Fun parts to not drive be on a freeway from St. Louis to Chicago?
July 9, 2015 1:56 PM   Subscribe

We're renting a tiny sports car and driving from Chicago to St. Louis and back on a 5 day weekend to visit some family. On the way back I would love to take the car off the freeway and maybe drive around some corners.

Are there any good stretches to do that? On the way down I think we're just going to take 55 as it will be night time. Any good spots off the freeway to get lunch? We have all day to drive back so I'm not worried to much about time.
posted by Uncle to Travel & Transportation around Illinois (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Lunch recommendation if you're the type of folks that like local weird gut-busting traditions: Go to Darcy's Pint in Springfield, IL and get a Horseshoe (or in my case, the smaller "pony shoe", which I still only managed to finish about 2/3rds of the way).
posted by Ufez Jones at 2:08 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not really on the way, but the Lincoln Museum in Springfield is a must-see.
posted by Mchelly at 2:30 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, If you've got a long day to do it I'd take US 61 north, following US 24 when it turns east for Quincy, and take that all the way to Peoria, through Spoon River country.

There are worse things to do than just follow US 24 all the way to I55, but the better driving is to either take the I474 ring road around the north end of Peoria to pick up IL 29 crossing the Illinois river at Lacon or Henry, or around the south end to pick up IL 26. In memory the west side of the river is more fun, but it's been at least 10 years since I drove it.

The important bit is to pick up IL 71 up through Starved Rock, which is the twistyest bit of Illinois highway that I've found.

From Ottawa, just on the east side of Starved rock, you can either pick up I80 or follow IL 71 up to IL 47 or so and take 47 to I88. I'd probably just take I80, unless I still had a yen for rural highways after being on them for most of a long day.
posted by wotsac at 2:35 PM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If you're looking for good twisty bits along the way, Porsche has a driver-submitted collection of good drivers' roads (it includes the stretch of 71 that wotsac recommended). There's a couple of stretches that look to be worth exploring.
posted by Harlo at 2:50 PM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you're not opposed to adding a bit to your drive, you could take highway 79 out of St. Charles toward Hannibal and then cut across I - 72 back to I 55 in Springfield. The drive up 79 is beautiful, along the river.
posted by Jacob G at 2:54 PM on July 9, 2015

(You can get some interesting farm road driving out of picking up IL 110 on the east side of Quincy, and turning east at Denver or Bentley (I don't think either has a sign) and wending your way over to Table Grove, where you take US 136 back to US 24, but that's more of a pro move since you'd be navigating mostly by feel and GPS.)
posted by wotsac at 2:55 PM on July 9, 2015

Illinois, being the Prairie State, has precious few curvy roads outside of the river valleys.

Wotsac nailed it, except I'd hold US 24 all the way through Peoria, cross the river, head north on IL 116, and pick up IL 26 right there.

IL 26 is much nicer than IL 29, even though they look similar on a map. Much less traffic.
posted by hwyengr at 3:51 PM on July 9, 2015

Also, more novelty than curvy road, but IDOT operates two free ferries across the Illinois River near St. Louis. Experience them before the budget woes shut them down.
posted by hwyengr at 3:57 PM on July 9, 2015

The Mississippi River Road was an enjoyable drive. We drove quite a bit of it a few years back.
posted by erst at 4:08 PM on July 9, 2015

I took a motorcycle trip down that direction last year. There's no avoiding some straight roads, but sticking to the rivers can make life more interesting for sure!

Seconding Ottawa to Peoria via IL 26. If you're feeling adventurous, there's a really nice route between Ottawa and Joliet(ish) that goes along the Illinois River.

I also really like the chunk of land in between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers just N of St. Louis. Tiny roads and lots of twisties. The river ferry is a really novel start/end to your route too. (make sure it's open/not-flooded before you go!) This is one route you could take down in that region.
posted by Wulfhere at 7:30 PM on July 9, 2015

The Galena area is really nice, but it might be a bit out of your way.
posted by deathpanels at 5:31 AM on July 10, 2015

I can't say whether it will actually be on your route, but the Great River Road through the Alton/Grafton area is really gorgeous and worth seeing, especially on a hot summer day. The road meanders up one of the few hills in the area, right alongside the sparkling river, and there are usually boats out on the water. We have been having a lot of rain lately, but I'm pretty sure that all the roads are open at the moment, but you may want to check. There are a bunch of tiny antique shops and curiosities in Grafton, and I've been told that Pere Marquette state park is a great stop but I've never been there myself.
posted by possibilityleft at 6:27 AM on July 10, 2015

For eats and kitsch, visit the home of the corn dog - Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield.

If you decide to go the Great River Road Route, I agree with possibilityleft that the section through Alton and Grafton is a nice drive. Look for the Piasa Bird on the cliffs beside the road, and if the weather is nice, have lunch on the Grafton waterfront. If it's your kind of thing, you can stop by the National Great Rivers Museum and take a tour out onto the massive Melvin Price Lock and Dam to watch barges lock through on their way up or down the Mississippi.
posted by scrambles at 7:24 AM on July 10, 2015

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