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Reveal Mermet Springs FEATURE

Southern Illinois is known for its winding nature trails, breathtaking cliffs and spectacular vineyards. Many don’t realize that Southern Illinois is also home to an array of offbeat museums and wacky monuments. Check out these four quirky attractions you didn’t know were in Southern Illinois!

The Super Museum—Metropolis

Childhood heroes come to life at The Super Museum in Metropolis, Illinois. The museum features more than 20,000 items of Superman memorabilia collected over 60 years—the largest collection of its kind on earth!

Super Museum visitors love learning about this mythical caped hero. (Photo by Donnelle Waldschmidt)

Super Museum visitors love learning about this mythical caped hero. (Photo by Donnelle Waldschmidt)

The Americana Hollywood Museum—Metropolis

After an afternoon exploring the Super Museum, Metropolis visitors won’t want to miss a trip to the nearby Americana Hollywood Museum. The museum is an amazing tribute to America’s most famous Hollywood icons, which features life-size figures, wardrobes, costumes, movie props, statues and celebrity collectibles from around the world. Travelers will love learning about the lives of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and more!

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tours—Makanda

Always wanted to try zip lining above a lush forest canopy? You don’t need to travel far! Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tours in Makanda consists of eight zip lines that crisscross the property’s stunning bluffs and valleys. A canopy tour is an exciting way to experience the flora, fauna, geology and history of Illinois’ great outdoors!

Instagramer @trashhand loved zooming through this leafy forest.

Instagramer @trashhand loved zooming through this leafy forest.

Mermet Springs—Belknap

Mermet Springs in Belknap is a unique spring-fed stone quarry where divers marvel at underwater treasures such as a submerged motorcycle and cement petting zoo—deep sea adventurers can even explore the airplane used in the movie U.S. Marshals! A dive at Mermet is the perfect way to explore something new on a summer day in Southern Illinois.

Planes, trains, and automobiles have all been sunk as attractions at this Illinois diving spot. (Photo by Mermet Springs)

Planes, trains, and automobiles have all been sunk as attractions at this Illinois diving spot. (Photo by Mermet Springs)

For more information on fun places to explore in Southern Illinois, check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

–Illinois Office of Tourism

Mile Markers Part 2 Feature Image

Have you seen the Great River Road through the eyes of three amazing photographers? In the fall, we sent three incredible photographers – Emily Blincoe, Paul Octavious, and Jessica Zollman – on a memorable journey along the Great River Road! In four days, the team discovered the beauty of Alton and Galena and shared their journey on Instagram.

In Part I, we detailed Jessica’s favorite aspects of the adventure. Read on to find out what Paul and Emily loved most and check out their amazing photos!

Photo by pauloctavious - Mini Abe in pocket

MiniAbe joined Paul Octavious (@pauloctavious), Emily Blincoe (@emilyblincoe) and Jessica Zollman (@jayzombie) on their journey along the Great River Road. Here he’s helping them pick apples at Eckert’s in Grafton.

Q: Of all the places you visited in Illinois from Alton to Galena, what experience stands out as most memorable and why?

Emily Blincoe: The McPike Mansion Haunted House tour Jessica and I did in Alton was definitely the most memorable for me.  I have never done anything like that before and I had no idea what to expect.  I wouldn’t say that I do or don’t believe in ghosts; it’s just not something I ever normally think about.  And while I didn’t really ever feel like we got “haunted” that night, it was such a unique experience to learn about, and see photos of, the people who lived in the mansion many years ago.  It was so interesting to see inside the house and hear about all the past sightings.  We even checked out the crypt out back and tried to communicate with the ghosts in candlelight in the basement.  That’s definitely not something I have ever done before.  It was pretty amazing (and crazy!).

Photo by pauloctavious - Galena fog

The team’s journey though the mystical Galena fog. Photo by Paul Octavious (@pauloctavious).

Paul Octavious: Driving around the hills of Galena in the fog at sunrise was amazing and surreal.

 Q: What destination surprised you the most and why?

Photo by jayzombie - orange tree

Beautiful fall foliage captured by Jessica Zollman (@jayzombie).

