Category Archives: Illinois Wine Country

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Outdoor Adventures Feature Image

There’s nothing like sitting outside on a cool, crisp fall day, watching the leaves turn colors and savoring the flavor of a great glass of wine. That glass of white or red is even more satisfying as a hard-earned reward after a day of outdoor adventuring.

The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois is home to 12 award-winning wineries within a scenic 25-mile stretch on Highways 51 and 127 in Shawnee National Forest. While the wineries offer beautiful views of lush green vineyards, cozy accommodations at rustic cabins and lodges, and of course, delicious wine, there are plenty of other activities that make the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail the perfect fall vacation spot.

Garden of the Gods

The most popular site in the Shawnee National Forest, the Garden of the Gods, is a hiker’s paradise. The panoramic views from the top of the quarter-mile Observation Trail are unparalleled, as visitors can gaze upon the breathtaking fall colors over miles of dense forest, as well as the incredible rock formations such as Anvil Rock and Devil’s Smoke Stack.

Trails to Adventure - Garden of the Gods (@mcdansley)

Thanks to Instagramer @mcdansley for this gorgeous photo of the Garden of the Gods.

Giant City Stables

For a more relaxed tour through beautiful Shawnee National Forest, stop by Giant City Stables, where you can experience the beauty of nature from horseback. Private guided tours of either 30 or 60 minutes are a great romantic activity in between vineyard stops along the wine trail.

Trails to Adventure - Giant City Stables (@jendugmo)

Adventure is waiting at Giant City Stables. Photo from Instagramer @jendugmo.

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour

For a more exhilarating day along the wine trail, get your adrenaline pumping as you soar through the trees and above the valleys on 11 zip lines, the longest of which is more than 1,100 feet! There are also three suspension bridges and two short hikes on this exciting way to view all the diverse of flora, fauna and geology the forest has to offer.

Trails to Adventure - Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour (@thecreatornd)

Zip through the trees on the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour like this adventurer, Instagramer @thecreatornd.

For more suggestions on outdoor adventures in Southern Illinois and more information about the wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, find something more on

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Dining in Champaign Feature Image

Eclectic restaurants, award-wining wine bars and handcrafted breweries shine in Champaign – a vibrant foodie town, home to the University of Illinois. We’ve assembled a list of five restaurants perfect for you and your sweetheart. What’s your favorite romantic restaurant in Illinois? Comment and share with us below!

Blind Pig Brewery

With its beautiful wood interior, casks full of local brews and friendly locals, Blind Pig Brewery is a great location for pairs looking for a relaxed and fun atmosphere. When the weather is nice, couples can venture outside and enjoy the large outdoor beer garden.

Blind Pig Brewery bethany_sexton

Blind Pig Brewery has a beautiful outdoor beer garden (Instagram photo: (at) bethany_sexton)

Pekara Bakery

A visit to Pekara Bakery and Bistro means good food, great coffee and easy conversation. From omelets, breakfast sandwiches, bagels, savory sandwiches, salads, crêpes and hearty soups, to sweet pastries, pies and cookies, there’s truly something for everyone.

Pekara Bakery

Pekara Bakery specializes in fresh, artisan breads

Alto Vineyards Tasting Room

Planning a romantic night out? Be sure to check out Alto Vineyards Tasting Room located near the University of Illinois. Couples can relax with a glass of Alto’s award-winning wine and taste local cheeses. With its picturesque outdoor seating and wine garden, a trip to Alto Vineyards Tasting Room makes for a unique spring date.


Try award-winning wines at Alto Vineyards Tasting Room in Champaign (Instagram photo: (at) altovineyards)

Farren’s Pub & Eatery

Farren’s Pub and Eatery is the perfect location for duos who like adventure, fun and, most importantly, great burgers. Farren’s burgers have received some serious recognition from both Champaign natives and nationally-known foodies. Finding this restaurant, which is located underground and tucked behind a building, is half the fun of dining there.

Big Grove Tavern

Big Grove Tavern is a great spot for a trendy date. This farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Champaign features seasonal comfort foods. Almost everything served at Big Grove Tavern is made from scratch, uses seasonal ingredients and is sourced locally whenever possible.

Big Grove Tavern

Enjoy a great first date over food and drinks at the trendy Big Grove Tavern

For more ideas about things to do in the Land of Lincoln, visit

— The Illinois Office of Tourism

Did you know you can see Illinois’ rolling hills from high in the sky in a hot air balloon? That’s right! Galena is one of Illinois’ prime hot air balloon destinations. Galena On The Fly, one of the premiere hot air balloon tour companies in the area, has colorful balloons that take riders up approximately 3,000 feet above ground. Galena On The Fly boasts one of the largest hot air balloons in the country, which holds up to 14 people at once. Balloon rides allow visitors to catch stunning views of Galena and the beautiful hillsides of Jo Daviess County.

