Illinois and the surrounding areas are home to several good day trips easily accessed from Chicago or Milwaukee. Enjoy outdoor adventure in the rural Midwest along Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River, or any of the smaller bodies of water in between. Explore the 19th century history of early Dutch, Mormon and European settlers to the region, and end the day with a craft brew or a visit to a historical winery. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
© City of Jonesboro, Illinois
Alto Pass, Illinois is a small town with just under 1,000 residents. A Root Beer Saloon serves cold, draft root beer. The eclectic shop is decorated with taxidermy and Midwestern novelties, with a cigar store Indian out front. Several vineyards and orchards are in the area, with Alto Vineyards among the most popular. The award-winning winery is Southern Illinois’ first. Enjoy views of the Shawnee National Forest while wine tasting from their upper deck. The 1963 Bald Knob Cross of Peace is a 111-foot tall cross that overlooks the town from a hill above, and is lighted at night.
Alto Pass, IL 62905
© Arthur Welcome Center
Arthur, Illinois was founded in 1860 and is the state’s oldest and largest Amish community. The small town offers campsites, and tours that focus on the Amish way of life. Learn about quilting, Amish arts and crafts, woodworking, and services such as horseshoeing, buggy repair and saddlery. Book an Amish family style dinner for a made-from-scratch meal. Farm tours, fresh fruits and vegetables are available to Green Meadow Farm and the Shady Crest Farm Market. The Little Theater on the Square has offered Broadway quality entertainment since 1957. In 2005 it was named among the top 10 places to see an off-Broadway show.
Arthur, IL 61911
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© Arcola Chamber of Commerce
Arcola is a lager town, not far from Arthur, and home to the Illinois Amish Interpretative Center. The center offers a brief video on Amish history alongside educational exhibits, and is the starting point for Amish cultural tours. Downtown, Dick’s Pharmacy serves up hand-dipped malts and shakes at an old-fashioned soda fountain. Area attractions include the Aikman Wildlife Adventure. The drive-through animal sanctuary is home to hundreds of exotic animals. Arcola’s Rockome Gardens is a living museum among 15 acres offering buggy rides, craft demonstrations, train rides and a petting zoo. The historic 1864 Flower Patch offers rooms for overnight stays, gifts shops and dining.
Arcola, IL 61910
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The Bishop Hill State Historic Site is an outdoor museum dedicated to educating the public about the history of the Bishop Hill Colony. Founded in 1846, the colony was a utopian community centered around the Swedish church. Four historically significant buildings and a museum are located on site. Buildings include the 1850 colony church and boys dormitory, an 1852-1860 three story hotel, and a barn built in the mid-1850’s. Several war monuments and a reconstructed gazebo are located throughout the village park. A small museum on site is dedicated to the paintings of Olof Krans (1838-1916), a colonist and self-taught artist.
304 Bishop Hill Rd, Bishop Hill IL 61419, Phone: 309-927-3345
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At one time, the Cahokia Mounds was among the largest cities in the world. Today, this archeological site preserves 2,200 acres to the west of Collinsville, and the history of the most sophisticated prehistoric culture north of Mexico. An interpretative center offers educational exhibits and models of recreated villages to explain the Mississippian tradition, archeological finds and anthropological research. Visitors may explore 800 of the protected acres via walking trails, or guided tours. A recreation of a prehistoric calendar, named Woodhenge in the 1960’s, uses 36 poles to tell the date by aligning with the rising sun. The museum gift shop carries Native American crafts and gifts, along with Cahokia Mound souvenirs.
30 Ramey St, Collinsville, IL 62234, Phone: 618-346-5160
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6.Cave in Rock State Park
The Cave in Rock State Park is located along the Ohio River. The scenic park offers heavily wooded areas overlooking the river, and is named for the 55-foot wide cavern situated in the bluffs along the river’s edge. The cave’s history is full of tales of pirates ambushing travelers along the river in the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors can hike through moderate to difficult trails, enjoy three children’s play areas, camping, picnic sites and fishing. For a less rugged experience, the Cave-In-Rock Restaurant and Lodge offers duplex guest houses or deluxe suites, and an on-site restaurant serving traditional southern style meals.
1 New State Park Rd, Cave-in-Rock IL 62919, Phone: 618-289-4325
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© Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
Elmhurst is a small tree-lined village in the greater Chicago area offering shops, restaurants, museums and year-round events. The Elmhurst Express Trolley takes visitors on a 30-minute loop past shopping and dining districts, the park and museums. During the month of December, the classic trolley is holiday-themed. Elmhurst College, founded in 1871, is a top-ranked four-year institution and a cultural destination for the performing and visual arts. The Elmhurst Art Museum exhibits contemporary art and manages the 1952 McCormick House designed by Mies van der Rohe. The Elmhurst History Museum is located in the Glos Mansion, also nearby is the 1846 Churchville Schoolhouse.
