We really do live in a beautiful country and the fall season reminds us how beautiful it is outside of the city. Illinois and Indiana are both very scenic states (believe it or not), you just need to know where to drive! Check out the routes below with tips on great places to eat along the way!
Route 1: Middle Fork River Drive A gleaming ribbon of trees lines the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River in east-central Illinois. You can trace this National Scenic River through state parks and preserves on a 150-mile drive west from Danville through farm country and small towns. Hike at Kickapoo State Park near Danville, and see the glacial lake at Moraine View State Park near Le Roy. In Farmer City, you can browse nine antiques malls. West of Monticello at Allerton Park, visitors can tour a Georgian mansion and view some 70 sculptures.
Good Eating: In Gibson City, Bayern Stube for German fare. Brown Bag in Monticello for desserts. Lodgings: Timber Creek B&B in Paxton. Sylvia’s Irish Inn in Urbana. Route: From Danville, west on US-150 to Henning Road, north to US-136, west to County-2700E. North to State-9, west to County-2600E, south to US-150 in Le Roy. Then, southeast to Farmer City, southwest on State-54 to Clinton. East on State-10 to De Land Road, south to Monticello. Contact:Central Illinois Tourism Development Office (217/525-7980; www.visitcentralillinois.com).
Route 2: Rock River Valley Outing The Rock River cuts a swath through forests that once were home to Chief Blackhawk and his Sauk tribe. You can explore this river valley in northwest Illinois from blufftop vantage points in state parks and low-lying turnoffs on a 60-mile drive southwest from Rockford. In Lowden State Park, a 50-foot-tall statue of the famous chief surveys the town of Oregon across the river. Friendly shops surround the downtown square, dominated by a red brick courthouse. It’s a short drive to the area’s other two state parks: Castle Rock, where you can climb to the top of the park’s namesake bluff; and White Pines Forest, where towering oaks and maples blaze with color amid green virgin pines.
Good Eating: In Grand Detour, Colonial Rose Inn for juicy fillets. Maxson Riverside Restaurant in Oregon for signature chicken piccata. Lodgings: In Oregon, Pinehill Bed and Breakfast, an 1874 mansion. Log cabins at White Pines Forest State Park. Route: From Rockford, south on State-2 through Oregon to Grand Detour. North on County-36 to County-6, then east back to Oregon. Contact: Blackhawk Waterways Convention & Visitors Bureau (800/678-2108; www.bwcvb.com).
Route 3: I&M Canal Journey From its opening in 1848 through the early 20th century, the Illinois & Michigan (I&M) Canal was a shipping superhighway connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. Today, you can trace the canal’s rich past along a 100-mile route from Chicago’s outskirts west across the Illinois prairie. Leafy golds and oranges line the winding route, which begins in the southwest suburb of Lyons. You continue through forest preserves and state parks, as well as small towns that prospered along the canal. Just outside Lemont, stroll the peaceful grounds of the limestone St. James of the Sag Church, where canal builders from Ireland worshiped. In Lockport, you can learn more about the famed waterway at the I&M Canal Visitors Center before hiking a shady trail along the water. Once you’ve passed Joliet, the road cuts through open prairie on its way to Morris and Ottawa. Old-fashioned storefronts in both towns attract window shoppers. Along the way, stretch your legs at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area east of Morris, and Buffalo Rock State Park southwest of Ottawa. Waterfalls tumble in some of the 18 canyons at Starved Rock State Park south of Utica. Just south at Starved Rock’s sister preserve, Matthiessen State Park, you’re likely to spot a deer or two grazing among the fiery-red maple trees.
Good Eating: In Lockport, Public Landing Restaurant for creative Heartland fare. In Morris, R Place Family Restaurant and browse their antiques. Lodgings: Near Utica, Starved Rock State Park Lodge for rooms and cabins. Route: In the town of Lyons, drive south on Harlem Avenue from the statue of Marquette and Joliet (4800 South Harlem Avenue), southwest on State-171 and southwest on US-6 through Joliet. At Morris, go south on State-47 and east on Pine Bluff Road to the Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area. Backtrack and go west on US-6 to Ottawa. Then, south on Boyce Memorial Drive, southwest on Ottawa Avenue, west on Dee Bennett Road and south on State-178 to Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks. Contact: Heritage Corridor Convention & Visitors Bureau (815/727-2323; www.heritagecorridorcvb.com).
Route 1: The Edge of Amish Country Tree-lined lanes crisscross fertile farmland in northeast Indiana. On an 80-mile route from Fort Wayne, the scenery gradually shifts to autumn-tinted hills, where clip-clopping horses pull black buggies at the eastern edge of Amish country. At the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, car buffs gaze at vintage autos. Lining shady streets in Grabill, a dozen shops sell antiques and crafts. In Ligonier, you can view Victorian mansions. Near Rome City, Gene Stratton Porter’s memorabilia-filled log cabin, where the author wrote her “Limberlost” tales, still stands along Sylvan Lake.
Good Eating: In Grabill, the Home of Elias Ruff Restaurant for Amish-style fare. In Avilla, the St. James Restaurant for panfried pork chops, as well as frogs’ legs. Lodgings: In Ligonier, antique-filled Solomon Meier Manor and the white-columned Minuette Manor. Route: From Fort Wayne, northeast on State-1 to State-8 west of Newville. West through Auburn to State-9 in Albion. North to US-6, west to State-5 south of Ligonier. South to US-30, southeast to Fort Wayne. ContactFort Wayne/Allen County Convention & Visitors Bureau (800/767-7752; www.visitfortwayne.com).