3 Days | 302 Miles
There’s no season like fall along the Mississippi River in Illinois for wholesome, relaxing activities, like apple picking at an orchard, brunching on a riverboat, and admiring fall colors at a state park. There’s also no season like it for going on professional ghost hunts and roaming the halls of haunted river mansions.
Make sure to check with attractions ahead of time for up-to-date operating hours, travel policies and health and safety information.
Homemade apple cider doughnuts at BerryView Orchard will complement your piping-hot coffee as you kick off a brisk fall morning. The U-pick apple and aronia berry fields help make this friendly rural spot a can’t-miss autumn destination. A few miles outside of Fulton, you’ll find another local favorite in Indian Hills Orchard, where apple lovers will have a literal field day.
Stop for nourishment at Manny’s Pizza in Fulton, and have your pick of delicious Tex-Mex cuisine and classic thin-crust pizzas. Poopy’s offers a different but equally inviting ambience, and on many days the place will be rocking with live music. If you stay at Savanna Inn & Suites, you’ll even have access to a free express van that takes you to and from Poopy’s!
Autumn arrives vividly in these parts, and the fall colors that overtake the trees, wildflowers and ferns engulf Mississippi Palisades State Park in seasonal splendor. Break in your hiking boots by discovering more than 15 miles of trails along steep cliffs and enthralling rock formations. The views at the overlooks will make the afternoon trek worthwhile.
Follow the road to where the bison roam at the Nachusa Grasslands, a diverse mosaic of prairie, wetlands and savannas that has been restored through years of volunteer work from members of the community.
Once you tear yourself away from the fresh air and wide open spaces, swing by Kennay Farms Distilling for farmhouse-themed brews and spirits crafted from local grain. Continue the suds tour at Hairy Cow Brewing Company in Byron. They’re a tight-knit crew with a clear passion for their town —and their beer.
As the day winds down, experience a different style of "night life" at Conover Square–an abandoned and reportedly haunted piano factory turned shopping mall. Continue the fright night at Timber Lake Playhouse, where you’ll discover creepy trails, a haunted house, and an escape room that’ll require overcoming your fear and collaborating with others to achieve freedom. The Road House murder mystery dinner show and building tour offers an appropriately scary finish to the evening’s spooky adventures.
Your beauty sleep awaits. Nestled just outside the Nachusa Grasslands is Lincoln Way, a charming, eco-friendly inn with countryside décor and amenities like a sauna and an outdoor hot tub.
After breaking your fast, enjoy a leisurely drive to the Quad Cities, stopping at any attractions that catch your eye along the way.
Once you arrive, make your way to the Quad City Botanical Center, which is adjacent to the Mississippi River in downtown Rock Island. In addition to its fascinating indoor tropical atrium and gorgeous outdoor gardens, you and the kids may even get to participate in special fall activities if you visit at an opportune time.
Complete your morning with a stroll over to downtown Rock Island, where you can soak in views of the majestic Mississippi at Schwiebert Park, take a bike ride on the Great River Trail, or explore the vibrant local art scene.
When lunchtime rolls around, head to Illinois Maker Lagomarcino’s in downtown Moline for a savory sandwich. The family recipe hasn’t changed in about 70 years, so you know they’re doing something right. And don’t you dare leave without dessert! If you failed to try one of their fine chocolates, decadent sundaes and rich milkshakes, you’d never forgive yourself.
Harvesting season doesn’t last very long, so make sure to take advantage. Walk through rows of fresh produce and select your favorite fruits and veggies at Happy Hollow U-Pick. Don’t forget to stop at Shady Knoll as well. As flower season comes to an end, the pumpkin patch will be blossoming with fresh pumpkins primed for the picking.
You may not yet know it, but when night falls in Rock Island, an aura of mystery hangs heavy in the air, especially during the weeks surrounding Halloween. Sign up for the QC Haunts & History Tour to get the inside scoop on ghostly tales and the seedy side of the city’s history.
Aside from its award-winning beer and crowd-pleasing food, the greatest asset of Bent River Brewing Company may be its dual locations —one in Moline, another in Rock Island. They also offer tours, and if you’re lucky, local performers will be filling the taproom with the sounds of live music.
In terms of lodging, the Quad Cities have something for everyone. Those with an affinity for table games and slots can check into Bally’s Quad Cities, then test their luck at the onsite casino. There’s plenty of entertainment for non-gamblers too, including an indoor pool, four restaurants, a sports bar, an aqua driving range and a lakeside fire pit.
For stunning panoramic views of the Mississippi, head for the Hyatt Place East Moline, and enjoy a nightcap at its elegant top-floor lounge. If you don’t want to let the attractions of downtown Moline out of your sight, go with the Radisson on John Deere Commons, which is walking distance to dozens of shops, restaurants and bars.
There’s no such thing as a light breakfast at QC Coffee and Pancake House. You’ll quickly discover that a cinnamon roll pancake goes quite well with a loaded breakfast skillet!
As a grand finale for your trip, hop on the Celebration Belle, a 750-passenger paddlewheel ship that cruises down the Mississippi River amid stunning fall foliage and classic tunes.
Or, if you’d rather get the blood pumping and burn off that breakfast, borrow a free bike from the Visit Quad Cities Destination Center and explore the abundant trails that run along the river. This way, you can savor spectacular views at your own pedaling pace.