Illinois Road Trips

The Most Scenic Drives in Illinois

Illinois road trips will take you on routes around the state that offer so much variety and spectacular scenery. As you meander your way through rolling hills and wetlands, or around the shores of Lake Michigan, you’ll forget that the buzzing city of Chicago is anywhere near.

The list features a couple of small trips that can be completed in half a day, but for the full vacation experience you can also tackle something longer. With so much to see and do, this isn’t something you should be rushing! Stop off along and the way and enjoy every moment.

Jumping in the car with a good itinerary to stop off at towns and viewpoints along your route is one of the best ways to enjoy The Prairie State.

The Best Illinois Road Trips

1. Route 66 – Illinois

There isn’t a road as historic or as memorable in the U.S. as Route 66. You’ll begin your legendary journey in the heart of downtown Chicago at the very start of Route 66 before you begin your 300-mile descent down the Mother Road. Expect plenty of kitsch, nostalgic eats, and quirky museums.

Distance: 301 miles

Route highlights:  Downtown Pontiac, Route 66 Arcade Museum, Old State Capitol, Route 66 Twin Drive-In movie theater, and Chain of Rocks Bridge.

When to do it: Year-round

2. Lincoln Highway

This historic road was once America’s most famous transcontinental highway, reaching from New York to California. Nearly as old as the automobile, one of the first cross-country routes in the nation travels from Chicago suburbs through charming small towns and lush farmlands.

Distance: 179 miles

Route highlights: Thirty-five giant interpretive murals along the length of the highway

When to do it: Spring, Summer, and Fall

3. Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway

Stretching from Ottawa in the north to Havana (yep, just like the city in Cuba) to the south, the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway showcases Illinois’ natural wonders and unique communities. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand View Drive section as the “world’s most beautiful drive,” so it’s worth a trip.

Distance: 291 miles

Route highlights: Starved Rock State Park, LaSalle, Princeton, Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge and Havana

When to do it: Year-round

Photo Cred: IG walkingandhiking


4. Illinois’ Southern Hills

This road covers less than 25 miles, but we suggest you stretch it out! In fact, it can take all day to explore if you stop at local wineries and fruit orchards near Shawnee National Forest. It’s especially beautiful in fall, with vibrant foliage from Murphysboro to Jonesboro in southern Illinois.

Distance: 25 miles

Route highlights: Local wineries and fruit orchards near Shawnee National Forest,  Root Beer Saloon

When to do it: Year-round

Photo Cred: IG onetwothreelots

5. The Historic National Road

The Historic National Road was the nation’s first federally funded interstate highway. Originally following an Indian trail, the road traversed six states: Maryland, Virginia (now West Virginia), Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. It’s a great route to travel from one side of the state to the other, with stops at 15 towns large and small.

Distance: 164 miles

Route highlights: Marshall, Casey, Teutopolis, Vandalia, and Collinsville

When to do it: Year-round

Photo Cred: IG stl_from_above


6. Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive

There are over one hundred miles of scenic routes on the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive to be enjoyed on this driving tour with beautiful fall colours, local food, cute villages and historic sites to explore. The Scenic Drive’s Fall Festival has been held each year during the first two full weekends of October since 1968.

Distance: 140 miles

Route highlights: Fulton County- London Mills,

When to do it: Year-round, however, their annual Fall Festival is not to be missed!

Photo Cred: IG tiredtyper


7. River Road Scenic Art Loop

Explore this self-guided tour along with the picturesque landscapes of Northwest Illinois. Visit artists in their studios and galleries while also stopping at nearby wineries, craft breweries, shops and restaurants. Meet the people behind the art, including photographers, abstract artists, potters, jewellery designers, wood carvers, watercolour artists, clothing designers, musicians and more.

Distance: 19 miles

Route highlights: Hello Galena Gallery; River Bend Gallery.

When to do it: Spring- Fall

If you are spending time in the state check out The 25 Best Places For Chicken Wings In Illinois.