The state of Illinois offers up amazing views and attractions from north to south and east to west.
What follows are highlights, but you can see many more at the Illinois Office of Tourism website: www.enjoyillinois.com . For special events during the year, see www.enjoyillinois.com/en-us/events.
We also have a full resource guide, OUT!, where you can browse hundreds of options in and around Chicago, and across the entire state. See www.windycitymediagroup.com/TravelGuideFrontpage/current.pdf .
Total Eclipse of the Heart
2017 is going to be a very special year in Southern Illinois: It is among the best places in the world to witness the total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21. Places to stay are filling up fast, so make your plans as early as possible to go south and see this rare treat.
The Williamson County Tourism Bureau has a guide to the eclipse events, www.visitsi.com/eclipseinfo, and see www.enjoyillinois.com/explore/listing/the-2017-solar-eclipse for more info.
There is also a lot of info on this website: www.southernillinoiseclipse.com . Events include Total Eclipse of the park in Dowell. StarView Vineyards, 5100 Wing Hill Rd. in Cobden, is less than 10 miles from NASA's Longest Point of Duration. Enjoy live music by local bands on Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the eclipse weekend.
Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda is planning a three-day event complete with Self Contained Camper parking, food, music, and even a special-label release wine. And Alto Vineyards Solar Celebration in Alto Pass is Illinois' oldest, most award-winning winery, nestled in the hills of the Shawnee National Forest. They will host a four-day Solar Celebration.
On Aug. 21, Camp Ondessonk will be perfectly positioned to observe the total eclipse. They will host an Eclipse Viewing Event Aug. 19-21. They will have typical camp activities like swimming, hiking and trail rides available as well as educational sessions put on by amateur and professional astronomers. See ondessonk.com/event/2017-great-american-eclipse-event/ . Eclipse Camping in Makanda provides primitive camping options.
Bald Knob Mountain is one of the highest points in the area. See www.baldknobcross.com/solar-eclipse/ for their plans.
And finally, if you need some hard rock with the eclipse, Ozzy Osbourne is headling 'Moonstock' at Walker's Bluff winery in Carterville. See details on the four-day fest here: www.moonstock2017.com .
Abraham Lincoln looms large over the entire state, but especially in the Springfield area in Central Illinois. The 16th President of the United States, who served from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, was born in Kentucky but practiced law in Illinois, where he also was elected to the state House of Representatives. Carl Sandburg wrote of Lincoln and Joshua Speed, one of Lincoln's many close male friends, that they had "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets." There were rumors about Lincoln's life both before and during his presidency. C.A. Tripp's book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, best documents this.
You can experience the many public contributions of Lincoln at various tributes to the man in Illinois. Each year from May through October, you can take the Lincoln's Ghost Walks in Springfield, and from early December to early January you can spend Christmas with the Lincolns. In the summer, re-enactors bring the 1800s to life to Springfield. The best place to learn about the president is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, where priceless artifacts and immersive exhibits reveal the complexities of Lincoln's life. At 212 N. Sixth St., www.illinois.gov/alplm/Pages/default.aspx., the New Salem State Historic Site is a reconstructed 1830s village where Lincoln lived as a young adult and began his career. See www.lincolnsnewsalem.com . Other options include visiting Lincoln's home, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, the Old State Capitol where he worked, and Lincoln's Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
There is certainly a lot more to see in Springfield than just Lincoln, including the State Capitol Building, the State Archives, the State Library, and the city's LGBT community center, The Phoenix Center. They host special events including a PrideFest each May. See www.phoenixcenterspringfield.org .
Route 66: The Mother Road
Get your kicks on Route 66, one of the most famous roads in the U.S. The Mother Road was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System, and was launched in 1926. The road originally ran 2,448 miles from Chicago to California. There is a 300-mile stretch of Route 66 in Illinois. The kitsch, the nostalgia, the peopleit's got all the makings of a great road trip, including the Polk-a-Dot Drive In, the World's Largest Covered Wagon, Henry's Ra66it Ranch, the World's Largest Catsup Bottle, the Paul Bunyon Hotdog Statue, the Pink Elephant Antique Mall, the Smiling Water Tower and the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum in Pontiac. See illinoisroute66.org for special events.
