Illinois : Safety by City
- Arlington Heights
- Crystal Lake
- Des Plaines
- East St Louis
- Fairview Heights
- Granite City
- Mount Prospect
- Oak Lawn
- Rock Island
- Tinley Park
Figuring out how to introduce Alton, Illinois, might be my biggest challenge today.
Should I go with “America’s Most Haunted Small Town”?
Perhaps I should start with the tragic history of this town where a civil rights defender was murdered while exercising his First Amendment rights?
There are also stories of a town insistent on survival despite two rivers joining here and causing flood after flood.
Let’s not forget the monstrous Piasa bird “that devours men”, folklore that still clings to cliff walls and scary stories.
However you approach Alton, you’re going to learn a lot in this small community on the northeast side of the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Full disclosure, first.
I grew up in St. Louis and I even learned a few things I didn’t know before researching this city.
This town of 25,000 people has no problem talking, honoring, or memorializing its eccentric history.
You can learn a lot about the past, the supernatural, and Midwestern living by visiting here.
The city has come a long way from being a town that made the history books with the murder of Elijah Lovejoy and his newspaper in 1837 to electing the first black mayor in 2021.
Alton puts to rest any notion that the Midwest doesn’t have stunning views and interesting topography with river bluffs and cliffs meeting the plains near the convergence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
One of the best road trips in America takes you along the Great River Road through Alton.
Warnings & Dangers in Alton
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk in Alton due to high crime rates, but police do punctuate that much of the crime here is between "parties that are familiar with each other" and not a bunch of random crime.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There is a public bus system to take you around Madison County, but there's no easy route that goes across the Mississippi River into the St. Louis area. You can call a taxi or rideshare service. Having a car would be ideal here, and cyclists will love the miles of bike trails to get around to different tourist spots. One note - there is only one bridge here that goes into Missouri and the area on the other side is very prone to flooding, leaving a potential detour to get to the other side.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here. In the spring of 2021, there were several people caught on tape pickpocketing throughout this entire region. In one video, you can see a woman hanging her purse on the back of her chair at a restaurant and the slick thief snatched the wallet right from her bag and she didn't even notice. Be sure to practice good offense with your personal property here. Put your wallet in the front pocket or an inside jacket pocket with a rubber band around it. The rubber band gives friction if someone tries to grab it. Always keep your purse in sight and never leave it unattended on the ground or back of a chair.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Flooding is the biggest concern here. I lived through the floods of the early 90s in the St. Louis area. I was on the south side of the region where two rivers meet, but Alton was also hit hard. I can still remember driving around and seeing the National Guard protecting access to flooded neighborhoods. You also have to worry about severe thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes here. Winters can bring snow or ice storms. There's a medium risk throughout the year and you should always be weather aware.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There were 27 robberies in 2020, which doesn't sound like a lot, but remember this is a small town. When you do the math to determine crime per 100,000 - the way the crime statistics are reported to the FBI - that's 25% higher than the national average. There's a low risk it's going to happen to you, but if you are enjoying the nightlife in Alton, that risk goes up to medium. I tell you this as someone who spent many nights in Alton during my younger years when Fast Eddie's was the hot spot in town for late-night fun.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Alton is part of a large metro area and that puts it at medium risk. Alton itself would not be a target unless terrorists were trying to break the dam and cause flooding. You shouldn't be scared to be here because of that, but always be vigilant and follow the rules of "See Something, Say Something."
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Madison County has a list of the most common scams being reported in the area, and while there's a long list, there aren't any that target tourists. The two biggest red flags are to watch out for anyone who asks you to purchase gift cards in exchange for something else or pressures you to wire money.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
After dark, there's a medium risk for women here, mostly because it's a town with some good nightlife and that can cause women to stop focusing on personal safety in the name of fun. During the day you'll need to practice good personal safety measures, especially if you are using one of the many outdoor trails.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The tap water here is in full compliance with requirements and Illinois Water just spent nearly $200 million upgrading the water treatment facility.
