Galena, Illinois

Trailblazers

Four Seasons of Fun on Illinois’ Galena River Trail

By Kellilynn Hann

Rolling green hills, quaint homes, a main street boasting historic red brick buildings and interesting shops… no, it’s not a movie set. This idyllic place is Galena, Illinois, a small town that wins multiple awards every year (in 2017 Architectural Digest named it “Most Beautiful Mainstreet in America”).

While main street Galena is well known among Illinois attractions, the town has another must-visit treasure: the Galena River Trail. Starting just five minutes from downtown at Depot Park, this six-mile crushed-stone path winds along the Galena River, treating visitors to stunning forests and views of the Galena River and Mississippi River backwaters.

The best part? The Galena River Trail offers outdoor activities for every season! So, no matter what time of year you vacation, you’ll be raring to #GetToGalena.

Share this story

Spring

When spring fever has you aching to get outside, a day biking or hiking the Galena River Trail is exactly what the doctor ordered. Take your time and explore the new plants pushing through the soil, pause to listen to the river, and get that big breath of fresh air you’ve been craving all winter long. This pet-friendly trail offers the whole family an escape from being cooped up!

If you want to get your blood moving and work out all those cold-weather kinks, try running, signing up for a race or mountain biking. (The trail is mostly flat, making for a pleasant, light workout.) If you aren’t able to bring your own gear, don’t worry. In addition to bikes, you can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from Fever River Outfitters, offering an opportunity to explore Galena via land and water!

Summer

Summer’s all about sunshine and splashing, so celebrate the season by canoeing or kayaking down the Galena River, which parallels the trail. It’s an exceptionally beautiful journey—as you glide along you’ll enjoy seeing the mix of homes and nature. Play I Spy as you pass pretty bridges, pastures, architecture, farms, bluffs, mansions and possibly wildlife if you go in the early morning or at dusk.

If you get too hot, you can pull up to the bank, stop for a rest and picnic in the shade of the trees along the trail. Looking for more picturesque picnic spots? Depot Park and Grant Park offer grassy lawns to spread out a blanket and sunbathe to your heart’s content.

Fall

Plan the perfect romantic getaway that starts with a stroll on a lovely path through a forest exploding with orange, red and yellow that surrounds you from sky to soil. You’ll love crunching through the leaves and breathing in that earthy smell and crisp air. Add in a scenic drive, a hike or leisurely bike ride and you’ve got yourself a vacation worthy of a romantic comedy.

Experiencing autumn in all its glory is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Illinois and it’s definitely something to add to your bucket list in Galena Country. There’s a lot do to and see on the Galena River Trail, but if you’re up for even more fun, take the free lift up to Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort (yes, you can load your bike). In fall, you’ll be treated to an Instagram-worthy view of the valley and Mississippi River. Plus, the resort has three popular restaurants where you can relax and refuel.

Winter

Snow days aren’t just for kids! Let the Galena River Trail tempt you out to play with cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Enjoy the quiet trail and the way the sun sparkles on the snow (or start an epic family snowball fight you’ll be talking about for years to come).

Another winter activity you can enjoy on the Galena River Trail is birdwatching. With the leaves off the trees, it’s easier to spot song birds and foraging “ground” birds like wild turkeys. It’s also a good time to look for Bald Eagles soaring overhead. 

Special note: Late fall into winter is hunting season in the area, so check local schedules for safety guides and closures before scheduling your trip.

Share this story
Plan to Play

The Galena River Trail is host to many exciting events throughout the year. Visit the Event Calendar for dates and details.

Galena River Trail Run
May

An annual event with a 10k course for runners and a 5k course for runners and walkers that begins at the Galena Depot Park near downtown Galena.

Galena Sky Trail Race
May

Held at the Chestnut Mountain Lodge, this timed race covers an 8-mile looped course. This year’s theme is Nordic Viking, and there’s a prize for best costume and an after-race dance! It definitely makes for a fun day outdoors.

Midwest Health and Fitness Run/Walk
Fall

Sponsored by the Midwest Medical Center, this run/walk along the Galena River Trail benefits the Galena Food Pantry. Registration also grants admission to Galena’s very popular Oktoberfest, which follows the race.

Sprint into Spring
Early Spring

Also sponsored by the Midwest Medical Center and other Galena area businesses, this 5k/10k run celebrates the beauty of spring along the Galena River Trail.

Fantastic Frogs & Friends Frog Walk
Late Winter/Early Spring

Kids and adults alike will enjoy this evening walk along the Galena River Trail, where a guide from the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation will show you how to identify frogs and toads by sight and sound. Bring your own minnow net and flashlights so you can catch, observe and release your new little friends.