Illinois offers a treasure trove of hidden gems to explore by car, by boat, on foot, or on a bike. Here are nine overlooked and underrated but fun and fascinating locations for day trips and weekend vacations in Illinois.
Great River Road (Western Illinois)
Whether you want to travel by car, on a motorcycle, on a bicycle, by riverboat, or hiking on foot, there are great destinations up and down the 550-mile Great River Road on the western border of Illinois. The River Road also extends along the Mississippi River north to Minnesota and south to Louisiana.
Along the Great River Road in Illinois, there are race tracks, museums., galleries, family farms and seasonal produce stands, quilting shows, riverboat cruises, wine country tours, haunted houses, and a haunted bar crawl, to name just a few of the diversions along the way. The Great River Road Illinois site offers more information.
World Record-Breaking Strange Items in Casey, Illinois
For families with kids clambering to visit Ripley’s Believe It or Not, there is the strange and fascinating small town of Casey, Illinois.
Halfway between St. Louis and Indianapolis, in east-central Illinois is home to the world’s largest barber pole, the world’s largest rocking chair, and the biggest mailbox ever, among nine other huge objects holding a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Casey also offers interesting shops, delicious dinners, and welcoming people.
Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest (near Herod)
Adrenaline junkies hike to the most dangerous trail in Illinois, the 3,318 acres of wilderness in the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. The trail is just one-quarter of a mile long, but takes an hour to walk.
Par-King Skill Golf
Who says miniature golf can’t be challenging? The Par-King Skill Golf Course in Lincolnshire, Illinois is a level beyond putt-putt with several water hazards and 20 moving obstacles on two 18-hole courses.
Par-King Skill Golf is a great place to break up a cross-country long drive to give children a break.
Starved Rock State Park
Waterfall lovers love Starved Rock State Park, near Oglesby, a little over an hour west of Chicago. Each of the park’s 18 canyons hides a waterfall, and the 2,630 acres along the Illinois River are home to easily visible deer, bald eagles, and migrating birds.
Kaskaskia Dragon in Vandalia, Illinois
A fun stop for younger kids about 70 miles northeast of St. Louis is the Kaskaskia Dragon in Vandalia, Illinois. Just pull off the road, purchase a dragon coin, place the coin in the slot, and the 35-foot mechanical dragon will breathe fire for 10 minutes.
Then parents can buy another dragon coin so the dragon can breathe fire some more.
Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois
Rockford hides world-class Japanese gardens with a world-renowned American fusion restaurant overlooking them. Fresco at the Gardens in the Anderson Japanese Gardens is open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends.
Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Illinois
Nearly two acres of Elvis memorabilia and Gangster-era automobiles attract visitors to Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Illinois. The museum also boasts cars from Back to the Future, Batman, and Ghostbusters.
Roscoe is a suburb of Rockford, just south of the Wisconsin border.
The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park in Chicago
The Crown Fountain, a captivating landmark nestled within Millennium Park in Chicago, stands as a modern marvel and a vibrant convergence of art and technology.
Designed by artist Jaume Plensa, this unique installation features two towering glass block towers that project ever-changing digital images onto their surfaces. The highlight of the fountain is its interactive nature, inviting visitors to partake in its playful spirit.
As water cascades down the sides of the towers, the projected faces of Chicago residents appear, spouting water and creating a mesmerizing spectacle.
The Crown Fountain undoubtedly epitomizes the dynamic essence of Chicago’s urban landscape, offering both a refreshing oasis and an engaging experience for locals and tourists alike.
Wizard of Oz Park, Chicago
Families looking for an outdoor outing with small children in the Park District in Chicago favor the Wizard of Oz Park at the corner of Webster and Lincoln, just south of the Halsted, Lincoln, and Fullerton intersection. Statues of Wizard of Oz characters have graced the grounds since the 1950s.