The Great River Road
The Great River Road in Illinois National Scenic Byway has much to offer. See www.GreatRiverRoad-Illinois.com for details on events, shopping, recreation, sightseeing, lodging, dining, festivals and more.
The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles through 10 states from its beginning at Lake Itasca in Minnesota, down through Louisiana where it enters the Gulf of Mexico. In Illinois, the byway follows the banks and bluffs through quaint river towns and urban cities as it hugs the western border of the state for 550 miles. "You'll experience scenic vistas and tranquil landscapes as you drive the route," the website states. "You'll find Illinois wineries and breweries, farms and u-picks, historic sites, boutique shopping, local dining, relaxing getaways and recreational activities are numerous as you plan your trip along the byway."
You can visit the beauty and history of Alton, Elsah and Grafton in the Mississippi River Country ( drive the Great River Road with scenic byways ), shopping, wineries, tours and haunted houses. Alton has the National Great Rivers Museum. Also in Alton in 2017: Grafton Winery Blues Fest May 20-21, All-Wheels Drive-In Car Show June 11, Peach Fest Aug. 13, plus in 2018, Alton Audubon Eagle fest Jan. 6. In Rock Island Aug. 19, join Floatzilla, where River Action is assembling the Great River Raft in an attempt to break the world record for the largest flotilla of canoes and kayaks, at Sunset Marina. Meanwhile, in Quincy, look for Q-Fest ( Q being for Quincy ), June 3-4, celebrating art, music and fashion, and the Great River Grape Escape is Sept. 23-24, where the Illinois wine industry showcases their beverages.
Beautiful Nauvoo is located on a bend in the Mississippi River, on the Great River Road near the borders of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri and is a National Historic Landmark District with more than 40 restored sites and two working museums. Nauvoo's restored sites will take you back in time to the 1840s, a time when Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, settled the area with over 12,000 of his followers. The working museums showcase additional heritage groups such as the Native American tribes of the Sac and Fox along with the French Icarians and various German groups. Nauvoo is also home to eclectic shopsincluding the famous Hotel Nauvoo, an inn and restaurant renowned for its high quality food; Baxter's Vineyards and Winery, the oldest winery in the state of Illinois; The Nauvoo Fudge Factory, making fresh, homemade fudge; and the Nauvoo Mill & Bakery, milling flours and making delectable treats. See www.beautifulnauvoo.com . They also have the Nauvoo Grape Fest Sept. 1-3.
Galena in Jo Daviess County, in Northwest Illinois, offers amazing opportunities for visitors. Every June is the Great Galena Balloon Race. This is a spectacular three-day event with more than 20 hot air balloons, and in 2017 it is June 16-18. From the early to mid-1800s, Galena became a mining, smelting and steamboating center and one of the busiest ports on the Mississippi River. Galena was rediscovered in the 1960s by preservationists. Now this charming city on the Galena River pleases visitors with its 19th Century history and architecture. There are also resorts, more than 30 B&Bs, trolley rides, wineries, breweries, galleries, restaurants, mansion tours, casinos and gift stores. The Galena Country fair is Oct 7-8, 2017. Fodor's calls Galena one of the 10 best antiquing towns in the U.S., and many Chicagoans travel to Galena for a quick weekend getaway to explore the Historic Main Street. Just outside of Galena is the home of Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, Illinois' largest golf resort. See www.galena.org for full details.
The Quad Cities area of Illinois and Iowa provides for great views and things to do. The gorgeous Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport is a beautiful starting point. The Mississippi River Visitor Center on Arsenal Island, between Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois, offers free bald eagle watches and Historic Clock Tower toursbring a proper government-issued ID ( passports recommended, this is operated by federal government ). Up to 2,500 bald eagles winter along the Mississippi near the lock and dams. Bald Eagle Watches occur January and February, but eagles can be seen from mid-December through early March. Reservations are requested: 309-794-5338.
Joliet, 40 miles southwest of Chicago, is a big gambling town, but it is also ranked the third most LGBTQ-friendly city in Illinois, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute. Their Municipal Equality Index gave Joliet a 78 out of 100 rating, making it third in Illinois, behind Chicago and Aurora. One of the state's oldest gay bars is in Joliet, Maneuvers. See www.facebook.com/maneuversjoliet/ . Joliet is also known for the Chicagoland Speedway, the Rialto Square Theatre and the Route 66 Raceway.
