Featuring 13 miles of trails twisting and turning through 18 glacier-carved canyons, Starved Rock State Park is a stunner and must-see for its awe-inspiring beauty. Whether you’re looking to take a stroll in Aurora Canyon or wanting to tackle the challenging Lover’s Leap, the natural beauty pairs perfectly with fall foliage. Oh, did we mention there’s also waterfalls? Fourteen of them to be exact. Other leaf-peeping nature excursions include Matthiessen State Park, which includes a one-mile canyon and charming little lake, and Buffalo Rock State Park, which offers broad views of the Illinois River on a bluff that once was an island within the river. The best part? Like all Illinois state parks, they’re free to enjoy.
Go mural spotting in downtown Ottawa! Murals throughout town depict everything from the day of the first Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debate to the renowned Peltier Glass Factory, which provided glass to the Ford Motor Company in the early 20th century. Ottawa is also where the Boy Scouts of America began. For a fun history lesson, and to check out some great memorabilia, pop into the Ottawa Scouting Museum. For a taste of the area’s arts scene, make sure to visit Starved Rock Hot Glass, a glassblowing studio and gallery specializing in original hand-blown art glass, jewelry, and cremation glass. The studio offers workshops to visitors, too, so you can take home a keepsake work of art from your adventures.
Not every independent brewery can claim to grow their own hops, but a local harvest is at the heart of Tangled Roots Brewing Company. Located in Ottawa, they plant, cultivate, and harvest their own hand-grown hops and barley just south of the brewery’s home base. That commitment to sourcing local rings true at their neighboring brewpub, The Lone Buffalo, too. Their super seasonal menu utilizes products from local farmers and producers. Brewery tours are offered Thursday-Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Advance booking is required. Thirsty for more? Head to nearby Utica and visit the August Hill Winery Tasting Room whose sparkling wine brand, Illinois Sparkling Company, is created using the same process that’s used for making Champagne in Champagne, France.