There are many things to do in the Illinois Valley, a small region along the Illinois River in North Central Illinois. The area’s strength lies in its outdoor activities, so if you enjoy hiking, fishing, birding, or festivals, visit some of these attractions.
The I&M Canal
The Illinois and Michigan Canal was built in 1848, and served to link Chicago with the Illinois River at LaSalle, Illinois. In the era before railroads, canals were the primary method used to ship goods. Thanks in large part to the construction of this canal, Chicago was able to act as the main hub for various commodities in the Midwest. It allowed them to ship freight East on the Great Lakes or to the deep South via this canal, the Illinois River, and then Mississippi River.
Now the canal isn’t used to transport anything, and instead is a National Historic Landmark. Its adjacent path serves as a great way for area bikers, runners, and walkers to get exercise and enjoy nature. At Western end of the I & M Canal, in LaSalle, Illinois, there is even a replica 1848 canal boat, pulled by two mules which offers tours on the canal. It offers a glimpse into transportation methods of the early 1800s.
Bald Eagle Watching
From December to March every year, hundreds of Bald Eagles migrate South from Canada and spend the Winter living near the Illinois River and the cliffs of Starved Rock State Park. Because of that, the area becomes one of the premier spots to view Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states.The adjacent damn and river provide an abundance of fish for the eagles to eat. The State Park also offers tall trees and cliffs to build nests.
The Starved Rock Lodge and other entities provide guided tours, but there is nothing preventing you from going out with your own pair of binoculars to seek them out.
DePue Boat Races
Every Summer APBA (American Power Boat Association) Pro National Championship Boat Races come to Lake DePue in the town of Depue, Illinois. The races attract crowds and competitors from all across the United States.
When you hear the roar of these boat engines, and then see these boats speeding over 100 mph, the excitement is palpable. In addition to the races all weekend, there are beer gardens and live music to please the spectators.
A burgoo is a communal stew, historically popular among the British Navy. The annual Fall Burgoo Festival in the town of Utica, Illinois, serves as a chance to eat, drink, and be merry. A group of Utica residents stay up all night the day before the festival, slaving away on creating the stew. In addition to the burgoo stew, other foods and drinks are available. In my opinion, the whole town turns into a large sidewalk sale featuring vendors and flea marketers. People mingle in the streets with drinks and food, and browse through arts and crafts. It is a shopper’s paradise. The festival also serves as a fundraiser for the Lasalle County Historical Society. Come early and stay late, and don’t forget to cheer when the local high school band marches down main street.
Due to a combination of glacial activity, water erosion, and the texture of the stone located beneath the ground in the Illinois Valley, there are many good canyon locations to hike. While Starved Rock State Park was named for an event centered around its tall butte overlooking the Illinois River, it is the canyons that provide the best hiking for visitors. Numerous waterfalls and over 13 miles of trails make for excellent hiking, birding, and photography in the 18 canyons spread across the park.
Similar to Starved Rock, and just a few miles away, lies Matthiessen State Park. Smaller than Starved Rock, Matthiessen’s main canyon is divided into a lower dell (section) and an upper dell by a large waterfall. In addition to the hiking, there is a lake that can be fished, picnic areas, and a fort built to replicate what French traders may have built in the late Seventeenth Century.
Experience them all this year!