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It’s winter in Illinois, and you know what that means… bald eagle watching season is upon us! Spotting bald eagles in the wild during their annual return to Illinois is the highlight of the season for many locals and visitors alike. As the state home to the largest wintering population of bald eagles outside Alaska, you can imagine there are a wide variety of eagle watching hot spots, tours and events dedicated to this majestic bird. With thousands of these birds wintering along the Mighty Mississippi River on the western edge of the state December through March, visitors are sure to see at least one!

Starting at the very northwest corner of the state, head to Galena to experience a guided Bald Eagle Bus Tour. These four-hour tours are dedicated to helping visitors observe anywhere from 30 to 450 wintering bald eagles along the Upper Mississippi River. Even better is that  you will have several opportunities to schedule your tour, with availability on January 21, February 11 and 25.

Bald Eagle Bus Tours in Galena are an immersive and exciting nature experience.

Travel a bit southeast of Galena and you’ll come to Peoria in Central Illinois. Each year, hundreds of bald eagle winter here in the Illinois River Valley. The Forest Park Nature Center, Peoria Audubon Society and Wildlife Prairie Park celebrate the season with events and tours, including Bald Eagle Day on January 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Wildlife Prairie Park. Activities include a special bird scavenger hunt, crafting and plenty of tips for successfully spotting a bald eagle.

Visitors will see a live bald eagle demonstration at Bald Eagle Day at Wildlife Prairie Park in Peoria.

Continue your journey to the Great River Road and you’ll make your way to Alton, another eagle-watching hot spot. For true eagle enthusiast, stay at the Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center to be just steps away from the bird watching action. The Great Room is the perfect spot to pull up a chair and take in the beautiful view of the Illinois River; you might even catch a glimpse of an eagle on the banks. Bald Eagle Days throughout January and February at Pere Marquette State Park give visitors the chance to learn more about the life of the bald eagle with video and live presentations as well as a guided tour.

Alton is an eagle-watching hot spot.

For a full weekend of eagle watching activities, look no further than Starved Rock State Park’s Annual Eagle Watch Weekend from January 28-29. This two-day eagle extravaganza offers fun for the entire family, including interactive activities to help you learn more about these majestic creatures and their home in Starved Rock State Park. You will also get the chance to get up close with breathtaking eagles and raptors during special “Birds of Prey” shows, held throughout the day. Once you’ve brushed up on your eagle knowledge, it’s time to hit the trails! You can either hike up to the top of Starved Rock at your own pace or join in on a guided eagle viewing tour to get a look at these epic creatures in the wild.

View bald eagles in their natural habitat during Starved Rock State Park’s Eagle Watch Weekend. (Photo by Instagram user @mschuermann)

These are just a few of the dozens of locations, events and tours along Western Illinois that are perfect for eagle watching. For more information about where to find prime locations, explore Things to Do – Eagle Watching on EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

As warmer temperatures roll in, so do bikers, eager to get their wheels back out and put in miles towards another season. Whether you’re an avid cyclist or just looking for a leisurely afternoon ride, there is always somewhere new to explore. Bike trails around the state offer experiences that range in difficulty, from the easy ride to the intense climb, there’s a trail for every rider. So what are you waiting for? Hop in the saddle and get going!

Rolling agricultural fields, reclaimed strip mines, ravines, rocky streams and wooded bluffs dominate the northern half of the Tunnel Hill State Trail in Vienna. With 47.8 miles (one-way) of crushed gravel surface, extended inclines and dark tunnels, this trail is a difficult one. But if you’re up to the challenge, don’t pass up this Southern Illinois gem.

Tunnel Hill State Trail 1

Tunnel Hill State Trail

The southern half of the trail explodes with scenery that includes bottomland woods, ponds, streams and marshes. The trail, which winds through seven towns, even touches upon a handful of ghost towns that faded into the landscape after the trains here stopped running.

Tunnel Hill State Trail 2

Tunnel Hill State Trail

 

And in the opposite direction of Tunnel Hill, head up north to the Fox River Trail in St. Charles, 32 miles of biking, hiking and, in the winter, cross-country skiing featuring the scenic trails of the Fox River. Make this ride as easy or difficult as you like. There are plenty of spots to pull over and enjoy the scenery or snap a selfie, like the Carpenters Dam, Fox River Shores, Tyler Creek, Voyageur Landing, Shoemaker Nature Center and Fabyan Forest Preserve.

Fox River Bike Trail

The Fox River Trail in St. Charles

 

In Chicago, one the most popular outdoor spots is The 606, celebrating its first birthday this summer. This 2.7-mile rails-to-trails path is one of the newest additions to the city’s green space with gardens and parks lining the trail. Enjoy a more leisurely ride along this path, and in the warmer weather, expect to see lots of dogs, children and people enjoying the trail and various summer events.

The 606 - Courtesy of The Trust for Public Land

The 606 in Chicago (Photo credit: The Trust for Public Land)

 

Along the western edge of the state, cyclists nationally and internationally ride the 62.5 mile stretch the Great River Trail that runs from the Illinois Quad Cities to Savanna, Illinois. This trail isn’t just for the biking enthusiast. The whole trail system measures 10 feet in width to allow bikers and walkers plenty of passing room.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ben Butterworth Parkway

 

From panoramic river views and wooded trails, to prairie areas, backwaters and marsh areas, riders will also enjoy the scenic view and unique towns that call the banks of the Mississippi River their home.

These trails are also part of the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), a 10-state network of bike trails and bike-friendly roads that lines the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

– Illinois Office of Tourism

Illinois has a history as rich as its food – and if you don’t believe us, just take a trip to Springfield and grab a horseshoe sandwich! Illinois is home to some of the United States’ most famous presidents, and history buffs can find information about these American leaders in all corners of the state.

