Day Trippin'

Explore the state’s scenic roads by car, truck or bike

If the dog days of summer had you climbing the walls, embrace the cooling temps and changing colors with a gorgeous drive, or hop on the bike and take off for the country!

Here are some awesome options to hit the road this season.

Route 66, aka the Mother Road, born in the 1920s and ever since a neon-lit showcase of unique restaurants, quirky motor inns and kitsch. Like most National Scenic Byways, Route 66 today carries travelers more interested in the going than the getting there. The route symbolically begins at Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain and continues for 300 miles southwest through Illinois (or about 435 miles if you take all the original side roads). But there’s a fair amount to see on the northernmost stretch.

Start your journey in the heart of the city, at Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world and an historic Chicago landmark since 1927. Styled after the Pace of Versailles, the fountain operates through October, with regular water shows and evening color-light shows.

Head south to Illinois’ second city…Joliet, and stop in to the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center to view the free, interactive Route 66 Experience exhibit, located at the crossroads of Route 66 and Lincoln Highway. Visit the award-winning, two-story permanent exhibit with the Route 66 guide that identifies Route 66 items in the main gallery. Get help planning the rest of your trip along the Mother Road at the Route 66 Information Center, and browse the Gift Shop's large selection of Route 66 items. (Closed Mondays.) While you’re in Joliet, grab a treat at the walk-up window of the Blues-Brothers-topped ice cream shop, Rich and Creamy, on Broadway Street.

Back behind the wheel, try a southerly trek through Wilmington toward Kankakee. For giggles, grab a snapshot under the Gemini Giant. It’s one of a handful of statues installed roadside, once used to advertise car repair. The Gemini Giant is dressed in a spacesuit, no doubt reminiscent of the fervor of the NASA programs of the day.

Speaking of Kankakee, the rural drive along the Kankakee River from Will County to Kankakee County is picturesque, and you can stop to stretch your legs and take in the scenery. Feeling bold? Wander across the Rock Creek suspension Bridge and view the river from above. Hungry? Grab a cold beer and a burger at the Aroma Park American Legion is located along the waterfront on Sandbar Road.

Another incredible fall drive or ride is the scenic Illinois River Road. The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway preserves the natural river country along the banks of the Illinois River, so visitors can travel the same route as early French explorers.

Boasting some of the best views of natural wildlife, wetlands, and waterways, this byway is not to be missed. While the whole stretch is some 300 miles, we think some of the best parts are right here in Northern Illinois.

Park and hike at Mattheissen State Park in Utica and take in some of the most stunning waterfalls you’ll ever find. Try eagle watching at Anderson lake beach in Fulton County, or drive south toward Peoria, and check out Emiquon Preserve in Lewistown, for the bevy of wildlife that calls it home, or the resource-rich Dickson Mounds Museum, a branch of the Illinois State Museum and one of the major on-site archaeological museums in the United States. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the world of the American Indian in an awe inspiring journey through 12,000 years of human experience in the Illinois River Valley.

Looking for more?
Order your copy of the Illinois Scenic Byways Road Trip Booklet and start planning your ride or drive today! Get yours, and discover more about the greatest road trips in the state, at www.illinoisbyways.org