Illinois is home to a surprisingly diverse collection of destinations meriting a trip out of town — back-country camping, wine tasting, quaint bed and breakfasts, and even a wild weekend of college football are all easy to find.
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of Chicago or just a worthwhile stopover during a cross-state or cross-country road trip, then this collection of getaways is a good place to start.
Starved Rock State Park
One of Starved Rock State Park’s many waterfalls. (Photo: Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock)
About a two-hour drive from Chicago, the legitimately spectacular Starved Rock State Park has soaring rock formations, scenic waterfalls, deep canyons, winding rivers, and miles of trails. The forests, colored with wildflowers and changing leaves, are often visited by migrating bald eagles. The 1930’s-era Starved Rock Lodge boasts the “largest two-sided fireplace in Illinois” to keep you warm on cool fall nights. Stay there or the rustic log cabins to get the full Starved Rock experience. For the less adventurous, there’s also an indoor pool and spa.
KeyLime Cove, Gurnee
Aquatic fun at KeyLime Cove. (Photo: KeyLime Cove)
KeyLime Cove, a water-park resort in northern Illinois, is connected to a 400-room hotel with “tropics-inspired” decor to make you forget all about a Midwestern winter — particularly when you enter the 65,000 foot indoor water park heated to 84-degrees. They have fun for all ages, from extreme water slides to a kiddie pool. And there’s a spa that caters to kids, too. Rooms are from $139 a night and include park admission. The nearby Gurnee Mills mall and the Six Flags Great America theme park make the whole Gurnee area into a perfect family getaway.
Charming Galena. (Photo: Joey Lax-Salinas/Flickr)
The historic town of Galena has been a go-to retreat for Midwestern families for over a hundred years. The town exudes quaintness with its 19th century Victorian architecture, best enjoyed while on a walking tour or mansion visit. Stay in one of the many local inns, dine on farm-to-table fare, ride the streets in a horse drawn carriage, and even go for a walk with former resident Ulysses S. Grant, returned to life as a tour guide. But there’s some more lively stuff too, including ghost tours, balloon rides, fishing, camping, and in winter, the state’s only ski resort!
Moline: Tractors, Trains, and Riverboats
The Celebration Belle on the Mississippi River. (Photo: Celebration River Cruises/Facebook)
Get away from urban sprawl and visit the roots of Illinois in Moline, where you can check out the machines that helped transform the state into a commercial and transport hub. Moline’s John Deere Pavilion is a must-see, not only to learn the history of farming in the state, but also for the fun games and activities for the kids. You’ll learn all about what John Deere harvested and what the railroads delivered. Moline’s Quad Cities Railroad Education center also has informative displays (and operating models) on a wide array of topics. To complete the transport themed trek, go for a sightseeing cruise on a paddlewheel riverboat from Moline along the Mississippi River.
The Great River Road
Farmland along the Great River Road. (Photo: Jon K./Flickr)
Running 550 miles along the mighty Mississippi, the Great River Road traces not only the western boundary of Illinois, but a couple centuries of history of the region. On the River Road, the journey is the destination as you pass through historic river towns, watch barges and freighters chugging up and down the river, and roll past local farms. Best of all, the whole route is lined with affordable lodging, so you can spend as many days as you like.
The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail
Napa or Illinois? (Photo: Shawnee Hills Wine Trail)
Yes, Illinois has wineries — 108, to be exact. The Shawnee Hills region in Southern Illinois even has an officially recognized AVA designation for its wines made from local grapes. The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is a combination food-and-wine and outdoor experience well worth a weekend escape. Stop by the plentiful tasting rooms, explore the vineyards and orchards, and soak in the full southern Illinois countryside experience. Stay the night in one of the charming B&Bs or inns in the area.
College Football Games
A University of Illinois game. (Photo: Jonathan Street/Shutterstock)
Skip the NFL in Chicago and get away to grab a much cheaper ticket to see one of the state’s popular college teams from Northwestern (Evanston), Northern Illinois University (DeKalb), the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), or the Southern Illinois Salukis (Carbondale). There’s no better way to spend a fall Saturday in Illinois than to go to a traditional tailgate and soak in the college atmosphere, complete with marching bands, cheerleaders, and a gung-ho student section.
Eaglewood Resort and Spa, Itasca
The Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced Eaglewood Resort and Spa. (Photo: Eaglewood Resort and Spa)
Inspired by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Eaglewood Resort and Spa — 27 miles northwest of Chicago — is a peaceful retreat in the style of the old master. The resort is spread over 106 acres and includes a golf course, indoor pool, bowling alley, and a spa. Wander the lobby and common areas to study the subtleties of the architecture, then retire for a glass of wine by the outdoor fire pit.
Wildlife Prairie Park, Peoria
Bison wandering in Wildlife Prairie Park. (Photo: Yi-Liang (Lucas) Liu/Flickr)
You can actually stay overnight in a railway caboose (or cabins and cottages) in the Wildlife Prairie Park near Peoria. Wake up and go on an Adventure Trek ride through the park to see some of the animals, including foxes, cougars, bears, and Mike the Bison, who you can feed. Ride a mini-train, pet the friendly farm animals, and even go see a pig race!
Timber Ridge Outpost, Karbers Ridge
A treehouse at the Timber Ridge Outpost. (Photo: Timber Ridge Outpost & Cabins)
Stay in a real treehouse at Timber Ridge Outpost & Cabins, a retro resort located near the 280,000-acre Shawnee National Forest. The resort also has an 1850s style log cabin and some more modern cabins. The resort is a great base from which to explore the scenic southeastern Illinois countryside.
For more information about traveling in Illinois, go to enjoyillinois.com.