Who needs a vacation abroad when you’ve got the beauty of your own country to explore?
Illinois, affectionately known as the Prairie State, has it all – the exciting city of Chicago in the north to the historic Charleston in the east. However, Illinois doesn’t just have cities to offer – why visit a city when you could take a road trip to some of nature’s best sights?
The best thing about Illinois is that the state offers everything you could possibly want from a road trip, whether it’s a trip to Lake Michigan, a weekend exploring hidden gems of restaurants, or a spooky road trip to some of the creepiest deserted places.
Whether you’re from Illinois or another state and you’re looking for some road trip ideas in the Prairie State, we’ve got you covered. Here are the 15 best Illinois road trips, including weekend getaways and day trips!
Waterfalls road trip
Do go chasing waterfalls with this gorgeous road trip that follows some of nature’s most beautiful rivers in Illinois. Not every road trip has to follow a specific route, so this is a great option for those who want to avoid the tourists on the beaten track. As there’s no specific route to follow, you have the freedom to plan your own trip!
Still, if you want an idea of how to plan your road trip, here are some of the best waterfalls to find:
- Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve – 35W003 State Rte 31, South Elgin, Illinois, 60177
- Waterfall Glen (Burr Ridge) – Lemont, Illinois, 60439
- Matthiessen State Park (North Utica) – 2500 IL-178, Oglesby, Illinois, 61348
- Starved Rock State Park – 2678 East 875th Road, Oglesby, Illinois, 61348
- Burden Falls – Pope (No official address)
- Ferne Clyffe State Park – 90 Goreville Road, Goreville, Illinois, 62939
- Kinkaid Lower Falls – 52 Cinder Hill Drive, Murphysboro, Illinois, 62966
If you follow this route, it will take 8 hours and 51 minutes all together.
Make sure to pack a camera, good walking shoes, a picnic, and a towel and bathing suit if the water is nice enough to swim!
If you’re fancying a day trip to somewhere fun, you should visit Alton! Located on the Mississippi River in Illinois, the city of Alton has a unique history as it was originally the home to Native Americans for thousands of years. Nowadays, Alton is a modern city with a mixture of traditionalism.
Alton is a popular city to visit for its culture spots, including the Alton Museum of History and Art, the Jacoby Arts Center, the Alton Little Theater, the Alton Amphitheater, and an abundance of bars and restaurants that highlight the local music talents. Not only this, but Alton is considered one of the most haunted cities in America, so it’s an awesome place for the history nerds!
Alton is certainly the city to visit with a camera. The buildings represent the city beautifully, with a unique mix of modern and traditional architecture. Not to mention the fact Alton resides on the Mississippi River, so if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city itself, you can simply make your way to the water’s edge.
Route 66 is one of the most famous routes in the whole of America for its exciting scenery. Known as the Mother Road, Route 66 was one of America’s original highways. You don’t have to follow the entire route to California (see also ‘15 Cool Things To Do In Temecula On Your Trip‘) if you want to keep it local, as the route in Illinois features a variety of sights.
Start your 300-mile road trip in the heart of Chicago before following the route down to Joliet to Bloomington. Here, we recommend checking out the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac.
Between Bloomington and Springfield, you have to check out one of the most iconic roadside attractions, the 19-ft Paul Bunyan Hotdog Statue. From Springfield, the route takes you through Litchfield, which offers some of America’s most classic roadside cuisines. Save room for pie, is all we recommend. Lastly, the route takes you from Litchfield to Collinsville, where the Illinois section of the route finishes at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Haunted road trip
If you’re looking for a road trip to complete in fall, why not take it one step further than visiting a haunted house at a theme park and complete a road trip filled with actual haunted locations?
Illinois is home to some of the spookiest historical places, which means you don’t necessarily have to follow a specific route. Still, here is our guide of places to visit:
- Bloods Point Cemetery – 61008 Belvidere, Illinois
- Graceland Cemetery – 4001 N Clark St, Chicago, Illinois 60613
- Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery – 5900 Midlothian Tpke, Midlothian, Illinois, 60445
- Manteno State Hospital – 1 Veterans Dr, Manteno, Illinois, 60950
- Peoria Public Library – 107 NE Monroe St, Peoria, Illinois, 61602
- – 4400 Industry Rd, Bartonville, Illinois, 61607
- Mineral Springs – 1901 Court St, Pekin 61554
- Greenwood Cemetery – Auburn Street, Rockford, Illinois
- McPike Mansion – 2018 Alby St, Alton 62002
- Cahokia Mounds – 30 Ramey Dr, Collinsville 62234
Speaking of fall, Batavia is the perfect place to visit for the day if you’re wanting to fully immerse yourself in the vibes of fall. Batavia is a suburb in Chicago that is both historic and gorgeous, so make sure to bring your camera.
We recommend visiting the Fabyan Windmill, St. Charles History Museum, Red Oak Nature Center, Water Street Studios, and the Batavia Depot Museum. If you’re traveling with kids, take them to Funway for a day of endless entertainment.
