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Places We Love: Alton, Elsah, Grafton, Illinois

This trifecta of Illinois towns provides the perfect mix of outdoor activity and relaxation along the scenic Great River Road. Senior Travel Editor Kendra Williams points out just some of this area’s highlights, including Alton’s Beall Mansion, the small-town charm of Elsah and the exciting new Grafton Zipline Adventures.

Hi, I am Kendra Williams, senior travel editor at Midwest Living magazine, and one of my favorite places to play is along the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway in Illinois. Three towns along this pretty 22-mile stretch - Alton, Elsah and Grafton - lie just minutes from the St. Louis metro area and offer amazing river vistas, great shopping, standout dining and cool places to stay. Elsah is the quietest of the three, hiding behind a limestone bluff along the Mississippi River. This town of 650 people offers a couple of shops, a B&B, houses with flower-stuffed window boxes and a simple church that looks like it belongs on a postcard from New England. Victorian inns, stellar antiques shopping and a self-guided Lincoln trail await visitors in Alton, which also welcomes thousands of bald eagles each winter. You can learn more about them at the Audubon Center at Riverlands in West Alton, Missouri. At the northern end of the byway, Grafton gives off a Jimmy Buffett kind of vibe, with a great open-air bar in the Loading Dock and the new Grafton Zipline adventure, where even newbies can overcome their fears to soar among the trees along the river. But that'€™s really only the start of what you'€™ll find here. I love that it’s so easy to get to but feels like a discovery.