Known mainly for Chicago, the entire state of Illinois is a great place to visit all year long. Aside from Chicago, there is endless natural beauty and local culture to explore. Illinois is also a top destination for sports fans. Home to iconic sports legends like Michael Jordan, you can catch endless games here. If you’re creating an Illinois bucket list, you absolutely must consider these bucket list ideas.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Illinois Bucket List Trip Destinations
- Spring and Summer Illinois Bucket List Ideas
- Fall and Winter Illinois Bucket List Ideas
- Bucket List Foods and Restaurants in Illinois
- Chicago, Illinois Bucket List Ideas
Home to the nation's rich history, natural beauty, and some off-the-beaten-path gems, your travel bucket list wouldn’t be complete without seeing Illinois for yourself. Known as the Land of Lincoln, there are many reasons Illinois is so popular. Explore these bucket list ideas below to plan your own trip.
Illinois Bucket List Trip Destinations
Home to bucket list natural wonders as well as big-name cities, make sure you stop at these Illinois bucket list trip destinations. Though you might not have heard of all of these, that’s what makes them so special.
1. Step back in time in Galena, Illinois
First, you might not think of historical towns when you plan your visit to Illinois. However, Galena preserves beautiful history, and over 85% of the town is a national historic district. With lots of museums, this is a great place to understand Illinois’ early roots.
2. Explore the Forest City in Rockford, Illinois
One of the biggest cities in Illinois, Rockford has more to offer than meets the eye. With the oldest music club in the nation, over 20,000 acres of green space, and several museums, this is the perfect palace to spend a few days.
3. Experience American history at Springfield
Made famous as the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, Springfield is a great place to learn more about the early history of this country and Illinois. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield has been curated for over a century.
4. Visit the historic grounds of Cahokia Mounds
The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the largest prehistoric Native American settlement north of Mexico. With 120 Monks Mounds, you can learn about prehistoric American earthwork from the early Mississippian culture.
5. Take in Amish Country
For a unique experience, visit Amish Country in the town of Arthur. Home to over 2,000 Amish residents, you can shop, dine, and enjoy educational tours. Why not see how the Amish have lived for hundreds of years?
6. Catch a game at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a trip to Illinois without a sports game. Home to the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana is a charming college town that’s full of things to do.
Spring and Summer Illinois Bucket List Ideas
During the spring and summer months, Illinois’ outdoor beauty comes alive. With hiking trails, natural beauty, and day trips, here’s your spring and summer Illinois bucket list.
7. See Burden Falls
Located within the Shawnee National Forest, you’ll find one of the most beautiful sights in Illinois. Burden Falls is the tallest waterfall in Illinois, the water descends 80 feet in cascades.
8. Spot the rock formations in Matthiessen State Park
Located in LaSalle county, the Matthiessen State Park is a must-visit during the warmer months. Famous for its unique rock formations and prairies, this is a unique way to spot natural wildlife.
9. Climb the Grosse Point Lighthouse
One of Illinois’ most beautiful buildings, this is the site where Father Jacques Marquette landed in the 1670s to visit Native American tribes. Today, you can learn about the history of the lighthouse and climb the 140+ steps to the top.
10. Swim in Cedar Lake
Within Shawnee National Forest, you’ll discover the beautiful Cedar Lake. This is the best place to soak up the warm weather in the summer, and you can also spend hours exploring the 280k+ acres of land.
11. Listen to a concert at the Leaning Tower of Niles
Modeled after the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, the Leaning Tower of Niles isn’t your average tourist attraction. In the summer, you’ll experience the Leaning Tower Concert Series for open-air fun.
12. Wander the tunnels of Tunnel Hill State Park
At Tunnel Hill State Park, you’ll find reclaimed strip mines, ravines, streams, and wooded bluffs. If you’re up for a challenge, explore some of the darker tunnels and trails. The ghost towns along this trail faded into the landscape after the trains were removed from the tracks.
Fall and Winter Illinois Bucket List Ideas
No matter what time of year you venture to the Land of Lincoln, you’re sure to find something remarkable to do. In fact, the fall and winter can be the most festive, exciting time of year.
13. Hike through Starved Rock State Park
Another great spot to visit in Illinois is Starved Rock State Park. The visitor center is open all year long, and you can explore the thousand-year history of this beautiful place.
