- 291 miles (468 km)
- 7 hours to drive the entire Byway, 2 days per loop for each of 7 nature activity loops
The Illinois River Road Scenic Byway preserves the natural river country along the banks of the Illinois River, allowing modern visitors to travel the same route as the early French explorers: les Voyageurs. The Byway parallels the Illinois River Country Nature Trail, a chain of over one hundred linked nature sites that offer outdoor recreation in the Illinois River Valley.
For years, the Illinois River has served as the main artery for life in this part of Illinois. Several species of migrating waterfowl and other wildlife make their home in the wetland and forest habitats along its banks. Natural areas such as the Wildlife Prairie State Park and the Emiquon TNC Preserve and National Wildlife Refuge provide a varied and beautiful habitat for several of the species that have come to characterize the American frontier experience, such as buffalo, wild geese, and the American bald eagle. These nature areas also contain miles of hiking and biking trails, allowing visitors to listen to the songbirds, enjoy the brilliant autumn colors, or participate in winter sports such as cross country skiing and snowmobiling.
Humans have been living along the banks of the Illinois since the end of the last ice age, when retreating glaciers carved out the geological formations of the area. Over twenty sites along the Byway chronicle this history through archeological exhibits open to the public. The Dickson Mounds Museum, a nationally renowned archaeological site, provides visitors with over 15,000 square feet of exhibits, discussing the past from the prehistoric Paleo-Indians down to the Mississippian people's culture eight hundred years ago.
The natural, archaeological, and historic heritage along the Illinois River Road shows Byway visitors the nature of life along the riverbanks.
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Banner Marsh Fish And Wildlife Area (IL)
This 4,363-acre site, composed primarily of freshwater marshes and shallow lakes, boasts over 200 individual water bodies. Banner Marsh serves as a major holding area for migrating waterfowl and songbirds which are found in the scrubby areas along the site's edges. These include the American Robin, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, and American Goldfinch. Look for the shy American Bittern and its diminutive cousin, the Least Bittern, amidst cattail colonies.
The Dickson Mounds Museum and its accompanying 70-acres of upland forest and prairie are a designated National Historic Site, and one of the finest on-site archeological museums in the country. Exhibits interpret the 12,000-year history of human habitation of the Illinois River Valley and detailinteractions between humans and the natural world upon which they depend. Educational resources include a discovery center and a preserved Mississippian village
Dirksen and McNaughton Parks (IL)
Dirksen Park is a comprised of oak-hickory forest and open shrubland. An extensive hiking/mountain biking/cross country trail runs through the park, crossing several cobble-bottomed creeks. McNaughton Park's 850 acres feature habitats such as shrubland, restored tallgrass prairie, and oak/hickory forests containing some of the most impressive white oak in the entire Illinois River Valley. This same savanna-like area is also a great spot for observing white-tailed deer and wild turkey.
East Peoria Riverfront Greenway (IL)
East Peoria's Riverfront Greenway project is a 1.8-mile walking/hiking trail along the east bank of the Illinois River. This trail project is congruent with Fondulac Park District's planned phase II of the River Trail of Illinois project. It includes a 1200-foot section of raised boardwalk equipped with 3 separate observation decks, which overlook multiple wetlands.
Emiquon Preserve (IL)
This site, sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, is home to several varieties of wildlife. Look on newly flooded lands for sandpipers and other shorebirds, especially during spring and fall migration periods. Likewise, ducks and other waterfowl make use of the refuge and preserve during the winter months. Perhaps the best introduction to the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge would include a hike down the Frank C. Bellrose Nature Trail. There, not only birds and butterflies, but also mammals such as Striped Skunk, raccoon, Opossum, and River Otter may be spotted.
Hennepin & Hopper Lakes Restoration (IL)
This restored wetland site offers an impressive array of birds, butterflies, and dragonflies, as well as emergent aquatic plants and prairie grasses and wildflowers. Wonderful birding opportunities occur year round, peaking during Spring and Fall migration periods when tens of thousands of ducks and other species can be viewed from the observation tower.
Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park (IL)
Visitor center offers knowledgeable staff and exhibits of tools used to construct the canal and natural history of the park. Primary habitats includes riparian forests of shagbark hickory, black walnut, white ash, and hackberry. Numerous patches of tallgrass prairie fill in non-forested areas. Recreational opportunities include birding, hiking, biking, horseback riding, boating, picnicking, and cross country skiing.
Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor (IL)
In 1984, the canal was included as a component in the NationalPark Service's National Heritage Corridor Program. The IllinoisDepartment of Natural Resources manages the canal towpath as astate trail, open to hikers and bikers for 60 miles of its length.Similarly, local towns and villages are refurbishingI&M-related buildings, locks, bridges, and other structures.The Corridor includes Fox River Aqueduct and MJ Hogan GrainElevator.
Through exhibits and a theater, the visitor center interprets building and maintaining the Illinois Waterway system and the history of water transportation in Illinois. Beginning with the Native American canoe, exhibits highlight the flatboat, canal boat, and steamboat eras, and conclude with modern transportation. The center provides up-close views of river barges and other watercraft as they "lock through" the Starved Rock Lock & Dam and panoramic River view.
Peoria RiverFront (IL)
The early history and development of Peoria can be traced to the RiverFront District. Early pioneers of the mid-1600s stayed close to the Illinois River to take advantage of the bountiful harvest of the Peoria lakes and surrounding land, and the transportation opportunities of the river. Today the Peoria RiverFront still holds fantastic richness and diversity.