The Mississippi River Trail (MRT) is a 10-state bicycling route in the process of development. It travels over 2000 continuous miles, on each side of the river, between the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota and the Gulf of Mexico. When complete, the route will consist of trails and bike-friendly roads, with “MRT” signs identifying the way.
In Illinois, the MRT route traverses some of the state’s most diverse landscapes. Steep bluff lands in the “unglaciated” northwest region around Galena provide picturesque scenic beauty amidst small towns and wooded areas. Beyond the industrial communities of Moline and Rock Island, the topography flattens out, and the MRT traverses areas of rich farming country. South of the metropolitan St. Louis area, riders will enter the Delta, where flat river bottom lands provide miles of great cycling.
The MRT in Illinois is a historically-rich corridor as well as a trail offering broad natural diversity. To the north, Galena was the home of General and President Ulysses S. Grant. Nauvoo, settled by the Mormons in 1839, features many buildings from that era including a reconstruction of the impressive Momon temple, completed in 2002. Quincy was the site of one of the famed “Lincoln-Douglas” debates that captured the nation’s attention just before the Civil War.
Farther south, communities such as Cahokia and Kaskaskia speak to the importantance of French presence in the landscape. Perhaps most important, the site of the pre-Columbian settlement of Cahokia, east of St. Louis, is a World Heritage Site now managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Partners working on the Illinois MRT include government agencies such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Bi-State Regional Commission, along with citizen groups such as the MRT, Inc., and Ride Illinois.
The Illinois’s Mississippi River Trail Guide was produced by Ride Illinois with the assistance of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It is intended to promote bicycle touring along the Mississippi River on a 585-mile route suggested by Ride Illinois. Route selection was based on factors including proximity to the river, availability of off-road trails, roadway “bike-friendliness”, accommodations, and points of interest. Over time, the route will change as more off-road trails are built and improvements made to other roads.
The guide is divided into 11 segments of distances averaging 50-60 miles – possibly a day’s ride. Segment endpoints are chosen based on mileage and accommodations.
Note that the guide was created in 2004, so be sure to check whether motels along your intended route are still in business. The “Online Map Links” are more current, including a new off-road trail south from Savanna.