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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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

– Illinois Office of Tourism

There’s nothing more refreshing on a hot day than plunging into a cool pool of water, and Illinois is home to a number of outdoor swimming options! Check out this roundup of the best swimming holes in the Illinois. Where will you go for a dip in Illinois this summer? Comment below and tell us!

Bell Smith Springs/ Bay Creek in Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois is home to many natural swimming holes, but some of the most beautiful are found near Bell Smith Springs and Bay Creek. The area’s crystal clear swimming spots are fed by stunning rocky streams. Travelers will pass through magnificent canyons and sandstone cliffs exploding with trees and flowers on their way to these swimming holes, making it well worth the extra exercise.

Bell Smith Springs - @d_croc

Instagramer @d_croc went camping at Bell Smith Springs with her dog!

Lake Le-Aqua-na

Lake Le-Aqua-na owes its name to a local naming contest. The beginning and end of the title spells “Lena,” the name of the city the lake is located in. The phrase is broken by the word “aqua,” which, of course, means water.

Lake Le-Aqua-na is almost totally transparent and famous for its sandy beach, which is 600 feet long. Admission to Lake Le-Aqua-na’s beach is free, and it’s open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Kinkaid Lake Spillway

While this spot is a local favorite, the Kinkaid Lake Spillway is one of the best-kept secrets in Illinois. Once found, swimmers are greeted by an idyllic, three-level cascade spilling into an invigorating, fresh water pool. Travelers should bring stiff-soled sandals, sneakers or hiking boots for entrance to the area and for navigating the falls.

Instagramer (at) instarobercik went paddle boarding at Kinkaid Lake!

Instagramer @instarobercik went paddle boarding at Kinkaid Lake!

Rend Lake

Rend Lake is a perfect swimming spot for families. The outdoor space stretches for miles so visitors can relax near both bustling and secluded areas on the water. The lake is easy to reach and has ample amenities. Swimmers will find sunny beaches along the lake’s South Sandusky Day Use area, perfect for a variety of beach activities. Fisherman also frequent this spot, as the waters are renowned for large crappie and catfish.

Instagramer (at) calebreeed built a sandy elephant at Rend Lake.

Instagramer @calebreeed built a sandy elephant at Rend Lake.

With so many great swimming holes in Illinois, it’s hard to pick one. For more information on fun places to explore in Illinois this summer, check out

–Illinois Office of Tourism

Guys, it’s time for a Mancation this New Year, and there’s no better winter pastime to spend your vacation with than hockey! Imagine a trip with just you and your buds, some beers and the Chicago Blackhawks. But why stop at an excursion to the “Madhouse on Madison” (United Center) when you could ramp up the experience with a road trip? An hour and a half later you find yourself on the doorstep of Rockford, Illinois, home to the Chicago Blackhawks’ minor league affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

Get Up Close to the Action

At the BMO Harris Bank Center, the IceHogs throw down the gauntlet against opponents. Fans get an up close and personal experience with the game, in a setting more intimate than many NHL arenas. Some of the games brightest up and coming stars play right there, as the last stop before the big time. For true Blackhawks fans, a trip to see the IceHogs playing is like watching spring training for baseball – it’s a chance to see stars emerging, and a look into the future of what the organization will be.

As an added benefit, the IceHogs are constantly doing special promotions for their fans, from free giveaways to dollar beers, soda, and hot dogs. Stay up to date on all the promotions with the IceHogs calendar.

Illinois Hockey

The IceHogs celebrate after a big win

 Grab a Brew and Kick Back

If you’re feeling a bit thirsty during your trip, your first stop ought to be Rockford Brewing Company. RBC offers world-class beer in a range of styles; from lagers to IPA’s and stouts to saisons. The 16 faucets and two beer engines have something for everyone, and each beer is handcrafted for quality, freshness and consistency.

Rockford Brewing Company

Grab a pint at Rockford Brewing Company (Photo credit: Rockford Brewing Company)

 Time to Eat

No Mancation would be complete without a steak dinner – so while you’re celebrating an IceHogs victory, head to Social Urban Bar and Restaurant to experience some of the best food Rockford has to offer. Order an aged hand-cut steak or some chops, and realize just how much you’ve been missing.

If red-meat isn’t what you have in mind, rest assured Urban can provide ample options to satiate any craving. With a farm-to-table philosophy, you’ll find lots of unique Midwestern dishes on the menu that not only taste good, but also leave you feeling good about supporting local farmers.

So don’t wait any longer! Grab the guys and book your trip to Rockford. Enjoy an IceHogs game, snag some suds at Rockford Brewing Company and give-in to your inner carnivore at Urban Social Bar and Restaurant. For more Mancation trip ideas, visit

-The Illinois Office of Tourism





The great Prairie State is known for its many world-famous attractions. With everything from art museums, to Lincoln history and even an entire town dedicated to the incredible Superman, there’s so much to do and so much to take home.

