With the arrival of fall and the glorious display of the season, there’s no better time to take a road trip. I’ve enjoyed fall trips through Ohio, North Carolina and the Virginia mountains. The foliage is stunning — and if you live nearby, they make a great day trip. Since I discovered the joys of Illinois this summer, I thought I’d share some great road trips there.
6 fall road trips for families
Great River Road. Running 550 miles along the banks of the Mississippi, the Great River Road travels past centuries of history, gorgeous bluffs and, of course, the Mississippi River herself. Pick up any section of the Great River Road to discover Illinois’ natural beauty and quaint small towns that lovingly preserve history.
- The Northern Region begins in Galena. Besides the drive, explore the community parks, bike paths and picnic areas. In Moline, learn about our nation’s agricultural history at the John Deere Pavilion. In Quincy,admire 1850s architecture at places like the John Wood Mansion. Many family farms have roadside fruit and vegetable stands — perfect for a fall road trip snack break.
- The Southern Region runs alongside the bluffs which offer spectacular views and a great backdrop for the fall foliage. Kaskaskia was the first Illinois State Capital. Nearby Ellis Grove still has the remnants of a fort built to protect the city during the Revolutionary War. Grand Tower is home to Devil’s Backbone Park and its unusual rock ridge along the river.
Historic National Road. Route 40 parallels Interstate 70 for about 164 miles across the southern part of Illinois. Established in 1806 by President Thomas Jefferson, the National Road provided easy travel for people, commerce and mail from Maryland to the western frontier. In Marshall, visit the Archer House, where Lincoln stayed during his years as a traveling lawyer. Casey, which I consider the world’s friendliest town, is home to many “World’s Largest” items like the wind chime, rocking chair and golf tee. Vandalia was the state’s second capital and where Lincoln began his fight against slavery. This road also takes you to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a Native American burial ground and past the world’s largest catsup bottle, in Collinsville. Of course, you’ll also see lots of trees and corn fields on this picturesque drive.
Historic Route 66. Known as “the Mother Road,” this is the iconic road trip road with motels, diners and roadside attractions to pull visitors in. The kitsch is here to stay, preserved for future generations. The road begins in Chicago at Buckingham Fountain. It continues southwest through the state and ends at East St. Louis. Small towns, farm land and 100 year old trees combine with the kitsch to create a memorable drive. To learn more, read the article I wrote last week.
Illinois Lincoln Highway. This road parallels interstates 80 and 88, but without the traffic congestion or tolls. This highway actually begins in Times Square in NYC and runs to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. As you drive the Illinois portion, visit Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park in University Park, hike Matteson’s Old Plank Trail, or attend the Scarecrow Festival in St. Charles. In Creston and Dekalb, take time to find murals commemorating the roadway throughout each town. In Dixon, you’ll find Ronald Reagan’s childhood home. Along this historic drive, trees in glorious color enhance the historic beauty.
Illinois River Road. This route which runs 291 miles along the Illinois River travels through floodplains, river bottomland forests and prairies, a distinct landscape for fall colors. At the northern end, state parks like Starved Rock, Buffalo Rock and Matthiessen provide canoeing, bicycling and hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. In Ottawa, visit the home of W. D. Boyce, the founder of the Boy Scouts of America. To the southwest, Peoria is home to the first European settlement in Illinois. It is home to the RiverFront area, which offers year-round festivals, hiking and dining. In Havana, at the far end of the road, the city’s brick Main Street provides a base for this adorable town. Both Lincoln and Al Capone passed through the area. If that’s not enough to convince you, Teddy Roosevelt declared Peoria’s Grandview Drive the “world’s most beautiful drive.”
Ohio River Scenic Byway. Along the Ohio River in southeastern Illinois, discover a land of pirates, French and Indian soldiers and even Superman. Of course, enjoy the landscape too! Shawnee National Forest, in Gallatin County, provides some of the best fall foliage in the country. Nearby, the Garden of the Gods Wilderness area provides expansive views of the Ohio River valley and ancient rock formations. Cave Rock State Park, carved from limestone, once hid pirates who ransacked riverboats in the area. Ft. Massac State Park is home to a replica fort originally built in 1802. Every October, the fort comes alive with period reenacts, food and fun. Your drive won’t be complete without a stop in Metropolis, the home of Superman! Look for the bronze statue in the town square. (It’s 15 feet tall — I think you’ll find it!)
Tips to enjoy scenic drives
A drive along one of these scenic routes is best enjoyed when:
- You don’t overplan! Enjoy the drive.
- Stop when something interests you.
- Find the unexpected.
- Take breaks for walks — many are suggested in the list above.
- Take a camera. And use it! For fall foliage and family fun shots.
What’s your favorite route to enjoy fall foliage (even if it’s not in Illinois)?