Starved Rock for the Great Outdoors
Starved Rock State Park in Utica, 90 miles Southwest of Chicago, offers an incredible forest and scenic waterfalls, plus rugged canyons. Outdoor activities include hiking, canoeing, paddle boat cruises, cross-country skiing, trolley rides, fishing and picnicking. Visitors can stay at the historic Starved Rock Lodge or in one of its cozy cabins.
As the Illinois tourism folks note: "Somewhere between the scenic vineyards, tasting rooms and wine trails, it hits you: Illinois really does have a wine country. Throughout the state, you'll find more than 100 wineries and vineyards." See www.enjoyillinois.com/en-us/tripideas/illinoiswinecountry. The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is in Southern Illinois, home to a dozen wineries. Blue Sky Vineyard is in Makanda, touting that they offer the "romance of Italy." Also in that region, Alto Vineyards Winery nestles into the woods near Little Grand Canyon in Murphysboro, a 3.6-mile loop trail. It offers spectacular views of the Big Muddy River, Turkey Bayou and the Missouri bluffs across the Mississippi River. The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail'sFood & Wine Pairing Weekends are Aug. 5-6 and Nov. 4-5.
Champaign-Urbana, early pioneers in gay rights, offer a variety of tourism options in Central Illinois. Highlights include the Krannert Art Museum, the William M. Staerkel Planetarium, Japan House, Prairie Fire Glass ( in Monticello ), Pollinatarium ( U of Illinois Pollinatarium, the first free-standing science center in the nation devoted to flowering plants and their pollinators, located in an Arboretum ), the Wandell Sculpture Garden, the Chanute Air Museum ( in Rantoul, over 30 aircraft, including a rare P-51H Mustang and XB-47 Stratojet ), and the Blind Pig Brewery. Champaign-Urbana Pride Fest is Sept. 15-17 ( unitingpride.org ), Boneyard Arts Festival in April ( boneyardartsfestival.org ) and Ebertfest also in April ( ebertfest.com ). More highlights include Allerton Park & Retreat Center, a European-inspired estate featuring formal gardens complete with sculptures and over 100 varietals of flowers and 14 miles of hiking. A popular wedding spot, especially for LGBTQs. Also has overnight accommodations in the mansion ( allerton.illinois.edu ).
Sipyard is an outdoor beer garden with local graffiti, made with shipping crates, named one of Food & Wine's top new beer gardens in the country ( sipyard.com ). Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is the largest performing arts center on a college campus in the country with hundreds of performances from theater to jazz ( krannertcenter.com ).
Urbana's Market at the Square has more than 70 vendors weekly from May-November, named top farmer's market in the state ( urbanamarket.org ). The restaurant V. Picasso offers farm-to-table dining in downtown Champaign ( vpicasso.com ). And finally, The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur, Illinois is from the people behind the stunning pumpkin and squash displays at the White House and on Oprah, in the heart of Amish Country ( www.the200acres.com/pumpkin/ ).
Going South for Outdoor Beauty
Southern Illinois has many outdoor and indoor treats, including in and near the towns of Carbondale, Harrisburg and Makanda. This area of the state is perhaps the most beautiful for outdoor adventures. Highlights include the Cache River State Natural Area ( in Belknap ), Tunnel Hill State Trail ( in Vienna ), Mermet Springs ( in Belknap ), and the Superman Statue ( in, where else, Metropolis ). Metropolis takes full advantage of its comic connection with a Super Museum and an annual Superman Celebration in June. Carbondale attractions include the Old Illinois Passenger Depot Railroad Museum.
The Garden of the Gods, in Karbers Ridge, is a must-see for lovers of the outdoors. Explore the dramatic rock formations, cliffs and trails of the most visited site in the Shawnee National Forest. See Camel Rock, Anvil Rock, Devil's Smoke Stack and other magnificent rock formations. Shawnee is also home to the Rim Rock Recreational Trail ( 403 miles of equestrian/hiking trails ). Hikers are greeted by magnificent jutting walls of rock covered with emerald-green moss, and paths that meander through canyons under the forest canopy. Nestled between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the stunning Shawnee landscape features hills, lakes, creeks and bluffs. If you're into climbing, a must-see is Jackson Falls. The Pomona Natural Bridge is a natural geologic formation that spans 90 feet across a ravine.