Emily Blincoe: I didn’t really have a lot of set expectations beforehand for this road-trip so I would say everything ended up being a pleasant surprise for me.  As far as what surprised me the most, it wasn’t a destination; instead, it was the colors of the fall leaves along the roads.  I have never seen anything like that with my own eyes before.  It was absolutely breathtaking and I was sort of freaking out about it.  I will definitely be back next fall to see that again.  Nature totally blows my mind sometimes.

Photo by pauloctavious - Piasa Bird cave in Alton

Exploring the Piasa Bird Cave in Alton. Photo by Paul Octavious (@pauloctavious).

Paul Octavious: The Piasa Bird Cave in Alton. The sheer size of the caves and the thought of that Mythical Giant Bird appearing in the cave was exciting and scary.

Photo by thuglifeforevs - Galena barn and fog

Emily Blincoe (@emilyblincoe) captured a great photo of the fog in Galena.

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

 Emily Blincoe:  I’m always really bad at coming up with just one word for something.  But I will go with “neat-o” I love small towns, and exploring, and especially exploring with friends.  I loved the leaves and the bed and breakfasts we stayed at and the fog and the overlooks in Galena.  It was all just really perfect.

Paul Octavious: Explorers.

Photo by thuglifeforevs - Eckerts apples

The team enjoyed a stop at Eckert’s! Photo by Emily Blincoe (@emilyblincoe).

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a Great River Road trip?

 Emily Blincoe: Go for it!  I can’t speak for the other seasons but doing this trip in the fall was so great.  I would also suggest giving yourself plenty of time to stop and explore your surroundings and maybe even get lost a little.  Don’t rush it.

Photo by pauloctavious - deer

Oh Deer! Photo by Paul Octavious (@pauloctavious).

Paul Octavious: If you drive past something and think you’ll see something like it, you won’t! Turn around and go explore it.

Q: What restaurant and meal was your favorite?

 Emily Blincoe: I loved Lagomarcino’s.  It reminded me of a restaurant my grandmother used to take us to when I was a kid.  Plus they had the biggest ice cream sundae I’ve ever seen!  Can’t go wrong with that one.

Paul Octavious: Lagomarcino’s in Moline. Get the Sundae!

 Q: Which photo from the trip is your favorite and why?

Photo by thuglifeforevs - Jessica lays in leaves

Emily Blincoe (@emilyblincoe) captures a picture of Jessica Zollman (@jayzombie) taking a break from her travels in leaves.

Emily Blincoe: My favorite photo from the trip that I took was the portrait of Jessica in the leaves.  I am so obsessed with the leaves (should be obvious at this point).  My favorite photo that Paul took was the portrait and reflection of Jessica on the Amtrak Train.  My favorite photo that Jessica took was of the corn and the old barn; that was such a great day and a great impromptu roadside stop.

Photo by pauloctavious - tiny house

Paul Octavious (@pauloctavious) and the team stumbled across this hidden gem along the Mississippi!

Paul Octavious: A photo of a tiny fishing house on the Mississippi.

 Q: Did you play and games in the car? What’s your go-to road trip game?

 Emily Blincoe: I don’t recall playing any particular games with each other in the car, but Paul and Jessica are both good pals of mine so it was great catching up with them while driving around.  As a kid, I always loved trying to find all 50 states one at a time on other people’s license plates.

Paul Octavious: Two Dots!

 Q: Anything else you want to share with our readers?

Photo by jayzombie - de Immigrant Windmill

Great capture of de Immigrant Windmill by Jessica Zollman (@jayzombie).

Emily Blincoe: I had so much fun in Illinois and I’m grateful I was able to make so many memories with Paul and Jessica on this trip.  Some of which include: the cave room at the bed and breakfast in Alton and all the wiener dog decor, Paul being too scared to tour the haunted house (we still love you Paul), that foggy morning in Galena, the tiny house on the bank of the Mississippi, the baby pigs at the apple orchard, all the deer on the side of the road in Nauvoo, the Piasa Bird Caves in Alton, and so much more.  It’s always such a treat to explore with friends.

