I recently spent a weekend riding my 21-speed bike on the Sam Vadalabene bike path in Illinois. The Sam Vadalabene Great River Road Bike Trail has approximately 20 miles of level paved trail that parallels the Great River Road. Sam M. Vadalabene, an Illinois State Senator who supported the trail, is the trail’s namesake. The asphalt bike path runs just over 20 miles between Pere Marquette State Park and the outskirts of Alton, Illinois.
Lodging in Pere Marquette State Park
I stayed at the Pere Marquette Lodge in the Pere Marquette State Park, just 5 miles outside of Grafton, IL. Pere Marquette offers either guest rooms in their hotel, which is where I stayed, or 22 cabins. Located inside the hotel are an indoor swimming pool, a dining room, and a winery.
Biking from Grafton to Alton
On Saturday morning I took off from Pere Marquette State Park heading to Alton, IL. A little ways down the path you can begin to catch a glimpse of the Illinois River through the trees. There is a stone monument commemorating Jacques Marquette’s arrival in 1673. Next up on the path is the outskirts of Grafton, IL where on the Mississippi River where you can see sailboats, motorboats, and barges churning down the river. As soon as you pass a ferry landing (Brussels Landing) you begin to see the quaint shops, cafes, wineries, and coffee shops that make up Grafton.
As you bike out of Grafton on to Alton, you see limestone bluffs that soar high above the bike path. About four miles from Grafton, my first stop of the day is the little hamlet of Elsah. I stopped at a General Store that is located here and enjoyed a homemade piece of peach pie. The owner is a wonderful gentleman who went to college in the area and came back to this little town to run the General Store; he is full of history and information. Elsah also has a few bed and breakfast places that you could stay at for your weekend getaway. Continuing with my bike journey into Alton I next came across the Piasa Bird. The giant painting on a limestone bluff is a reproduction of an American Indian petroglyph that settlers discovered nearby.
Finally after about 2.5 hours of biking along this very scenic path I came to Alton, which is much like Grafton with shops, restaurants, places to stay including more bed and breakfast establishments and a casino located on the river.
Non-Bikers Can Have Fun, Too
Even if you are not a biker, this is still a great area for a weekend escape. Grafton is approximately a 4-hour drive from KC and if you are in St. Louis only about a 45 min drive. I arrived on Friday evening and took the Brussels ferry across the Mississippi to reach Pere Marquette Lodge. I enjoyed dinner at The Loading Dock (401 Front St. Grafton, IL) while sitting outside overlooking the Mississippi. The menu here is typical bar food, and their claim to fame is homemade salsa which I did try and enjoyed. Weekend nights feature live music.
After biking on Saturday, I spent time browsing the quaint shops up and down Main Street in Grafton and taking in a few wineries. I deserved my wine after biking most of the day.
With an incredible view and great wine collection, The Winery at Aerie’s Resort (600 Timber Ridge Dr. Grafton, IL) was where I sat on the deck enjoying wine and live music. I took in the breathtaking views framing the life and fun taking place on the river. I was here in the summer, but I can imagine that every season would have its own beauty from this bluff overlooking the river. Another enjoyable winery is Grafton Winery & Brewhaus (300 W. Main St. Grafton, IL) where again I enjoyed wine tasting and live music; this time a duet was entertaining the crowd.
For dinner, on Saturday night I drove to Alton IL and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Gentelin’s (122 E. Broadway Alton IL). It is located a historic building and offers fine American dining such as steak, pasta, and seafood. This relaxing restaurant has windows that overlook the Clark Bridge.
Sunday morning found me enjoying a leisurely walk around Pere Marquette Lodge enjoying the views of the river and the birds flying overhead and taking in the activities of a peach festival that was taking place on the grounds. I enjoyed breakfast in the lodge dining room before getting in my car and heading back to KC.