Nestled in Illinois’ northwestern-most corner on the banks of the Mississippi River, Jo Daviess County boasts rolling hills, picturesque riverside scenery and quaint, small towns to boot. Stop by county seat of Galena (listed amongst the most beautiful towns in the Midwest) where you’ll find art galleries and studios, antique stores and charming bed-and-breakfasts amidst its 19th-century architecture. Don’t leave without taking a tour of the county’s award-winning vineyards and wineries — Galena Cellars, whose wines scooped two gold medals at the 2014 Mid-American Wine Competition.
With just under 4,500 residents, Hardin County is Illinois’ least populated county and the perfect escape from more urban areas. Its location within the bounds of Shawnee National Forest grant the county unparalleled natural beauty from the Garden of the Gods, a series of curious sandstone formations sculpted over the course of millennia, to Cave-in-Rock State Park set atop the bluffs overlooking the Ohio River. Check out the tiny, picturesque county seat of Elizabethtown — home to Illinois’ oldest operating hotel, The Grand Rose Hotel, which dates back to 1812.
Fulton County is nestled on the edges of the Illinois River among the rolling hills and scenic valleys of west central Illinois. Located a few miles downriver from Peoria, Fulton County boasts the Emiquon Preserve — a 7,000-acre wetlands area home to over 212 species of migratory and residents birds, including the American White Pelican, which stop by on their way south for winter — among its natural assets. Visitors can experience the rest of the best during the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive Fall Festival — a self-guided motor tour taking place in early October, covering 140 miles of the county’s most beautiful spots.
From its towering river bluffs and stunning seasonal waterfalls to its four state parks and charming towns, LaSalle County is certainly a destination worth a visit. Located just 75 miles southwest of Chicago, its feels like a world away from the Windy City. Visit Starved Rock State Park to enjoy springtime waterfalls, then head to the lesser-known Matthiessen State Park a few miles south — home to spectacular, mile-long sandstone canyon. For history buffs, the beautiful Hegeler Carus Mansion — a 19th-century architectural masterpiece and birthplace of the Open Court Publishing Company — is a must-see.
Home of Lake Shelbyville — an 11,000-acre reservoir boasting 172 miles of shoreline and over 65 miles of trails — Shelby County is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts. Each year, thousands of visitors flock to the region to camp, boat and fish its waters. Nestled on the edge of the lake, Wolf Creek State Park is another local must-see with hiking, equestrian trails and seasonal snowmobiling. But peel yourself away from the lake and venture further into Shelby County and you’ll find a number of wineries and one of its most unique architectural features, the Tower of Baa — the only goat tower in the whole of the country.
With picturesque, historic villages dotting its rolling hills and the mighty Mississippi River to the west, it’s no wonder Carroll County is such a popular destination. One of its most beautiful attractions, the Mississippi Palisades State Park, lies in the north of the county and boasts spectacular views of the Mississippi River from its scenic overlooks; while downriver, visitors will find the charming town of Savanna — home of the beautiful Havencrest Castle. Take a trip inland to the rural towns and villages — Mount Carroll, Chadwick and Lanark — and experience Carroll County’s growing barn quilt culture.
For fans of wine and beer, there’s no better destination than Jackson County. There are no less than 18 wineries and vineyards in and around the county and a further three craft breweries, including Carbondale Craft Beer — one of the best breweries in Illinois. It’s also a haven of natural wonders, encompassing part of Shawnee National Forest and the beautiful Cedar and Kincaid Lakes. Visit Giant City State Park for one of the county’s most unique scenic spots, Giant City Streets, where you will find towering sandstone bluffs formed some 12,000 years ago.
Located some 50 miles east of the Quad Cities and a two-hour drive from Chicago, Bureau County calls itself a region of ‘simple pleasures and hidden treasures.’ The Illinois River Road cuts through the county, looping northwards towards the county seat Princeton, where local landmarks like the Lovejoy Homestead — the former home of abolitionist Owen Lovejoy and an important depot of the Underground Railroad — and the picturesque Red Covered Bridge on the Hennepin Canal, built in 1863 and one of Illinois’ few remaining covered bridges. The county is also home to Festival 56, the state’s biggest summer theatre festival, and the Bureau County Fair.
Just 40 miles west of Greater St Louis, Clinton County is a largely rural region where winding country roads cut through scenic farmland, past pretty towns and villages which date back to the 1800s. Take a tour of Clinton County’s section of the Heartland Rivers Wine Trail to visit its three resident wineries — including the Bretz Wildlife Lodge and Winery, host of the annual Carlyle Art and Wine Festival — before heading to Carlyle Lake. As Illinois’ largest man-made lake, Carlyle Lake is a popular destination for boating and fishing and boasts two state parks clustered around its shores.
For picture-perfect riverside towns, there’s no better destination in southwestern Illinois than Jersey County. Where the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers meet, visitors will find Grafton, a beautiful town and the county’s oldest — today home to quaint antique stores and guest houses — while downriver is the idyllic village of Elsah, home to charming 19th-century architecture and often called ‘the town that time forgot.’ For ramblers and recreationists, Pere Marquette State Park is a local must-see and home to 12 miles of hiking trails with several breathtaking views out over the surrounding riverscape.