Near Shawnee is Cave-in-Rock State Park. Wander along the Ohio River and step into the large cavern, steeped in history of river pirates. Enjoy the spectacular river views from the lodge atop the bluffs.
Native American Mounds
The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is Illinois' only United Nations World Heritage Site. This 2,200-acre site in Collinsville preserves the central section of the largest prehistoric Indian city north of Mexico. An Interpretive Center presents a coherent account of this sophisticated prehistoric culture. Climb Monk's Mound, see the film and life-size village.
The Kincaid Mounds Archaeological Site is four miles south of Unionville Road on New Cut Road, Brookport, Illinois. Kincaid is a nationally significant Native-American archaeological treasure. From about 800 AD to 1500 AD it was the "capital" of a chiefdom that stretched from Brookport to Hamletsburg along the Ohio River. Large flat-topped mounds were erected on which the houses and temples of civil and religious elite stood.
The Underground Railroad
Underground Railroad Shuttle Tours happen from February to October each year in Alton. The system included the Old Rock House and Rocky Fork Church. Alton's riverfront location along the Mighty Mississippi played a vital role in helping slaves make connections to the freedom of the Northern states.
Other Special Places
Ravinia Festival in Highland Park runs June 3-Sept. 17. North America's oldest music festival presents more than 140 events each summer. The 36-acre park is nestled in a gently wooded area that makes it an enchanting place to experience music. Guests can bring their own picnics or eat at one of the park restaurants. See www.ravinia.org .
St. Charles is a beautiful town on the Fox River with many special events. You can browse the wares of hundreds of dealers at the Kane County Flea Market, the first weekend of each month at the Kane County Fairgrounds. They also have the Beith House Museum, the Creek Bend Nature Center, the autos on site at the Baltria collection, the Durant House Museum, Garfield Farm and Inn Museum, St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats and more.
Peoria, where you can paddle down the Illinois River on a steamboat, plus explore their riverfront. From late November to the end of December, light up your night at the East Peoria Festival of Lights, a holiday spectacular with more than 2 million lights.
Rockford, which has attractions including a Japanese Garden, Burpee Museum of Natural History with dinosaurs, Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens, kayaking, the Coronado Theatre and more.
Moline: John Deere's legacy thrives in Moline at a reimagined hands-on pavilion along the Mississippi.
Quincy highlights include Villa Kathrine, the Dollhouses Then & Now Museum with more than 70 vintage furnished doll houses from the 1920s to now, bald eagles at the Lock & Dam 21, and the World Aero Space Museum with aircraft from the Cold War erathe only museum in the world preserving these types of aircraft in one location.
Bishop Hill has Sweet Annie Primitives, the Prairie Arts Center, the Henry County Historical Museum, and many inns and gift stores.
Collinsville has other offerings in addition to the Cahokia Mounds, including Gateway Geyser Fountain, the world's tallest fountain, reaching 627 feet in a pond that holds 5 million gallons of water; the Gateway Fun Park; Casino Queen; Old Six Mile Museum in the Emmert-Zippel House ( 158-year-old home has displays of historic items including Civil War artifacts, a Native American collection, and 1830s furnishings ); and the Old Fire Engine Museum.
The Illinois Ozarks Spring Tour every April, www.illinoisozarks.com/ozark-tour. See waterfalls and wildflowers.
Galesburg has the Discovery Depot Children's Museum, Galesburg Railroad Museum, Illinois Citizen Soldier Museum, Orpheum Theatre, and the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site ( author-poet Sandburg was born in the three-room cottage at 331 E. Third Street in Galesburg Jan. 6, 1878 ).
Gurnee just north of Chicago has theme parks and endless shopping. Family-friendly attractions include KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort and Six Flags Great America and Hurricane Harbor.
HoverPark, the world's first hoverboard amusement park, is now open in West Dundee, www.hoverpark.com .
Naperville is a large town outside of Chicago, with 150,000 people and a wide variety of things to do. Naper Settlement is a family-friendly outdoor history museum featuring 12 acres of learning and interactive opportunities, from pioneer times to today. See www.visitnaperville.com .
