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Illinois: Fall Colors in the Land of Lincoln

Drive 169.8 miles, 3 hours, 43 minutes

Discover fall foliage and urban vistas from Peoria to Chicago in this hidden gem for fall foliage fanatics. Illinois offers some exciting ways to discover its vibrant landscapes, but between paddleboat cruises and performances in the parks, you’ll never see fall the same way again.


1. Peoria

Starting Point

Begin your trip to the Illinois River region with a fall foliage lunch cruise aboard the authentic Spirit of Peoria paddleboat. Traditional music and storytelling add to the experience, and you’ll be treated to views of some of the most pristine forest in the country along the way. Just outside of town, the Wildlife Prairie Park makes a home for plants and animals native to the area. It’s a great way to discover the Midwest in its natural state and, with a playground and restaurant in the park, perfect for a visit with the whole family.


2. Chillicothe

18.3 miles, 34 minutes

Head north along the picturesque Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway to Chillicothe for another take on fall splendor. The riverside town is known for Shore Acres State Park, the center of social life in town. It’s also home to the Peoria Automobile Club, a classic 19th-century clubhouse that’s open for tours and events. When exploring the park grounds and serene riverside paths, don’t forget to keep your eyes to the sky—the area is a noted bald eagle nesting site, and sightings are frequent.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

3. Ottawa

67.5 miles, 1 hour, 26 minutes

Voted the Number 1 attraction in the state, Starved Rock State Park, located just outside of Ottawa, is not to be missed. With 13 miles of hiking trails that wind through massive trees and arrive at towering waterfalls, the park is a singular destination. Foliage seekers should take one of the guided trolley tours and learn about the types of foliage that populate the area. Eagles, herons and other finds make the park a birdwatchers dream as well.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

4. Chicago

84 miles, 1 hour, 43 minutes

In one of the America’s most cosmopolitan cities, you might think it difficult to find nature in its element. However, Chicago’s parks provide excellent opportunities to take in the foliage while enjoying the spoils of the city. First, try Lincoln Park, the city’s largest. With miles of hiking and biking trails that wind through seemingly remote stretches, you might think you’re back in rural Illinois. Millennium Park is home to Lurie Garden, which aims to bridge the gap between Chicago’s cultural, historical and natural elements. Many native plants flower here, so the garden’s foliage highlights the changing of the seasons.