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Did You Know…?

  • Illinois is an Algonquin word and means tribe of superior men.
  • Metropolis, the home of Superman, is a real place in southern Illinois.
  • Des Plaines was home to the first McDonald’s Restaurant, now a museum.
  • Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, but the 16th president was born in Kentucky.
  • Kaskaskia, a former capital, is the only Illinois town west of the Mississippi.

Land of Lincoln — and Obama

Illinois is a Great Lakes state with a feature that distinguishes it from the others — the city of Chicago. But there is more to Illinois than the Windy City.

The state has copyrighted its moniker, Land of Lincoln, and with the recent development of a presidential library and museum in Springfield honoring the 16th president, the state has redoubled its commitment to a favorite son. More recently, Illinois is the land of Barak Obama, too.

A quintessentially midwestern state, Illinois has the de rigueur rolling farm country, winter blizzards, hot sunny summer days — thunderstorms and all — and friendly, down-to-earth locals.

The vagaries of geography and history also present us with features that make the state unique. It has a Lake Michigan shoreline to the northeast and rivers for boundaries to the southeast, south and west; the big one is the Mississippi, suggestive of paddle wheelers, floating gambling boats and numerous towns shaped by their position alongside a great and sometimes dangerous river.

Then, there is Chicago, strategically sited on a Great Lake and hence, a hub for bringing produce of the farm belt to market. That brought the money, built the stockyards and the first skyscrapers, but Al Capone brought romance of a certain kind — meaning the romance and rough charm that’s possible now that the man is safely dead.

Illinois offers outdoor activities in its state parks, on its rivers and on Lake Michigan, and it is noted for Native American archaeological sites. Even the long cold winters needn’t keep the venturesome from enjoying Chicago and the rest of the state. Although not a mountainous place, Illinois offers some skiing and other opportunities for playing outdoors in winter — but those winter dips in Lake Michigan are a bit over the top even for the most adventurous.

Many tourists visit Illinois in early fall when the temperature and rainfall levels are most reliable. And, generally speaking, except for certain types of sightseeing and despite outdoor choices, the most popular activities with Illinois’ leisure visitors are of the indoor variety: art exhibits, great museums, dining, entertainment, nightlife and shopping.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go ice fishing in the Kickapoo State Recreation Area near Danville. Other winter options here are cross-country skiing and ice skating.
  • Do some rock climbing and rappelling in Giant City State Park. Need lessons? Seek out the Vertical Heartland Rock Climbing School in Buncombe.
  • Rediscover your comic book heroes: Visit the Dick Tracy Museum in Woodstock, the town where this crime stopper was born. There’s more: Popeye was born in Chester, home to an annual Popeye Picnic (do you like spinach?); Superman’s hometown Metropolis celebrates its hero with the Super Museum, and Tarzan, believe it or not, was born in a Chicago suburb, Oak Park, where “Tarzan of the Apes” was written. The local historical society maintains a permanent exhibit honoring the ape man and his creator.
  • Try a little night skiing at Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park in Andalusia. Other options: snow tubing and snowboarding.
  • Camp along the riverbank in Oquawka’s Big River State Forest.
  • Attend the World Free Fall Skydive Convention in Rantoul in late summer. Two thousand professional skydivers come to town from points around the globe, but if you want to have a go, amateurs can make jumps, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Follow the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, which encompasses seven wineries along a 25-mile drive through the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Walk off those tastings by hiking the bluffs of the forest’s Garden of the Gods.
  • Ride daredevil roller coasters at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.
  • Charter a boat in Waukegan for sportfishing on Lake Michigan. Because of an aggressive stocking program, the lake is well supplied with salmon and trout.
  • Sample the water slides, rapid water channel and other features at the WaterWorks indoor water park in Schaumburg. Or, check out  raft rides and body slides at any of several other indoor water parks in Illinois.
  • See the remains of an ancient Mississippian Indian city at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville. A U.N. World Heritage Site, it protects 68 earthen mounds.
  • For winter fun, seek out the I & M Canal State Trail which offers a 60-mile snowmobile run. Or, for midwestern downhill skiing, go to Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena.

Things to do for Authentics

  • See the John Deere Pavilion and Collectors Center in Moline, home town in adulthood to the man who changed farming by inventing a steel plow. (The tractor came much later.) Also, while in Moline, see the Deere-Wiman and Butterworth mansions.
  • Go to the horse races at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights.
  • Visit the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
  • Visit writer Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace home and museum in Oak Park. While you are there, look at several of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations in town, including his Home and Studio. All this in addition to the permanent Tarzan exhibit!
  • Play golf at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, then treat yourself to some pampering.
  • See the Lipizzan stallions perform, in a show modeled on Vienna’s Spanish Riding School, at Tempel Farms in Wadsworth. Performances are held twice weekly in summer.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Illinois Office of Tourism at