The sights and culture of Illinois are quite like it’s weather. And if you’ve ever felt the winter wind off of the great lakes, or encountered a particularly humid August afternoon, you’d know that was to say — quite varied. The endless farmlands of “The Land of Lincoln”, yet somehow also home to the busiest airport and tallest building in the country – but that’s not to give Chicago all the credit! There’s a plethora of things to see and do outside of the city itself, which are all too-often overlooked.
Whether you were considering a placement in Illinois, or the thought hadn’t even crossed your mind until now, here are our top picks for things to do and places to visit in Illinois:
Located on the sprawling plains of the state’s far northwest, Galena is Illinois’ small town with big charm. Chicagoans and out-of-state travelers alike flock there on weekends, drawn in by it’s quaint 19th-century buildings and its relaxed, pleasantly old-fashioned shopping district. With no shortage of nearby skiing in the winter and scenic nature trails in the summer, plus a plethora of wineries, brewpubs, bed and breakfasts, and historical sights, Galena is definitely worth a weekend getaway… just be positive not to venture further north – we call that dark land “Wisconsin”, and we do not set foot on its haunted soil.
The Shawnee National Forest
Spread over 280,000 acres, with landscapes unlike anywhere else in the midwest, the cliffs and vistas of the Shawnee National Forest wilderness areas deep in southern Illinois are especially popular during late October, when they overlook a dizzying array of fall foliage hues that would give New England autumn a run for the money. The crown jewel of the forest is the Garden of the Gods, where rock formations millions of years in the making pepper the forest floor, all of them with names like The Devil’s Smokestack and Skull Rock, of course – because what wilderness area worth its salt doesn’t have a damned “Skull Rock”, am I right?
Shawnee Hills Wine Trail
If you prefer stemware to a canteen, the nearby Shawnee Hills Wine Trail may be more your speed. You can easily spend a day sampling the grapes of southern Illinois at any of the 11 vineyards and wineries located along its path. As an added bonus, you’ll earn the right to brag to your friends about that time you went “touring the vineyards of the Champaign region”! When they inevitably assume you were saying “Champagne” – as in France — don’t correct them! They’ll be so impressed by the haute, cultured, globe-trotting adventurer nurse you’ve become!
Starved Rock State Park
On the other side of the state, and voted the #1 attraction in Illinois, is Starved Rock State Park. Unlike the sprawling southern forests, Starved Rock manages to pack a dizzying array of natural wonders into a surprisingly compact area – it’s home to just 13 miles of trails, which bring you to 18 canyons, complete with 14 waterfalls. Just a few miles south along the same road is Matthiessen State Park, sharing some similar landscape with an impressive variety of wildlife – sightings of nesting bald eagles are a regular occurrence there). There’s the added options of mountain biking and horseback riding, in case hiking won’t cut it because you’re in a hurry or something. And if that’s the case – wow, slow down, tiger… the park’s been here since 8,000 B.C., it’s not going anywhere.