Illinois is a Midwest state blessed with some of the most beautiful natural places. From flatland prairies to giant forests, the Great Lakes region offers wonderful scenic drives.
Whether it’s through rural terrain or urban precincts, every corner of Illinois has something to offer. A particularly rewarding option for automotive explorers is The Great River Road, a network of routes shortening from Wisconsin down to Missouri along the Mississippi.
It runs for more than 500 miles and takes you through tranquil villages and charming old towns, with stunning views of limestone bluffs carved by the mighty river.
Overview Scenic Drives In Illinois
Illinois is a beautiful state filled with wonderful places to explore, whether those are urban areas or rural spots full of natural beauty.
Wildflowers and lush forests can be found among the rolling hills and plains in Illinois, setting the perfect stage for a scenic drive.
Many roads are available to pick up and head out on an exploration filled with stunning views of prairies, rivers, lakes, and valleys, all waiting to be admired. Some of the top scenic drives in the Land of Lincoln recommend hitting up the route from Chicago along Lake Michigan all the way up through Mackinac Island.
Along this route, you will take in gorgeous views of lighthouses and blooming flowers blanketing rolling hills – truly a sight to behold.
Popular List Of Scenic Drive In Illinois
Illinois is a wonderful place to visit with its beautiful prairies, woods, rivers, and more. Whether one is taking a day trip, a longer vacation, or just exploring around the state, Illinois offers many wonderful scenic drives.
These include some of the most popular drives including the Starved Rock State Park Road Trip, which takes you through some of the most stunning rock formations in North America.
The Buffalo Rock Scenic Byway also runs along parts of the Mississippi River that are absolutely breathtaking.
Another great drive is the Shawnee Hills National Scenic Byway which offers views of limestone cliffs and lush vineyards as you pass through some of the oldest settlements in Illinois.
Along the way, you will find historical sites like Mill Creek Historic Site and Dixon Springs State Park that provide an expansive look into Illinois’ past.
The Great River Road
The Great River Road is a collection of paths that stretch through nine states, but those in Illinois have some of the most spectacular landscapes and sights to behold.
As you drive along this scenic highway, winding through lush green hillsides and fields, you’ll get a magnificent view of the Mississippi River travelling alongside. The foliage that drapes along both banks of the river provides perfect picture opportunities.
It can also be helpful to stop off at one of the many small towns along your route, like Grafton and Alton, to explore local attractions, such as museums commemorating ancient societies or charming dinner theatres offering classic plays and musicals.
The Great River Road is an ideal spot not just for sightseeing, but also for following new adventures while discovering rural America’s beauty.
The Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway
The Shawnee Hills Scenic Byway covers nearly forty miles of breathtaking natural beauty in southern Illinois, a region known for its breathtaking vistas and picturesque countryside.
Starting in Murphysboro and ending at Carrier Mills, the route passes along the Shawnee National Forest, through rolling hills, remote forest glens and quaint villages.
While it can be broken up into smaller sections for custom exploration, taking the entire length allows you to truly take your time to appreciate the region’s splendour. Enjoy colourful wildflowers blooming along winding roads and wildlife that often borders on the side them.
One can experience uncommonly diverse geology with karst topography such as bluff views that overlook ponds.
Stop by an old-style fishing shack or explore nearby parks, rolling vineyards, or state parks while also discovering unique roadside stands especially famous in spring and summer with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Tunnel Hill State Trail
With its crushed limestone and gravel base, the Tunnel Hill State Trail offers a scenic drive like no other for Illinois residents.
It stretches for almost 50 miles, beginning in Harrisburg and ending near Karnak, passing through the Shawnee National Forest in between.
The area is known for its abundance of wildlife, including deer and birds such as bald eagles and osprey. Beautiful wetlands and creeks also add to the peaceful charm of the trail.
Whether it’s a day trip down Highway 45 or a hike along the entire length of the trail, Tunnel Hill State Trail offers rich rewards to those who choose to explore.
The River to River Road
Located in Southern Illinois, the River to River Road was designed to provide summer relief to travellers heading between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
The route winds through small towns, backcountry roads and rolling hills, providing breathtaking views of nature along the way.
It takes full advantage of scenic attractions such as the Shawnee National Forest, the Garden of the Gods, Bald Knob Cross State Park and other outdoor recreational areas.
With a variety of stops along the way including museums, waterfalls, lighthouses and more, you are sure to find something for everyone when you take a drive down this historical route.
From here you can also access Ferne Clyffe State Park for picnicking, bird watching or camping opportunities; or Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge for swimming or fishing from its 597-acre lake.
The Illinois River Road
The Illinois River Road is a National Scenic Byway in the Prairie State that sharply contrasts city and farm.
Winding along the length of the river, the drive follows a path of small towns and historical places, providing tourists with remarkable views of nature’s beauty.
In most areas, you’ll find Illinois’ natural environment intact even after centuries of occupying this large swath of Midwest farmland.
From sandstone bluffs to small riverside bars to forest trails, travellers are treated to a variety of picturesque scenes while engaging in activities such as bird watching or canoeing.
The Garden Of The Gods Road
Illinois is known for its flat terrain, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some superb roadside scenery within its borders.
One of the best spots to take in the views is along the Garden of the Gods Road near Shawnee National Forest. The twisting path brings drivers through a breathtaking stretch of sandstone bluffs, forests, and farmland.
Lofty cliffs, interesting rock formations and other geological wonders can be seen along the drive, making it perfect for photography enthusiasts.
The Route 66
Illinois’s Route 66 spans from Lake Michigan in Chicago to the Mississippi River in St. Louis and is a stunning highway full of storybook scenes.
