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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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The first day of fall is days away, and that means changing leaves, savory fall flavors and, of course, sweater weather. So grab your PSLs (that’s short for Pumpkin Spice Lattes) because this week we’re gearing up for fall with a preview of the top autumn activities in Illinois so you can make the most of the season.

Pumpkin Patches, Corn Mazes and Apple Picking, Oh My!

It’s the time of year we’ve all been waiting for: Fall. The air is crisp, the skies are blue and there are endless corn mazes, pumpkin patches, apple orchards and fall activities for everyone to enjoy. But with so many options, where do you start? Fortunately, many of the fall farms in Illinois offer a combination of pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, corn mazes, hay rides, petting zoos and much more.

Take Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove, for example. Known for having the World’s Largest Corn Maze, this year’s corn maze theme celebrates the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. If twisting and turning through 10 miles of maze isn’t enough, how about climbing the observation tower, bouncing around on giant jumping pillows, cheering on a pig race, or soaring through the air on a zip line?

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Richardson Adventure Farm’s 2016 Star Trek corn maze

Picking fresh fall produce is a seasonal staple. Jonamac Orchard, Royal Oak Farm Orchard, and Rendleman Farms are just a few of the top places around the state to get your fall flavor fix, including the must-have apple cider donuts. Hand pick a variety of apples and stop by the country store to stock up on preserves, pickles, baked goods and other specialty items.

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Photo of Rendleman Farm by Instagram user yoshifujiiceramics

Prost! to Illinois Beer Festivals

What happens when you combine fall and beer? You get Oktoberfest, of course! These classic German beer festivals are held all over the state. Champaign and Galena each host their own reputable Oktoberfest celebrations on October 1 to celebrate German heritage, food, beer, music and more.
Beyond Oktoberfest, fall beer festivals are happening all over the state. Say “cheers” to these celebrations this season:

  • Woodstock Ale Fest, October 1: Celebrate the three “B”s at Woodstock Ale Fest: craft beer, bacon and bluegrass!
  • Cock-A-Doodle Brew Fest, October 8: Aurora’s brew fest brings together local craft beers, finger-lickin’ good wings and a lineup of live music.
  • Festival of Barrel Aged Beers, November 11-12: Held in Chicago, this is the country’s largest celebration of wood and barrel-aged beers where you can taste some of the rarest beers, which may not be available commercially from breweries across the U.S.
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Wiener Dog Races are a highlight of Galena’s annual Oktoberfest. (Photo courtesy of Galena Oktoberfest)

Color Drives and Leaf-Peeping Hikes

Part of what makes this time of year so special is seeing the leaves change from summery green to fiery red, yellow and orange. There’s no better time to see the fall foliage than in September and October. Take a peaceful ride along the Great River Road in Alton or Grandview Drive in Peoria – the road President Teddy Roosevelt called the “World’s Most Beautiful Drive.”

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The Great River Road Scenic Byway in Alton

For those looking to get up close with fall foliage, enjoy a leaf-peeping hike through one of the state’s many parks. Starved Rock State Park and Shawnee National Forest make for two exceptional opportunities to see fall colors at their brightest.

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A canyon Starved Rock State Park as the leaves change colors

There are hundreds of fall events and activities happening this year. To find out more, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

 

 

 

 

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The journey can be just as rewarding as the destination, and the roads and paths throughout Illinois can bring us on some pretty amazing journeys. This week, we asked our Instagram followers to share photos of their favorite roads and paths across Illinois. Check out a few of our favorite shots from around the state 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.

7.11 Roads kickoff (atjonfromchicago

We started this week’s challenge with this photo leading us to the Loop in Chicago! Thanks (at)jonfromchicago for the awesome shot!

Shawnee National Forest (at)nomadicvisuals

There are incredible pathways all over the state, like this one in Shawnee National Forest. Great capture by (at)nomadicvisuals

+Southern Illinois (at)_skinnyman_

You might be surprised about what you might cross paths with in Illinois! Thanks (at)_skinnyman_ for the great photo of Southern Illinois!

-Galena (at) danreynoldsphotography

You never know where the path may lead especially when exploring Galena! Thanks (at)danreynoldsphotogaphy for the great photo!

