Road Trip in Illinois
Considering the state's yearly event dedicated to showing just how important it is to preserve its valued prairies, it's no wonder Illinois finds itself with the unofficial nickname “The Prairie State."
However beautiful it is to drive through these prairies, there's so much more to Illinois than gorgeous spans of grassland.
Yet, before planning your Illinois road trip destinations, you first must take care of some logistics. For example, are you legal to drive in the state? Are there any special traffic rules and regulations to familiarize yourself with?
Driving in Illinois
Even before pulling up to the gas station, you must make sure your vehicle—and you, if you're the driver—are legal to travel Illinois' various roads and highways.
Like many states, Illinois requires all vehicles be properly registered and insured. Check that you have valid proof of insurance and unexpired registration documents, and keep those proofs in your vehicle at all times.
Also, if you're the driver at any point during your road trip, you must make sure you stick to the regulations of your driver's license.
For adults driving through Illinois, your out-of-state driver's license should suffice on your trip. If you're a teen driver, the Illinois graduated driver licensing (GDL) program restrictions combined with your home state's age and driving restriction requirements can get a bit tricky.
Therefore, it's best to contact the IL SOS and find out how your current age and permit or license relates to the IL GDL program policies.
IL State Traffic Rules
Like most driving manuals, the Illinois Driver Handbook offers drivers information about license application, title and registration regulations, and car insurance requirements.
The handbook also provides information about:
- Specific traffic laws, such as those related to cell phones, safety belts, and speed limits.
- Interpreting traffic signals, roadway signs, and pavement markings.
- Handling traffic violations and accidents.
For a condensed tour through the topic, check out our page on Safety Laws in Illinois.
Major IL Roads
Navigating Illinois can be tricky, especially in the congested Chicago area, but once you know the major roads, you shouldn't have too much of a problem. Illinois' major roads are mainly interstates (I) and U.S. routes (US).
- I-39—Running north to south through Rockford, Oglesby, and Bloomington. Continues into Wisconsin.
- I-55—Travels north to south through Chicago, Naperville, Bloomington, Springfield, and East St. Louis. Connects to Missouri.
- I-57—Runs north to south through Chicago, Kankakee, Champaign, Effingham, Mt. Vernon, and Marion. Links to Missouri.
- I-64—Traveling east to west, Interstate 64 connects Mt. Vernon, Fairview Heights, and East St. Louis. Connects to Indiana and Missouri.
- I-70—Runs east to west through Marshall, Effingham, and Greenville. Continues into Indiana and Missouri.
- I-72—Connecting northeast to southwest through Champaign, Decatur, Springfield, and Hull. Continues into Missouri.
- I-74—Traveling southeast to northwest through Champaign, Bloomington, Peoria, and Moline. Connects to Indiana.
- I-80—Running east to west along northern Illinois, Interstate 80 goes through Chicago, Joliet, Oglesby, and Moline. Connects to Indiana and Iowa.
- I-88—Moves east to west through Naperville, Aurora, DeKalb, and Moline.
- I-90—Entering Illinois southeast of Chicago, Interstate 90 continues northwest through Chicago, Schaumburg, and Rockford. Links to Indiana and Wisconsin.
- I-94—Travels north through Chicago, Evanston, Highland Park, and Waukegan. Connects to Indiana and Wisconsin.
- I-290—Connects downtown Chicago to its western suburbs through Cicero, Elmhurst, and Schaumburg.
- I-294—Rings Chicago's suburbs from south to north through Homewood, Oak Lawn, La Grange, Elmhurst, O'Hare International Airport, and Des Plaines.
- US 30—Crossing Northern Illinois from east to west through Chicago Heights, Joliet, Plainfield, Rock Falls, and East Clinton. Links to Iowa and Indiana.
- US 50—Runs east to west across Southern Illinois through Olney, Salem, and Carlyle. Connects to Indiana.
- US 51—Travels north to south through South Beloit, Rockford, Oglesby, Bloomington, Clinton, Decatur, Centralia, and Carbondale. Continues to Wisconsin.
Illinois Road Trip Destinations
Now that we've covered the logistics, let's get to the fun stuff!
Though a vast portion of Illinois' attractions lie in the Chicago area, you can find points of interest throughout the Prairie State.
- Those with a thrill-seeking nature will enjoy Six Flags Great America, a large amusement park filled with numerous roller coasters, a water park, children's areas, and many food, dining, and shopping venues.
- Lovers of culture might want to check out The Art Institute of Chicago, part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which features a wide variety of art, from Asian and European pieces to decorative and contemporary art.
- Adults and children alike are delighted with the Lincoln Park Zoo, which features exhibits on animals, conservation and science, and other educational features.
- Of course, we wouldn't be doing a list of the state's tourist destinations justice without mentioning Wrigley Field, the state's famous over-a-century-old sports stadium and current home to the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team.
- Shedd Aquarium puts visitors face-to-face with lovely, graceful Beluga whales, among other sea and freshwater creatures large and small. Be sure to check out the aquarium's exhibits on the Great Lakes ecosystem.
- Millennium Park, home of the world famous Cloud Gate sculpture—colloquially known as “The Bean"—is a great place to take a picnic or watch a show at the outdoor Harris Theater.
- The Chicago River provides a dazzling display of architecture in one of the world's great architectural cities. You can take an architectural river cruise or do as the locals do and hop on the water taxi downtown before debarking near Chinatown at Ping Tom Park. There, you can rent a Divvy Bike and ride back to downtown. They even turn the river green for St. Patrick's Day!
Suburbs & Beyond
The rest of Illinois provides attractions for almost any type of visitor:
- History buffs will enjoy touring the Lincoln Home in Springfield, a national historic site, just one of President Abraham Lincoln's residences before taking office.
- Outdoors lovers will enjoy a trip to the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. The forest, composed originally of exhausted farmland in the 1930s, has since been repopulated with native hardwood trees and pines. It's a great place to camp and hike.
- The historic Virginia Theater in Champaign plays host to live music, movies, and plays and is listed on the National Historic Places registry.
For more ideas on planning your Illinois road trip, be sure to check out the state's Recreation & Tourism guide.