7 Illinois Staycations

July 03, 2018


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The staycation craze shows no sign of slowing, and with good reason. A local get-away is faster, easier, and greener, with the added bonus of inspiring us with a warm glow of local pride as we immerse ourselves in all Illinois has to offer.

One of the many blissful things about the Illinois Bicentennial is the way in which it is inspiring us to rediscover all the amazing things about our state. And it really is amazing out there! Which is why we’ve put together seven awesome Illinois staycation ideas for proud Illinoisans.

Get Your Glamp On

It is a truth universally acknowledged that after the age of thirty, one’s enthusiasm for the allure of a thin sleeping bag on a flimsy foam mattress in a wet forest (otherwise known as camping) can decline.

We remember the first time we heard the term glamping! “Real beds?” we said: “With sheets? In tents? In beautiful places? Where do we sign up?!”

Since then, the glamping phenomenon has really hit its stride, and Illinois has a growing number of quirky places to camp in comfort.

We’re rather smitten with yurts. They’re a great way to get away into nature with a group of friends or family, without having to take your tent, and now that most yurts are made of canvas, rather than the traditional goat skin, they’re a bit more fragrant!

Stonehouse Farm eco retreat and sanctuary is a relaxed pace with yoga retreats, massage therapies, and alternative music festivals. Their yurts are simple yet comfortable, and they also offer basic glamping, with inflatable mattresses.

Camp Manitowa specializes in summer camps for kids, but you can also book their yurts for a kid and pet-friendly get-away with kayaks on the lake and campfires after sundown.


Sand Between Your Toes

Illinois Beach State Park

If you’re fond of sand dunes, you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to the ocean. Stay on the shores of Lake Michigan at the Illinois Beach Resort, the only hotel in Illinois located directly on Lake Michigan.

Located in a protected state park, the Illinois Beach Resort is only 47 miles from Chicago, but it feels a lifetime away from the frenetic pace of metropolitan life. You can go sailing, fishing, strolling along the shore, scrambling in the dunes, or picnicking in the Illinois Beach State Park and the North Dunes Nature Preserve, 4,000 acres of wilderness and the only beach ridge shoreline left in the State.

If you fancy something a bit more high octane, you’re just down the road from Six Flags Great America and Hurricane Harbor,  15 roller coasters, a water park with over 30 water rides, spectacular shows, and family rides.

Immerse Yourself in the Past

Amish Buggies, Arcola, Illinois

There are places in Illinois where the past feels like it’s only a heartbeat away.

Historic Nauvoo is one of these communities. With more than 60 restored historic buildings in Nauvoo including the Homestead of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith, the Red Brick Store, the Browning Home and Gunsmith Shop, and a working blacksmith shop, you can learn to make rope and candles, weave rugs from rags, and taste bread from a brick oven.  And for the full immersion experience you can stay in a wide variety of historic accommodations, from B&Bs to luxurious hotels.

Illinois Amish Country is centered on the towns of Arthur and Arcola. It isn’t really accurate to call the Amish way of life historical, as the Amish community is vibrant and thriving.

However, the Amish adherence to a simpler way of life, where tradition is valued, hand-crafted goods are at the heart of their economy, and horse-drawn buggies share the road with cars, can feel like the antidote to our fast moving, throwaway society. Our favorite time of year to visit is fall when we have a family tradition of visiting the Great Pumpkin Patch, and we’ve been threatening to do the Amish Country Bicycle Tour for years!

We’re also partial to a weekend in Elsah, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its beautifully-preserved buildings, and was recently voted the state’s top scenic spot by Illinois Top 200 voters.

It’s often referred to as the “village where time stood still”. Although it’s actually not as old as some of its surrounding towns, Elsah has maintained the same charm it had when it was founded in the mid-19th century.

It’s where you go for peace, quiet, and relaxation. You can explore the historic church, museum, music hall, or general store, complete with old-time candy, soda, and other goodies. Two bed and breakfasts provide relaxed and welcoming places to stay. And within 15 miles, you’ll find more than 75 antique and specialty stores.

And if there’s one time of year you should visit, it’s at the start of December. That’s when Elsah hosts its Home for the Holidays House Tour, where homes around the town open the holiday season by opening their homes. It’s a wonderful chance to get a close-up look at some historic architecture you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to explore.

Head Off Grid and Go Backcountry Camping

Apple River State Park

Yes, we know that we just said that we’re old and crotchety and we like a decent thread count on our sheets when we go camping. It’s all true. But we also reserve the right to be contrary, so sometimes we also like to go right back to basics with some primitive camping.

Our favorite place for a bit of communing with nature is the fabulously named Panther Den Wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest, Southern Illinois. Designated as a wilderness area in 1990. Panther Den is packed with canyons, caves, and beautiful rock formations, including the Crab Orchard Wilderness. Pack light and hike in for an unforgettable weekend, and remember your GPS, because the trail markings aren’t the best. Check out @shawneewoodsman on Instagram for more primitive camping inspiration.

Other lovely Illinois locations for moon bathing, wild swimming, and rising with the dawn chorus include Gebhard Woods State Park, a primitive camping location with camp sites located 1/3 of a mile from the parking area. Carry your gear in and your reward is a peaceful campsite with no cars.

