Sometimes you want to escape the noisy crowds and the tourist traps and find something a little different from the everyday. Maybe you want to enjoy the pace of a small town or you want to breathe in the steep history of the Land of Lincoln. Follow Robert Frost’s advice and take the road less traveled to check out some of these awesome, off-the-beaten path Illinois haunts.
1. Raven's Grin Inn, Mount Carroll
The name might sound like something out of the world of H.P. Lovecraft, but this year-round attraction is great for the lover of haunted houses, ghost stories and the macabre. It’s time to take a tour of this 146-year-old mansion with its spooktacular four stories and over 15 rooms that are designed to put you on the edge of your seat. And with an actual history of hauntings it’s sure to give you goosebumps.
2. Moonshine Store, Moonshine
Moonshine, Illinois. Population: 2. Yes, you read that right. Fortunately, you won’t need to pull out your trusty ol' compass or wait for Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown to send you on this journey back in time (a regular GPS should do just fine).
While the name might fool you into thinking that you’ll be imbibing some pretty potent booze, the reality is a bit different. What you will actually find are the famous “Moonburgers,” which are made right there at their local general store. If you long for the simpler times of the old fashion country store, then the Moonshine Store might just be a perfect stop for the whole family.
3. Cairo, IL
If you consider yourself a history buff then it’s time to head down to the southernmost tip of Illinois and visit Cairo, a tiny town hugged by both the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. On first inspection, it may look like just an eerie ghost town but it’s steeped in history, as this became one of the main regions to which African Americans fled when the Jim Crow laws were enforced. A 1931 article in National Geographic even called Cairo the “crossroads of the continent.”
Sadly, a flood in 2011 made many of its residents flee their homes never to return, but 2,800 residents still remain. Head to Shemwell’s for good ole fashion BBQ and local charm, enjoy the late 1800s architecture of this town with its old Wrigley’s gum and Coke graffiti, and breathe in all the history that this small town must have seen over the centuries.
4. Mermet Springs, Belknap
Always wanted to check scuba diving off your bucket list but think you have to visit a tropical island to do it? Not so fast. You can enjoy all the fun and adventure of scuba diving right here in southern Illinois. Submerge yourself anywhere from 15 to 120 feet underwater and enjoy all the sunken treasures that Mermet Springs has to offer. This deep stone quarry even contains the submerged Boeing 727 plane used in the film U.S. Marshals. They also offer diving instruction and equipment rentals.
5. Gold Pyramid House, Wadsworth
Thought you had to go to Egypt to see pyramids? While it certainly won’t be the pyramids designed by the ancient Egyptians you can follow Dilleys Road in Wadsworth and stumble upon a pretty unique structure: a large gold pyramid surrounded by a protective moat.
This is not a mirage. This home, which was erected back in 1977, was once a private residence to a couple who subscribed to the Pyramid power theory. Now you can take tours of this 17,000 square-foot, 24-karat gold home with its own tomb of King Tut.
6. Japanese Gardens, Rockford
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and don’t quite have the money saved up to take that trip to Japan, you’ll quickly feel as if you’ve been transported to the Land of the Rising Sun when you visit the tranquil Anderson Japanese Gardens, which are sure to provide you with a Zen-like experience. With 12 acres of babbling streams, raked gardens, winding trails and waterfalls it’s no wonder it’s been named one of the highest quality Japanese gardens in North America.
7. Fabyan Windmill, Geneva
If you think you have to travel all the way to Holland to see a windmill like this, think again. The Fabyan Windmill, which is nestled within the Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva, got a facelift back in 2005. It now boasts authentic Netherland timber and gear work. Revel in peaceful views of the forest preserve from the windmill while also marveling at the fact that this windmill operates solely on natural wind energy. And don’t forget to check out the colonial Fabyan home designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
8. The Super Museum, Metropolis
Move over, Smallville! Superman isn’t from Kansas, but actually the great state of Illinois! If you love the blue-and-red hero as much as we do, make a pit stop in Metropolis to visit the Super Museum, which has over 20,000 items of Superman memorabilia from around the globe. This museum has even been named the “#1 Small Town Attraction in America.” Put on your red cape and fly on over to the “Hometown of Superman” and believe in the magic of superheroes again.
9. Log Cabin Winery, Ellis Grove
No you don’t have to fly to Napa to enjoy all the amenities of a winery. Now you can head over to Ellis Grove, which is located right off the Mississippi River. While you’ll certainly find an array of different wines to enjoy or take home as a gift, they also create unique “fruit wines” such as rhubarb wine and even pumpkin wine. Enjoy sampling as many as 30 different wines from their tasting counter.
10. Wyatt Earp Museum, Monmouth
Are you an American Old West buff? If so, then you’ll love checking out the town of Monmouth, where Wyatt Earp grew up. Be sure to check out this infamous gunslinger’s childhood home, which is now a museum dedicated to the Earp family. On your way out be sure to check out the gravesite of the famous circus elephant Norma Jean.
11. Wildlife Prairie Park, Hanna City
If you want to take a walk on the wild side and get up close and personal with all the wildlife that the Midwest has to offer then it’s time you and the family checked out Wildlife Prairie Park. Teeming with animals such as cougars, fox, eagles, otters, bison and more, you’ll enjoy walking through the peaceful Merrill Woods while also taking in some of these beautiful and majestic creatures. Just remember that the petting farm won’t be available during the colder winter months, so plan your excursion accordingly.
There is still so much more to be discovered. Have you found any off-the-beaten path towns or attractions in Illinois that our readers should know about? Share in the comments!