Kayak or bike along the canal and stay for the cute shops and cafes
Looking for a change of scenery and a dose of small-town charm? Take the hour-long drive southwest from Naperville down I-55 and I-80 and you’ll find yourself in Morris, Illinois, the county seat of Grundy County.
The colorful Morris sign along Highway 47 is a great spot to meet up with friends before wandering the city’s downtown business district. Food trucks often park there, and picnic tables are being brought inthis summer, says Julie Wilkinson, business development director for the City of Morris. Public restrooms were also added this year (121 W. Main St.), and new planters and a sound system up the ambiance throughout downtown.
Morris was developed in the 1830s and ’40s along the I&M Canal, which connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. History buffs can download the Morris Downtown Commercial Historic District self-guided walking tour brochure (morrisil.org/visitmorris). The tour starts at the Rock Island Railroad Depot, built in 1900, and passes some of the original historic buildings that housed Morris’s first saloons, dry-goods stores, hotels, and newsstands in the 1800s.
Want to get out on the water? Rent a kayak from Kayak Morris ($45–$59, 801 Kayak Morris Rd., kayakmorris.com) and choose from three bodies of water: The I&M Canal, the Illinois River, or the Mazon River. “The Illinois River is more sandy, more open for sunny trips,” says Kayak Morris owner Janée Matteson. “The Illinois River is a working river, so you’ll have other traffic on the river, however it’s very wide. I liken it to riding your bike down the street.” Shade-seekers may prefer the Mazon or I&M Canal, especially on hot days, she says. “All of these bodies of water, they don’t really have a flow rate. You can paddle in any direction equally as well. There are little backwater areas and islands you can pull off to and have a picnic.”
You can also rent bikes ($5/hour) from the Bike the Canal station at Canalport Park (Illinois Avenue and Wauponsee Street, iandmcanal.org/bike) using the Movatic app. Return your wheels back in town or at neighboring stations along the canal in Channahon, Lockport, Lemont, Utica, and LaSalle.
For faminished paddlers and bikers, the most iconic choice for a meal is Weits Cafe (213 Liberty St., weitscafe.com) for comfort food with a modern spin. “It has been a landmark in Morris forever,” Matteson says. “It just was purchased by new owners, and they rehabbed it, but they kept the nostalgic feel.”
If shopping is more your style, downtown Morris is filled with independently owned boutiques. Browse jewelry, crystals, and other metaphysical trinkets at Rock Soul Love (216 Liberty St. rocksoullove.com), modern men’s sportswear and grooming goods at Field Day Sporting Co. (224 Liberty St., fielddaysportingco.com), and gifts and toys galore at Apple Butter & Shugies (309 Liberty St., applebutterandshugies.com).
Celebrating its 12th anniversary this month, Gigi (126 E. Washington St., gigisclothingboutique.com) stocks women’s apparel, shoes, and accessories. Owner Heidi Kindelspire named the shop after her late grandmother. “She was born and raised in Morris and was one of the first people I ever shopped with,” Kindelspire says. “I like to think she would still be shopping here today…I have customers who are 14 and customers who are 80.”
Kindelspire often sends hungry shoppers to Letty Mae’s Tea Room (112 E. Washington St.) “It’s super-girly,” she says. “Everything is handmade, they are the sweetest people, and you eat on mismatched china. They have the best quiche, and everything from moon pies to hummingbird cake.” If visitors are in the mood for a glass of wine or a cocktail, then Kindelspire directs them to Montage Wine Bar & Spirits (307 Liberty St., montagewinebar.com). The food menu is varied—flatbreads, rice bowls, bao, design-your-own charcuterie and cheese boards—and summery drinks include a classic Aperol spritz and a blueberry-mint mule.
Second Saturday of every month, May through October, visitors flock to the Three French Hens Market (8 a.m.–2 p.m., 402 Liberty St., the3frenchhensmarket.com) to browse booths selling snacks, flowers, and handmade wares. As the market winds down, Morris Cruise Night (morriscruisenight.com) ramps up. “Cars line every nook and cranny in our downtown,” Wilkinson says. “It’s everything from muscle cars to tricked-out modern Jeeps and Broncos to motorcycles.”
Photos: City of Morris (Cruise Night); Sarah R. Peterson Photography (bike rentals and Weits Cafe); Kayak Morris; Anni & Flori Porsch (Morris sign)