Altitude Adjustment

Whether you’re standing still or on the move, these are some of the best places to see Illinois from up high.

Go in a gondola in Galena

View fall colors from a vertical vantage point—a hot-air balloon drifting above the hills. Galena on the Fly offers one-hour flights departing at sunrise and sunset near the wooded bluffs of Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa. When the sky is clear, you’ll see not only trees and wildlife, but also Iowa and Wisconsin.

Ride a big wheel in Chicago

Been a while since you rode the Ferris wheel on Chicago’s Navy Pier? Check out the new model, named the Centennial Wheel in honor of Navy Pier’s 100th anniversary in 2016. It offers a higher and longer ride than the old one, plus larger gondolas (8 adults each) that are fully enclosed and climate controlled for year-round comfort. Don’t worry, the views of Lake Michigan and the skyline are still fabulous.

Sky Deck Chicago

Find the High Ground at Scales Mound

At 1,235 feet high, Charles Mound marks Illinois’s highest natural point. It’s easy to climb but hard to reach. The spot is on private property in Jo Daviess County with access limited to a few weekends per year. Fall 2017 dates: August 5–6 and September 2–3. The owners ask for no cars on their road, no pets and no visitors after dark. For updates, check highpointers.org.

Edge Onto a Ledge in Chicago

If the vistas from Skydeck Chicago on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower aren’t breathtaking enough, try stepping onto the Ledge, a glass balcony that juts out 4 feet from the side of the building. It’s like walking on air—perhaps disconcertingly so. But the feeling of the Windy City beneath your feet is hard to top.

Ascend gently in Gurnee

Though the Sky Trek Tower at Six Flags Great America lifts you 28 stories in the air, it’s a gentle ascent the whole family can enjoy. The round cabin rotates slowly on the way up and down, providing 360-degree park views and—on clear days—a peek at the Chicago skyline.

Hop on a chopper in Chicago

Forget fighting traffic and craning your neck to see skyscrapers. Get a whirlybird’s-eye view of Chicago landmarks from a helicopter. The Chicago Helicopter Experience offers pilot-narrated tours of the skyline and landmarks lining Lake Michigan.

Take a Flying Leap in Ottawa

Experience an epic view and adrenaline rush at Skydive Chicago. Jump out of a plane at 13,000 feet, free-fall at 120 mph for 60 seconds, open your parachute, then float for 5–7 minutes before landing softly. Rookies jump tandem, safely harnessed to an instructor.

Jumping-off point in Fox River Grove

Confluence Tower in Hartford

A daunting 150-foot-high tower at Norge Ski Club rewards brave ski jumpers with sweet views before they zoom down the ramp toward takeoff on the 70-meter (230-foot) hill. Get vicarious thrills watching jumpers at competitions held in fall (on an artificial surface) and winter.

Pan and Tilt in Chicago

Take in panoramic city views at 360 Chicago, located on the 94th floor of Chicago’s venerable John Hancock Center. For a closer look—if you dare—step into Tilt, a glass enclosure that tips out from the building in stages, propelled by hydraulic pumps. Grip the handles to steady yourself, and take comfort in the multiple layers of thick glass.

Tower over the rivers in Hartford

The Mississippi and the Missouri go together like, well, Lewis and Clark, the explorers who began their westward journey where the two rivers meet. Confluence Tower in Hartford marks the historic spot. The concrete structure lets you watch the merging waters at three heights: 50, 100 and 150 feet. When the weather cooperates, you can see the Gateway Arch in nearby St. Louis.

Canyon Grandeur in Herod

The striking canyons and cliffs at Garden of the Gods date back millions of years—they began as layers of sediment along an inland sea that once covered most of Illinois. Hiking trails provide lofty looks at the sandstone rock formations and surrounding wilderness.    

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