With the help of the new 2013 Travel Guide, we’ve rounded up ten of the best shops for one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Make sure to bring a bag big enough to bring home all of your new found treasures and treats!

  1. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum Store

If you’re looking for a great place to find Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, start with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum Store. Pick up a reprint of the famous Gettysburg Address or sample Honest Abe’s favorite eats with the A. Lincoln Cookbook.

Find historic treasures at the ALPLM

Find historic treasures at the ALPLM

  1. Art Institute of Chicago Shop

The extraordinary Art Institute of Chicago offers a great shop to find knick-knacks, such as a poster or notecards featuring your favorite artists’ work. Or, go home with your own piece of art with one of the shop’s hand crafted pieces of jewelry.

  1. Cahokia Mounds Museum Gift Shop

At the dynamic Cahokia Mounds Museum Gift Shop, you can find authentic Native American crafts, books on cultural traditions and even replicas of the artifacts found at the site.

  1. Caterpillar Visitors Center Store

Catch an insider’s look of the fascinating work of Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, at the brand new Visitors Center. Make sure to swing by the Visitors Center Store to pick up a “Cat hat” and so much more!

The new state-of-the-art Caterpillar Visitors Center

The new state-of-the-art Caterpillar Visitors Center

  1. Chicago History Museum Store

Browse Windy City themed books, Chicago inspired gifts or take home a magic trick set from the Chicago History Museum Store.

  1. Field Museum Main Store

At the Field Museum Main Store, find incredible treasures like the “Paint & Play SUE,” a take-home art kit of the museum’s famous dinosaur on exhibit.

  1. Museum of Science and Industry Shops
The exciting toy maker is one of many specialties at the Museum of Science and Industry

The exciting toy maker is one of many specialties at the Museum of Science and Industry

Discover not one, but three unique shops at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Stop by The Kids Stop Shop to bring home fun science themed toys, like the best-selling “brain kits.”

  1. John Deere Store

If you’re a John Deere fan, this store is an absolute must! It’s located next to the John Deere Pavilion, which offers an up-close look at the company’s history, products and solutions to provide food for the world’s growing population. Grab t-shirts with the iconic leaping deer logo or bring a toy home for your smaller farmers.

  1. Museum Store at the Illinois State Museum

While visiting the state capital, visit the Museum Store at the Illinois State Museum to pick up wonderful and unique jewelry, ceramics and paintings by Illinois artists.

  1. Super Museum Store

The home of Superman is filled with extraordinary gifts and tokens celebrating the Man in Steel. At the Super Museum Store, you can pick up a collectible comic book, kryptonite rock candy and even Wonder Woman themed gifts!

Classic Superman treasures you can’t wait to take home!

Classic Superman treasures you can’t wait to take home!

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

Looking for ideas for date night? We’ve got you covered with some suggestions for a romantic night in Bloomington-Normal. Spending a night away from home can help you to unwind with your special someone and keep the romance alive.

Start the night off at Station Two Twenty for dinner, where you will find an exciting menu that is not only socially conscious, but very delicious! The farm-to-table restaurant prepares its mouthwatering dishes with ingredients from local McLean County farms. If you can’t decide what succulent dish to order, enjoy a sampling of the kitchen’s best with the Menu Tour or Farm Tour. The four course Menu Tour and eight course Farm Tour will take you on a culinary exploration of Central Illinois’ hearty flavors.

amykpitzer- normal theater

The classic Normal Theater’s marquee lit at night for movie goers (Photo credit: @amykpitzer)

After dinner, impress your date with a screening at the Normal Theater. This classic theater is furnished with breathtaking restored art-deco décor from the 1930s. Offering a wide array of classic, independent and student films, the Normal Theater has something for everyone.

cherryberry- date night post

Come taste all of the delicious flavors and topping at Cherry Berry (Photo credit: @cherryberryhalifax)

End your night on a sweet note. Just around the corner, head to Cherry Berry Yogurt Bar for a late night snack. Providing scrumptious soft serve yogurt, you’ll find it hard to believe that so many options are fat-free. Take plenty of time to enjoy the ambience and savor the flavor since this specialty yogurt bar is open until 11 p.m. on weekends.


The gorgeous exterior of Illinois’ classic Vrooman Mansion

Ready to call it a night? Stay at the gorgeous Vrooman Mansion Bed and Breakfast. This historical estate is tucked inside Bloomington’s charming Dimmit’s Grove neighborhood. Discover the rich history of the mansion and relax in one of the beautiful antique rooms. The picturesque Vrooman Mansion is ideal for a truly quaint weekend.

So, what are you waiting for? Check out these great spots, or comment with a few suggestions of your own!

–The Illinois Office of Tourism