After a harsh winter, Illinois wakes up to some spectacular sights in the spring. For those wanting to hop in the car and take an amazing drive, you are in luck. From rolling hills to riverside retreats, Illinois has something for everyone. Here are some can’t-miss scenic trips you need to add to your spring itinerary.
Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway
The legendary Route 66 has been immortalized by songs, books, and even a television series. While it is no longer an official highway, you can still travel down the roadway on this route. The Mother Road traverses through eight different states. Illinois has the distinction of being the eastern terminus of the road. You can travel from Chicago to St. Louis or take a portion of the road at a time.
Route 66 begins in Chicago at the corner of Adams Street and Michigan Avenue. A small sign with the iconic Route 66 shield marks the beginning of the road that travels across the whole state. The two-lane highway will take you through big cities, small towns, and other fun roadside attractions.
Spring is the season when most small towns start to welcome tourists for the upcoming year. The Red Carpet Corridor Festival kicks off on the first weekend of May. Towns from Joliet to Towanda welcome visitors with live entertainment, car shows, and art fairs.
If you continue on the road, it will take you through Springfield – the home of Abraham Lincoln and the capital of the state. You can follow Route 66 all the way to the state line at Missouri. For a little bit of the nostalgic side of Illinois, make sure to get your kicks on Illinois’ Route 66.
Grandview Drive in Peoria
The city of Peoria holds a little-known treasure that was once dubbed “The World’s Most Beautiful Drive” by Theodore Roosevelt. This two and a half mile road winds through Peoria and Peoria Heights. Don’t be fooled by the short distance. Grandview Drive packs an abundance of beautiful scenery in those few miles. Most of the road will give you a clear view of the Illinois River and adjoining river valley. The residential area known as Grandview Drive is also visible from the road. Don’t just see the view from the seat of your vehicle! The Peoria Park District has installed park benches and picnic areas near the roadway. You can enjoy a quiet afternoon appreciating the historic homes and grand scenery of this spectacular drive.
The Great River Road in Jo Daviess County
The Mississippi River hugs the western edge of Illinois. Alongside the river is another spectacular multi-state road known as The Great River Road. This scenic highway makes its first stop in Louisiana and winds up the Midwest up to Minnesota. Illinois’ portion begins in Cairo and ends at East Dubuque. Some of the most dramatic views are found in Jo Daviess County.
Galena makes a popular stop since it has been a weekend destination for many people in the state. This historic town is home to Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace, local wineries, and boutique shops. Before you head into town, the drive will take you past some of the area’s best landscapes. The Great River Road offers plenty of sweeping valleys and rolling hills on this relaxing ride. The Long Hollow Scenic Overlook is a great place to stretch your legs and view the scenic wonder before heading into Galena. Located on Route 20, the Great River Road will take you up steep hills and past the rural countryside in this part of the state.
Ohio River Scenic Byway
For the best of southern Illinois, there is no better drive than the Ohio River Scenic Byway. The 188-mile road takes visitors on a historical tour of Illinois. The eastern portion of the road winds through the Shawnee National Forest. You can explore one of the most photographed locations in the state, the Garden of the Gods recreational area. The observation trail leads visitors past sandstone rock formations and offers panoramic views of the park. For a bird’s eye view of the Ohio River, the Cave-In-Rock recreation area is perched above the waterway.
The small town of Metropolis is important for two reasons. First, Fort Massac State Park is a former French encampment from 1757. The settlement has changed hands several times throughout the years, and it became the first state park in 1908. Metropolis finds itself in the center of the pop culture universe as the home of Superman. You can find a museum dedicated to the Man of Steel, along with a 200-foot statue of the comic book hero, in the downtown area. From Native American artifacts to early settlers’ camps, this scenic road is teeming with history.
Illinois Lincoln Highway
Before Route 66 and other national highways, the Lincoln Highway was one of the first transcontinental roads in the United States. This roadway travels from the Chicago suburbs to Iowa. The route avoids major cities, like Chicago, and focuses on the smaller towns that feed into the city. The Illinois part follows Route 30 into the state and steers visitors past unique attractions along the way.
In Batavia, the Fabyan Villa Museum contains the remaining estate of George and Nellie Fabyan. The Villa was redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907. At that time, the estate contained many exotic animals and statutes from the World’s Columbian Exposition. You can see the lion and bear cages on the site, along with a Dutch wind-powered mill on the eastern side of the river bank.
For more Presidential history, Lincoln Highway rolls past Dixon, which is the birthplace of Ronald Reagan. The National Headquarters of the Lincoln Highway is located in Franklin Grove and holds court inside a tiny brick building in the middle of town. Fulton is the final stop on Illinois’ Lincoln Highway. The town’s windmill and interpretative mural are the final stops on this historic road.
This spring is the perfect time to drive along these scenic routes in Illinois. You can see what amazing sites the Land of Lincoln has to offer.