If you feel most at home with nature, a trip to Utica will be right up your alley. The natural beauty of the forests, hills, and rivers have remained untouched, but instead, have been improved on. Utica isn’t the first town that comes to mind when one thinks of eco-tourism areas, but in this case it’s simply a lack of publicity rather than bad reviews. The abundance of natural beauty in Utica more than warrants a trip the next time there’s a long weekend. Here are some suggestions as to how to spend your vacation in this serene place.
1. Have a camping trip at the Starved Rock State Park
An expansive park with impressive sandstone formations, the lush forests of Starved Rock will transport you to another world far removed from the bustle of the city. There are 18 canyons to be explored- the La Salle and St. Louis trails are more popular for their views of the waterfalls, but every trail is worth hiking. Well-marked with signage, each route is easy to follow and provides a great way to reconnect with nature.
You’ll need more than a day to really see the park in its entirety, so setting up camp at the southward grounds is a good choice. You can choose from wooded and non-wooded sites, depending on the size of your party. When you need a break from hiking, you can go fishing, boating, and horseback riding. Avid anglers will love the lulling calm of the Illinois River while waiting for their catch of the day. Pay a visit to the Starved Rock Lodge, a charming inn perfect to unwind in over dinner. If you find yourself running out of time to try all these activities, that just means you’ve extra incentive to return next time!
Starved Rock State Park
Address: Routes 178 & 71, Utica, Illinois 61373
Website: Starved Rock State Park
2. Go wine-tasting at the August Hill Winery
Utica’s very own homegrown label provides a selection of great wines for your tasting pleasure. From the vineyard to the bottle, the process of wine-making occurs entirely in Illinois, over four acres of family-owned land. August Hill prides itself on the quality and history of their offerings, which include roses and infusions along with reds and whites. For $5, you can opt to taste 5 selections, so go in a group to sample as many as possible. There’s also the Signature Flight Tasting- 3 pours for $12.
Servers here are warm and knowledgeable, willing to field any questions you might have, which guarantees a good time. There’s also a lounge area and outdoor patio, perfect for pre-dinner drinks. You’re bound to find a bottle you love here, and might even be tempted to buy a few as a memento of your trip!
August Hill Winery
Address: August Hill Winery Tasting Room, 106 Mill St., Utica, IL 61373
Website: August Hill Winery
3. Picnic at the Matthiessen State Park
Approximately 3 miles from the Starved Rock, Matthiessen State Park is another must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts. Much like the former, the Matthiessen features gorgeous rock formations and has 5 miles of hiking trails. Spend a morning at both and see which one you like best.
After exploring to your heart’s content, settle down to a picturesque picnic by the Lower Dells area, which has tables and chairs as well as a washroom for your convenience. You’ll be able to watch the fountains and hear water bubbling by as you take lunch. Children can make full use of the playground nearby while the many trees provide easy shelter from the sweltering sun. When you’ve had your fill of lazing around admiring the scenery, walk towards the Vermillion Rock Area to watch radio-controlled planes and drones being flown- or try your hand at flying one yourself!
Matthiessen State Park
Address: Utica, Illinois 61373
4. Take a tour of the Hegeler Carus Mansion
A visit to Illinois would not be complete without a tour of this historic, magnificent mansion. Built in 1874, the Hegeler Carus Mansion exudes a quiet grandeur made stately by its elegant architecture and size even today, despite its age. It is a National Historic Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Home of the influential Hegeler and Carus families, whose last direct descendant passed in 2004, the history of this place and its residents is irrevocably intertwined with that of Illinois and America. Come for a wonderfully immersive 50-minute walking tour of the main rooms, where the lives of these amazing people come to life. A tour of the entire house, which will take more time, can also be arranged should you be interested.
Hegeler Carus Mansion
Address: 1307 Seventh Street, La Salle, Illinois 61301
Website: Hegeler Carus Mansion
5. Go down the river on the Belle of the Rock
A fancy but deserving name, the Belle of the Rock is a genuine paddlewheel boat tour at the Starved Rock State Park. You’ll be able to view Starved Rock, Lover’s Leap, Starved Rock Lock and Dam, and Plum Island Eagle Sanctuary from the boat as it cruises peacefully on through Illinois River. Besides the gorgeous vistas of the open water, it’s a great opportunity for wildlife photography. This is a narrated tour, so you’ll be able to know more about the history of your surroundings, as well as appreciate the natural beauty of the park. A charming and informational experience awaits aboard the Belle.
Belle of the Rock
Address: Starved Rock State Park, Utica 61373, Illinois
Website: Belle of the Rock
6. Savor the home-baked goods of Nonie's Bakery & Cafe
After a tiring few hours of hiking at Starved Rock, Nonie’s is the perfect place to settle down for lunch or simply a tea break. Serving up and all-day breakfast and lunch, everything at this adorable cafe is made with love and quality ingredients. Fresh and undeniably delicious, you’ll be tempted to try all their homemade sandwiches, wraps, bread and cakes. Best of all, it’s a guaranteed great meal at an affordable price!
Nonie's Bakery & Cafe
Address: 522 Clark St., 61373, Utica, Illinois
Facebook: Nonie’s Bakery & Cafe
7. Immerse yourself in the history of Illinois at the LaSalle County Historical Society & Museum
Featuring five facilities, each with their own special exhibits, the LaSalle Museum makes for a fun yet educational outing for history buffs. For a small fee, visitors will be able to explore the Canal Warehouse and the Heritage Center, both featuring a great variety of artifacts important to the region. Learn about the lives and hunting methods of the Native Americans of the Illinois River valley. Take in the might of the naval ships that passed through the river during World War I. Board an elevator into the bowels of a simulated mine to complete the experience. The museum opens every Friday to Sunday, from 12 to 4 pm.
LaSalle County Historical Society & Museum
Address: 101 E Canal St, North Utica, IL 61373
Website: LaSalle County Historical Society
More than meets the eye
Utica has lots to offer to travelers of all ages. Steeped in nature and history, it’s a place not to be missed the next time you’re searching for an uncomplicated, leisurely vacation.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.