Waterfalls, canyons and bluff-top overlooks make hikes beautiful in Starved Rock State Park in Utica.
Five miles of trails also curl through nearby canyon-filled Matthiessen State Park.
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge shelters around 200,000 birds each year, including eagles, egrets and owls.
The award-winning vintages and upscale tasting room at August Hill Winery are a civilized respite.
Come fall, Boggio's Orchard's apple cider doughnuts complement time spent picking apples in Granville.
Happy Thought Coffee in Chillicothe brews fair-trade joe in an 1868 bank (the vault is a gift shop).
A half-hour south, Peoria makes an ideal overnight destination. Two25 in the Mark Twain Hotel serves tangy-sweet barbecue chicken pizza. The boutique hotel’s freshly styled guest rooms provide a comfortable stay (from $144).
Breakfast at the hotel features made-to-order omelets.
Head to the riverfront to check out the hands-on Peoria Riverfront Museum and Kelleher's Irish Pub and Eatery for comfort food and brews.
Grand View Drive in Peoria Heights climbs into an enclave of mansions along a bluff-top park with views of the river. The 200-foot-high observation tower at Tower Park also gives panoramic views.
For more ideas, see "5 Great Places to Get Local Flavor in Peoria" below.
More information: (815) 433-5830; illinoisriverroad.org
Murray-Baker Bridge The narrow, cantilevered bridge carries Interstate-74 across the wide Illinois River to link Peoria and East Peoria. Its swooping shoulders, intricate metalwork and dazzling light display draw scores of photographers each year. Nearby, Peoria’s busy riverfront boasts an antiques mall, independently owned shops and restaurants. (800) 747-0302; peoria.org
Starved Rock State Park A remarkable pocket of land along the Illinois River includes 18 sandstone canyons; 14 waterfalls, including some that freeze into glittering walls in winter; and abundant wildlife and birds. The Belle of the Rock paddle-wheeler takes guests on relaxed excursions seasonally. Free guided hikes cover park highlights. (815) 667-4726; dnr.state.il.us
Starved Rock Lodge Pines and oaks shadow the 69-room lodge and the 21 cabins—many with fireplaces—decked in classic knotty pine and stone. It’s a great way to experience the park without roughing it. From $100. (815) 667-4211; starvedrocklodge.com
5 Great Places to Get Local Flavor in Peoria
1 Leaves ’N Beans This coffee shop serves fair-trade brews from around the world in a rehabbed Peoria Heights bungalow. Try coffee flavored with ancho chile, white chocolate or caramel sauce. (309) 688-7685; lnbcoffee.com
2 Salt With an avant-garde approach to dining, Salt sets a new standard for date night in Peoria Heights. The menu features contemporary American-style cuisine; the southwest chicken mac-and-cheese is a saucy pepper-Jack winner teeming with corn, black beans and poblano peppers. (309) 966-1035; saltpeoria.com
3 Agatucci’s Pizza This tavernesque pizzeria serves superb thin-crust pies as well as ravioli, fried chicken and Italian sausage sandwiches. Fans can buy their frozen pizzas from local grocery stores. (309) 688-8200; agatuccis.com
4 I Know You Like A Book Browse well-stocked shelves for popular fiction, nonfiction and locally authored books. More than just a bookstore, this popular shop also hosts book clubs and author meet ’n’ greets in its wine bar. (309) 685-2665
5 Festival of Lights Once a year, East Peoria breaks out one of the Midwest’s most stunning holiday light shows. Drive past bedazzled dinosaurs, alpine ski villages and horse-drawn carriages. November to late December. (800) 365-3743; folepi.org