The truth is, I’m graduating college in 8 days, and I don’t know where life is going to take me. I might be in Illinois for the next few years, or I might fall in love with a job halfway across the country… or the world! So, my goal for this summer is to spend as much time enjoying all of the wonders my home state has to offer with my friends and family. To keep my focus on being active and adventurous, I’m making a list (because how else would I stay organized without a list, right?)! I’ve searched the internet for the best outdoor hidden gems in Illinois, and I found some places I have been before and want to revisit (like Galena and Anderson Japanese Gardens) and others that I want to explore for the first time.
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods is in the Shawnee National Forest (not to be confused with the other Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO). Shawnee National Forest offers the typical recreational activities- camping, hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, boating, hunting- which make the trip to the Shawnee National Forest an enjoyable experience, but the highlight of the national park has to be this view right here. Visiting Garden of the Gods may be even more enjoyable in the fall with the changing colors of the leaves, but whenever you go, you’re bound to get a nice picture or two. Just make sure to look where you are walking… those rocks make me nervous! You can see the visitors standing out on different ledges in the picture above. Eek.
I’ve talked about my trips to Galena on the blog before. Ty and I went horseback riding and sight seeing last May. We honestly had the best day. Galena is a small town with a lot to offer. It’s the perfect place to roam around, checking out the shops, take a painting class, eat way too many sweets, go horseback riding, or go kayaking. One thing that I liked so much about our trip to Galena last May was that for the first time ever (and I’ve been to Galena a lot), we stopped to see Ulysses S. Grant’s house.
[X] Starved Rock
This is the #1 must-see place on my bucket list for this summer. It’s not too far from home, and I have heard so many great things about taking a day trip to Starved Rock that I just can’t put it off anymore! It was even voted the #1 attraction in the state of Illinois, so it seems like everything I have heard is pretty accurate… Starved Rock has 13 miles of hiking trails and 18 different canyons to check out. Planning which trails to cover is going to be a tough decision. Luckily, if you can’t decide, there is a nice lodge (and campgrounds) in the park, so you don’t have to miss anything!
Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Bypass
Does driving down a scenic bypass count as being outdoors? Maybe not but it still connects you with nature, so roll back the sunroof, and I think we can let this one slide. Honestly, this picture does not do the bypass justice. The images on the Meeting of the Great Rivers website are breathtaking. This bypass runs 33 miles where the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers come together. Driving straight through takes about an hour, but there are a number of attractions that you can stop to see. If you’re driving past the area, I genuinely think this will be worth the detour… even if it adds some time onto your trip. It will be fun, and you can even download mp3 files for an audio tour in your very own car!
[X] Anderson Japanese Gardens
The Anderson Japanese Gardens just reopened for the season on May 1, and I am going to make it a point to go. I have kind of been to the Anderson Japanese Gardens before; I’ve never walked through the actual gardens, but I have eaten at Fresco at the Gardens and had an incredible view of the area. If you are going to walk around the gardens, I highly suggest going on an empty stomach so that you can enjoy brunch at the restaurant. When I went, I tried the City Market Frittata and the Strawberry Orange Juice, which is fresh squeezed for you! The best part about Fresco at the Gardens is everything is organic and local, and you can tell. Your meal tastes fresh!
If you are looking for a more structured trip than a simple brunch and walk through the gardens, there are always special events going on, so make sure to check the calendar before you go. A few events coming up in May are Tai Chi, meditation, yoga, origami, flower arranging, and calligraphy.
Green City Market
Okay, let’s be honest: there are a lot of farmer’s markets all over the state. With that being said, there probably isn’t one that reigns superior and justifies driving half a day to get to, so let’s put an asterisks next to this one and say my goal is to go to a farmer’s market I’ve never been to before, but after doing extensive research, it seems safe to say that if you are in the Chicago area, you should check out the Green City Market. If you want to know what to expect, you can of course browse the Green City Market website, but Yelp also has 114 pictures showcasing all of the yummy food the market has to offer!
Tunnel Hill State Trail
Biking is my absolute favorite. I could bike everyday; although, I did just recently sell my bike because I had outgrown it, so I am in the market for a new one. Add to my bucket list for this summer: save up for a new bike. I love the look of beach cruisers, but I also want something that is functional and can change gears, so if you have any suggestions for a decently priced, functional beach cruiser style bike, let me know in the comments below.
As for the Tunnel Hill State Trail, I would definitely pair this biking trail with a trip to the Shawnee National Forest to see Garden of the Gods, because they are super close by each other. The trail is 55.6 miles long, so there is no need to worry that you won’t have far enough to go or enough to see. According to TrailLink.com when you ride down the Tunnel Hill State Trail, you’ll pass by ghost towns, a park, bridges, and, of course, the tunnel it is named after. The trail also has great reviews!
What should I add to my outdoor Illinois summer bucket list? Have you ever been to one of these stops? Where do you want to explore? What are your favorite things to do outside during the warm weather months?