Hidden midwestern gem – Galena, Illinois

Galena Illinois is one of those real undiscovered and hidden gems. Nestled in the north west corner of the state, it is right across the Mississippi river from Iowa. The National Trust for Historic Preservation added Galena to its 2004 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations.

The village is conveniently located “in the middle of nowhere” – about 20 miles from Dubuque, IA and 80 miles from Rockford, IL. Getting to Galena from the Chicagoland area takes you through some of the most scenic winding roads in Illinois, and folks from Chicago will probably be amazed to see that their state really does have some hills.
Things to do in Galena

Downtown Galena has a perfect balance between old charm and modern updates. You still get that old main street feeling, without feeling like things haven’t been updated in decades. Everything is well preserved. The main street stores offer something for everyone – from old fashioned candy stores to a fantastic variety of eateries and coffee shops.

Staying in Galena

Staying in Galena is the best way to enjoy the area past “daytrip”. In fact, given the 3 hour drive from Chicago, staying overnight may be the only way to really enjoy the scenery. Thankfully, Galena is home to some of the best places in the state to spend the night.

Galena has over 100 B&B’s, several chain hotels and 2 large resort hotels, including the award winning Eagle Ridge resort, with a 63 hole golf course, spa and 4 different restaurants.

During the winter months, the Chestnut Mountain resort is where you’ll find 19 different ski trails in a hotel overlooking the Upper Mississippi River. Its rooms are fairly basic, but the location can’t be beat.

Budget Summer vacation from Chicago: Rockford

Rockford may not be the first destination you think of when you start planning a (short) Summer vacation from Chicago. However, since Rockford is just 60 miles away, and fairly easy to reach, it may be the perfect destination for a 2 or 3 night getaway.

Getting to the Rockford area is simple – leave Chicago and head up I-90 for about 60 miles. On the way to Rockford, you’ll pass Schaumburg (great if you want to stop at Woodfield mall or the Legoland Discovery Center) and the Elgin area (great if you want to stop and gamble).
If you are traveling with kids, you can plan stops at the Illinois Railway museum in Union, Illinois and Donley’s Wild West Town, at the same highway exit as the Railway Museum. Unless you leave early in the morning, you’ll really only have time for one of those attractions, as they are quite time consuming.

The Railway Museum is the largest in the country, and features several miles of fully operational track, and a large assortment of working restored trains. Trains leave the museum for a 45 minute round trip on a regular basis, and these trips are included in the admission to the museum. Fans of Thomas and Friends will be happy to hear that the museum plans to run the “real” Thomas on 5 dates in August, just be sure to order tickets before they sell out. Thomas Tickets are $18 each.

Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union, Illinois, 60180. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for kids (during the Summer months).

Donley’s Wild West Town features everything you’d expect from an authentic cowboy town – gold panning, pony rides, archery and much more.

Admission to the village is a fairly steep $15 per person, but since this should be a day-filling attraction, it pays to take advantage of everything that is included with admission. Donley’s Wild West Town is located at Route 20 & South Union Road, Union, Illinois 60180

Where to stay in Rockford

After a day of fun on the train or the wild west town, you’ll want to make your way towards Rockford. Finding somewhere to stay is going to be quite simple – most chain hotels in the area are all located around the State Street exit off the highway.

In this cluster, you’ll find a Radisson, Hilton Garden Inn, Red Roof Inn and a brand new Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites. Expect to pay around $100 in the high season for a decent room.

If you are looking for more than just a hotel with a small pool, check out the Rockford Coco Key resort and water park.

Where to eat in Rockford

Rockford is not home to much in the way of authentic cuisine, but the area around the hotel cluster on State Street does offer at least one of every chain restaurant in the country. One local highlight worth visiting is Beefaroo – with 9 stores in the area. If you are not from the area, you should also check out one of the many Culvers stores in Rockford for some great custard or a butterburger.

Things to do in Rockford

Once you are settled into your hotel, it is time to check out the various attractions in the Rockford area. If you want to start in the outdoors with some peace and tranquility, check out Rock Cut state park. Admission to the state park is free, and during the summer months, you can visit until 10pm.

Families with kids will enjoy the Rockford Discovery Center museum. This downtown area kids museum offers 2 floors of hands on exhibits, and a massive outdoor play area. Admission to the museum is just $6 for adults and $5 for children. Members of other children’s museums throughout the country may be eligible for free admission if your membership offers reciprocal admissions through the ACM.

If the weather is in your favor, you can then spend a day relaxing at the Magic Waters water park. Their admission chart is rather complicated, so check out the rates for yourself, and pick the rate that applies to your family.

If you have some extra time, and want to visit the more peaceful side of Illinois, consider making the beautiful 70 mile drive to Galena. The downtown area of Galena is quite simply stunning, and even if you don’t find anything interesting in the village, the drive alone is worth the trip.