Photo by pauloctavious - smiley leaf

Photo by Paul Octavious (@pauloctavious).

Paul Octavious: It was so great getting out of my “bubble of Chicago and exploring my beautiful beautiful state.

 -Emily Blincoe and Paul Octavious

 Meet the Mile Markers:

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Jessica Zollman

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Jessica Zollman (@jayzombie) is a photographer who lives in Los Angeles.
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Emily Blincoe

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Emily Blincoe (@thuglifeforevs) is a photographer who lives in Austin and Nashville.
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Paul Octavious

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Paul Octavious (@pauloctavious) is a photographer who lives in Chicago.

Thank you to our partners, including Great Rivers Country Regional Tourism Development Office and Amtrak, and to the following destinations for making this trip possible including, McPike MansionEckert’s OrchardJackson House B&BNauvoo Grand B&BEagle Ridge ResortVilla KathrineLagomarcino’sDe Immigrant Windmill

 

Passion Passport Feature Image

To celebrate fall in Illinois, we sent four Mile Markers from Passion PassportZach Glassman, Elliot Vernon, Dani Haigh and Jess Schaffer – on a memorable trip in September. Over the course of four days, the group traveled from Chicago to Galena, Rockford, Starved Rock, North Utica and Ottawa. Together they chronicled their autumn adventure on Instagram. Read on to find out what they enjoyed most and to see their photos!

Pumpkin patch in Illinois by Zach Glassman

Pumpkin patch in Illinois by Zach Glassman (@zachspassport)

Q: Out of all the places you visited in Illinois, what stands out as most memorable and why?

A: Galena – it was such a quaint city. We loved how the river ran through the center of town – it seemed to be a central meeting point of sorts; people sat by the water and chatted or read books; others strolled next to it; and yet others were kayaking down it. There were lots of fun, independent shops and restaurants to wander into along Main Street. We really appreciated the diversity of activities we could engage in, too, from relaxing in a cool coffee shop to shopping, to biking, hiking and vespa-riding. It is such a fun place to plan a romantic weekend, or a fun few days with friends or family.

Q: What destination surprised you the most and why?

A: We were most surprised by Rockford. When we first drove through, it struck us as rather industrial; however, we quickly became impressed with so much of the architecture. The Anderson Japanese Gardens were lovely; how special that it is only the second garden of its kind outside of Japan. And the brewery was definitely impressive as well!

Anderson Japanese Gardens by Zach Glassman

Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford by Zach Glassman (@zachspassport)

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

A: What about three words?  Fun, yummy and corn!

 

Vespa Ride in Galena by Zach Glassman

Vespa Ride in Galena by Zach Glassman (@zachspassport)

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone considering a trip to Galena or Starved Rock?

A: Be sure to take a vespa ride in Galena! There was no better feeling than riding down empty country roads surrounded by cornfields. Bonus: the ride we took led us to a winery, where we indulged in wine and delicious cheese.

In Starved Rock, be sure to try several hikes. There are lots of different gorges and paths to explore. Plan to have enough time to explore.

Q: What meal or dish was your favorite?

A: This was a trip full of incredible meals! The cheese curds at Rockford’s brewery were amazing. Fried cheese dipped in a tangy chipotle mayo – what could be better? The Broiled Whitefish Parmesan from Uptown Grill in Lasalle, Illinois was also delicious – the crust topped with lemon-caper butter just melted in your mouth – and the affogato al café that we had for dessert put it all over the edge.

Q: What is your favorite picture from the trip?

A: Our favorite photo is this team selfie, taken as we were about to begin our kayaking journey down the Illinois River. We love it because it reflects the fun, whimsical nature of travel and the laissez-faire beauty of engaging in new activities with friends.

Team selfie before kayaking journey taken by Zach Glassman

Team selfie before kayaking journey taken by Zach Glassman (@zachspassport)

Q: What is your go-to road trip game?

A: We liked to see who could play the best road trip music and enjoyed some good sing-alongs in the car. Our unofficial trip anthem was definitely Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”.

