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Illinois is teeming with places to spend time with your family, and there’s also no shortage of history to learn about during pretty much any road trip around the state. We recently partnered with Chicago-based photographer and Instagramer Craig Hensel (@thecraighensel) and his family as they took a road trip around Central Illinois. Along the way, Craig caught some incredible photos as they learned more about Illinois Amish community, took part in some fall activities and learned a bit more about the history of Abraham Lincoln. Below you’ll find a brief look at Craig’s itinerary, as well as a Q&A session the Illinois Office of Tourism had with him upon his return.

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A map of Craig’s three-day, Central Illinois road trip.

ITINERARY

Day 1

The Great Pumpkin Patch, Arthur

The Great Pumpkin Patch has more than 300 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds from 30+ countries around the world; all grown on the farm at The 200 Acres. Amazing pumpkin towers, beautiful gardens and a petting zoo with goats, pigs, exotic chickens, rabbits, a llama and an alpaca, make this a great family spot.

Located in Arthur,  a town of 2,200 residents, the Great Pumpkin Patch sits  in the heart of Illinois Amish Country, with more than 1,000 Amish families living in the countryside. Established in 1865 by a handful of families, today more than 4,500 Amish live in the town and surrounding rural townships.

Aikman Wildlife Adventure, Arcola

Located between Arthur and Arcola, Aikman Wildlife Adventure is a drive-through park where you can get up close and personal with animals you’ve only seen on television or behind fencing at a zoo. Visitors have the opportunity to see and take pictures of animals walking around directly outside their vehicles while  driving the one-mile long path through the park. Aikman’s also features a separate walk-through adventure with kangaroos, cavies, wallabies and lemurs, and a large petting zoo area.

DAY 2

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, Greenville

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, a proud maker in the Illinois Made program, is a seventh-generation, family-owned farm that specializes in the handcrafted production of artisan and farmstead cheeses. At the creamery, visitors can take a tour and meet the cows, experience the milking parlor, and sample and purchase a variety of cheeses, ice creams and more.

DAY 3

Abraham Lincoln Sites, Springfield

History comes alive around every corner in Springfield, home to more Lincoln sites than anywhere else in the nation. Visitors can explore everything from the historic Old State Capitol to Lincoln’s home, tomb and  his must-see presidential museum.

To take a trip similar to Craig’s, or to plan an entirely new trip, check out our Trip Ideas.

Q&A

Here’s what Craig had to say about his favorite memories of the trip and some of the information he and his family learned along the way.

Q: What were you most looking forward to before beginning the trip?

Craig Hensel: I was most looking forward to my time on the trip with my family and exploring Illinois. As far as a place I was particularly excited to see, that had to be Arthur and the Amish community. That was really unique to me, and I enjoyed watching my kids experience things they’d never seen before.

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Craig’s daughter running towards a tower of pumpkins at The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: Was there anything that surprised you about the trip?

Craig Hensel: One thing that really surprised me in Springfield was when we went into this shop that had antiques from Lincoln’s days; like an old muzzleloader. I didn’t expect that to be in the town, and I was impressed that the shop had such old stuff.

The other thing that surprised me was our visit to Marcoot Jersey Creamery. Marcoot’s story is incredible – now run by the family’s seventh generation. You don’t see family businesses handed down from generation to generation like that very much anymore, so it was a really special experience for our family.

The big surprise was when we were driving home, we stopped at Lincoln’s New Salem site in Petersburg, and that blew our minds. We felt like we were walking back in time.

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Unique angle inside the Old State Capitol State Historic Site in Springfield. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: After you got back to Chicago, had anything changed in your expectations of the trip?

Craig Hensel: I expected to see the rural towns, but I didn’t expect to see the diversity in the communities, like the Amish County in Arthur. What blew my mind was seeing the Lincoln sites through the historic lens. It was very impressive to learn so much about our state’s history. I felt a deeper understanding of what Illinois is and who we are.

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Craig’s wife, Jenah, was resting on Lincoln’s cabin at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: Is there one specific memory or experience from the trip that’s going to stick with you?

