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Illinois Seven Scenic Byways

Drive some of Illinois’ oldest and greatest roads for classic Midwestern culture, scenic beauty and a few good eats along the way

Embark on an unforgettable journey along Illinois' seven scenic byways. From rolling hills to tranquil rivers, each route promises an adventure filled with natural wonders and historic charm.

Explore the iconic Great River Road, tracing the mighty Mississippi, cruise through Shawnee National Forest on the Ohio River Scenic Byway or enjoy the quaint charm of the Historic National Road.

Start planning your scenic escape today and discover the heart of the Midwest like never before.

The sunrise shining over water and a car driving down road beside it

1. Great River Road

EXPERIENCE THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

Built along the Mighty Mississippi, at 550 miles long, the Great River Road runs almost the entire length of the state. With both northern and southern sections of the byway, this gorgeous river drive offers everything from outdoor adventure and quiet charm, to presidential and colonial history and some good old fashioned kitsch. There’s no better way to experience the life and industry of the Mississippi River.

Northwestern Region

Sink into European charm in Galena as you stroll through a story-book downtown. Chat to friendly locals at Miss Kitty’s Grape Escape, visit a local winery, hit the slopes for a day of skiing or book a night at the extravagant DeSoto House Hotel. And don’t miss a visit to Fulton to catch a glimpse of “De Immigrant,” one of only two working Dutch windmills in the country and the only in the state.

Quad Cities Region

If you want a closer look at the industry of the Mighty Mississippi, pull off in the Quad Cities area. In Moline, check out the John Deere Pavilion for a glimpse at the area’s agricultural heritage and a few Midwestern souvenirs, then check out a sightseeing boat tour on the Celebration Belle. For military buffs, visit the arsenal for its military museum and a bonus look at the lock and dam operations.

Heartland Region

History, historic sites and a little more history. The Heartland Region is where you’ll encounter the pioneer days of Joseph Smith, the remains of the ancient city of Cahokia and a host of preserved architecture. This is also where you’ll find the Meeting of the Great Rivers – another of the state’s scenic byways and one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois.

Southern Region

The Southern Region brings you to the end of the Great River Road and the start of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. French colonial architecture, early American and Civil War history and phenomenal outdoor adventures await along this stretch of the drive. Stop in Grand Tower for a trip to Devil’s Backbone—peculiar rock formations lining the Mississippi River.

Cars driving on the Great River Road.

2. Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route

ONE OF THE SEVEN WONDERS OF ILLINOIS

Meeting of the Great Rivers is a breathtaking 33-mile section of the Great River Road, where the great Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers come together. Extending from Pere Marquette State Park to the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, traces of history can be seen all throughout the bluffs and river towns along the byway.

A Midwestern Treasure

The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway is a Midwestern treasure with beautiful stretches of roadway cradled by the rolling waters of the Mighty Mississippi River and majestic limestone river bluffs. As you drive along the byway, you'ill find that the beauty of the region is a masterpiece of nature with whistling birds, colorful trees, unique plants and etched river bluffs.

Piasa Bird

There are more than 230 species of birds that can be seen around the Meeting of the Great Rivers. The bluffs are also a favorite haunt for migrating bald eagles—keep an eye out for the nation’s bird! A short drive up the byway in Alton is the famous Piasa Bird. This legendary man-eating dragon was painted on the bluffs along the Mississippi River by the Illini Indians.

Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

If you get hungry during your travels, head over for a bite at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air in Alton. This local favorite is the recipient of one of Enjoy Illinois’ coveted Delicious Destinations awards. Serving up tasty grub like the Big Elwood on a Stick at just the right price, this institution is the best place to grab a brew and relax after a long day’s drive.

Car stopped on Route 66

3. Historic Route 66

THE MOTHER ROAD

The mother of all roads, and the original road trip, Route 66 begins in Chicago, Illinois. A mission all on its own, check out our Route 66 trip guide for even more juicy details about this offbeat stretch of American roadway. Classic Americana, roadside photo ops, history, dining and so much more awaits.

A fountain in front of a bridge crossing the Illinois River in Peoria

4. Illinois River Road

STATE PARKS AND ROLLING HILLS

Travel the rolling hills of central Illinois as you follow the path of the Illinois River. At 291 miles, the Illinois River Road offers incredible views and opportunities to stretch your legs at some of the best state parks in Illinois. The Byway unites more than 100 nature-based destinations throughout the Illinois River Valley, beginning in Ottawa and ending 150 miles south in Havana. Find the best spots for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing, wetlands, gardens, birding and watching wildlife.

Grandview Drive in Peoria

This 2.52-mile winding drive in Peoria was referred to by President Theodore Roosevelt as the “world’s most beautiful drive” during his visit in 1910. The drive features panoramic views of the Illinois River Valley, set against a backdrop of some of Illinois’ most remarkable homes.

Buffalo Rock State Park

Stretch your legs at Buffalo Rock State Park in Ottawa. This quaint park set into the bluffs of the Illinois River features five towering earthen sculptures molded from Illinois clay known as Effigy Tumuli. A great place to explore on your Illinois River adventure.

Starved Rock State Park

Featuring 13 miles of trails through 18 glacier-carved canyons, Starved Rock State Park is our must-visit stop. Whether you’re looking for a gentle stroll in Aurora Canyon or a more challenging hike on Lover’s Leap, this park is a stunner and must-see for its awe-inspiring beauty.

A pavilion with an elephant statue in the background

5. Lincoln Highway

DRIVING ACROSS THE HEARTLAND

Drive clear across northern Illinois on the nation’s first successful coast-to-coast highway. From the Indiana border, west toward the mighty Mississippi, you will find an adventure filled with variety, rich in history and heritage. Enjoy 179 miles of rolling farmland and classic Midwest traditions, as you loop around to the Great River Road or follow the byway toward Chicago.

Sunset over Shawnee National Forest

6. Ohio River Scenic Byway

THE ROAD TO ADVENTURE

Take the scenic route to some of Illinois' best outdoor adventures as you wind your way along country roads and through the Shawnee National Forest on the Ohio River Scenic Byway. Travel the 188 miles around the southern tip of Illinois to experience some of the very best scenic views and outdoor destinations in the state.

Shawnee National Forest

The Shawnee National Forest is a Midwest destination that’s quite literally unlike any other. Towering rock formations and deep valleys carve the landscape around the river. Cave-in-Rock State Park and Garden of the Gods are popular natural attractions in the forest.

The Home of Superman

For some old-fashioned kitsch, visit the home of Superman in Metropolis. The town square is marked by a larger-than-life 15-ft. Superman, keeping watch over the small river town. You'll also find the world-famous Super Museum, home to 70,000+ items of Superman memorabilia.

Civil War History

Get a taste of the area’s colorful history at the Mound City Cemetery in the aptly named Mound City, where a presumed “Confederate Spy” is buried among the 2,700 Union and Confederate graves. The cemetery is one of the oldest national cemeteries in the country.

The giant Brooks Catsup Bottle against a blue sky in Collinsville

7. Historic National Road

FIRST OF ITS KIND

America’s first highway, the Historic National Road, stretches 164 miles from Marshall to East St. Louis. The Historic National Highway played a pivotal role in uniting the country and promoting interstate commerce. Visit prehistoric cities, Victorian architecture and Midwest small town America along the way.


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