Top Things to Do in Northwest Illinois | Midwest Living

Top Things to Do in Northwest Illinois

With its rolling terrain, state parks and preserves traversed by the mighty Rick and Mississippi rivers, and biking and hiking trails crisscrossing the area, the Blackhawk Waterways region of northwest Illinois promises outdoor recreation bliss. The region also helped shape the childhood of our 40th president, whose boyhood home opens its doors to visitors.

What to do

Hiking, fishing and camping draw visitors to the serene, 385-acre White Pines Forest State Park, also home to White Pines Resort, a restaurant and a playhouse.

Tour the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon. You’ll be transported to the 1920s, when the country’s 40th president and his family called this stately Queen Anne home.

Thousands of petunias line the town’s main streets during The Dixon Petunia Festival. Enjoy arts and crafts demos, wacky competitions, a parade, a carnival, live music, and more along the downtown riverfront.

Photo Courtesy of The Dixon Petunia Festival.

Once a piano factory, Conover Square Merchant Mall in Oregon now houses an indoor mall with a variety of merchants, including Slip and Slurry Pottery.

Mingle with the vintage cars and tractors that reside at Barnacopia, a three-story museum with an in-house ice cream parlor, in Polo.


Photo Courtesy of Barnacopia.

The Mount Carroll resident stock theater company at the historic Timber Lake Playhouse stage shows, including Shakespeare and Broadway musicals.

Tour the 1830s family home and observe blacksmith demos at the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour.

What to eat

Take your pick from more than 130 wines and 100 different martinis at Dixon’s spirited and stone-walled Crystal Cork Wine Shoppe.

Come for the craft beer, stay for the wings—served baked, fried, or grilled, and then sauced—at Aero Ale House in Byron.

Aero Ale House

Photo Courtesy of Aero Ale House.

Where to stay

For a cozy weekend in the woods, stay at White Pines Resort, a rustic lodge dating from 1927. Twenty-five log cabins sit in White Pines Forest State Park.

White Pines Resort

White Pines Resort. Photo: Jason Donnelly.

Just around the corner from the historic Lincoln Highway, the eco-friendly Lincoln Way Inn in Franklin Grove offers boldly designed guest rooms and gourmet breakfast fare.

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