But, if quirky facts are more your style, take a look below at a few little known details about these great American leaders.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, 1861-1865

Likely the mostly widely recognized Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln is more than just a former president: he is a state icon. But, Honest Abe is not just known for his policy. With his large frame and long limbs, the tallest president of the U.S. is also enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. According to history.com, Lincoln has an impressive track record of only being defeated once in nearly 300 matches.

Learn more about Lincoln at one of these exciting Springfield attractions:

MiniAbe Big Ten

Mini Abe knows he’s number one!

Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, 1869-1877

Think you know what to call the 18th Commander in Chief of the United States? Guess again. Due to a mistake by a benefactor on his application for West Point, Ulysses S. Grant is widely known under the wrong name. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, the “S” in this president’s name actually stands for nothing.

Take a walk through Galena and get a glimpse at a day in the life of this American leader:

Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, 1981-1989

Ronald Reagan has left a lasting impression in American history books and on the silver screen, but among former peers and colleagues, President Reagan is known for his sweet tooth. This former Commander in Chief began eating jelly beans to help him quit smoking during his run for Governor of California. This continued into his presidency, and a crystal jar of jelly beans was always available during his Cabinet meetings.

Get off the beaten path and take a look at Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon.

Ronald Reagan boyhood home

Stop by to learn more about Reagan’s transition from this white house to one in Washington, D.C. and everything in between.

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, 2008-2016

Too much of a good thing can sometimes be just that: way too much. Our nation’s current president reportedly worked for Baskin Robbins during his youth, and it’s left quite the impression. He now jokes that he still can’t eat ice cream to this day after spending one too many summers scooping ice cream in Honolulu.

Be sure to stop by the Obama Family Home in Hyde Park on your next trip to Chicago to learn more about the life of President Obama, and stay tuned for the Obama Presidential Library coming to Chicago!

For more trip ideas, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Autumn has officially arrived in Illinois! From hiking under brightly colored forest canopy to getting lost in a winding corn maze, the new season offers plenty of new ways to experience the great outdoors. Check out these five ways to experience the great outdoors in Illinois’ Great Rivers Country this fall!

Drive the Great River Road—Fulton

There are few views more spectacular than the Great River Road’s bluffs in autumn. This scenic drive follows the mighty Mississippi River as it curves along the western edge of Illinois and meanders for more than 550 miles through charming small towns and woodland along the way. It’s the perfect fall road trip!

Brightly colored trees line the Great River Road in fall. (Photo courtesy of @VisitAlton on Instagram)

Brightly colored trees line the Great River Road in fall. (Photo courtesy of @VisitAlton on Instagram)

Bike the Grand Illinois Trail—Atkinson

Outdoor adventurers will love biking under stunning forest canopy along the Grand Illinois Trail this fall. The trail boasts 535 miles of tree lined pathways stretching from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, then looping back along the Illinois River and Hennepin Canal. It’s the perfect opportunity to experience the great outdoors during its most magnificent season.

Cruise downriver with the Spirit of Peoria—Peoria

Take in the crisp autumn air while cruising on the Spirit of Peoria, an old-fashioned replica of a 19th-century riverboat, which docks at the Peoria RiverFront. Visitors will be entertained by live ragtime piano and banjo music while gazing at the colorful leaves lining the Illinois River.

Outdoor adventurers will love this cruise down the Illinois River. (Photo by Instagramer @murraystate21)

Outdoor adventurers will love this cruise down the Illinois River. (Photo by Instagramer @murraystate21)

Hike Pere Marquette State Park—Grafton  

At 8,000 acres, Pere Marquette State Park is the largest state park in Illinois, making it one of the most magnificent displays of fall colors in the state. Grafton visitors will love guided fall tours that overlook the convergence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

Instagramer @jarzuagas loved hiking through this leafy forest.

Instagramer @jarzuagas loved hiking through this leafy forest.

Explore the Great Godfrey Maze—Godfrey  

What better way to explore the great outdoors than adventuring through a seven-acre corn maze? The Great Godfrey Maze features two separate mazes, allowing family and friends to race against one another. Godfrey Maze visitors can also cruise the farm by train, and even zip line through this vast outdoor playground!

Exploring the Great Godfrey Maze is the perfect way to spend an autumn afternoon.

Exploring the Great Godfrey Maze is the perfect way to spend an autumn afternoon.

For more Illinois trip ideas to celebrate the beauty of fall, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

–Illinois Office of Tourism

 

This week we asked followers to “find something more” in Illinois! If you identified and found the Piasa Bird painting in Alton, congratulations! Be sure to follow us on Instagram for upcoming weekly challenges.

Hint_Piasa Bird Mural wk15

The challenge photo of the Piasa Bird Painting

The Piasa Bird painting in Alton is located in Piasa Park, an attractive stop for motorists, picnickers and bicyclists. It’s painted on a giant bluff along the Mississippi River. A large, granite arrowhead tells the story of the Piasa Bird, which, according to legend, was a man-eating creature that terrorized the Illini tribe. Legend holds that Chief Ouatoga and his warriors killed the Piasa Bird with poison darts.

@choosingfigs

Photo by Instagramer @choosingfigs

@kief_lander

Photo by Instagramer @kief_lander

 

@laurie12

Photo by Instagramer @laurie12

@msjzx (2)

Photo by Instagramer @msjzx

 

Facebook_Monica Knap

Photo by Facebook user Monica Knapp

Facebook_Monica Xcellent

Photo by Facebook user Monica Xcellent

-The Illinois Office of Tourism