They're revered birds of prey, regal symbols of the nation and elusive sights for the common citizen. They're the king of the aves — the bald eagle.

They're revered birds of prey, regal symbols of the nation and elusive sights for the common citizen. They're the king of the aves — the bald eagle.

Taking an expedition to spot the kings of the sky is as easy as a three-hour drive from the lake area to the Great River Road along the Mississippi River.

Across the river and to the north of St. Louis, the Great River Road can be picked up in the town of Alton, and visitors who travel north on the road are bound to come across vehicles stopped along the shoulder in search of the bald eagle.

Arriving early in the morning on a cold day will give visitors the best chance to catch a view of the birds soaring over the expanse of the river. Bring binoculars for a better chance to see the birds up close.

Like humans, eagles have a more difficult time in the winter months, when they must conserve their energy to find food along the banks of the Big Muddy. With the recent cold snap forming ice along the river, eagles may perch along sheets of ice along the current, providing a better chance to catch the birds in action as they pluck food from beneath the river's surface.

Waiting to see eagles until the early afternoon can result in catching the creatures in flight, gliding silently with the updrafts or perched high in the tufts of trees on the islands in the Mississippi or in crevices of the bluffs bordering the Great River Road.

Patience is key, however, as spotting the birds will take time and a dash of luck — though calling ahead to the visitors center in Alton will give a sense of where eagles were last spotted.

Even if the weather is gloomy, keeping the birds in the roost, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the sights along the Great River Road.

The quaint town of Grafton, Ill. is about 15 miles from Alton. There, passersby can find plenty of eateries and shops.

For a quick bite, head to Beasley Fish Stand, famous for — you guessed it — fish! The stand is at 1512 W. Main Street. Along with the food, a fish market is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Also on Main Street, Grafton Fudge & Ice Cream Cream and Ruebel Deli & Ice Cream Parlor will satisfy anyone's sweet tooth.

Plenty of antique stores, specialty shops and other restaurants line Main Street in Grafton, which is a leisurely 20 minute drive from Alton.

Further north from Grafton, the lodge at Pere Marquette provides a warm respite from a cold winter's day. Pere Marquette and Louis Joliet paddled down the Mississippi in 1673 searching for the Pacific. But when they learned of no such passage from Illini tribe members, they turned back, stopping at the site of Pere Marquette State Park, the site of the lodge.

In main room of the lodge, a giant chess board welcomes quick-minded players next to a usually roaring fire — made from 700 tons of stone. The rustic lodge was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and opened in 1940. The CCC crafted all the metalwork in the lodge while Illinois inmates, interestingly, constructed the furniture.

The lunch at Pere Marquette is not to miss and will fill up eagle spotters after a day in search of the birds.

Even if you don't catch a glimpse of the elusive birds, other adventures await on the Great River Road.