Craig Hensel: The Lincoln museum was a big one for sure. The era of pioneer history is very attractive. Lincoln’s New Salem Site was probably the most memorable. We had time to walk through the woods and decompress as a family before heading back to the big city. Another good memory is from Marcoot Creamery. My daughter loves animals, and so here’s my kid in the middle of this little barn with about 25 calves that were just born. That visual memory of my kids is awesome. Also, when my daughter was picking up farm dogs and watching three or four dogs surrounding her. Those little memories in my mind are what will stick.

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An awesome close-up shot of a zebra at Aikman Wildlife Adventure in Arcola. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: Any last advice for other Chicagoans looking to explore downstate?

Craig Hensel: I think people are missing out if people don’t take time to take a three-hour trip. There’s a National Park right in Springfield!

Going downstate, don’t be afraid to take the back roads. Don’t be afraid to follow the brown highway signs. The food and the hospitality are amazing, and anytime you can, take advantage of the farm-to-table dining. If you haven’t already, make a stop in Springfield to visit the Abraham Lincoln sites, and see for yourself what it was like to live back in the 1800s. Experience local restaurants and mom and pop restaurants, which probably have the best food in the Midwest. Try to drive Route 66 if you can and go through the small, historic towns.

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A beautiful rural road near the Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

– Illinois Office of Tourism

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After an anxious wait this season, the colors of autumn have finally arrived in Illinois. State parks and regional forests are brimming with vibrant yellow, orange and fiery red leaves. This week we asked you to show us your best photos of the fall colors and you delivered! Check out a few of our favorite captures below. Be sure to follow us on Instagram for upcoming weekly challenges. Share your best photos with us by tagging #EnjoyIllinois and your photo could be featured.

For more unique Illinois destinations, events and attractions check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

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This picturesque scene at Humboldt Park was captured by @carolineefarrow.

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@svmueljvcobs found the perfect nook of Wildcat Canyon in Starved Rock State Park to capture this shot.

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Even on a cloudy day fall colors pop. Thanks @charmcq for the photo.

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This trail at the Morton Arboretum looks so inviting. Thanks to @Kristenryanphotography for the photo!

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We think photographer @crgshprg was right when he described these fallen leaves in Wilmette as “falling stars!”

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We can’t help but wonder what awaited photographer @lifeinbloomphotos at the end of the Moraine View State Park Trail. Looks magical!

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Simply looking up is a magical experience in Thatcher Woods. Thanks for the photo @Haliten.

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The red autumn leaves look lovely at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield. Photo by @mymidwesthome.

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@ldarling43 took an awesome shot of the sugar maple leaves in Danville.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

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Everyone needs a little “spook” in their lives and October is the perfect time to fill that void. Here in Illinois we pride ourselves on the rich, yet eerie, history that lurks throughout the state. This year we’ve put together a list of some of the must-experience, creepy destinations around. From Alton to Polo, Illinois has something spooky to offer for every member of the family.

Haunted Decatur Ghost Tour

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A haunted stop on the tour. Scared yet? Photo courtesy of @Troy_A_Taylor

Decatur, Illinois is known to be one of America’s most haunted towns and Troy Taylor’s Haunted Decatur is the best way to get the full frightening you seek. These tours are not just a collection of ghost stories, but a true history of how the city became so haunted, including local sites of unsolved murders, strange crimes, gambling parlors and vice districts. Whether you decide to take in a haunted tour by foot or bus, you’ll be sure to get a firsthand look at the city’s vast haunted history.

McPike Mansion Haunted Tours

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Visitors take a tour of the famously haunted mansion.

The McPike Mansion in Alton hasn’t been occupied since the 1950’s and yet curious events continue to stir on the premises. Unexplained balls of light and shadows of those unseen have made their way into many a photographer’s photos, making it a popular destination for paranormal enthusiasts from around the world. Tours run weekend evenings throughout the month of October, where you can explore the mansion and its grounds for the chance to experience a moment with the spirit of Henry Guest McPike and his family for yourself.