Elmhurst, IL 60126
Fulton is a small town on the Mississippi River full of history and charm. A 100-foot tall Dutch windmill is among the town’s main attractions. It was built in the Netherlands, and traveled in pieces to Fulton, where it was re-assembled during the Dutch Days Festival in the year 2000. The fully operational windmill produces wheat, rye, buckwheat and corn flour which are all for sale in the nearby Windmill Cultural Center. Historic attractions include Heritage Canyon, a 12-acre limestone quarry now offering hiking trails, and the Fulton House and Historical Society Museum. Fishing, birding and boating is popular on and around the Mississippi River.
Fulton, IL 61252
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, Michigan beaches
Galena, Illinois is a hub for outdoor adventure, shopping and dining, and best known as the home and campaign headquarters of President Ulysses S Grant, who moved to the town one year before the start of the Civil War. Visitors can learn about Grant and the history of the Civil War at the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum, Apple River Fort State Historic Site or the Old Blacksmith Shop. Among the many museums in Galena are the Earth and Space Science Museum, the Woodbine Glass Museum and the Great Western Railway Depot Museum. Shop and dine in Galena’s historic downtown, or head to the outskirts for a hot air balloon ride, a round of golf, or horseback riding.
Galena, IL 61036
© Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
European settlers first arrived to Galesburg in 1836. The 17-square mile town has just over 30,000 residents and offers parks, museums, restaurants and antique shops. The town itself was founded around Knox College, with a purpose to foster religious education in the area. It was a Galesburg investor who first provided funding for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, and Galesburg remains a transportation hub. It is the second largest railroad switching site in the United States today. Visitors can enjoy several railroad museums, in addition to the National Railroad Hall of Fame. Annual events include the Sweet Corn Festival in July and a Community Cookout in August.
Galesburg, IL 61401
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© Greenville, IL Chamber of Commerce
Greenville is a quaint small town in southern Illinois with several museums and historical sites. Among the unique historical sites is the Demoulin Museum, dedicated to the history of the longstanding maker of band uniforms, a business that dates back to 1892, when they began by making initiation regalia for fraternal orders. The Hoiles0Davis Historical Museum is located in an 1840 Victorian home. Farm life features heavily here, and visitors can learn more at the Lil’ Red Barn Museum or the American Farm Heritage Museum. Downtown Greenville is home to several lifesized trompe l’oeil murals painted by John Hubbel, a local artist. Browse them as you stroll through a weekend art-walk or October’s Apple Day.
Greenville, IL 62246
12.Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
© Delmas Lehman/stock.adobe.com
The Indiana Dunes National Park spans 15 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan, and protects 15,000 acres of natural landscape and wildlife. Outdoor activities include over 50 miles of hiking trails, horseback trails, beach going and swimming, fishing and boating. The park remains popular in the winter months for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Over 60 historic structure within the park include five houses from the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, now restored thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit Indiana Landmarks. Ranger led interpretative programs include guided hikes, summit hikes to Mount Baldy and beach walks.
1215 N. Indiana 49, Porter, IN 46304, Phone: 219-395-1882
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13.Kettle Moraine State Forest
Indiana’s Kettle Moraine State Forest offers outdoor activity throughout 22,000 acres of kettles, lakes, restored prairie, forest, and glacial hills. Two visitor centers span the 30-mile long forested area. The Ottawa Lake Visitor Center in Dousman and the Whitewater Lake Visitor Center in Whitewater. The National Forest is also home to a Natural History Museum and Nature Center and the Palmyra Environmental Learning Center. Each offers interpretative programming throughout the year. Whether for a day trip of overnight camping, visitors enjoy hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating and fishing. Varied habitat makes for diverse wildlife viewing, including the birding along the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, the largest wet prairie this side of the Mississippi River at 3,500 acres.
S59 W36530 County ZZ, Dousman, WI 53118, Phone: 262-594-6220
© Greater Metropolis Convention & Visitors Bureau
Metropolis is home to a 15-foot tall Superman statue, and an equally grand Lois Lane. The Super Museum, voted America’s best small town attraction, is home to over 70,000 artifacts and collectibles related to Superman. The chronologically organized museum was founded in 1993 by Jim Hambrick, whose personal collection was one of the largest in the world. While exploring town, visit the historic 1870 Elijah P. Curtis home where the Civil War Major lived after the battles were over. Stroll along Ferry and Market Streets to see 6 murals each representing the city’s heritage. Outside of the city center, enjoy the combination of nature and history at the Kincaid Mounds Archeological Site and the Fort Fort Massace State Park, and it’s replica of an 1802 American fort.
