The diverse group of seven National Scenic Byways in Illinois – Great River Road, Illinois Lincoln Highway, Illinois River Road, Historic Route 66, Meeting of the Great Rivers, Historic National Road and Ohio River Scenic Byway – are important tourist destinations in the State of Illinois. They offer unique experiences to the domestic and international visitors who travel them.
Great River Road
Before the days of the interstate expressways, voyagers paddled along the Mississippi River. Drive along the Great River Road, which follows the eastern shore of the Mississippi the entire length of Illinois. This is your destination that allows you to explore, play, shop, or simply unwind.
In Galena, visit Galena’s Main Street, the U. S. Grant Home, and the DeSoto House Hotel. The 1855 hotel offers tours and first¬class dining. South of Galena, stop by Mississippi Palisades State Park for beautiful views of the river and unique rock formations. Then continue for more photo ops to Savanna and the Savanna¬Sabula Bridge, a massive steel structure. History and nature are harmoniously paired in nearby Fulton. Fulton’s Dutch Windmill is the only authentic Dutch working windmill in Illinois. Heritage Canyon Historical Park features a restored mid-1800s settlement. Then travel to Albany Mounds State Historic Site where walking trails meander around ancient Indian burial grounds.
For more information on the Great River Road The 500-plus miles of the byway have many more heritage sites to explore like the John call toll free: 877-477-7007 Deere Pavilion in Moline and the Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island.309-495-5909 or visit GreatRiverRoad-Illinois.org.
HISTORIC NATIONAL ROAD
It was the dream of George Washington, the plan of Albert Gallatin, and the stroke of Thomas Jefferson's quill pen that created America's first federally funded highway. President Jefferson signed legislation in 1806 allowing a three man commission to study the feasibility of constructing a road from Cumberland, Maryland to the Ohio River. The hope was to unite the civilization of the east coast with what was then the western frontier. The final plans called for the road to intersect each state or territorial capitol to Illinois. Gallatin, Jefferson's treasury secretary, commented in 1808 that "good roads and canals will shorten the distances, facilitate commercial and personal intercourse, and unite, by a still more intimate community of interests, the most remote quarters of the United States." Born in Switzerland, Gallatin was perhaps the strongest voice in Washington, D.C. promoting the National Road. Work began in 1811 and the trail was originally named the Cumberland Road but it later became known as the National Road. Historians agree that it was truly "the road that built a nation." Goods, mail, and settlers used the road that eventually traversed six states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, an area that would later become West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The Conestoga wagon, prominently featured today in the logo for the National Road Association of Illinois, was the 19th century equivalent of a semi-trailer---hauling goods to settlers.
Joseph Shriver started surveying the Illinois section in 1828. Construction, supervised by William C. Greenup, began in 1830 and by 1836 the road had reached Vandalia, the Illinois capitol. However, a loss of federal funding brought a halt to the project in 1838. There were numerous debates on whether the National Road should have continued to Missouri through St. Louis or Alton, Illinois. The issue was never resolved although the route to St. Louis had been recommended. By the 1850s, railroads supplanted the National Road as the primary method of transporting people and goods from east to west.
The emergence of the automobile prompted the government to consider the need of a multi-state paved road. Using the National Road path developed one hundred years earlier, Route 40 became a major thoroughfare in the early 20th century. Today, the National Road in Illinois covers 164 miles from Marshall and the Wabash Valley to East St. Louis and the Mississippi River. Seven counties are home to the National Road: Clark, Cumberland, Effingham, Fayette, Bond, Madison, and St. Clair.
- Declared a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (1976)
- Designated a National Scenic Byway by the federal government (2000)
- Awarded the prestigious All American Road status (2002)
For more information on the National Road call 888-268-0042 or nationalroad.org.
ILLINOIS LINCOLN HIGHWAY
Journey on the Illinois Lincoln Highway, celebrate America’s first coast-to-coast highway!
Start your journey - on the Lincoln Highway, a 179 mile National Scenic Byway in northern Illinois, where you will find an adventure filled with variety, rich in history, heritage and culture. The historic Lincoln Highway route in Illinois is known today as U.S. 30, Illinois Routes 31 and 38, as it traverses from the east on the Indiana border in Lynwood to the western terminus at the mighty Mississippi in Fulton. Traveling this highway and exploring the corridor communities you will find something for everyone; one-of-a-kind Lincoln Highway attractions, cozy lodging, parks and outdoor recreation, historic architecture, family fun, auto racing, outstanding dining, casinos, wineries, boutique shopping, festivals, special events and so much more!
A must see - one of the largest works of public art in the country! The Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition is producing a series of Interpretive Murals stretching along the byway corridor, touching over two dozen communities. Each mural is a hand painted, 10 x 20 square foot unique work of art, with a fascinating true story to tell from history of the early Lincoln Highway. With their large scale designs, the murals can be easily seen while traveling the highway, yet the locations allow you to pull off the road to experience a closer view and read the accompanying narrative. Elements of a bygone era are evident in every painting; the “larger than life” images will allow you to be transported back in time to recognize the importance the Lincoln Highway and its communities have had on history and the evolution of travel.
You’re invited - to visit each of the 16 Illinois Lincoln Highway Interpretive Gazebos located in different communities along the highway corridor in northern Illinois. Each gazebo offers an enjoyable way to take in the many, intriguing stories of the famed highway and the communities that were impacted by its development. Be sure to visit every Lincoln Highway Coalition gazebo to see a total of 48 different displays!