-Golf Course Road, Marion IL (at) my_tinfoil_crown

Follow the yellow brick road? We’ll follow the Golf Course Road instead! Thanks for the cool photo (at)my_tinfoil_crown!

-Great Western Trail (at) stufotog

We could spend all summer exploring the Great Western Trail! Thanks (at)stufotog for the awesome photo!

-McHenry County Conservation District North Branch (at) discovermccd (at)iltrailbiker

Listening to Robert Frost and taking the road less traveled to McHenry County Conservation district! Thanks (at)iltrailbiker for the great shot!

-Rockford (at) projectrockford (at)checoimgd

This covered path leads us right to downtown Rockford! Instagrammer (at)checoimgd captured this one for Project Rockford!

Country Roads (at)sheisthewoods

There’s nothing like a trip down country roads, just ask (at)sheisthewoods.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

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Happy Fourth of July Weekend! It’s never too early to start celebrating, so we asked our Instagram followers to share photos themed red, white and blue across Illinois. Check out a few of our favorite shots from around the state 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.

+Navy Pier Fireworks (at) mynameisxela

What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than watching fireworks? That’s why we kicked off this week’s challenge with this awesome photo of Navy Pier’s grand firework show. Thanks to @mynameisxela for this great photo!

+ Macy's Chicago (at)Kait.radke

What a great way to showcase the American flag! Thanks for the great picture of Macy’s in Chicago @kait.radke.

+Bloomington (at) selzermusic

Best part of Fourth of July cookouts? Desserts! These cake balls look delicious! Thanks @selzermusic for sharing.

+Bourbonnais Friendship Fest (at) josh.lundmark

The Ferris wheel at Bourbonnais Friendship Fest is all ready to celebrate Independence Day! Thanks @josh.lundmark for this awesome photo!

+Fox River Queen, St. Charles (at)yoga.gal

What a great idea to spend the Fourth of July on the Fox River Queen in St. Charles! Thanks for sharing @yoga.gal.png.

+Galena (at)longhollowcanopytours

Zip lining at Long Hollow Canopy Tours with the American flag, how much more freedom can you get in one picture? Thanks for sharing @longhollowcanopytours!

+Lake Forest (at) elawafarm

Look at those festive sprinkles! Thanks @elawafarm for the great photo!

+Riverside Illinois (at) riversideillinois

How cool is this American Flag from 1976? Thanks for sharing with us @riversideillinois!

+Rt. 66 (at) sauk_it_to_me

Even Route 66’s Lauterbach Muffler Man can’t wait to celebrate the Fourth of July! Thanks for this great photo @sauk_it_to_me!

+Crystal Lake (at)  j_r_petry

Red, white and blue stands out anywhere! Thanks @j_r_petry for sharing this photo of St. Charles!

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Sculpture Feature Image

This week we asked our Instagram followers to share photos that surround the theme “sculpture.” Check out a few of our favorite shots from around the state 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.

Mt St. Mary Park - St Charles - (at) yoga.gal

We kicked off this week’s challenge with this unique black and white shot of Mt. St. Mary Park in St. Charles by @yoga.gal!

Star-Crossed Pollinators Sculpture - (at) sam_morehead

How cool is this shot of the Star-Crossed Pollinators Sculpture in Bloomington? Thanks @sam_morehead for sharing!

Lincoln Statue - (at) debsfarmstand

Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln, and almost anywhere you go, you’re bound to find Lincoln history. Instagramer @debsfarmstand captured this shot of the Lincoln statue in Dixon!

Art Institute Lion - (at) c.kopeckyck1

Instagramer @c.kopeckyck1 shared this shot of the famous bronze lion statue outside the Art Institute of Chicago.

Federal Plaza Flamingo (at)secondcityginger

We love the contrast between the angular, black buildings and abstract, red sculpture in this shot by @jibasaur. This piece called “Flamingo” by Alexander Calder is located at Federal Plaza in Chicago.

Flamingo (at) mrrogers82585

Here’s another shot of “Flamingo” by @mrrogers82585!

-Illinois Office of Tourism