take home a unique piece of art! If fish isn’t your thing, pick up a mug, plate or ornament as a souvenir from your visit to Alton.
Go to the Top of the Confluence Tower
Visit the 180’ tall Confluence Tower on the Great Rivers Scenic Route, and you can view the convergence of the three Great Rivers. From the platforms on the tower, you can see the muddy waters of the Missouri rush into the Mississippi River and further north the Illinois River connecting with the Mississippi River.
There are three separate platforms at 50, 100, and 150 feet high that you can either walk up or take an elevator. You might see Canadian geese, Great Blue Herons, bald eagles and their nests, and even a lone coyote wandering in the heron pond from the different platforms. From the top platform, you get the best panoramic views of the rivers joining, views of the Clark Bridge in Alton, and even St. Louis Arch to the south.
Don’t forget to stop by the Tower Visiting Center. You can also explore the exhibits showcasing the river communities along the Great River road. Tickets are $6/adult and $4/children (12 and under). Make sure to check the Confluence Tower website for the open hours and when tours are available.
Lewis & Clark State Historic Site
For five months during the winter of 1804, Lewis & Clark set up camp along the River Dubois before exploring the west. At the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site, you’ll find a fortified encampment behind the Interpretive Center. The site was built from Clark’s field notes showing the captain’s quarters, storage, and guards’ quarters. Walk around the camp freely from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Inside the Center, the museum is dedicated to the Lewis & Clark adventure story, with six galleries depicting their journey. For inside exploration, schedule a free museum tour Wednesday through Saturday.
An indoor highlight is a walk-through, full-scale replica of a 55-foot keelboat. Lewis & Clark used these vessels during their expedition.
Did you know Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois? Born May 26, 1926, Miles Dewey Davis III is known as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. Miles started playing the horn at 13. After that, there was no stopping him.
Davis defined the evolution of cool with his 50-year jazz career. He played with Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and other jazz greats. Dizzie morphed his music to jazz-rock fusion with Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown influences that expanded into modern jazz and Rap/R&B in the 80s and 90s.
With nine Grammy awards, more than 100 albums, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, it is no wonder that there are statues in his honor.
Alton, Illinois, is the home to the only public statue of Miles Davis in the Americas (the other two are in France and Poland). The bronze statue created by Preston Jackson is in Alton’s entertainment district at Miles Davis Memorial Plaza.
Where to Stay in Alton
Looking for where to stay in Alton? We found a couple of great vacation rentals with five-star reviews:
2BR Guest House on Summit Street steps from the water
Or you can check out more hotels and vacation rentals in the area below.
Is Alton Worth A Visit?
Alton, Illinois, is a small, passed-by city, ‘in-the-shadow-of’ St. Louis, Missouri. Located next to the great rivers, it is not surprising that Alton has powerful history from the Civil War and earlier. These 12 ‘Best Things to Do’ are a drop in the bucket.
When heading to the midwest, make sure to stop in and soak up everything Alton has to offer. It’s is filled with plenty of history and fun that will surprise you.