Color Run

Appears in the October 2023 issue.

Western Illinois’ Great River Road is a leaf-peeper’s dream drive

Bluffs along the Great River Road
Bluffs along the Great River Road

If you’re looking for colorful places to explore, the Great River Road pairs fall foliage with plenty of small-town charm. As one of seven scenic byways in Illinois, the 550-mile stretch extends along the Mississippi River from Galena at the top of the state to Cairo at the bottom, offering an array of quaint river towns, historic sites, state parks, cultural attractions, and, of course, eye-popping fall colors along the journey.

“The Great River Road is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful drives in the country to experience fall colors, thanks to the majestic limestone bluffs overlooking the river,” says Daniel Thomas, deputy director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. “There are so many picturesque places along the way to soak in the gorgeous fall scenery and capture stunning photos.”

And while not every color-hunting traveler will be up for the full 550-mile route, there are worthwhile stops along the way, making it ideal for a long afternoon drive or a multiday excursion, with plenty of things to see and do amid the vibrant fall vistas. From north and to south, here are a few highlights.

Illinois map

Historic Main Street, Galena

This popular tourist destination in northwest Illinois is usually buzzing, with fall a prime season for folks to come check out the more than 125 unique boutiques, eateries, wineries, and galleries.

Mississippi Palisades State Park, Savanna

Just off of the Great River Road, this 2,500-acre park is rich in Native American history and packed with recreational opportunities, including 15 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing amid steep cliffs, plus camping, fishing, and boating.

Pere Marquette State Park
Pere Marquette State Park

Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton

This year-round gem is even more impressive amid the blazing reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn, which helps explain why last year it was ranked the eighth-best place to view fall colors in the United States by Farmers’ Almanac. While in the area, get a view of those colors from high above on the Grafton SkyTour gondola or the Alpine Coaster ride, both at nearby Aerie’s Resort.

Great River Road in Alton
Great River Road in Alton

Haunted Places and Famous Faces, Alton

Often rated one of the most haunted small towns in America, Alton is a great place to get in the spooky spirit of the season with a local ghost tour and one of the country’s oldest Halloween parades (on October 31). It’s also an ideal spot for a photo op alongside statues of famous former townsfolk like world’s tallest man Robert Wadlow and jazz titan Miles Davis.

Along the Mississippi River
Along the Mississippi River

Cahokia Mounds and Colossal Condiments, Collinsville

Explore the remains of one of the most advanced prehistoric civilizations north of Mexico at the fascinating 2,000-acre Cahokia Mounds. Or for something completely different, head to downtown Collinsville to see the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle. and


Photos: Illinois Office of Tourism