The Great River Road

South of St. Louis, to avoid the sprawling suburbia, take I-55 as far as exit 162, where you can rejoin the GRR by picking up US-61 south. If you don’t blink, you may even catch sight of one of Missouri’s rare pilot’s-wheel signs as the busy road ascends a ridge with a fine western panorama. About 55 miles south of St. Louis’s I-270/255 beltway, the GRR reaches the outskirts of Sainte Genevieve, one of several French trading posts established along the Mississippi in the wake of La Salle’s 17th-century expedition. The town’s new trade is tourism, as the antiques shops and upscale restaurants clearly illustrate, but the beauty of Sainte Genevieve lies in its restored 18th- to 19th-century remnants, including a brick belle of a Southern Hotel (146 S. 3rd St., 573/883-3493, $125 and up), one of the oldest hotels west of the Mississippi River. Sara’s Ice Cream & Antiques (124 Merchant St., 573/883-5890), down toward the water, provides yet more tasteful distractions, with great ice cream cones, old-fashioned soda fountain drinks, and milk shakes.

Since US-61 doesn’t enter town, follow the small blue Tourist Information signs down to the old waterfront to find the area’s historic places, like the Bolduc House Museum. Visit the Welcome Center (66 S. Main St., 800/373-7007, daily, free) to learn about the town’s past and present.

Sainte Genevieve also boasts a way across the river: the Sainte Genevieve-Modoc Ferry (573/883-7097, daily, $2 one-way for pedestrians, $15 one-way for automobiles) to Modoc, Illinois, is three miles out of town; head down Main Street until it dead-ends at the ferry landing. On the Illinois side, 12 rural crop-lined miles from the Modoc Ferry, we rejoin the GRR, heading south on Hwy-3 toward Chester.