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Top Illinois Road Trip Destinations That are Inexpensive Yet Delightful

Top Illinois Road Trip Destinations

Illinois destinations are captivating. Illinois is one of the 12 states of the midwest. It is known as the ‘Land of Lincoln’ in the honor of Abraham Lincoln who lived in Springfield, the capital city of Illinois. Some of the other states in the midwest are Ohio, Wisconsin & Michigan. Illinois is also known as the ‘Prairie State’ for its huge expanse of gardens and grasslands. In this post, we will explore the top Illinois road trip destinations.

Chicago deep dish pizzas, Millennium Park, Spoon River Valley drive and much more; quickly find out everything this itinerary entails through the below slides:

Windy City & Neighboring Illinois Road Trip Attractions 

Illinois Road trip ideas can be covered in three pockets, first-one covering the attractions near Chicago… 

Road trip attractions near Chicago - The Windy city

Chicago is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, which offers lucrative river and lake cruises that take you around the city for an awe-inspiring sightseeing tour.

River & Lake Cruises Attractions in Chicago

The city offers the best food tours in America and is a foodie paradise. There are several undisclosed local spots which are covered by these food tours which are not to be missed by foodies. Even the roadside food is scrumptious. Moreover, Chicago offers exciting nightlife attractions from dining establishments to rooftop pubs and nightclubs.

Famous deep dish pizza - Chicago food tour attraction

1. Grant Park, Chicago: A Unique Road Trip Attraction

Grant Park in the city is a sample of what the state of Illinois has to offer in terms of scenic beauty. You can walk, jog, play baseball, or just sit and unwind here and enjoy the beautiful views.

Grant Park, Chicago

2. Millennium Park, Chicago: Art & Culture Escape

For art and culture buffs, Millennium Park is a must-go destination. Landing in Chicago and starting your Illinois road trip from here would justify the saying, ‘Well begun is half done.’ 

Millennium Park

3. Grosse Point Lighthouse, Chicago: A Historic Landmark

30-minutes along the shore, the road will take you to Grosse Pointe Lighthouse, the 113 ft high National Landmark having a rich history. The view from the top is picturesque and overlooking Lake Michigan. It was built in 1873 and was used to guide the ships to the port of Chicago. History buffs can make a quick stop here and go for a tour or just go on any other day and explore on your own! 

Grosse Point Lighthouse

4. Fabyan Windmill, Chicago: An Engineering Marvel

Hitting back to the road, the next stop is Fabyan Forest Preserve, 1-hour away from the lighthouse. Situated on the banks of Fox River, it is mainly known for the Japanese style landscaping and the Fabyan Windmill. In the 1850s a 5 story windmill was built here, which still exists and is 68 foot high. This is a marvel of Dutch engineering and it has been restored to function by the wind energy naturally, without any man-made powering. It is one of the very few in the entire world. It is a time capsule and a major attraction for history buffs as there are many tales surrounding this piece of great significance in history. Apart from this, the forest offers recreational activities such as biking, camping, fishing, golfing, hiking among others, and in winters, skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing are common. It is an awesome family road trip destination. 

5. Anderson Gardens, Chicago: A Photographer’s Paradise

After spending a day at the Fabyan Forest Preserve, the next Illinois road trip attraction could be the Anderson Japanese Gardens, which is just 30-minute away, in the city of Rockford. The Japanese gardens are spread over a 12-acre area and are full of koi-filled ponds, streams, numerous waterfalls, beautiful Pine trees, and other colorful flora which make it a brilliant sight to look at, especially in the autumn or fall seasons. It is a must-go destination for nature lovers and solitude seekers. Strolling, biking, hiking, or even sitting near the pond can be an enjoyable experience. Photography is one of the most sought after activities here to capture the brilliant hues engulfing natural beauty. 

Anderson Japanese Gardens

6. Nicolas Conservatory: A Family Road Trip Destination

Right next to the Anderson gardens, is the next road trip attraction, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens . It is known for its several different exhibits that happen year-round. One very popular exhibit is the Orchid exhibit between February and March, which displays hundreds of beautiful orchids blooming across the gardens and coloring it pink, white, purple, orange, and any other color you can think of. It’s the Keukenhof, but for Orchids. In the springtime, they have a butterfly exhibit displaying the entire life cycle of the butterflies. The conservatory sure loves colors. Or you may even go tasting tables full of different varieties of whiskey, wine, and beer, enjoy the food from the food trucks, or even see the miniature train and trolley exhibits at the Sinnissippi Station. This is a brilliant road trip destination in Illinois to spend a day with family or lover. It is romantic and educational at the same time. 

7. State parks: Adventure & Nature Spots

A two-hour road trip from either Rockford or Chicago can take you to Starved Rock State Park & Buffalo Rock State Park situated just 6 miles apart from each other. Illinois has a multitude of state parks in every part. These are two famous ones close to Chicago. They offer a lot of opportunities for adventurists such as ziplining, skydiving, cross country skiing, biking, hiking, hunting, camping, boating, fishing, and more! Each park has its own attractions.

Skydiving and adventure at Illinois state parks

Starved Rock is known for its beautiful rock formations, canyons, and waterfalls. The rich faun is highly attractive here with oak and cedar trees but be mindful of the poison ivy, spread all across the park.