Safest Places to Visit in Alton
There’s a lot of history to learn here, from the home of the world’s tallest man to a massive bird that likes to eat people.
There are also war stories, remnants of the underground railroad, Abraham Lincoln’s story you’ve probably never heard before, and so much more.
Here are a few “must-see” places and photo ops:
- National Great Rivers Museum: Learn about the power of the Mississippi River and get a tour of the dam lock.
- Alton Museum of History & Art: Not your ordinary history museum. Here you’ll get the full story about the legendary dragon and the real-life gentle giant who was also the world’s tallest man. You can also walk in the footsteps of President Lincoln during his “A house divided against itself cannot stand” speech.
- Alton Cemetery: This is where you’ll see the humbling statue of Elijah P. Lovejoy, who died fighting for what he believed in.
You can’t have a proper Alton visit without enjoying the food and fun at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air.
The 20-something in me was so happy that this is still a popular place and has even expanded.
Fast Eddie’s is known for its limited menu of cheap but tasty food.
Don’t just take my word for it.
Read the reviews.
There’s an outdoor patio that is even heated during the bitter winter in Alton.
Be prepared to wait in line if you go at night.
If you don’t want to wait in line, you’ve still got about 60 other restaurants to choose from in Alton.
The Argosy Casino is the Las Vegas-style gambling home in Alton.
You can play slots or table games and even place a bet on the sportsbook.
Ask if there is a slot tournament happening during your visit.
Those are always fun.
Let’s get into Haunted Alton.
It is well-known as America’s Most Haunted Small Town.
The McPike Mansion is a hub of paranormal activity.
Just standing outside of it will make your neck hairs stand on end and wait until you get to the cellar tour for the ultimate creepy vibe.
The First Unitarian Church is rumored to be haunted but has survived being burned to the ground – twice – before being rebuilt to its current appearance.
You can attend a church service here, as services are open to all, or you can schedule a haunted tour that takes you through the stories of tragedy and ghosts.
There are a couple of tour companies in Alton that provide walking tours of different areas with an expert in the history and paranormal activity leading the way.
Places to Avoid in Alton
Crime is really spread out through the community in Alton, with Upper Alton having slightly higher crime rates.
Without all the great activities to do here, I’d probably be inclined to suggest other places for you to visit on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area.
This is a working-class community where many people struggle to make ends meet.
More than 25% of the residents live in poverty and the average home price doesn’t even break the $100,000 mark.
There are inherent dangers that come in poorer communities, like crime, drugs, and gangs.
Growing up in this area, I would never have told my mother about the (many) nights I went to Alton to visit Fast Eddie’s.
She would’ve been worried sick about my safety.
After dark, you really need to travel in groups and don’t leave anyone alone.
It’s not a city where you should walk around at night, but it’s also not a place you need to completely avoid either.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Alton
- You should consider signing up for the CodeRED emergency alerts from the city, police, and fire department here. This sends notifications to your mobile device so you can enjoy the city but be warned about potential weather, criminal, or road dangers.
- You can also sign up for NotifyAlton alerts, which are not emergency messages, but community information like snow removal plans and road closures. Keep in mind that NotifyAlton and CodeRED are two separate things. You would need to sign up for both to get both sets of messages.
- There are times you might think you smell a fire in Alton and get concerned. Leaf burning is allowed in this city and that can happen on certain days from October through December and April and May.
- The Sam Vadalanbene Bike Trail spans 20 miles and gives incredible views of the river bluffs and that Piasa Bird mural. Be sure to wear a lot of bug spray here as the nearby river brings a lot of mosquitoes. The trail is open from dawn to dusk. Don’t go off the trails to explore. There are a lot of steep drops in this area.
