Exploring Illinois' 7 Scenic Byways

November 11, 2018

| words

Here in Illinois, it’s not always about where you go… it’s about how you get there. And with seven distinct scenic and historic byways to choose from, you’re guaranteed to love the journey as much as the destination.

The Great River Road

The Great River Road in Illinois

Spanning 550 miles along the mighty Mississippi River, the Great River Road is one of Illinois’ most diverse and breathtaking byways. With a path that runs almost the entire length of the state, the Great River Road offers unparalleled opportunities to experience Illinois – from outdoors adventures to presidential history. Discover European charm in Galena, the legacy of John Deere in Moline or the remains of an ancient civilization in Collinsville. Travel far enough south and you’ll even come face to face with the Devil’s Backbone: a peculiar set of rock formations lining the Mississippi River.

Meeting of the Great Rivers

Meeting of the Great Rivers

Don’t have time for a 500-mile road trip? How about 33? The Meeting of the Great Rivers is a dramatic 33-mile section of the Great River Road, where the great Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers converge. Extending from Pere Marquette State Park to the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, the Meeting of the Great Rivers is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois. Keep your eyes open for a glimpse of the area’s iconic bald eagles or watch the bluffs for a look at another feathered friend – the enigmatic Piasa Bird.

Illinois River Road

Grandview Drive

Travel the rolling hills of central Illinois as you follow the path of the Illinois River. At 291 miles, the Illinois River Road offers incredible views and access to some of the best state parks in Illinois. Stop off at Grandview Drive for a 2.52-mile pleasure cruise along the bluffs of the river that President Theodore Roosevelt called the “world’s most beautiful drive.” Or stretch your legs at Buffalo Rock State Park for a look at its five giant earthen sculptures known as the Effigy Tumuli.

Route 66

Route 66 Sign, Pontiac

The original road trip, Illinois Route 66 offers 300 miles of American roadway. Steeped in legend and packed full of nostalgic eats and quirky museums, there’s plenty of kitsch for that perfect Instagram post. Beginning in Chicago and continuing southwest to the Chain of Rocks bridge in Alton, Route 66 offers a broad survey of Illinois’ landscape, with plenty of nature, culture and roadside weirdness to snapshot along the drive. Check out our Route 66 page for a full list of what you can see and do on Route 66.

Illinois Lincoln Highway

Cars on the Illinois Lincoln Highway

Driving from Chicago to Galena? Drive clear across northern Illinois on the nation’s first successful coast-to-coast highway, the Illinois Lincoln Highway. Enjoy 179 miles of rolling farmland and classic Midwest traditions, as you loop around to the Great River Road. Popular pitstops include Chicagoland Speedway, Air Classics Museum of Aviation and Jonomac Orchard and Corn Maze.

Historic National Road

Collinsville Largest Catsup Bottle

It’s the “road that built the nation.” Constructed in the early 1800s as America’s first highway, the Historic National Road helped blaze one of the first trails west across south central Illinois. During the historic byway’s 164-mile stretch from Marshall to East St. Louis, you’ll visit prehistoric cities, Victorian architecture and Midwest small town America. Oh, and don’t miss “The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle.” It’s a 170-foot water tower in Collinsville painted to resemble a bottle of Brooks Tangy Catsup. You (quite literally) can’t miss it.

Ohio River Scenic Byway

Cairo Rail Bridge

Planning an outdoor escape in the Shawnee National Forest? Take the scenic route with the Ohio River Scenic Byway. Wind your way through 188 miles of forest and country road along the southern tip of Illinois for some the best views and most celebrated outdoor destinations in the state. Make a well-deserved pit stop at Cave-in-Rock State Park or take a small detour for an afternoon stretch in Garden of the Gods. Feeling heroic? Pull off in Metropolis to visit the home of Superman and snap a picture with the city’s fabled protector.

Love the Story?
Save to Favorites Remove from Favorites