Galena On The Fly, Inc. provides memorable experiences with its balloon rides

Galena On The Fly, Inc. provides memorable experiences with its balloon rides

Galena On The Fly operates from mid-April through the end of November, but also offers special group flight accommodations year-round. It’s perfect for planning a fun adventure with friends. One hour flights are available at both sunrise and sunset.

In addition to chartered balloon rides, Galena also hosts an annual “Great Galena Balloon Race.” It’s a three-day event that includes more than 20 vibrantly-colored balloons lighting up the sky, along with music and family activities. This year’s race will take place June 20-22.

Balloons glow in the nighttime at the Great Galena Balloon Race

Balloons glow in the nighttime at the Great Galena Balloon Race

After flying high, be sure to check out more of Galena. Hop aboard an old-fashioned trolley for a Galena Trolley Tour  to explore the European-style Main Street and head over to the The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design to see a complete collection of contemporary art, architecture and photography from around the world.

-The Illinois Office of Tourism

After spending a fall day shopping in downtown Galena, you are sure to crave some of the warm, Italian comfort food Fried Green Tomatoes serves. With a menu full of rustic favorites that of course includes a fried green tomato appetizer, Fried Green Tomatoes is a must-stop spot in Illinois’ Great Rivers Country region.

Housed in one of Galena’s historic buildings, the inviting atmosphere sets the scene for a romantic dinner for two or a night out with friends. The restaurant boasts an award-winning wine list recognized by Wine Spectator. What’s more, you can sample any of the house pours for only $2 a glass every Tuesday night.

An award-winning wine list provides perfect pairing options for any item on the menu (Photo credit: Mark Segal)

An award-winning wine list provides perfect pairing options for any item on the menu (Photo credit: Mark Segal)

This local favorite takes pride in their attention to detail on every plate and unwavering customer service. Fried Green Tomatoes was awarded Trip Advisor’s 2013 Certificate of Excellence for consistent outstanding traveler reviews. This prestigious honor is only given to the top 10 percent of businesses listed on the world’s largest travel site.

Visitors and locals alike flock to Main Street in Downtown Galena every fall (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

Visitors and locals alike flock to Main Street in Downtown Galena every fall (Photo credit: Michael Seroni)

While the restaurant only serves dinner, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy during the day in downtown Galena. Take the General Grant walking tour to explore the historic highlights of Main Street guided by one of Galena’s most notable citizens, General Ulysses S. Grant.

— The Illinois Office of Tourism

About twenty years ago, Jared & Phyllis Spahn purchased a lovely fruit tree laced piece of land just outside of Hanover, Illinois that inspired the planting of a vineyard.

While the grapes grew, Jared designed the fantastic building that houses the winery and tasting rooms, and Phyllis tended the fledgling adventure.

Rocky Waters Vineyard was busy with our fellow wine tourists when we arrived, but we were greeted personally by the vivacious Phyllis and her dog, Coco Chanel, and given the grand tour.

True passion brings forth great fruit, and the next thing we knew, we were all in Phyllis’ Range Rover bouncing through the fields for an up close look at the vines.

The vineyard was painstakingly laid out so that none of the fruit trees were disturbed. Pear, cherry, and apple trees remain interspersed among the vines and add a hint of flavor to the wines.

Our tour also included a stop at the lakeside cabin that the Spahn’s lived in while constructing the main building. Now it is known as The Fisherman’s Cabin and available as a vacation rental.

Back up at the main house we sampled the fruit of the vines while gazing over the rolling hills and pond below.

It’s hard to imagine a more serene spot to sit on a deck and sip a glass of wine.

Click here to see our full adventure down The Great River Road

–David & Veronica,, Illinois Mile Markers

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including the Quad Cities CVB, Galena/Jo Daviess County CVB, Quincy Area CVB and Nauvoo Tourism Office. Want to follow in Mile Markers David & Veronica’s footsteps? Travel the below map!

View Illinois Mile Markers: Great River Road Itinerary in a larger map

Meet the Mile Markers:


David & Veronica

Empty Nesters
David and Veronica are experiencing the collision of Baby Boomer and Empty Nester. When their youngest headed off to college, they decided to grab life by the horns, sell the nest, hit the road and become GypsyNesters!

They've been full-time travelers and have been breaking the empty nest rules since 2008. Frequent visitors of Illinois, they are looking forward to exploring the Great River Road this spring!