The air is cool, with just a little nip to let us know a new season is at hand. The leaves are tinged with red, brown and gold as they slowly desert their branches to create an attractive mosaic of color below. What better way to watch this transformation of nature called fall, than to take a drive through Galena Country.
Before you get started… take a stroll amongst historic cannons and monuments in Grant Park. This will definitely set the tone for the rest of your trip. With the heart of Galena as your backdrop, watch leaves dance their way to the carpeted ground and listen to the crunchy footsteps that you take. Cross the pedestrian bridge to downtown Galena and don’t forget to look back at the beauty left behind.
Ready to hit the road? Let’s go…
Head north down the historic Main Street of Galena, otherwise known as the HelluvaHalfMile. This main attraction is lined with more than 125 shops and restaurants, one after the next. There are no chain stores here. It’s all about the unique, local independent shops and beautifully preserved red brick buildings that date back to Galena’s days as a booming 1800’s lead mining town. Steeped in history, 75% of the town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
At the end of Main Street, continue on to the historic Stagecoach Trail via Field St. This road follows the original Galena-Chicago stagecoach route, passing scenic farms and near the highest point of Illinois. This pleasant, winding drive will take you through valleys dotted with small farms and dairy cows.
The road, framed by a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges and yellows passes the Galena Cellars Winery & Vineyard, a great stopping point. Turn left onto Ford Road and follow the signs. Here you can relax on the comfortable wrap-around deck of the charming farmhouse turned tasting room, and soak in the gorgeous fall colors of the vineyards.
Council Hill Station:
Leaving Galena Cellars, turn left onto N. Ford Road and continue as the road veers to the right onto N. Hill Road, leading you to Council Hill Station on the right. This is a unique and historic 1850’s general store and railway station which has been transformed into a watering hole and music venue. Ruins of a woolen mill, barn and silo also sit on the property.
From Council Hill Station, journey onto W. Council Road. This road will lead back to Stagecoach Trail and the Town of Apple River. This town was established by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1854. Surrounded by dairy farms and corn fields, a must stop is the Thriving Thistle Market. This little gem offers freshly baked bread, pizza, burgers, smoothies and more! Most ingredients are grown in their own backyard.
Continue traveling east on Stagecoach Trail until you reach the town of Warren, named after Warren Burnett, the son of Alexander Burnett who was the founder. 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 Pecatonica Valley.
Apple River Canyon State Park:
From Warren, take Route 78 south and turn right onto E. Canyon Road. This road leads you to the Apple River Canyon State Park, featuring limestone bluffs, deep ravines, springs, streams and plenty wildlife. Brace yourself for a feast of fall colors. Step out, gather a heap of leaves and throw them in the air for the perfect Instagram shot.
Exit the park on Scout Camp Road traveling south. When you reach Highway 20, travel west towards Elizabeth and Galena. You will travel through beautiful country scenery as the road swirls and winds its way to Elizabeth. Sit back, relax and enjoy the view of the multi-color magic that surrounds you. Speaking of views… a perfect way to experience the wonders of fall is to overnight at The View Motel in Elizabeth. Soak up the beautiful countryside scenery that this motel overlooks. While you are here, visit the Black Hawk War landmark called Apple River Fort State Historic Site for an intriguing history lesson. If you are into antiques, don’t miss the Elizabeth’s Grand Antique Co., a 28.000 sq. ft., antique mall that is sure to have what you are looking for.
From here, your drive back to Galena is only a 15-minute drive, so make the most of the last bit of golden hues, vivid pinks, red and crispy earthen browns – a tapestry of fall.
Bonus – Blackjack Road: Just in case you didn’t get enough color under your belt, here is a bonus drive for you…
From Galena, take Route 20 eastwards and turn right onto Blackjack Road. This rural road twists and turns, offering breathtaking views, many of which are of the beautiful Mississippi River Valley. This is a perfect road for a motorcycle ride. There are many pull off spots for picture taking along the way. You will find Chestnut Mountain Resort nestled amongst the hills. This resort boasts an array of amenities, accommodation and activities, but the views are what are so impressive. Sit on their outdoor deck perched high on a bluff overlooking the Upper Mississippi River Valley – here you will find all of the fall color that your heart desires.