Metropolis, IL 62960
15.Mississippi Palisades State Park
The Mississippi Palisades State Park protects 2,500 acres where the Mississippi and Apple Rivers meet. Trails at the park trace the footsteps of the earliest Native American habitants in the area, who created these early footpaths as they traveled along the river. The 15 mile trail system includes 5 narrow and rugged trails that wind through the bluffs above the river, and easy trails through the forests to the north. Camping is available for tents and RV’s. Fishing and boating the river are popular activities, with no limits on motor sizes. In the winter months, the park is open for cross country skiing and sledding.
16327A IL Rte. 84, Savanna IL 61074, Phone: 815-273-2731
Mount Carroll is a small town in Carroll County of northwest Illinois. The rural area is ideal for outdoor adventure, and offers densely wooded forests and rolling hills just minutes away from the Mississippi River. The historic Mount Carroll village is known for Mayfest, an annual arts and crafts, wine and beer, and car show. Shopping for antiques and collectibles is a popular pastime. The area is part of the Barn Quilt Trail, a rural Midwestern tradition where barns are decorated with a hanging quilt, similar to a family crest. Visitors can find maps to the trail at many of the local shops.
Mount Carroll, IL 61053
© Beautiful Nauvoo
Nauvoo is a northwestern Illinois town located on the Mississippi River. Between 1839-1846 the town was predominantly Mormon, having been settled by Mormons who were forced further west from Missouri to Illinois. Among the main attractions is the Nauvoo temple. Constructed in 1841, the temple is the second Church of Latter Day Saints Temples constructed in the United States, the first in Ohio. History lives in Nauvoo through over 30 historic homes, the Old Nauvoo living museum, Family Living Center, wagon and carriage rides, and summer performances. Nauvoo is home to Baxter Vineyards, founded in 1851 and the oldest in Illinois. The historic downtown district offers shopping and dining.
Nauvoo, IL 62354
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18.Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens
© Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens
Rockford’s Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens is located along the shores of the Rock River. The conservatory offers 11,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space. Exhibits include orchids, a butterfly display, and a glow in the dark garden. Wings of Wonder is a temporary lorikeet exhibit, educating guests about the parrot-like birds that feed off nectar. The Eclipse Lagoon is a small outdoor waterway, alongside of which is a pedestrian bridge connecting guests to the rose garden. During the winter months, public ice skating is offered on the lagoon. Benches, water features and sculpture throughout the facility offer quiet places to pause and contemplate.
1354 N 2nd St, Rockford, IL 61107, Phone: 815-987-61107
19.Starved Rock State Park
© Alan Klehr Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
Starved Rock State Park offers a picturesque landscape to explore with 13 miles of trails, rivers, boating, fishing and ice fishing. Spectacular waterfalls abound in the days after there’s been rain. After an outdoor adventure, visit the lodge to see the largest double-sided fireplace in the state of Illinois, and grab a bite in one of the lodge’s two restaurants, or the outdoor veranda when the weather is warm. Rooms are available in the National Historick Landmark Lodge, or stay in one of the historically significant cabins throughout the park. Each were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.
2678 E. 873rd Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348, Phone: 815-667-4726
© City of Woodstock - City Hall
Woodstock is in central Illinois equidistant from Chicago and Milwaukee. The historic city center has been honored as a Distinctive Destination by National Trust for Historic Preservation and the entire town is listed with the National Register of Historic Places. The charming Midwestern village offers retail shops, restaurants, bars and cafes in late 19th century Victorian storefronts. Annual events include the Fair Diddley Art Fair, Harvest Fest, and a Groundhog Days event to celebrate the town’s appearance as Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in the 1992 movie of the same name. A historic Gothic style opera house hosts the Midwest Mozart Festival every summer.
Woodstock, IL 60098
23 Best Day Trips in Illinois (Small Towns, Natural Wonders)
- Alto Pass, Photo: City of Jonesboro, Illinois
- Arthur, Photo: Arthur Welcome Center
- Arcola, Photo: Arcola Chamber of Commerce
- Bishop Hill, Photo: GCapture/stock.adobe.com
- Cahokia Mounds, Photo: Jbyard/stock.adobe.com
- Cave in Rock State Park, Photo: slay19/stock.adobe.com
- Elmhurst, Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
- Fulton, Photo: spiritofamerica/stock.adobe.com
- Galena, Photo: Ian/stock.adobe.com
- Galesburg, Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
- Greenville, Photo: Greenville, IL Chamber of Commerce
- Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Photo: Delmas Lehman/stock.adobe.com
- Kettle Moraine State Forest, Photo: Wirepec/stock.adobe.com
- Metropolis, Photo: Greater Metropolis Convention & Visitors Bureau
- Mississippi Palisades State Park, Photo: baluzek/stock.adobe.com
- Mount Carroll, Photo: ThomBal/stock.adobe.com
- Nauvoo, Photo: Beautiful Nauvoo
- Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, Photo: Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens
- Starved Rock State Park, Photo: Alan Klehr Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Woodstock, Photo: City of Woodstock - City Hall
- Cover Photo: Ian/stock.adobe.com
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