Family Fun in Illinois

Abbey Farms Aurora

Abbey Farms Aurora © Illinois Office of Tourism

If Chicago is the only thing that comes to mind when you think of Illinois, you’re missing some of the state’s most appealing family destinations. Here are six family-friendly activities and sights you won’t want to miss for a getaway this fall, from corn and apple mazes to river cruises and even a murder mystery dinner.

Enjoy amazing mazes. This year, nearly 20 Illinois farms and orchards throughout the state are celebrating the state’s 200th anniversary and its agricultural history with bicentennial-themed corn and apple mazes. Abbey Farms of Aurora, for example, is offering two bicentennial mazes — one for each century of the state —with special evening hours for added challenge and fun. Or travel north to Harvard for one of the country’s only mazes composed entirely of apple trees at Royal Oak Farm Orchard. Answer questions about Illinois history and you may win some prizes.

Get festive. Another way to enjoy the beauty of autumn is at the Morton Arboretum Fall Color Festival, through October in Lisle. You’ll be google-eyed at the kaleidoscope of brilliantly colored trees while chowing down on taffy apples and following the scarecrow trail around Meadow Lake.

Morton Aboretum Fall Color Festival

Morton Aboretum Fall Color Festival © Illinois Office of Tourism

Set sail. Wannabe sailors can take in the colors of the season on a cruise down the Mississippi River aboard the Spirit of Peoria in Grafton. You can cruise overnight or set out for a 90-minute paddle boat ride, often accompanied by music and entertainment. Choose from morning, afternoon and full-service lunch rides or go all in with an interactive murder mystery dinner cruise with the cast of The Alton Little Theater.

Great River Road

Great River Road © Illinois Office of Tourism

Get behind the wheel. The Great River Road, for example, is a drive along the Mighty Mississippi, otherwise known as US-20 to State-84, that offers some of the best leaf peeping around. The route wends through historic towns, native burial sites and farm country, beginning and ending with beautiful river views. Don’t miss the 33-mile stretch from Hartford to Grafton, known as the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.

Bring your appetite. Of course, half the fun of autumn travel is enjoying the seasonal food offerings. One of the most iconic is the list of fun options made from apples. From juice to cider donuts, apple-themed treats abound, and families old enough to imbibe might get a kick from Apple Knocker, a craft cider house in Cobden that infuses wine-making and craft-brewing techniques into its hard cider production. Pack a picnic basket with the usual staples and consider adding a few Apple Knocker classics, like Hard Knocker or The Bad One.

Raise a glass. Or sample new wine at the 34th annual Nouveau Wine Weekend at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery in mid-November. Activities include the sight of a traditional horse-drawn wagon delivering the first bottles of this year’s harvest to local area businesses, lunch on the second floor of Nouveau’s flagship store in downtown Galena, a parade, public tours and, of course, plenty of wine tastings.