14. Tour the Grant Home in Galena, Illinois
On a chilly day, escape the cold by touring Ulysses S. Grant’s historic home in Galena, Illinois. This is where he lived after his return from the Civil War. Fully restored to its mid-19th century beauty, here you can learn about this Civil War hero up close.
15. Go tubing at Mount Hoy
If you’re not ready to hit the slopes, a family-friendly alternative is to go tubing at Mount Hoy in Warrenville. Fun for all ages, you don’t need to worry about balance or coordination for these slopes!
16. Spot bald eagles at Starved Rock State Park
See this state park in a whole new way by searching for these majestic eagles as they hunt for fish. Commonly spotted during the winter months, it’s worth braving the cold for these views.
17. Go ice fishing in Fulton, Illinois
A classic winter activity in Illinois is ice fishing. Across one of Central Illinois lakes, you’ll find plenty of people ice fishing and soaking up the chilly weather.
18. Drive through Spoon River Valley
In the fall, experience the magic of the seasons changing by taking a scenic drive through Spoon River Valley. Located in Fulton County, Illinois, this is a gorgeous place to explore by car. Stop at historic sites along the way to experience the best of the region.
Bucket List Foods and Restaurants in Illinois
Illinois—and Chicago in particular—is home to some amazing foods. If you’re creating a food bucket list, you absolutely must make sure to taste these things below.
19. Taste a Chicago-style hot dog
Once called the “evil step brother of the hot dog” by Anthony Bordain, the people of Chicago have passionate opinions about this hotdog. Known as the “Mother-in-Law,” this is a tamale topped with chili and served in a hot dog bun.
20. Try a new kind of pizza
Illinois is also known for its unique twist on pizza. Originally from Chicago, the stuffed pizza eventually evolved into deep dish pizza. With a solid and smooth crust, this pizza is topped with cheese, another layer of dough, and sauce on top.
21. Snack on an Italian beef sandwich
The people of Illinois love their sandwiches. The Italian beef sandwich is a thinly sliced layer of roast beef in an Italian-style roll. Commonly topped with relish or bell peppers, you’ll often find it soaked in gravy.
22. Roast fresh corn
Illinois is known for its corn farming, so it’s no surprise that you should also taste some roasted corn on your trip. The best kind of corn is slow-roasted over several hours—yum!
23. Grab some flavored popcorn
Last but not least, popcorn was named the state snack of Illinois. Far from what you get at the movie theater, you can enjoy endless flavors. From caramel to cheese, this is a sweet and savory treat.
Chicago, Illinois Bucket List Ideas
Of course, no Illinois bucket list would be complete without a dedicated section for Chicago. One of the biggest cities in the US, there’s a reason so many people flock here each year.
24. Walk the Chicago Riverwalk
One of the most well-known tourist sites in Chicago, the city’s Riverwalk is absolutely a must-visit. With a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, floating gardens, and piers, this is the center of city life.
25. Visit Holy Name Cathedral
The only cathedral in Chicago, this is one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the US. Though known for its beauty, this is also the site of many of the most well-known crimes from Chicago's mobs.
26. See the view from the Willis Tower Skydeck
If you want to take in the region of Chicago, the best view is from the Willis Tower Skydeck. From the top, you can see over 50 miles, four states, and Lake Michigan. If you dare, step over the glass floor for a straight-down view.
27. Shop along the Magnificent Mile
Located through a portion of Michigan Avenue, this is the ultimate place to shop and people-watch in the city. Home to the best museums, restaurants, and entertainment, there’s so much to discover here.
28. Browse the Navy Pier
Another must-do thing in Chicago for your bucket list is the Navy Pier. Named the number-one attraction in the Midwest, this is Chicago’s lakefront center of fun. With the sky-high ferris wheel, cruise boats, and outdoor theaters, you can lose track of time here.
29. Experience the wild side at Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park is along six miles of Lake Michigan’s shore. The city's biggest park, it also features one of the oldest zoos in the country here as well as a tropical greenhouse and the Chicago History Museum.
Explore the Prairie State
In conclusion, now that you know how to make a travel bucket list, you’re ready to experience the best Illinois has to offer. Though Illinois is known as the Prairie State, it’s not just farmland and endless fields. From the big city to natural wonders, this is the perfect state to create your own bucket list.
Planning a bucket list for yourself or your family is a great way to make memories. Not only does this build your legacy, but it also broadens your horizons. What type of experience is worthwhile to you?