Tired of the highway? Hop off Highway 20 and take the Historic Stagecoach Trail Road through Galena Country instead! This gently curving and hilly two-lane road, originally established in the mid-1830s, flows across the scenic country landscape and is steeped in history.
What’s the story behind it?
This road follows the original stagecoach route between Galena and Chicago. The stagecoach became the predominant mode of overland public transport for passengers and mail in the mid-1800s. The vehicles were called stagecoaches because they completed their scheduled routes in stages, traveling from stop to stop where tired horses could be exchanged for fresh ones and passengers could sometimes eat, rest or sleep overnight.
It lasted only a few decades, but this period in the mid-1800s had a significant impact on the region, as settlements were linked, mail was managed and the groundwork was laid for future transportation systems. As you drive along this historic path, think of the first travelers and what it must have been like. You will be traveling at a much a higher comfort level no doubt. Take in the beautiful countryside dotted with cows, enjoy the architecture and see what you can find in the local stores as you stop to stretch your legs along the way. Snap some pics and be sure to tag them with #GalenaCountry.
Take the W. Galena Road/Stagecoach Rd. exit off Highway 20, drive through Lena, Waddams Grove and continue to Nora… where Galena Country begins. Nora, once a bustling railroad community (after the Stagecoach era) is now a small village with a population of 112. A popular local hangout in this village is the Nora Bar.
This town was named after Warren Burnett, the son of Alexander Burnett who was the founder in 1843. The town of Warren began to flourish when the Old Stone Hotel was built in 1851. It served as a stopover along the crossing of two major stagecoach routes and hosted prominent visitors such as Ulysses S. Grant. Today, the former hotel serves as the Warren Community Building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A great annual Christmas event that takes place in this building is the Festival of Trees.
Pop into Dusty’s Closet Antiques, a small-town antique shop featuring antique furniture, vintage collectibles, and a small gift selection. Craft beer enthusiasts will love visiting the Pecatonica Beer Company. Enjoy a selection of cold brews and experience the regional flavors of the Pecatonica Valley. The town of Warren hosts the oldest County Fair in Illinois, dating back to 1860, held in late July/August every year and the Annual Warren Pumpkin Festival in September.
Apple River Canyon State Park
As you head towards the town of Apple River, there is a 6.5-mile detour, that’s worth it… turn left onto N. Canyon Park Rd. which will lead you to the Apple River Canyon State Park. Discover incredible limestone bluffs carved by the Apple River, deep ravines, springs, streams and plenty of wildlife. This park is ideal for outdoor activities and camping in the summer. In the fall, this park puts on an impressive show of color bursts.
A little history to this area… Millville (1838) is a village that was established in Apple River Canyon but no longer exists. It became an important rural service stop along the Stagecoach Trail since Millville had a blacksmith. In 1853–54, the Illinois Central Railroad bypassed Millville, relegating it to backwater town status.
Head on back to Stagecoach Trail where you will turn left to continue to the town of Apple River. This town was established by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1854. Surrounded by dairy farms and cornfields, a must-stop is the Thriving Thistle Market! This is a gourmet gas station! It supplies zero-ethanol fuel for your vehicle and delicious fuel for your belly! Enjoy freshly baked bread, pizza, burgers, smoothies and more! Coming soon is a brand-new Wellness Center and Bistro that will be attached to the market.
Upon reaching the area of Scales Mound, the road becomes West Stagecoach Trail Road. Turn left onto N. Elizabeth Scales Mound Road for a detour to the town of Scales Mound, where 90% of the town buildings are on the National Historic Register. Just north of here is Charles Mound. At 1,235-feet, it is the highest point in the entire state of Illinois. (Note: it is on private land and not open to the public). Scales Mound has a fitting motto… “At the Top of Illinois.”
If you prefer to skip the town of Scales Mound, continue on Stagecoach Trail Road until you get to W. Council Hill Rd. on your right, where you can take a detour to an interesting place called Council Hill Station. Travel on W. Council Hill Road to North Hill Road where you will take a left. This is a unique and historic 1850s general store and railway station which has been transformed into a watering hole and music venue. Ruins of a woolen mill, barn, and silo can also be found on the property.
From here, as you continue on North Ford Road to get back to Stagecoach Trail Road, you will pass the Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery. This is a great stopping point! Here you can relax on the comfortable wrap-around deck of the charming farmhouse turned tasting room, and soak in the gorgeous views of the vineyards. If you don’t have enough time on your hands, you could wait until you reach Galena, where they have a tasting room downtown. How convenient!
Arriving at the southeast corner of Galena marks the end of the Stagecoach Trail Road. The trail ends near the 1854 John Westwick Foundry. Ironically, 1854 is the same year that the railroad came through and the old stagecoach line began fading away.
As the Stagecoach Trail Road enters Galena, it rapidly transitions into Field, Claude and Meeker Streets. Just after the bend in Meeker Street, turn left onto N. Main Street. This historic Main Street is a major attraction in the area and has been dubbed the “Helluva Half-Mile.” It’s lined with more than 125 independently owned stores housed in beautifully preserved buildings that date back to Galena’s days as a booming 1800s lead-mining town. Steeped in history, 79% of the town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Grab a bite to eat at one of Galena’s renowned restaurants before you check in to your accommodation. Check out the official visitors guide for ideas on things to do and sites to see, such as historic sites, outdoor activities, tours, art galleries/studios, and more!