Programs Sample Americana in the Land of Lincoln

Reed Travel Features

CHICAGO -- Agents can capitalize on Americans' thirst for Americana by enticing travelers to sample the country charms of Illinois on motorcoach tours via the state's scenic roadways. The tours can consist of river cruises, carriage rides, balloon rides and hikes.

When it comes to the motorcoach portion, however, two of the most popular routes in the state are the Knox County Scenic Drive and the adjoining Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive in Fulton County. Located just west of Peoria, these drives traverse more than 200 miles of some of the best scenery in western Illinois, from northern Knox County to the southeastern edge of Fulton County, where the Spoon River meets the Illinois River.

The Carl Sandburg State Historic Site in Knox County is the frame cottage where the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Lincoln biographer was born in 1878. It reflects the living conditions of a typical late 19th century working-class family and is furnished with many Sandburg family belongings. In June, the annual "Railroad Days" at the site celebrates the city's heritage with exhibits and railyard tours.

Visitors can enhance their trips throughout the region by including an overnight stay in one or more of the communities within the counties. In Knoxville, for example, clients will find that museums, log cabins, an old-time jail and a one-room school on Route 150 are perfect stops for history buffs, as is Yates City's historical railroad station.

The town of Alton offers many quaint antique shops and an archery shoot. A superb way for motorcoach travelers to unwind is with an overnight stay at the nearby Original Springs Hotel in Okawville, a historical site where guests can soak in a mineral whirlpool bath or relax with a Swedish massage. Fellheimer Scout Camp on Spoon River is a favorite for children, with hands-on activities, crafts and contests.

Several of the towns along the route offer ample opportunity to bargain hunt for antiques and collectibles, and in Lewistown visitors can see a blacksmith use traditional techniques to create handmade metalwork.

Near Lewistown is the Dickson Mounds National Historic Site. Located on the site of a Native American burial ground, the Dickson Mounds Museum is one of the few on-site archaeological museums in the Midwest.

In addition to these drives, western Illinois boasts spectacular views of the Mississippi River. The Great River Road, which runs more than 550 miles along the river from East Dubuque to Cairo, offers great views from every curve.

Chicago's famed skyline and its 29 miles of lakefront parks create a spectacular sight. Nearby Long Grove offers a unique way to tour: horse-drawn carriage rides through the village.Visitors to Oak Park can walk down quiet, tree-lined streets and observe examples of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.

For visitors who want a more rural experience, northern Illinois farms provide a country getaway. Walks through the parks and trails of northern Illinois offer abundant opportunities to enjoy nature.

The Illinois & Michigan Canal State Park, near Joliet, allows hikers and cyclists access to a 60-mile, off-road route among hills, bluffs and watersides. This can work up clients' appetites, which can be satisfied by Northern Illinois home cooking. The new Gourmet Ramble, a trail of eateries throughout Jo Daviess County, offers a combination of city sophistication and country charm.

Visitors along the ramble can indulge in original apple jack cheese, a mild blend of Monterey jack, cheddar and Swiss cheeses developed at the Warren Cheese Plant. The Woodshed in Elizabeth takes visitors back in time by serving breakfast like Grandma used to make: a home-style country feast of eggs, sausage, bacon and pancakes. A day spent sampling Bishops Store's dried fruits and locally harvested black walnuts in Elizabeth ends best with an evening of rest and relaxation at the Ridgeview Bed & Breakfast.

Illinois' southern tip is rich in natural wonders, among them Shawnee National Forest, home to more than a quarter-million acres of undeveloped land that is a haven for boating, camping, hiking and rock climbing. Accommodations are available in the Cave-in-Rock Restaurant and Lodge, located in the heart of Shawnee National Forest.

More information on booking clients on motorcoach tours in Illinois is available by calling the Illinois Travel Counseling System at (800) 2-CONNECT. The organization also has a Web site, that can be found at http://www.enjoyillinois.com.

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