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Want to get away this summer, but don’t know where to begin? Perhaps you’ll get inspired by the photos Serdar Ozturk (@Trashhand) and Elise Swopes (@Swopes) captured on their trip through Illinois.

Together, they embarked on an epic outdoor adventure over the course of four days, visiting Alton, Peoria and Shawnee National Forest. Here’s what they had to say about their favorite and most surprising parts of the trip!

Q: Out of all the stops you visited on your outdoor adventure in Illinois, what stands out as most memorable and why?

Elise Swopes: The most memorable stop was the zip-lining because while we were on the 5th out of 8 zips, it started raining like crazy and we had to stop and hide under some bluffs. It was totally adventurous and fun.

Serdar Ozturk: My favorite stop in our trip across Illinois was when we went zip-lining. You went from tree to tree resting on different platforms high above the ground. We got caught in a heavy rainstorm too in the middle of the runs which turned the zip-lining to a real adventure.

Elise Swopes zip-lining through southern Illinois with Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

Elise Swopes zip-lining through southern Illinois with Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

Q: Which attraction or location surprised you the most and why?

Elise Swopes: This famous restaurant called “Fast Eddie’s Bon Air” was in the middle of nowhere. We walked inside and noticed more than 400 people inside with a line of at least 50 people. They had kept their prices from when they opened many years ago, which were really cheap and they had one rule: No takeout.

Serdar Ozturk: Pomona Natural Bridge definitely surprised me the most. I wasn’t expecting to see this “bridge” that spanned 90 feet made out of sandstone from millions of years of erosion. I felt like I was in the Amazon at that point. 

Pomona natural Bridge Trashhand

Pomona Natural Bridge in Pomona. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

Q: Did you realize there were so many outdoor adventures in Illinois?

Elise Swopes: I had done some research in the past about some of the places that are in Illinois and not until now did I realize how massive some parts really are. You really have to see it yourself.

Serdar Ozturk: Nope!

Q: What is one word you’d use to describe your trip?

 Elise Swopes: Epic.

Serdar Ozturk: Adventure.

Hot air balloon ride near Peoria. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

Hot air balloon ride near Peoria. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wanted to plan an outdoor adventure trip in Illinois?

Elise Swopes: You have to have directions planned out ahead of time or you will be totally lost. We had little to no cell service in many, many places. It’s best to bring up directions and a map on your phone while you have service because even if you lose cell service, if you bring it up ahead of time, it will still follow those directions when you lose service.

Serdar Ozturk: I would tell them to make sure and visit Garden of the Gods for a landscape view and head to Fast Eddie’s for the best American lunch in their life. I can still taste Fast Eddie’s chicken and burgers…

A beautiful Saturday sunrise near Peoria. Photo by Elise Swopes (@swopes)

A beautiful Saturday sunrise near Peoria. Photo by Elise Swopes (@swopes)

Q: What destination do you think was the most beautiful and why?

Elise Swopes: The most beautiful destination was the Garden of Gods in Shawnee National Forest. The formations of the trees and rocks were absolutely insane.

Serdar Ozturk: Garden of the Gods was something else… Amazing to see and know that Illinois is not that flat.

Garden Trashhand

The picturesque Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

Q: What is your favorite photo from the trip?

Elise Swopes: My favorite photo was a sunset in Cobden. It’s definitely realistic to think the sunsets and sunrises are far more epic the more south you go from the city.

Serdar Ozturk: The photo I took of Elise zip-lining through the forest while it was pouring rain.

A sunset in Cobden. Photo by Elise Swopes (@swopes)

A sunset in Cobden. Photo by Elise Swopes (@swopes)

Q: Where did you eat your favorite meal during the trip? What did you order?

Elise Swopes: Wow, honestly, every single restaurant had their own amazing thing about them but I have to give it to Fast Eddie’s Bon Air. I ordered the chicken stix, a cheeseburger and fries. Seriously the most delicious thing I have ever eaten and it was so simple.

Serdar Ozturk: Fast Eddie’s. Best lunch I’ve had in years!

The Clark Bridge, a must-see in Alton. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

The Clark Bridge, a must-see in Alton. Photo by Serdar Ozturk (@trashhand)

Q: Anything else you’d want to share about experiencing the great outdoors in Illinois?