- If you’ve read about flooding in the Alton area closer to the time of your visit, please check with the city before you go visit. Flooding here doesn’t always just happen in a few days. It can last weeks or months. Never try to cross a flooded road with your vehicle, even if you don’t think the water is that deep.
- You know a city has a drug problem when there’s a “Report a Drug House” form on the police department’s website. If you suspect drug activity is happening at a home, don’t try to approach people there. Just let the police know so they can investigate.
- Speaking of drugs, Illinois recently approved the use of recreational marijuana and people get really confused about what that means. There are a lot of specific rules and regulations that come with that law. You can’t just walk down the street smoking a joint or drive after eating a few gummies. Please do research to make sure you are in compliance should you choose to use cannabis here.
- If you want to fish at any of the fishing holes in Illinois, you’ll need a fishing license from the Department of Natural Resources. There are some fishing spots where you can use an Illinois license in Missouri and vice versa, but be sure you know the rules of your chosen fishing spot. You can’t use your license from home here as a legal license to fish.
- There are several cities here with the name “Alton” in them. There’s Alton, the city we are discussing in this article. East Alton, Illinois, which is technically a village just four miles southeast, and then there’s West Alton, Missouri, on the other side of the river. Each has its own leadership and law enforcement.
- As someone who grew up on the Mississippi River, I can tell you she’s a beauty, but she can also stink. It sounds idyllic to have a picnic near the river, but the smell of dirty water, algae, or rotten fish can quickly make you lose your appetite. This is largely dependent on the winds. I remember one visit to Memphis and I was hanging out downtown. Someone asked “What’s that smell?” and I said “I know that smell. That’s the Mississippi River!” Please know any river stench isn’t just singular to Alton.
So... How Safe Is Alton Really?
My first instinct is to get defensive about this great city near my hometown with so much to do, but the crime numbers don’t lie.
There’s a one in 118 chance of being a victim of a violent crime.
The police chief did recently say that many of the crimes happening right now are between groups that know each other.
However, at the same time, there’s a report of a woman who was putting her child in the car when a man approached and asked for a lighter.
When she said she didn’t have one, she got shot.
You have to use caution and keep your head on a swivel here without living in fear of an imminent attack.
It’s great to stay in the tour groups for safety and to take a friend along for a bicycle ride.
The city generally has four or fewer homicides in a year, aside from 2018 when there were eight.
There’s a dedicated police force trying to clean up the crime rate and get the community involved in policing.
You should report anything suspicious you see to help with that effort.
Alton isn’t a place where the trouble is going to come looking for you, but it’s easy to find if you’re looking for it or not paying attention.
How Does Alton Compare?
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- Visas - You will show your Visa to the Customs agent when you leave the airport but before you get onto U.S. soil. The process of getting a Visa can take up to four months, so start planning early. It's important to know a Visa doesn't guarantee you access, so be on your best behavior when Homeland Security and Border Patrol check your Visa and ask you questions.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. There are some cash-only places here, like Fast Eddie's Bon Air. The restaurant does have ATMs if you want to get cash inside, but be prepared to pay a hefty fee for that convenience.
- Weather - You'll get the best and worst of all four seasons here, and it's a roll of the dice on how the weather will be during your visit. Getting a reliable weather app is important to help you plan for packing. Winters can get brutally cold or can be incredibly mild. That can also change within 24 hours. The summer will be muggy, so be prepared to sweat a lot. Wearing those plastic Crocs or flip-flops might not be comfortable when your feet are sweating, so bring comfortable walking shoes.
- Airports - The St. Louis Lambert Field airport is 22 miles away and coming from the northeastern Illinois side, you probably won't have to deal with too much traffic. If there is flooding that closes the bridge in Alton, you'll have a detour that will be a 30-mile drive.
- Travel Insurance - You will definitely want to get travel insurance to make sure you don't lose money if your trip gets canceled or delayed. Make sure the coverage includes dragon attacks. (I hope that last part made you laugh!)
Alton Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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