Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway


  • DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2005)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
  • LocationIL
  • Length291 miles
Byway Visitor Information
Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway
Statewide Byway Partners
Illinois Department of Transportation
Illinois Office of Tourism
This waterfall trickles through the niche it has carved along the cliffs near Starved Rock State Park.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources Photo


The cities and towns that stretch along the Illinois River between Ottawa and Havana form the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. The historical experiences, scenic habitats, and unique restaurants and shops along this 291-mile stretch are a rich collective of experiences for visitors and residents alike.  

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

Slow down and get off the beaten path as you experience authentic midwestern America!

The cities and towns that stretch along the Illinois River between Ottawa and Havana form the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. The historical experiences, scenic habitats, and unique restaurants and shops along this 291-mile stretch are a rich collection of experiences for visitors and residents alike. The possibilities for adventure are endless: 1) Commune with nature as you fish, boat, hike, or bird watch on more than 60,000 acres of public recreation lands 2) Discover the culture and history of the area's earliest people at numerous museums, historical locations, and nature centers 3) Witness the beauty of the Illinois River and its valley from scenic sandstone and limestone bluffs, formed by glacier melt millions of years ago 4) Explore charming, small-town communities and their festivals and concerts 5) Stop in at "mom and pop"- type shops and farmers markets or dine in locally-owned restaurants 6) Overnight in unique bed and breakfasts, inns, hotels 7) The northernmost span of the Illinois River Road allows you to explore mile after mile of trails and towns, each with its own set of surprises.

Climb up towering canyons and hear the rush of amazing waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. Stroll through the nostalgic streets of Ottawa, a blend of 19th-century buildings and boutique shops and modern eateries. Or just enjoy the small-town charm, history, and memorabilia in places like Streator and Spring Valley. Whether your eyes are trained to the skies in search of a bald eagle or focused on finding one of Illinois' five remaining covered bridges, you're sure to see a land of thrills and history along the northern leg of the Illinois River Road.

Discovery abounds when you visit the middle portion of the Illinois River Road. At Wildlife Prairie Park, observe herds of majestic bison and elk as they graze or wolves, foxes, and bears as they nestle in their wooded surroundings. The giraffes, lions, zebras, and wallabies at Peoria Zoo allow your journey in central Illinois to transcend to other continents. Unwind on the water as Calliope music welcomes you aboard the authentic paddle wheel-driven Spirit of Peoria, or explore the outdoor recreation goods and displays at Bass Pro Shops and dine along the river at unique riverside restaurants in East Peoria. Whether making animal acquaintances or spending a day exploring the planetarium, children's discovery center, galleries, or manufacturing exhibits at one of several local museums, there is much to see and do along the central portion of the Illinois River Road.

A visit to the southern stretch of the Illinois River Road will immerse you inside thousands of acres of The Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preserve, where birds, fish, and other wildlife are waiting to be discovered. Pull out the binoculars for a glimpse at a majestic bald eagle, osprey, or migrating pelican, or just sit back and listen to the melody of an area songbird. Boaters and anglers alike will find it hard to resist the allure of the many marshes, lakes, and riverfront banks dotted throughout the region. Whether you hunt, canoe, or camp, your commune with the outdoor world can also include time at Dickson Mounds Museum, an attraction that pays tribute to the lives and history of the Native Americans who called this land home for 12,000 years. Of course, be sure to take in Havana's historic downtown, as well as the distinctive downtown shopping and wineries in Canton and Lewistown. Nowhere are the wonders of nature more apparent than in the southern portion of the Illinois River Road.

Driving Directions

The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway follows routes along both sides of the picturesque Illinois River, connecting communities from Ottawa in the north to Havana in the south. The route primarily runs along Route 29 on the west side of the river and Route 26 along the east side. This 291-mile stretch runs though 10 counties and begins just 1½-2 hours from Chicago area, Rockford or Davenport, IA in the north. The southern portion is also an easy day-trip from Bloomington, Champaign or Quincy.

Points of Interest

  • Starved Rock State Park

    Illinois’ #1 attraction with hiking, waterfalls, lodge and river views

  • The Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preserve

    Wetland of international importance with hiking/boardwalks,boating and bird watching.

  • Reddick Mansion and Gardens

    Historically important, architecturally unique home that anchors Washington Square (site of first Lincoln/Douglas debate).

  • Wildlife Prairie Park

    1800-acre zoological park home to 60 different species and over 150 animals that are or were all native to the area.

  • Dickson Mounds Museum

    Major on-site archeological museum in the country; explores complex societies of native peoples who inhabited the site for 12,000 years

  • Sankoty Lakes

    World-class wilderness retreat offering outdoor recreation, camping and fly fishing

  • Giant Goose Ranch

    hybrid family destination with campground, a sportsman's club, a vacation resort, a working ranch, and a private recreational farm.

  • Grandview Drive

    2.52 mile meandering drive referred to as the “world’s most beautiful drive,” by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1910; offers visitors panoramic views of the Illinois River Valley and many historic and remarkable homes lining it.

  • Spirit of Peoria

    A true paddleboat, actually using its paddlewheel for propulsion for day and overnight trips along the Illinois River

  • Forest Park Nature Center

    540-acre nature preserve offering 7 miles of hiking trails, a natural history museum, spacious bird watching room, nature hikes, guided walks and a nature store.

  • Starved Rock State Park

    Camping, hiking, visitor center, lodging,dining

  • East Peoria Riverfront Park
  • Allen Park, Ottawa

    Twenty acres located on the Illinois River wiht boat ramps, docks, fishing areas, and shelters.

  • Shore Acres Park, Chillicothe

    Park created in 1930. Today has a zero-depth entry pool with play equipment, two slides, a diving well, and concession stand


  • Flow with the Illinois River

    Day 1
    Starting in Ottawa, which is in the Illinois and Michigan Canal Heritage Corridor, your journey along the Illinois River Road has officially begun! Your first stop should be the Illinois Waterway Visitors Center that will give you all of the information that you need as you head your way along this Byway. Next up, stop by some of the Stare Parks that are located in the area, including Starved Rock State Park, Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, and Rock Island Trail State Park, all of which have incredible scenic views of the Illinois River and the surrounding area. Sawmill Lake is also a wonderful area to stop by, with plenty of recreation available for all visitors. Stay the night in the city of Peroia and relax after a long day of travelling and activities.

    Day 2
    After waking up in Peroia, you can get right back on the road to explore even more of Illinois River Road. After driving for a little bit, stop at the East Peroia Riverfront Greenway, which is a beautiful walking trail located right along the bank of the Illinois River. There are also multiple parks to stop by if you want to, including the Dirksen and McNaughton State Parks and the Pekin Riverfront Park. When the Illinois River flows into Goose, Big, and Rice Lakes, the opportunity becomes even greater for enjoyment. Locations to stop by include Spring Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, Sand Ridge State Forest, and the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge. End your journey along this Byway at the historical Dickson Mounds Museum. There is still so much to explore, so plan even more activities along this wonderful Byway!

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