Waterfalls, canyons and bluff-top overlooks make Starved Rock State Park in Utica a beautiful stop; it’s known for its scenic hiking trails.
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge shelters around 200,000 birds each year, including eagles, ducks, thrushes, egrets and owls.
An hour away, at the byway’s central point, Peoria makes an ideal overnight destination. Cozy booths jump-start conversation at Two25 in the Mark Twain Hotel, which serves tangy-sweet barbecue chicken pizza. The boutique hotel’s freshly styled guest rooms provide a quiet and comfortable stay (from $139).
Breakfast at the hotel features made-to-order omelets.
The new Peoria Riverfront Museum celebrates area history and stays busy as a hands-on science museum that young kids love.
Happy Thought Coffee in small-town Chillicothe brews fair-trade joe in a bank preserved from 1868 (the vault is a gift shop).
Come fall, Boggio’s Orchard’s apple-cider doughnuts complement time spent picking apples or choosing pumpkins in Granville. In any season, the award-winning vintages and upscale tasting room at August Hill Winery in Utica cap off a lovely weekend getaway.
More information: (815) 433-5830; illinoisriverroad.org
By the numbers
Five miles of trails curl through canyon-filled Matthiessen State Park outside Oglesby. Fascinating rock formations bear names like Devil’s Paintbox, Wishing Well and Giant’s Bathtub. Visitors love the lush foliage along the Vermilion River—and that the park isn’t nearly as crowded as nearby Starved Rock. (815) 667-4868; dnr.state.il.us
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