Springtime is known for awakening wanderlust. While the association may be cliche, it’s a feeling common to many, a feeling only intensified by a long winter preceded by a global advisory to stay at home. Fortunately, Illinois boasts many outdoor attractions and safe traveling destinations that allow you to explore something new and expand your horizons while feeling safe and staying close to home. Check out this list to help make your spring vacation a success!
Nestled between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Shawnee National Forest is an attractive destination for outdoor lovers who enjoy hiking woodland hills and gazing over serene lakes. Unique sandstone cliffs, beaches and dunes, steep bluffs, and a cascading waterfall adorn this 289,000-acre national forest. Campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and reservations are not accepted. Generally, campgrounds are open from April 1st through December 15th.
Voted the number one attraction in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park is a nature-lover’s paradise. Waterfalls are generally active in the spring after heavy rains, so April is a great time to see these cataracts in all their splendor. Fishing and boating are available, as are 13 miles of trails through forests filled with majestic trees.
Situated in northern Illinois, the city of Rockford is full of diverse attractions. In fact, Rockford’s twelve-acre Anderson Japanese Gardens is recognized as one of the premier Japanese Gardens in North America. Other attractions include the dinosaur exhibit at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, regional American works at the Rockford Art Museum, rotating exhibits at the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens, and, of course, the 3,092-acre Rock Cut State Park.
Located in Central Illinois on the Illinois River, Peoria is another unique getaway destination that the whole family will enjoy. Peoria Zoo has plenty to explore, with exhibits ranging from AFRICA! to Asian Trail to Australia Walk-About, Conservation Center, Contact Barn, and Tropics. You’ll also enjoy walking around Glen Oak Park and the Luthy Botanical Garden, as well as checking out the planetarium, fine art, and sculpture garden at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. Another attraction is the Wildlife Prairie Park, where you can hike forest trails and maybe even spot local wildlife.
If you’re in the mood for a road trip, you won’t find a more classic Illinois path to drive than Route 66. This 300-mile route has become an iconic American roadway, from the smallest details like restored 1940s gas pumps to delicious fried chicken at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, a historical exploration of the highway at Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, famous “landmarks” like the nineteen-foot Paul Bunyon and the world’s largest covered wagon, and so much more. Explore attractions in detail and plan your route here.
Among its many other charms, Galena is famous for its world-class distilleries, vineyards, and breweries. Sample unique whiskeys, vodkas, and gins at Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., which is rated a number 1 TripAdvisor attraction. If your palette is more inclined towards wine, be sure to plan a tour through Fergedaboudit Vineyard and Winery, Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery, Massbach Ridge Winery, and Rocky Waters Vineyard and Winery, Inc. Are you a craft brew lover? Don’t worry. The Galena Brewing Company and Pecatonica Beer Company Tap House have got you covered.
Are you ready to enter a real-life fairy tale? Visit Jeremy “Boo” Rochman Memorial Park, a unique gem in Carbondale, Illinois. This magical park is a private memorial that became a public park. Created with a Dungeons and Dragons theme, this park is home to climbable sculptures of dragons, unicorns, pegasus, wizards, and more. Children and adults alike love exploring the mini medieval castle and adventuring through the park’s elaborate surprises. Other Carbondale attractions include The Science Center of Southern Illinois, Honker Hill Winery, Kite Hill Vineyards, and much more.
We usually think of a getaway as somewhere rural, but those who are lucky enough to live in Illinois know that Chicago is its own unique getaway, as it always offers more to explore. While some Chicago attractions did close due to COVID-19, there are still a lot of exciting things to do. The Lincoln Park Zoo reopened on March 5th, Chicago bars and restaurants are reopening with limited capacity, and iconic museums are open as well, including the Chicago History Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium.
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