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Looking for a small-town day trip in Illinois? Here are 14 ideas

Looking for a place in Illinois this summer that's not too close, not too far, and just a little off the beaten path?

Worldatlas.com recently released a list of “12 Most Underrated Cities in Illinois to Visit in 2024,” highlighting some of the state’s best places to experience everything from the great outdoors to great shopping and history.

“Away from major metropolitan areas, hidden in Illinois' beautiful backcountry, lie beautiful small towns that rarely get the spotlight. From historic villages with centuries-old architecture to river communities with unique, long-held traditions, these small towns in Illinois deserve more recognition from travelers,” writes Worldatlas.

“Exploring these overlooked cities in 2024 promises visitors an authentic glimpse into a rarely seen side of the Land of Lincoln. Whether you're looking for charming main streets, outdoor adventures or a taste of small-town Midwestern life, look beyond Chicago to discover Illinois' many little-explored gems.”

Galena

Galena is a popular tourist destination in Illinois. Located about three hours west of Chicago, this Mississippi River city is famous for its rich history, 19th-century buildings, boutiques and restaurants. There are world-class golf courses, skiing and local vineyards. Visitors can tour the boyhood home of President Ulysses S. Grant and the landmarked 1826 Dowling House.

Wood storage

Woodstock, a city in McHenry County about 35 miles northwest of Chicago, may be best known to movie buffs and fans of the film “Groundhog Day,” which was filmed here. The town square features a historic opera house built in 1889. Throughout the year, Woodstock hosts festivals and fairs, summer concerts, farmers' markets, and of course, “Groundhog Day.” The Woodstock Square Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Alton

Alton is a city on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. It is famous for its limestone bluffs along the river north of the city. It is also known as the site of the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates and home of the world's tallest man, Robert Wadlow. Attractions include the National Great Rivers Museum, Lovejoy State Memorial, Great Rivers Scenic Route, Fast Eddie's Bon-Air, the World's Tallest Man Statue, Curiosity Museum, and Argosy Casino Alton.

Geneva

Geneva is the county seat of Kane County. The city is home to more than 160 unique shops and restaurants, the Kane County Cougars baseball team, the Geneva History Museum, and the Fabyan Villa Museum and Japanese Garden. The Fox River Trail, accessible from downtown Geneva, connects Island Park and the Fabyan Forest Preserve, which features a five-story Dutch windmill. Downtown Geneva is home to more than 100 historic buildings, including the PD Hoyt House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Nauvoo

Nauvoo is located in Hancock County on the Mississippi River near Fort Madison, Iowa. The name is Hebrew and means “beautiful place.” The town of about 1,000 residents is home to many historic buildings and Nauvoo State Park, which offers hiking, biking, camping and a 13-acre man-made lake called Lake Horton. Other attractions include the Rheinberger House Museum and Illinois' oldest vineyard. It is also home to the original headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

Princeton

Located in the north central region of Illinois, Princeton is rich in historic architecture and scenic natural landscapes. The city has two downtown shopping districts, both of which are a trip back in time and offer a variety of specialty shops and businesses. Princeton is home to abolitionist Owen Lovejoy's colonial-style Lovejoy Homestead, which served as his home and was part of the Underground Railroad. Princeton is also known for its covered bridges.

Sycamore maple

Located in DeKalb County, Sycamore offers a quaint downtown and plenty of nature. The city has 19 parks where visitors can hike, bike, picnic and simply enjoy the scenery before exploring the shops, restaurants and bars. Don't miss the city's Pumpkin Festival in the fall.

Edwardsville

Edwardsville is home to the Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House, an impressive 1820 federal home of a famous Illinois politician, and many other local historic sites, as well as the 100-acre Watershed Nature Center. Kids will enjoy the interactive exhibits and hands-on activities at the Edwardsville Children's Museum.

Long Grove

Enjoy the cobblestone streets and eclectic shops in downtown Long Grove. Long Grove is home to quaint shops and plenty of history. It is home to the Sock Monkey Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of hand-crafted sock monkeys. The nearby Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve and Reed-Turner Woodland Nature Center offer hiking, biking and fishing.

Arthur

Arthur, Illinois is famous for its Amish community – one of the oldest in the state. Surrounded by farmland, the small town offers visitors a glimpse into Amish life. Visit the Illinois Amish Heritage Center to learn about Amish culture and traditions, then head to Yoder's Kitchen for a traditional, home-cooked Amish meal.

Cairo

Named after the Egyptian city of Cairo, Cairo was known for many years as Little Egypt in southern Illinois. A river town at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, Cairo was prone to flooding. The worst flooding occurred in 2011, when the entire town had to be evacuated. Today, Cairo is mostly abandoned. The historic district is still well preserved, as are several mansions, the magnificent Victorian-era Magnolia Manor House, and the Cairo Custom House Museum.

Vienna

Vienna's town square is sure to please antique lovers. There are a number of shops offering home goods and decor. With only 1,500 residents, Vienna offers plenty of space to stretch out and escape the crowds. Tunnel Hill State Trail is a recreation center for hikers, bikers and joggers. And for bird watchers, there's Heron Pond in the Little Black Slough Nature Preserve.

Here are a few more small towns in Illinois that didn't make Worldatlas's list this time, but are definitely worth a visit this summer.

Roscoe

Located in Winnebago County, Roscoe is a village of about 11,000 residents and home to one of the area's most popular tourist attractions – Historic Auto Attractions, 13825 Metric Road. Historic Auto Attractions features more than 80,000 square feet of exhibit space, including one of the largest collections of John F. Kennedy memorabilia, presidential memorabilia and limousines of world leaders. The museum is home to dozens of vehicles from films such as Batman, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future.

Casey

Casey is a small town in Clark and Cumberland counties in southern Illinois. It is home to a dozen Guinness World Records for the world's largest objects, including the world's largest mailbox, largest wind chime, largest rocking chair, knitting needles, crochet hooks, pitchforks, golf tees, folding rulers, wooden coins, Dutch clogs, mailboxes, pencils and bird cages. The town of about 2,400 residents is also home to over 20 other giant objects scattered throughout town – perfect for stopping by and taking fun photos with family and friends.

Chris Green is a general assignment reporter for the Rockford Register Star. He can be reached at 815-987-1241, by email at cgreen@rrstar.com and X. @chrisfgreen.

Anna Harden

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