Great River Road
Looking for a weekend road trip to explore the natural wonders of the United States? The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River and is home to some of the most astonishing sights and wildlife, including bald eagles and other local wildlife. Spanning for 550 miles across Illinois, the Great River Road offers lots of roadside restaurants and places to sit and enjoy the nature. Plus, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not hire a canoe to explore the iconic river?
Starved Rock State Park
Located only 90 minutes from Chicago, the Starved Rock State Park offers a stunning respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. With 18 sandstone canyons, this park is the ideal place to go hiking and take in the smells of real nature. In fact, this park offers over 13 miles of hiking trails!
We recommend visiting the Starved Rock State Park if you’re looking for some time away from work and technology, especially if you want to get your kids excited about the outdoors. It’s not just about hiking, as this park also offers several stunning waterfalls and a campground for those who wish to spend a weekend here. This place is so popular among tourists that some 2 million visitors are said to explore this park every year!
Shawnee National Forest
Man, Illinois is home to some of the most beautiful sights, huh! The Shawnee National Forest is the state’s only national forest, located right at the south of Illinois. With 287,000 acres of land, visitors can hike, fish, rid horses, ride boats, and go hunting. The history of this national forest is a reason in itself to visit – with Native American slaves infamously escaping via the Underground Railroad, which you can learn about on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
As there is so much to explore at this national forest, we recommend camping at the forest over the weekend so you have enough time to see everything. If camping isn’t your thing, try out some of the unique tree houses!
Weird attractions road trip
While Illinois is home to some of the most stunning natural wonders, it’s also home to some of the strangest sights in the country. If you want an entertaining couple of days, check out this road trip that explores the weirdest attractions and roadside sights.
- Gold Pyramid House – 37921 N Dilleys Rd, Wadsworth, Illinois, 60083
- Leaning Tower of Niles – 6300 W Touhy Ave, Niles, Illinois, 60714
- Gemini Giant – 810 E Baltimore St, Wilmington, Illinois, 60481
- Hippie Memorial – 135 N Oak St, Arcola, Illinois, 61910
- Two Story Outhouse – 1022 Pine St, Gays, Illinois, 61928
- World’s Largest Wind Chime – 109 E Main St, Casey, Illinois, 62420
- World’s Largest Catsup Bottle – 800 South Morrison Avenue, Collinsville, Illinois
- America’s Largest Cross – W. Knagge Rd, Effingham, Illinois
- Piasa Bird – Wise St, Alton, Illinois
- Superman Statue – 517 Market St, Metropolis, Illinois, 62960
Not all road trips and weekend getaways have to be all about nature. If you live in the greenest parts of Illinois, you might want to have some time to thrive in a city for a day or two.
If you’re planning a getaway trip in Illinois, you’ve got to consider visiting the capital of the state, Springfield. Most famously known as the home city of Abraham Lincoln from 1837-1861, Springfield is now home to some of the most interesting historical attractions. The best places to visit here are the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Lincoln Tomb, Art Alley (for the best local art), and the Old State Capitol State Historic Site.
African American History & Heritage Road Trip
This is an organized road trip that takes you around the African American areas of history and heritage in Illinois. This is certainly one of the most educational and cultural road trips in Illinois, ranging from visiting museums to musical bars.
Day one begins in Downtown Chicago, which is home to some of the most diverse places in the state. Bronzeville is the next stop, known as “Black Metropolis”, where you can see the Obama’s family home and an array of Black-owned restaurants in South Chicago.
Next is the Chicago suburbs and then Springfield, which is an ideal place to visit for Juneteenth. Finally, the road trip takes you to Jacksonville and Alton, where you can explore the Underground Railroad and Hamilton Primary School, which was one of the first integrated schools in the state.
If you’re looking for a day trip in a city, check out Magnificent Mile in Chicago! The Magnificent Mile is one of Chicago’s most prestigious and famous “landmarks”, and it’s essentially just a long high street that features a range of shops and boutiques. This is definitely the place to go if you’re feeling fancy and wanting to treat yourself for a birthday, anniversary, or just after a tough week at work.
The Magnificent Mile is also home to multiple museums, live music, Wrigley Building, Trump Tower, and prestigious hotels and restaurants.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the largest Native American settlement north of Mexico, and it is believed to have been occupied between 700 AD and 1400 AD. It is believed that it was home to 20,000 occupants! Nowadays, the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that educates visitors about the history of the occupants and how they lived on the land through presentations and performances.
Anderson Japanese Gardens
If you want a respite day of tranquility to be one with nature, you’ve got to check out the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford. These gardens feature 12 acres of Japanese fauna and foliage as well as rock formations, waterfalls, ponds, and streams. Sure, it’s not the same as visiting Japan itself, but it’s close enough. Especially with the sukiya-style guest house and authentic tearoom. What a peaceful place to meditate!
Girl’s Trip to Galena
Pack your bags, girls, this road trip is one to remember. This road trip starts with a restaurant experience on Main Street and escalates into horseback riding, goat trekking, hot air balloon-ing, and finally relaxing in a glorious spa. This is the ideal road trip for your girlfriend’s birthday, a bridal party, or just to treat yourself and your friends! Plus – who said this trip is just for girls? Pack your bags too, guys!