5 Days | 220 Miles | in Outdoors & Regional, 4-5 Days
The areas near Illinois’ magnificent rivers are the ideal backdrop for viewing the full spectrum of fall colors and for autumn attractions. Drive along scenic byways, including “the world’s most beautiful drive.” Then switch gears and speed through the foliage on a zipline, go on a vintage riverboat cruise, or engage in activities of a paranormal nature on a Halloween ghost tour.
Make sure to check with attractions ahead of time for up-to-date operating hours, travel policies and health and safety information.
There’s no better way to experience fall colors than cruising along the Mississippi River. More specifically, the Great River Road, which starts in northwest Illinois and runs all the way to southern Illinois. Your adventure begins in the charming town of Galena.
Known as one of America’s most beautiful Main Streets, downtown Galena is full of quaint shops and tasty treats. From Galena Canning Company and Great American Popcorn Company to Pinder Pottery and Galena Cellars Vineyard, there is so much to discover. Better yet, rent an electric bike through Fever River Outfitters and cruise through the historic downtown. For a more scenic route, you can even bike through the vineyards.
When you’re ready for lunch, grab a bite at Durty Gurt’s Burger Joynt or Fritz & Frites. In the afternoon, the brave of heart can explore the spooky and paranormal side of Galena with The Haunted Galena Tour Company. Rest your head at one of the quaint bed and breakfasts like Goldmoor Inn, which overlooks the Mississippi River, or The Inn at Irish Hollow, located on 500 rolling acres in the Galena countryside.
Early birds can get a birds-eye view of the season’s vibrant colors on a hot air balloon ride with Galena on the Fly. Not a morning person? They also offer sunset rides that are just as beautiful. Once you’re back on land, head over to another high-flying adventure – ziplining among the fall foliage at Long Hollow Canopy Tours.
When you’ve had enough thrills, visit the family-owned and operated Dittmar Farms & Orchard. Pick pumpkins and apples, and don’t forget to grab some fall treats like their famous apple cider donuts. Enjoy a hearty Italian dinner at Vinny Vanucchi’s and rest up for more adventures to come.
Start your day taking in the spectacular river views at Mississippi Palisades State Park just 30 minutes south of Galena. The park is filled with rich Native American history and has many great trails and lookout points – try the 1.3 mile Sentinel Trail which will lead you to the rock formation known as Sentinel Rock. If you prefer to get your daily dose of fall colors on the water, set sail on a Fall Foliage Cruise aboard the Celebration Belle, a classic paddlewheel boat offering scenic tours of the Mississippi River.
Grab lunch afterward at the Lemongrass Café, a thai restaurant in Moline, and continue your Quad Cities exploration on the QC Ale Trail, a self-guided tour of the best breweries in the area. In Rock Island, stop to do some shopping at Illinois Made Makers Wild Cherry Spoon Co. and Navarro Canoe Co. Together, they’ll have your handcrafted wooden spoon and wooden canoe needs covered. While you’re out shopping, do not miss a stop at Lagomarcino’s, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that is practically frozen in time. Check in for your overnight stay at the Hyatt House East Moline/Quad Cities.
Start the day with breakfast at QC Coffee and Pancake House before continuing your journey south to Peoria. Another old fashioned paddleboat ride awaits on the Spirit of Peoria where you can peep some of the best fall colors on their weekend fall foliage tour. Declared the “world’s most beautiful drive” by President Theodore Roosevelt, Grandview Drive is a 2.5 mile trail and park that autumn lovers can walk, bike or drive. And if you need a post-excursion pick-me-up, Three-Thirty Coffee Company custom roasts their artisanal beans making for one of the best cups of coffee in town.
When you’re ready to refuel, look no further than Thyme Kitchen + Craft Beer, Cyd’s in the Park or Edge. Hankering for an Illinois classic? Head to Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery for their famous horseshoe sandwich made with two thick-cut slices of toasted bread, a layer or more of juicy meats, and a small mountain of crispy French fries, all piled together and lavished in cheese sauce.
At the end of the day, rest your head at the historic Marriott Pere Marquette. If you are looking for something a little more rustic and unique, try one of the lodging or camping experiences at Wildlife Prairie Park Lodging like a Santa Fe Train Caboose, restored grain bin or one of the newly built cabins.
Another day of outdoor exploration awaits. Start your day by heading north to Three Sisters Park, a 400-acre private park located on the Illinois River. After that, make your way to Wildlife Prairie Park, an 1,800-acre zoological park filled with over 50 different species of animals native to Illinois. Plus, the park has many miles of walking and biking trails and five fishing lakes.
In the evening, unwind from the day’s adventures with a glass of Illinois Made wine at Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, a 90-acre picturesque vineyard in Mackinaw offering a wide variety of award-winning wines.