Starved Rock State Park

Buffalo Rock State Park is known for American Bison and many other animals living in their natural habitat. Also, a unique natural feature is the Effigy Tumuli. This is is an ‘earth art’ and includes the sculptures of 5 most common animal species found in the Illinois river.

American bison at  Buffalo Rock State Park

This could be called the garden road trip of the state of Illinois as it is full of scenic views and natural beauty. 

Flower City & Neighboring Illinois Road Trip Attractions

The next pocket of this midwestern Illinois road trip destinations includes the spots near the Illinois’ capital city of Springfield… 

Flower city Springfield

1. Botanical Gardens: Illinois’ Flower City Attractions

Springfield is the third capital of Illinois and is nicknamed as the flower city. One of the most attractive spots here is the Washington Park Botanical Garden which showcases a greenhouse area, and a conservatory featuring close to a 5,000-plant rose garden, an iris garden, and outdoor cactus gardens.

Roses at Washington Park Botanical Garden

2. A Tribute to Abraham Lincoln: Illinois’ Historic Spots

Another important aspect of Springfield is its connection to Abraham Lincoln, who was instrumental in making it the capital city in the 1800s and moved to the city in 1837. Therefore it is home to many historic attractions including the home where Lincoln lived. This is an attraction for history buffs. Before moving to Springfield, Lincoln lived and worked as a postmaster in a village now known as Lincoln’s New Salem which is just a 30-minute drive from Springfield and the first stop to the road trip from Springfield. 

Lincoln's Grave at Springfield

3. Spoon River Valley Road Trip: An Autumn Bliss

From New Salem, road trippers can head to Spoon River Valley and enjoy the Scenic Drive. The valley starts at Fulton county and then carves its way till it meets the Illinois River. The total drive is 140 miles long and is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and forest-lined paths all along. The colorful imagery is breathtaking and mixes hues of orange, yellow, and green leaves all throughout and is a treat for the eyes in the fall. There is an annual fall festival held in this region in October, which is full of fun food and entertainment provided by the local vendors and community people. 

Spoon River Valley at New Salem

4. Fulton County & Galena: Varied Road Trip Attractions

A two-hour road trip from Fulton County will take you to Mississippi Palisades State Park Another beautiful state park rich with Native-American history and is spread over 2500 acres. Southern routes offer several hiking trails. Hunting, camping, picnicking, skiing are all offered here, and just like any other state park, it presents the gifts of nature wrapped in tranquility and solitude. Close to the state park is the town of Galena where you can behold a variety of magic shows at the P.T. Murphy Magic Theater or enjoy the beautiful landscaping of the Linmar Gardens. The West Sreet Sculpture park has several metal sculptures designed by John Martinson. 

Mississippi Palisades State Park

So we can call this the Scenic Drive road trip pocket of Illinois, perfect for romantic long drives… 

Shawnee National Forest & Neighboring Attractions

The third pocket of Illinois road trip getaways include the Shawnee National Forest and nearby attractions… 

Shawnee National Forest, is spread across a massive 280,000 acres area and is divided into two parts, the east, and the western forests. Thousands of years ago, the forest area was covered with Laurentide Ice Sheet, however, now it is full of grassy patches, wild trees, thick forest and rocks, and stone formations. One of the most popular areas of the forest is the biking trail of Garden of the Gods that offers unique sandstone rock formations, similar to that in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado springs. A famous photography attraction is the camel rock formation. The biking trail along the steep stones can be strenuous and adventurous at the same time. People even like to camp and hike or simply enjoy the extraordinary beauty of this place.

Garden of the Gods at Shawnee National Forest

Tourists enjoy taking photos with the giant Bigfoot statue here. Another important attraction of the forest is the 100 ft high Burden falls, although the best season is to visit in the summers, it looks spectacular in winters when the water is frozen. The forest has several aquatic habitats which are home to approximately 100 species of fish and marine life. Close to 500 species of wildlife are native here including mammals, reptiles, and birds. 

Bigfoot Statue at Shawnee National Forest

Two of the most scenic drives are the Ohio river scenic byway and the Great river road. There are several history and archaeology attractions too along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. You may even like to explore the underground railroad sites.

1. Cahokia Mounds: What Makes Illinois the Prairie State

A 3-hour road trip from Shawnee Forest can take you to Cahokia Mounds comprising 70 grass-covered mounds and spread across 2,000 acres. Back in 700 A.D., this used to be a highly civilized society with elaborate settlements of Woodland Indians. After the decline of the mound civilization at around 1200 A.D. The spot has gained great significance in history and attracts scores of tourists annually. The mounds are connected by a staircase comprising 154 steps. This spot is a must-go attraction for history buffs. Cahokia is the true example of why Illinois is known as the Prairie State. 

These were just some of the road trips that can be planned in the beautiful state of Illinois but it is definitely not all that the state has to offer. Illinois road trip sites are filled with history, gardens, state parks, river cruises, city life, festivals, scenic beauty and many more attractions. Explore and find out more about the story of the state of Illinois! Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan are a few of the other states in the Midwest. Ohio also has road trip destinations with scenic byways and attractions. You can map out your driving tour with these scenic road trip destinations in Ohio.

While you’re at it, check out the best vacation rentals on RentalTrader.com. We hope that these Illinois road trip destinations suggestions were helpful, for more information, check out the other great articles on our blog by clicking on the menu at the upper right of this page.

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