Don't leave shore without your Quimby's Cruising Guide. Published right here in St. Louis, this annual boater's bible offers a complete listing of inland waterway marinas where you can buy fuel, take a shower, pump out your septic system, purchase gewgaws in a gift shop or get a meal. The docks below are shipshape places to knock back a cold beer on a hot day, whether you own a boat or just want to watch someone else's float by.
The Alton Marina (1 Henry Street, Alton, Illinois; 618-462-9860 or www.altonmarina.com) underneath the Clark Bridge has been awarded Quimby's coveted "5 Anchor" award for its outstanding service and spiffy shower rooms. The public is welcome to buy a beer or an Island Oasis in the deli. Diana Page runs the gift shop, and she says the marina's transient docks get lots of "loopers," i.e., people who travel upriver in spring and back down again in fall.
Piasa Harbor (10815 Lockhaven Road, Godfrey, Illinois; 618-467-2265) is now owned by Great Rivers Land Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving natural beauty. Once full of derelict boats and buildings, the harbor is now a scenic spot, thanks to a cleanup drive spearheaded by Alley Ringhausen, GRLT's director. A convenience store sells beer and sundries, and a picnic pavilion provides a sheltered area from which to admire the view.
Watch the Blessing of the Fleet in mid-July as it cruises past Portage Des Sioux's towering statue of the Virgin Mary. My River Home Harbor (1545 Riverview Drive, Portage Des Sioux; 636-899-0903 or myriverhome.com) hosts the Longshot Saloon, popular with bikers and boaters alike.
Palisades Marina & Yacht Club (1670 River View Drive, Portage Des Sioux; 636-899-1093 or www.palisadesyachtclub.com) operates a white bungalow snack-and-sandwich restaurant with an amazing view of the limestone bluffs across the river.
Grafton Harbor (215 West Water Street, Grafton, Illinois; 618-786-7678 or graftonharbor.net) is another area marina with the coveted "5 Anchor" recognition. Each slip has its own pump-out service, and its rooftop restaurant, the Big Kahuna, features treats like deep-fried pickles. Owner Joe DeSherlia grew up on the water in Grafton, but he's now far too occupied running this busy place to relax and go boating.
There's a whole slew of marinas in St. Charles' Dardenne Slough worth checking out. The Yacht Club of St. Louis (105 Lake Village Drive, St. Charles; 636-250-4435 or stlouisyachtclub.com) is private, but its Sundowners Restaurant is open to the public and features a lovely patio on the water. Woodland Marina (125 Harbor Drive, St. Charles; 636-250-3446 or woodland-marina.com) floats a year-round, paddle-wheel-boat restaurant in its yacht club. North Shore Marina (601 North Shore Drive, St. Charles; 636-250-3800) runs the Boathouse, a seasonal kabob-and-burger restaurant featuring bands and plenty of river-watching deck space.