Known as “The Mother Road,” the wild ride carries travellers through sleepy, rustic towns and awe-inspiring national parks.
The pace is slower than most between metropolises like Springfield and Joliet, giving visitors plenty of time to appreciate small-town delicacies and unique roadside attractions.
Some of the more famous sights include historic landmarks such as the Gemini Giant Muffler Man and Lou Mitchell’s Diner on 26th Street in Chicago.
For those who prefer nature’s beauty, there are open plains blanketed with cornfields as well as a wealth of wineries and forests.
During certain times of the year, glorious displays of autumnal colours can be seen by exploring forest trails or taking a humble drive down dirt paths.
The Galena River Trail
The Galena River Trail, located in the state of Illinois, is a must-see for those looking for a breathtaking tour. Spanning from Galena to Murphy Park, the route offers dreamy views as it winds through distinct landscapes.
Travellers will be enchanted with the lush rolling hills and abundance of picturesque farms that serve as one backdrop for the journey.
The route will also whisk you away to charming rural towns and charming rustic bridges inviting exploration and adventure.
Bluffs of native limestone make up the other geographical feature along their trip, providing stunning panoramic views from bluffs that reach over 200 feet in height.
Nature lovers won’t want to miss this unique drive; wildlife flourishes here with deer, wild turkeys, and eagles spotted along the way. It’s no wonder this is one of Illinoi’s most popular scenic drives.
The Starved Rock Scenic Drive
Nestled in central Illinois, the Starved Rock Scenic Drive offers brilliant views of bluffs, canyons and a variety of nature-filled wonders.
This 60-mile loop winds through the rolling hills of LaSalle County and provides breathtaking vistas created by the interplay between glacier formations, mighty rivers and timeless forests.
Taking anywhere from two to four hours depending on how much time you want to take exploring, this drive is perfect for immersing yourself in the beauty of Illinois’ wilderness terrain.
Along the route are several state parks open year-round, offering numerous trails and activities such as biking, birdwatching, hiking and more.
The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway
The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway in Illinois provides a relaxing and exciting journey for visitors and locals alike.
Starting in Grafton, the drive spans nearly 100 miles along the shoreline of the historic Mississippi River and takes travellers upriver to Alton. Along the way, breathtaking views of rocky bluffs alongside the river’s edge are plentiful.
This scenic drive is full of beautiful sights that will captivate any viewer, from sandstone formations that contrast with lush tree-filled forests to sloping vineyards blanketed with wildflowers for miles.
At the journey’s end, make sure you take a stroll along a portion of The Great River Road National Scenic Byway to explore various river access points before settling into a picturesque sunset while watching countless boats cruise underneath Alton’s iconic Clark Bridge.
Tips For Enjoying The Drive
When taking scenic drives in Illinois, there are several key tips to ensure you enjoy your drive. First, plan ahead so that you are familiar with the route, amenities and services available along the journey.
Researching popular attractions such as historical sites or nature trails as well as planning where you will dine and stay overnight can be incredibly helpful.
Additionally, bring appropriate clothing for all types of conditions, from warm sunshine to chilly rain squalls, it is better to be prepared.
Best Time To Visit
Exploring the lush green roads of scenic Illinois is best done during the warmer months. April through October offer prime time for spotting wildflowers, rolling fields and bright bursts of autumn colour along a number of route options.
Preparing For The Drive
When it comes to planning a scenic drive in Illinois, there are several key things to consider to make the experience a memorable one.
First, plan the exact route you would like to take; Illinois offers many routes for stunning views, so explore your options.
Second, make sure your car is in good condition and has enough fuel for the drive; give yourself plenty of extra time on top of your estimated arrival.
Third, prepare for possible weather changes; bring appropriate attire and snacks in case you get stuck or decide to stop somewhere along your journey.
Finally, be aware of any potential road hazards that may crop up as you travel around Illinois; stay alert and follow the speed limits for an enjoyable driving experience.
With a bit of careful preparation, you can have a stress-free and rewarding adventure on any scenic drive in Illinois.
When planning a scenic drive in Illinois, it’s important to make sure you have all the essential supplies on hand. A GPS unit can be helpful for navigating winding back roads and planning your route.
You’ll also want to bring a cooler full of snacks and drinks for the road plus any picnic items you plan to take along.
Make sure you’ve got a car charger plugged into a power bank so your devices don’t lose power while trying to access maps or music during your journey.
If you are looking to enjoy some of the breathtaking scenery Illinois has to offer, then taking a scenic drive is the perfect way to explore it. However, you should always plan ahead and be aware of the possible road conditions during your journey.
Generally speaking, roads in Illinois are maintained well and are in great condition due to the amount of auto traffic throughout the state.
That being said, there can still be construction projects which can cause delays or detours into areas where road conditions may be less than favourable.
In addition, worsening weather conditions like icy or snow-covered roads can also make for a more dangerous situation so it’s always important to check local reports before heading out on long-distance drives.
With over 6,000 miles of roads and highways, Illinois is a great place to go for a scenic drive. From the south, stretches of farmland open up, rolling past like an enchanted patchwork quilt.
In central Illinois, you can explore winding roads that lead through wildflower-dotted valleys and majestic river bluffs. And in the north, you can experience wide open spaces as well as exquisite alpine overlooks, dotted with crystal blue glacier lakes.
At every turn, there’s something new to discover, whether it be a historic monument or an alluring lake beach. No matter what direction you decide to take your road trip in, it will surely be an amazing adventure that you’ll never forget.