Torment at Twelve Hundred

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Relax, they’re just actors. We think…

The Torment at Twelve Hundred team takes their work of scaring the pants off you very seriously, which is probably why they were named one of the top 10 haunts in Illinois by USA Today. Each year, Torment presents a new chapter in its ongoing twisted horror story, sending you on a walking path through dark winding tunnels, outdoor wooded trails, highly detailed mills, hospitals and more.  Located 14 miles southeast of the Quad Cities, tours run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night through Halloween, for those who dare to attend.

Horror Film Series at the Egyptian Theatre

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Country Corner warns visitors. Photo courtesy of @susurrafonseca

Country Corner invites one and all to join them for nighttime fun filled with a flashlight maze, zombie paintball and bonfires with dates throughout October. The flashlight maze makes for great “no scare fun” for younger Halloween fans or those who want to get festive without the fear of darkness.

Below are even more eerie events to check out this season:

For more information about where to get scared silly this Halloween season, visit the Illinois Trail of Terror site, here.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

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Autumn in the Midwest is a spectacular sight to behold and even better to experience up close. The plethora of pumpkin patches scattered across the state of Illinois gives residents and visitors alike an opportunity to really enjoy the season to its fullest. This week we asked you to show us your best pumpkin patch shots and you delivered! Check out a few of our favorite captures below. Be sure to follow us on Instagram for upcoming weekly challenges. Share your best photos with us by tagging #EnjoyIllinois and your photo could be featured!

For more unique Illinois destinations, events and attractions check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

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This looks like a shot straight out of an old book of fairy tales about pumpkins. Thanks for this amazing close up at Kroll’s Farm, @zophack.

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So many pumpkins, we lost track trying to count! Photo captured at Bengston’s by @jchirempes.

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Tiny pumpkins are often overlooked so we have to thank @lakes77 for spotting the rich colors and beauty of these smaller gourds at Bengston’s Pumpkin Farm.

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Some fly the W, others paint their pumpkins in support. We like both – go Cubs! Thanks to @chicagobotanic for the photo.

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Goebbert’s Pumpkin Farm knows how to greet folks in search of the perfect pumpkin. Cool shot from @msoma97.

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Gourds galore! Thanks for the photo @a_touch_of_b. Green City Market – (at) a_touch_of_b.png

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Instagramer @thechispy couldn’t pass up the chance to get a shot of these pretty pumpkins and we don’t blame her!

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Not one of these gourds is the same and we can thank nature for that. Great shot @mabblytribe!

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Come for the art, leave with a pumpkin, that’s our motto. Thanks for the cool photo in front of the Alexander Calder ‘Flamingo’ statue in Chicago’s Federal Plaza @ll_cool_j2!

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Pumpkin spiced lattes, sweaters and apple cinnamon anything: it’s officially fall! This week we challenged our followers to share the fall activity they are most looking forward to seeing and doing. Check out a few of our favorite captures below and be sure to follow us on Instagram for upcoming weekly challenges. Share your best photos with us by tagging #EnjoyIllinois and your photo could be featured!

For more unique Illinois destinations, events and attractions check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

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“An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” We started our fall activities challenge with this photo by @cedric_dupree at Jonamac Orchard.

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@nwmyers was literally “leaf peeping!” Great fall foliage photo captured at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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Fall is the time to take the back roads and embrace nature. Thanks to @stufotog for sharing this one near Lily Lake.

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We love this Halloween decoration in Lincoln Park! Thanks to @ryanzieman for sharing this with us!

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Doesn’t get much cuter than a corgi wrapped in a fall scarf… Thanks for the adorable pic, @ramboma!

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Those are going to make a great apple pie… yum! Photo by: @ehildi

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Trees minus the leaves, but still an amazing sunset! Great photo,@justinwardimages.

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Follow the yellow-leafed road! Neat angled shot, @starrynightbug.

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What a spooky sky for some pumpkin picking! Thanks for the picture, @christyspur_10!

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Fall doesn’t mean we won’t get beautiful rainbows! Thanks for catching this one, @sambernero.

-Illinois Office of Tourism