Sand Ridge State Forest offers backcountry camping, with 12 primitive sites along 55 miles of trail for a true wilderness camping experience. Sand Ridge offers expanses of hardwood and pine, panoramic vistas, miles of outstanding hiking, backpacking, birdwatching, and horseback riding.

Our top pick for stargazing is Apple River State Park, near Galena. With no light pollution, you can see the Milky Way in all its splendor. And with limestone bluffs, ravines, springs, streams, and miles of trails meandering through woodland, it’s a truly lovely camping site. Not true primitive camping, but bare bones simplicity keeps the crowds away. You’ll meet people that have been coming here for years and will happily show you their favorite hikes.

And please remember to keep Illinois beautiful and leave no trace. We get grumpy when we hike off into the backcountry and find a heap of plastic water bottles in our favorite camping spot. Don’t be that guy!

Learn a New Skill

Eli's Chocolate Cheesecake

One of five ways we can improve our wellbeing is to keep learning, and a staycation is the perfect opportunity to master a new skill to surprise and delight your friends and family. Homebrewed kombucha anyone?

We found so many amazing classes to do in Illinois that our main challenge was culling our list down from hundreds to ten tasters for your inspiration. We love eating and drinking, so it’s no surprise that most of the classes we’re most excited about are food related. But we’ve also included other suggestions for those of you who may not be as greedy as we are!

  1. Learn how to bake and decorate cheesecakes with Illinois Made maker, and baking maestros Eli’s Cheesecake.
  2. Try your hand at quilting, knitting, weaving or crochet at the Heirloom Folk Art School in the Peoria area.
  3. Fancy yourself as a craft brewer? Try classes at the Skeleton Key Brewery in Chicago, or Brew U in Libertyville, where you can also try your hand at cheesemaking. 
  4. Sign up for Architecture Fantasy Camp, run by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, where non-architects can try their hand at design.
  5. Start home coffee roasting and learn several different methods of how to brew coffee at home including: French Press, pour over, Chemex, siphon, Aeropress, and cold brew.
  6. Paint and sip, with Cork and Canvas at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, where local Galena artist Sandra Principe will guide you to create paintings inspired by flowers and the Midwest landscape.
  7. Lunch and learn in Southern Illinois at Eckharts in Belleville where they show you how to make the most of local ingredients like Eckert’s apples, squash and honey, Marcoot cheeses and Southern Illinois Pork.
  8. Get on over to mL in Andersonville, where Chef Joe of the Paired Wine Co. will teach you how to infuse fruits in liquor to make Slammed Jams, or make your own tiramisu from scratch including the mascarpone.
  9. We’re pretty sure a wine and food pairing weekend counts as learning? Educate your palette and have a really good time while you’re doing it on the Shawnee Wine Trail. All the learning, all the time. Right?

Get Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombie girls

It’s important to be prepared for the worst.

When the zombies come you’ll need to leave urban areas and survive in the wild. Which is why you should spend three days camping in the hardwood forests of Illinois where you'll learn to make use of the plants, trees, rocks, animals, and landscapes around you. Learn to make rope, light fire-by-friction, build a shelter that will keep you warm and dry, find food in the wild, and cook food over your hard-won fire.

Wilderness survival skills are genuinely awesome. Not only will you rule the undead, but you’ll also have a lot more fun camping, and even walks in the woods will have a whole new dimension. Other Illinois wilderness classes include Nature Education Programs and Southern Illinois University’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

If survival skills aren’t your thing then you can always limber up for the apocalypse with an Illinois zombie run or beat a retreat to Elgin this Halloween to help battle the zombie horde, as Downtown Elgin is turned into the Safe Zone with live performances, food and lots of zombie-themed fun!

Top Places to go Antiquing in Illinois

Galena Main Street

Who doesn’t love a good antiquing mission? The thrill of the chase. Admiring your finds. Arranging your new treasures. Posting your bargains on Instagram and reveling in the envious comments. Heaven!

Antiquing is the perfect excuse for an Illinois staycation. Not only is Illinois packed with amazing places to score some quality old stuff, but some of the best antiquing towns are also fabulous places for some equally quality Illinois R&R.

No guide to Illinois antiquing would be complete without Galena. Main Street Galena has more than 16 antique stores, including Gustafson & Grey, All That’s Vintage, Peace of the Past. Two miles east of Galena is the Galena Antique Mall, home to more than 55 dealers, a trove of vintage clothes, jewelry, china, and every manner of collectable. Don’t miss the annual tour of historic Galena homes for some antique inspiration.

Other places to track down that rare piece of milk glass, or that vintage enamel sign, are Alton’s antique district, Antique Row, more than 40 antique and specialty shops offering a wide array of treasures, trinkets, antiques and unusual gifts, and Woodstock’s Colonial Antique Mall, which has the largest collection of antique furniture in northern Illinois. Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Livingston has enough oddities and photo ops to fill an afternoon. And the Kane County Flea Market, held the first Sunday of the month and preceding Saturday (March-December), is where those in the know have gone to find their treasures for nearly half a century. With hundreds of indoor, outdoor, and under-shed vendors, you're sure to find something to take pride of place in your home.

As you hit the road and head off to explore Illinois on your next staycation, don’t forget to share your stories, your snaps, and your top tips with us on the Enjoy Illinois Facebook page. #EnjoyIllinois and we’ll all be inspired by your adventures.

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