Elise Swopes: Illinois is one of the most beautiful states in this country and not only because of the things that are visible to the eye but the kindness of all the people we encountered. The positivity and support we were given by the many people we had met on our journey was something that can never be bought! Illinois is all about family and respect… and I respect that.

Serdar Ozturk: Whatever you think you know about Illinois is wrong. This state will surprise you over and over as it did for me.

 

Peoria Cruise Swopes

Captured while on a river cruise on the Spirit of Peoria. Photo by Elise Swopes (@swopes)

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including Peoria Area Convention and Visitors BureauPeoria Marriott Pere MarquetteAll Around AltonHoliday InnSouthernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau and Rustle Hill Cabins.

Want to follow in our Mile Markers’ footsteps? Click on the below links and travel the map!

[Embed Google Map: http://www.enjoyillinoisblog.org/2014/06/12/illinois-outdoor-adventure-mile-markers-trip/]

Peoria:

Peoria’s Grandview Drive

Wildlife Prairie Park

Peoria Riverfront

Midwest Balloon Ride

One World Café

Alton:

Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower

Melvin Price Locks & Dam

Pere Marquette State Park

Tony’s Restaurant

Clark Bridge

Shawnee National Forest:

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour

Garden of the Gods

Blue Sky Vineyard

Giant City State Park

Pomona Natural Bridge

Rustle Hill Winery

Giant City Lodge

Nothing says summer like a trip to the lake! Central Illinois’ Lake Shelbyville is the perfect place for a family or friends’ weekend getaway. The pristine location has more than 11,000 water acres and 172 miles of shoreline. Along with dazzling views of the lake, the destination also offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to keep you entertained throughout your entire stay.

The pristine water of Lake Shelbyville is ideal for a summertime swim

The pristine water of Lake Shelbyville is ideal for a summertime swim

From biking and hiking to horseback riding and water skiing, the possibilities for outdoor adventure at Lake Shelbyville are unlimited. If you are in the mood for a swim, there are three public beaches on site to choose from for a peaceful dip in the lake. After a fun-filled day in the sun, spend the night in blissful relaxation at one of the nearby cabins.

General Dacey Trail offers miles of hiking, biking, and strolling opportunities

General Dacey Trail offers miles of hiking, biking, and strolling opportunities

If you are in the mood for some additional outdoor activity near Lake Shelbyville, be sure to check out the General Dacey Trail, which offers a variety of scenic views of Lake Shelbyville. Or you can drive to nearby Effingham to explore a TREC Recreation Trail hike or bike on gorgeous trails.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

 

Wildlife Prairie Park in Hanna City, Illinois, just outside Peoria, is not your average park. It is home to more than 150 animals native to Illinois, from bison to cougars, and several others in between!

Bison roam the grounds of the Wildlife Prairie Park (Photo: Instagramer (at) wildlifeprairiepark)

Bison roam the grounds of the Wildlife Prairie Park (Photo: Instagramer @wildlifeprairiepark)

In the 1960s, the founder of the park, William Rutherford, a member of the Forest Park Foundation, received news the Brookfield Zoo was looking for space to raise exotic, endangered animals. The Forest Park Foundation acquired 480 acres of land, and with Rutherford’s influence, partnered with the Brookfield Zoo. The land was to be used for conservation and environmental efforts, but after a change of management at the Zoo, plans for the land changed.

The foundation decided to use its natural resources to create its own zoological park, and after four years of receiving native Illinois animals, acquiring several native plants and a series of construction projects, the land transformed to the park it is today.

To experience the beauty of nature and native animals at Wildlife Prairie Park, visitors can ride the Prairie Zephyr scenic train or the Adventure Trek. The park also has many features of a traditional outdoor park, such as mountain biking trails and fishing at five different lakes. Additionally, visitors can overnight in a Santa Fe train caboose, traditional guest room, cabin, cottage or enjoy tent camping.

 

The Canada Lynx, a unique animal, can be found at Wildlife Prairie Park! (Photo: Instagramer @wildlifeprairiepark)

The Canada Lynx, a unique animal, can be found at Wildlife Prairie Park! (Photo: Instagramer @wildlifeprairiepark)

A visit to Wildlife Prairie Park is an exciting way to learn about the native animals of Illinois and meet a few exotic creatures along the way! For more ideas about how to experience the great outdoors in Illinois, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism