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Fall Road Trips in Illinois

Find room to roam on these scenic road trips. Fuel up for fall with artsy hangouts, local wine, the small-town scene and leafy views that pretty much look like paintings.


A Southern Loop

Carbondale to Murphysboro

Experience the beauty of Shawnee National Forest with this loop through five towns set among towering rock formations, tree-lined trails and southern Illinois vineyards.

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Stroll through this university town situated at the starting point of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Stock up on deli sandwiches at Town Square Market before heading south toward Shawnee National Forest and Makanda.


An artists’ haven at the gateway to Shawnee National Forest, Makanda Boardwalk is lined with studios selling local art. Don’t miss Rainmaker Arts and its secret garden full of copper sculptures that match the fallen leaves lining the garden path. Overnight in Giant City Lodge.


Settle in for a cozy dining experience at Brick HouseThe menu includes a variety of salads, sandwiches and entrees like grilled salmon, cashew-crushed chicken and filet of beef served with seasonal vegetables.


This town within the forest is home to a short but remarkable loop trail that reveals Pomona Natural Bridge. Rushing water carved this bridge into the sandstone, creating a walkable arch.


Wind down at 17th Street Barbecue. Pitmaster Mike Mills is known as “The Legend” for his baby-back ribs, sprinkled with a special dry rub and slow-cooked over an open pit of cherry and apple wood.

A Tour of Trees

Peoria to Peru

Follow a portion of the Illinois River as its waterways blossom into lakes and backwaters. Take in the river’s serene beauty north of Peoria on a drive with sweeping views. A handful of riverfront communities offer museums, antiques shops and restaurants, including one housed in a 19th-century church.

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The largest town along the Illinois River, Peoria draws crowds to its downtown riverfront. Explore the arts and science exhibits at Peoria Riverfront Museum and Dome Planetarium. During a self-guided tour at Caterpillar Visitors Center, climb into a simulator to experience what it’s like to operate actual equipment. The Spirit of Peoria riverboat delivers fall foliage cruises. Grab a bite at The Blue Duck Barbecue Tavern or nearby Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery, housed in a stone Presbyterian church built in 1889.

Peoria Heights

In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt dubbed Grandview Drive the World’s Most Beautiful Drive during a post-presidency trip to the area. The 2.52-mile bluff-top drive winds through an affluent neighborhood; pull-offs allow for panoramic snaps of the hillside fall foliage and the river below. At the north end, hikers looking for a moderate trek with plenty of hills can follow the 1.25-mile Pimiteoui Trail to Forest Park Nature Center.


Find gifts, antiques and clothing in The Hayloft Shops, housed in a barn on the main street.


Numerous downtown stores, like The Little Shop of Hoarders and Altered Relics, sell antiques and repurposed goods. Happy Thought Coffee and The Vault gift shop sit on the corner in a former bank building. Besides caffeinated beverages, find soups and salads, wraps, sandwiches, and flatbread pizzas. Or, go for the nontraditional coffeehouse daily specials, like a loaded baked potato or stuffed green pepper.


On the Illinois River, 10 miles west of Matthiessen and Starved Rock state parks, Peru anchors one end of the 100-mile I&M Canal. More than a century and a half ago, it linked the Illinois and Mississippi rivers with the Great Lakes. An industrial town, Peru was at one time home to the world’s largest clock manufacturer, Western Clock Company (also known as Westclox). Wind through Westclox Museum to find hundreds of Big Ben clocks on display.

A Riverside Byway

Galena to Elsah

Experience the history of the mighty Mississippi River with this trip along a portion of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, a bucket-list destination for drive-lovers. Explore historic river towns that rose from the limestone bluffs along the route.

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Perched among hills and vineyards, Galena’s Main Street bustles with boutiques, wine-tasting rooms and breweries. View the fall colors from a lakeside retreat (with a year-round outdoor hot tub) at The Cottage on Lake Galena, or drive 26 miles east for a hike through rolling Apple River Canyon State Park.


Stop to admire the rock formations of Mississippi Palisades State Park before strolling Main Street, which sits on the banks of the Mississippi. Browse the work of local artisans while sipping espresso at Savanna Marketplace.

Rock Island

Surrounded by the Mississippi and Rock rivers, this downtown district is a must-stop for outdoor art. Visit Quad City Arts for a map of public sculptures throughout the area. Southwest of town near Illinois City, rent a boat to paddle Lake George (seasonal availability) or hike along moderate trails (2- and 12-mile loops) at Loud Thunder Forest Preserve.


This small town with deep historical roots was settled by Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visit the Joseph Smith Historic Site before swinging by Nauvoo State Park, where the area’s first vineyard is still maintained by park personnel.


Tour Log Cabin Village, its structures dating back to the era of Abraham Lincoln, and visit the site of the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate at Washington Park. Don’t miss the nearby Quincy Art Center, located in a carriage house.


End the drive with what feels like a walk back in time. This entire village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the original stone buildings lining its narrow streets.