Starved Rock by Elliot Vernon

Starved Rock by Elliot Vernon (@elbow_macaroni)

Q: Anything else you want to share with our readers?

Grab your family, your partner or some friends and get out and ENJOY ILLINOIS! There’s so much to be discovered. All of the places we visited – Galena, Rockford, Starved Rock State Park, and Ottawa – are within a 3-hour drive of Chicago, making them perfect destinations for weekend getaways.

Thank you to our partners for making this trip possible, including Choose Chicago, Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kinzie Hotel in Chicago, Rosebud Rentals Inc., and Starved Rock Lodge.

Meet the Mile Markers:

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Zach Glassman

Founder
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Zach Glassman (@zachspassport) is the founder of Passion Passport. As a photographer, his style is formed by the culture and people he meets around the world. Different experiences, different places and different people helps Zach’s style constantly evolve.
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Jessica Schaffer

Editor
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Jessica Schaffer (@jess_schaf) works as a program director for a non-profit agency. When she isn’t enjoying life in Chicago, she spends her free time planning adventures for herself and others.
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Dani Haigh

Marketing Coordinator
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Based in New York, Dani (@dhaigh) serves as a digital advertising Account Manager by day and takes any opportunity she can to travel.
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Elliot Vernon

Social Media
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Elliot Vernon (@elbow_macaroni) is the team’s social media intern who resides in Chicago.

Want to take the same trip as Passion Passport? Check out the map below to start planning your trip.

Thinking about escaping on a weekend getaway in Illinois, but don’t want to take your car? Chicago-based photographers Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen) and Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor) recently escaped the city to explore two Illinois towns via Amtrak’s Illinois Zephyr line during a three-day, two-night trip. The duo departed from Chicago on a Friday morning and spent the next two days exploring picturesque Galesburg and Quincy. Read about their experience below.

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

Steven Sampang: Galesburg. It had such a great small town energy to it. Everyone’s generous hospitality and willingness to give us advice and show us around town was a nice warm welcome.

Alina on stage at the historic Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina on stage at the historic Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor: Galesburg was very lovely; everyone was warm and welcoming. We talked to so many locals and I think that made a huge difference in how the rest of our stay was at Galesburg. The hot air balloon race was one of the highlights. It was the first time I’ve witnessed how it’s done and it was great to see the whole community come together for the festival.

Gearing up for the balloon race in Galesburg. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Gearing up for the balloon race in Galesburg. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

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

Steven Sampang:  When we were in Quincy, we visited Villa Katherine {Quincy Visitors Center}, which overlooks the Mississippi River. It is a Moroccan-inspired home built in 1900 on a bluff with a beautiful interior decor. It was amazing to see in person and made us feel like we had teleported to Morocco!  

Exploring the awe-inspiring Villa Katherine. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Exploring the awe-inspiring Villa Katherine. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor:  Definitely Villa Katherine! I expected maybe more like a winery, but never a Moroccan-inspired home. It did not feel like we were in Illinois at all.

After seeing Villa Katherine, the Mile Markers biked around Quincy. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

After seeing Villa Katherine, the Mile Markers biked around Quincy. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Q: Did you realize how many places can be visited in Illinois by Amtrak?

Steven Sampang: I have been taking the Amtrak for nearly seven years between Chicago and Mendota when I visit my mom in central Illinois. We took this same route to our destinations during our trip. It was really cool to finally visit and see the places I would always hear the conductor announce over the radio while riding the train. I’d love to see what other cool towns Amtrak can take us to next.

The view from the last car on the Amtrak train. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

The view from the last car on the Amtrak train. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor: This was my first time on Amtrak, so I had no idea what to expect. Going through Illinois there are so many stops, and looking out the window, I was so curious about all the other towns in Illinois. There are so many places to stop and visit in Illinois.

Beautiful Illinois sunset captured from the Amtrak train’s window. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Beautiful Illinois sunset captured from the Amtrak train’s window. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone who might want to plan trip via Amtrak in Illinois?

