Spring is a great time of year to explore Illinois. Days are sunnier, the temps are inching up, and some of the state’s favorite attractions are open for the season once again. Check out this Top 5 list of spring things you’ll want to experience in Illinois.
If you’re a baseball fan, or just want to be part of a fun Chicago tradition, catch the home openers for the White Sox on April 1 (vs. Kansas City Royals) or the Chicago Cubs on April 8 (vs. Milwaukee Brewers). Nothing compares to singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch with the zealous Cubs fans in the bleachers at the historic Wrigley Field. Insider tip: Every time the White Sox hit a home run, the crowd is dazzled by fireworks that light up the sky at U.S. Cellular Field.
Beginning April 27, transport to Illinois’ frontier days with a ride on the LaSalle Canal Boat! Modeled after the mule-pulled boats that cruised the I&M Canal in the 1800s, this modern-day version features a captain and crew dressed as pioneer folk who tell tales of the early days on the Illinois prairie. After the ride, check out the cafe, gift shop and I&M Canal exhibit at the nearby Lock 16 Center. Insider tip: Mary Todd Lincoln joins the tour on Tuesdays and Sundays.
Visit the communities and characters that keep the nostalgic spirit of the Mother Road alive during the annual Illinois Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor Festival, held May 4-5. Thirteen towns located along the 90-mile stretch of Route 66 – from Joliet to Towanda – celebrate the colorful history of the storied byway with street fairs, tours of local historic sites and classic car shows. Join the caravan of fellow Route 66 enthusiasts and make a weekend of it.
The southern tip of the state is a great place to golf nearly year round. Head to the Carbondale area and take a swing at one of the five courses that make up the Southern Illinois Golf Trail, which winds through the stunning scenery of the Shawnee National Forest. One of the courses, Kokopelli in Marion, was named by Travel + Leisure as one of America’s 100 Best Courses for $100 or Less.
In Alton, there’s a new flock in town: American white pelicans. Hundreds of these migrating feathered fellows make their first appearance along the Mississippi Flyway in mid-March and stay until June. Drive the picturesque Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway from Alton to Grafton and you’ll spy the pelicans in graceful flight or scooping up fish from the river waters. Some of the best spots for pelican watching include the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge. The Audubon Center at Riverlands hosts Wings of Spring bird walks on weekends from April 20-May 12. Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge offers bird-watching tours April 20 and 27, in addition to weekends in May and June. If you miss the pelicans in spring, don’t fret. They pass through the Alton area again in fall.
— Margaret Doyle
Chicago-based freelance travel writer and editor at large for the Illinois Travel Guide, produced by the Illinois Office of Tourism