Get to know us - the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition is the management agency for the Illinois Lincoln Highway, a National Scenic Byway. The Illinois portion of the Lincoln Highway was designated a National Scenic Byway in June of 2000, and is the only state on the entire Lincoln Highway route to accomplish this nationally recognized status. This important designation supports the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition’s ongoing efforts in seeking ways to recognize the significance of the highway, while making the historic stories come to life for visitors.
There is always something happening on the Illinois Lincoln Highway where every mile is a story!
Visit our website: drivelincolnhighway.com for a downloadable visitor guide and updates on more things to see and do, or call toll free: 866-455-4249.
ILLINOIS RIVER ROAD
Enjoy an adventure just a short drive away. The Byway preserves the natural river country along the banks of the Illinois River, so visitors can travel the same route as early French explorers. Get close to nature and see what the Illinois River Road has in store for you. Whether hiking the bluff trails, biking our historic canal towpaths, wetting a fishing line in the waters or simply enjoying serene wildlife habitats, you’ll be immersed in the rich history and beauty of the Illinois River Valley. Unique communities along the way are host to dining, shopping and historical experiences, as well as festivals and events year-round. For a truly unique treasure hunt, seek out 90 geocaches placed throughout the journey; or pick up our Birding Site Guide and spot Bald Eagles, owls and waterfowl that call the Illinois River Valley home. Your possibilities for adventure are endless.
For more information, call 309-495-5909 or visit Illinoisriverroad.org.
ILLINOIS ROUTE 66
Historic Route 66 is arguably one of the most famous roadways in the world. It has come to represent the American Dream – the freedom, passion and spirit of the people whose lives intertwined with 2,448 miles of pavement, to make an eternal mark on our country’s cultural landscape. Route 66 is legendary, and the legacy is reflected in special people and places through the poignant stories they tell. And, Illinois is where it all begins. For over 50 years, between 1926 and 1977, Route 66 was the principal roadway that connected Illinois with the Great West.
“At its birth in 1926, this road was hailed as a great agent of progress – concrete ribbon tying the west coast to the rest of America. And for a wondrous half-¬century, it embraced and embodied this nation like few institutions can. Television glorified it. Song¬-writers romanticized about it. Okies drove out of the Dust Bowl on it. And scarcely an American alive did not dream at some time of setting wheel to pavement along its way.” – author Tom Teague, Searching for 66.
For more information on Illinois Route 66 call 866-378-7866 or visit IllinoisRoute66.org.
MEETING OF THE GREAT RIVERS
Just 25 miles north of St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway is truly a Midwestern treasure with 33 miles of beautiful stretches of roadway cradled by the rolling waters of the Mighty Mississippi River and majestic limestone river bluffs. It is here along the byway that three great rivers converge – the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers.
The byway journey begins in Harftord with the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers where Lewis & Clark’s journey west began. In Hartford, visitors can experience the journey firsthand at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site and National Trail Site #`1, and look out at the confluence from the new Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower. At the center of the byway, Alton is home to numerous historic landmarks and museums including: the Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail, National Great Rivers Museum, the Piasa Bird legend, the world’s tallest man – Robert Wadlow, Underground Railroad sites, the tallest monument in the state of Illinois, and much more.
The byway winds along the river bends through the quaint town of Elsah, the first village in its entirety to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Further down the road the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers converge in Grafton, where visitors can experience life on the river with wineries, antiques, fine dining and unique festivals and fairs year round. The roadway joins the main artery of the Great River Road just north of Grafton at Pere Marquette State Park, the largest state park in Illinois.
The Meeting of the Great Rivers byway is the perfect drive during any season of the year. In the spring, nature awakens as luscious green blossoms and a rainbow of wildflowers dance across the bluffs. There is no better time than summer for outdoor dining, picnicking and engaging in the many seasonal festivals and fairs along the river on the byway. Fall in love with the byway in the autumn as the bluffs burst with fiery fall colors, you pick-em orchards and pumpkin patches as you drive. Finally, even the winter yields an incredible drive as the eagles soar all around Alton reclaiming their winter nests on the byway.
Get behind the wheel and get ready for the great rivers and rare finds that lie ahead on the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. For more information, or to receive your official Guidebook to the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, call 1-800-258-6645 or go to GreatRiversByway.com.
RONALD REAGAN TRAIL
Explore the roots of one of America’s most popular presidents along the Ronald Reagan Trail. President Ronald Reagan was always proud of his Illinois roots. Hometown hero, movie star and eventual 40th president of the United States had roots that ran deep in northern Illinois. His two terms as Governor of California prepared him for two terms as president of the United States. During his eight years in the White House, Reagan ushered in a period of low inflation, economic growth and the end of the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union.
Follow his early life through the self-guided driving tour through 13 Illinois cities. Begin in the quaint village of Tampico where Ronald Wilson Reagan was born. Explore his ancestral roots in Fulton where Reagan’s grandparents lived and are buried and his parents were married. In Dixon, tour the Reagan Boyhood Home, the First Christian Church, the Dixon Public Library, the Loveland Museum, the Dixon Historic Center (tour via Youtube: Ronald Reagan's Hometown of Dixon Remembers), the Dixon Historic Theatre and Lowell Park where Reagan worked as a lifeguard for 7 summers and saved 77 lives. At Dixon’s new Heritage Crossing on the Rock River, see the life-size bronze sculpture of a young Reagan on horseback entitled, “Begins the Trail”.
Visit our web site, ronaldreagantrail.net, to learn about the events and attractions offered by each community along the Trail. For a Ronald Reagan Trail brochure or information on things to see and do along the trail in Northwest Illinois please contact Blackhawk Waterways CVB at 800-678-2108.