Steven Sampang: Wear some comfortable clothes and bring a camera! Unlike flying, you can get up and move around freely through the train, which is a huge perk too. There are so many beautiful views along the routes that Amtrak takes, so keep your eyes out the window.

Union Station in Chicago where Amtrak trains depart. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveen).

Union Station in Chicago where Amtrak trains depart. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveen).

Alina Tsvor: Pack very lightly and dress comfy.

Discovering all there is to do and see in Illinois. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Discovering all there is to do and see in Illinois. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

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

Steven Sampang: Quincy was definitely the most photogenic in terms of scenery. Sitting on the Illinois side of Mississippi, Quincy offered great sunset views of the beautiful bridges that connect Illinois to Missouri. 

Sunset over the Mississippi River in Quincy. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Sunset over the Mississippi River in Quincy. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor: Quincy was lovely. Its charming historic homes and the fact that it sits on the water makes the city very appealing.

Incredible home in Quincy’s historic district. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Incredible home in Quincy’s historic district. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Q: Of the photos you took on the trip, which one is your favorite?

Steven Sampang: The hot air balloons in Galesburg! Unfortunately there was a little too much wind in Galesburg to get the balloons up and off the ground but we still managed to get some glowing at dusk at they showed off their balloons at ground level. It was my first time seeing hot air balloons in real life, so it was a treat to shoot them at dusk when the blue hue of the sky mixed with the orange flames; that made for some great color.

Hot air balloons over Galesburg. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Hot air balloons over Galesburg. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor: I love the Bayview Bridge sunset shot in Quincy. I remember how excited we were that the sun finally came out that evening, and we ran from the hotel to the river to explore and shoot some photos. I think we both can see a good photo opportunity and it was funny that without even having to say anything we both knew we had to get over to the river to catch that sunset.

Sunset over the Bayview Bridge in Quincy. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Sunset over the Bayview Bridge in Quincy. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

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

Steven Sampang: I know I can vouch for both of us… Baked in Galesburg. Kevin, who owns the pizza shop, was nice enough to make two of the meals we had in town. His attention to detail in keeping his grandmother’s tradition in how she made pizzas was a privilege to watch and of course eat!

Even MiniAbe enjoyed Baked in Galesburg! Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Even MiniAbe enjoyed Baked in Galesburg! Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor:Baked was so good. We had dinner there our first evening; we ordered a pizza to split. During dinner, we decided that breakfast would have to be at Baked too. For breakfast the next morning, we had farmers dish with eggs and fresh veggies that the owner Kevin picked up at the farmers market in the morning.

Delicious breakfast at Baked in Galesburg. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Delicious breakfast at Baked in Galesburg. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

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

Steven Sampang: Breezy. Small town life can often be viewed as boring when there isn’t much to do, but coming from a big city it was relaxing to slow down and shoot the breeze for a few days.

Wandering through the ivy at Knox College in Galesburg. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Wandering through the ivy at Knox College in Galesburg. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor:Calm. Nothing was rushed like it sometimes can be in a big city. We were just kind of going with the flow and taking our time on everything.

Downtown Quincy at nightfall. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Downtown Quincy at nightfall. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Q: Anything else you’d want to share about experiencing Illinois?

Steven Sampang: Let your imagination run wild and get creative. There are so many hidden gems out there just waiting to be discovered and explored. We only visited a couple of those in a few days and still had a blast. I can only imagine how much fun we would have if we had more time to #EnjoyIllinois.

Planning the next Illinois exploration. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Planning the next Illinois exploration. Photo by Steven Sampang (@esteeveeen).

Alina Tsvor: Having long conversations with people you meet and local business owners can really give you a huge perspective on what life is like in those cities. I think it’s really important not to just go see beautiful sites, but to talk to people who live there. It made all the difference on my trip!

Classic car in Quincy. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Classic car in Quincy. Photo by Alina Tsvor (@alinatsvor).

Thank you to our partners for making this trip possible, including Galesburg Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Holiday Inn Express Galesburg, Quincy Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Quincy.

Want to follow in our Mile Markers’ footsteps? Travel the map below! 

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