Bloomington-Normal are college towns with historic gems. Among the offerings are Ewing Cultural Center, Grady's Family Fun Center, McLean County Museum of History, Genevieve Green Gardens, Children's Discovery Museum, Sweet Corn Blues Festival, Constitution Trail, the Funk Prairie Home Gem and Mineral Museum, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and the nearby Mackinaw River State Fish and Wildlife Area in Mackinaw.
The Hegeler Carus Mansion, built in the early 1870s, is in LaSalle, 100 miles Southwest of Chicago. Edward and Camilla Hegeler raised eight children in the mansion. Their oldest child, Mary, learned the zinc business at an early age, often helping her father at the plant. The mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, is now a National Historic Landmark. Virtually unaltered since its completion, the home is an excellent example of artistic acheivement in architecture and in interior design. Is is also the site of historic accomplishments in industry, philosophy, publishing and religion. See hegelercarus.org .
Decatur in Central Illinois has the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum, Anna Bethel Fisher Rock Garden, Children's Museum of Illinois, Never Forgotten Thymes Antiques and the Rock Springs Center for Environmental Discovery.
Lincoln, Illinois includes the Lincoln Heritage Museum, Samuel Park's Office, and the Postville Courthouse State Historic Site, a reproduction of the original courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law.
Every August in Cobdon, Far Southern Illinois, there is a Peach Fest, this year Aug. 4-5.
In October, catch the annual Scarecrow Daze Festival. The entire city of Shelbyville is decorated with scarecrows. With a different theme every year, entrants decorate their homes and businesses to the theme. There is also a large parade on Saturday, kids' games, a beer tent, music, a quilt show, and plenty of food and crafts, in downtown Shelbyville.
The Jane Addams Trail in Freeport is a multi-use 17-mile recreational trail with beautiful scenery and 21 decked bridges, including a covered bridge in Orangeville, passing wetlands, creeks, woods, prairies, geologic formations and farmland. The trail is part of the Grand Illinois Trail which traverses northern Illinois from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
There are several State Fairs in Illinois. The most well known takes place in Springfield, and it is full of politicians. The 2017 State Fair is Aug. 10-20. The Twilight Parade kicks off the event. The Coalition of Rainbow Alliances, or CORAL, is a Central Illinois LGBT coalition, and its float has won the best entrant in the parade for many years.
The Cache River Wetlands in Cypress offer opportunities for eagle watching, as well as spotting other birds, especially December through March.
The Amish County Cheese Festival in Arthur is Labor Day Weekend.
DeKalb County, 60 miles west of Chicago, is rich in history, nature and cultural diversity. They host the Make America Rock Again Festival in September.
Dixon, 100 miles west of Chicago, hosts festivals including in 2017: Dixon Petunia Fest June 29-July 4, Whiteside County Historic Barn Tour July 8-9 and the Gardenstock Art & Music Fest Aug. 19.
Mt. Carmel in Southeast Illinois hosts their Ribberfest every April, ribberfest.com, with some of the country's most talented BBQ teams competing.
Belleville, in Southwest Illinois, hosts Art on the Square May 19- May 21, 2017, with more 100 artists from across the U.S. and around the world.
The 47th Annual Fort de Chartres Rendezvous is June 3-4, 2017 at the Fort de Chartres State Historic Site in Southwest Illinois. Features shooting competitions, military drills, dancing, music, food and traders of 18th-century-style goods.
The above is far from an exhaustive list of what the state of Illinois has to offer. We hope you can't wait to travel the roadways and trails.
TRAVEL IN ILLINOIS Great River Road, National Forest, Wine Country, Indian Mounds, Eclipse
OUT! Chicago, Illinois LGBTQ Visitor's Guide available
TRAVEL with Cory Jobe: Trying to be 'amazing' Advertising campaign reaches out to LGBTs
TRAVEL in ILLINOIS LGBTs in Oak Park and Western Cook County
TRAVEL IN ILLINOIS Oak Park: The Village Wright Built
TRAVEL IN ILLINOIS Four towns in DOWNSTATE ILLINOIS well worth the time
Getting Out: LGBTQ events and mainstream treats
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