At the confluence of the Illinois and Fox rivers (about 90 minutes southwest of Chicago), Ottawa opens doors to compelling history and natural beauty.

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What to do

Ottawa is the northeast gateway for the Illinois River Road, a National Scenic Byway that follows the water for 150 miles southwest to Havana.

A spectacular lift-style railroad bridge crosses the river in Ottawa near the Old Town business district (Allen Park offers a great view).

Downtown, eight building exteriors wear large murals depicting local history, including Native Americans, the Lincoln-Douglas debate, Civil War soldiers, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Ottawa murals
Ottawa Mural
| Credit: Bob Stefko

Sandstone bluffs overlook the Illinois River, which make for a scenic paddle adjacent to Buffalo Rock State Park. 

Buffalo Rock State Park
Buffalo Rock State Park
| Credit: Jason Lindsey

Just seven miles east of Buffalo Rock State Park, Starved Rock State Park and neighboring Matthiessen State Park draw visitors who want to explore sandstone canyons, gorges, creeks and seasonal waterfalls.

Back in Ottawa, stroll through Washington Square Park, where statues of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas recall their first senatorial debate, held at the park in 1858.

Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park
| Credit: Jason Lindsey

Bike the route of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, an 1800s commercial waterway-turned-recreational corridor. A 15-mile stretch links Ottawa and LaSalle.

Where to eat

The Cheese Shop 'n' Deli offers more than 30 kinds of sandwiches, as well as scratch-made soups, fish baskets, pastas and desserts.

Tangled Roots Brewing Company, Ottawa
Tangled Roots Brewing Company
| Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Visit Tangled Roots Brewing Company for beers like the Devil's Paint Box, an American IPA named after a colorful rock at nearby Matthiessen State Park.

Where to stay

At Fox River Bed and Breakfast, stay in the room where famed aviator Charles Lindbergh spent the night in 1926 (after his mail plane crashed on the property). (Currently available for longer-term rentals only.)

Rent a charming river-view guest cottage at Heritage Harbor Ottawa. The recently built units include kitchens and laundries and provide access to a pool, bar, restaurant and the marina.

Heritage Harbor Ottawa
Heritage Harbor Ottawa
| Credit: Courtesy of Heritage Harbor Ottawa

For more information visit pickusottawail.com