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Best Scenic Drives Near Chicago

A rare April snow covers the trees and g
A rare April snow covers the trees and grass at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. (Photo Credit: JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

It's that time of year again, where the air turns cool and crisp and the leaves begin to turn their most beautiful. You may miss the fall foliage if you stay tucked in the city limits this fall, but why not take a few hours out of the weekend and enjoy a drive out along some of the scenic byways of Illinois? Slow down a bit, relax and take in the colors!

Grandview Drive, Peoria Heights, IL

Take I-55 South to I-80 West and in just under three hours, you'll be on the Grandview Drive in Peoria Heights, considered to be one of the most scenic routes in Illinois. The landscape is virtually unchanged from when Teddy Roosevelt dubbed it "the world's most beautiful drive" in 1910. The Grandview Drive itself is about two and a half miles where, on a clear day, there is over thirty miles of visibility of the Illinois Rivier Valley.

The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL

Only 25 miles west of Chicago, The Morton Arboretum is a quick trip up 290 W, just over thirty minutes outside the city. There are nine miles of paved roads, but you can always park the car in the ample parking areas and take a walk or jog among the 16 miles of hiking trails. Weather permitting, throw your cross country skis or your bikes in the car.  The scenery is beautifully maintained year-round and there is always something to enjoy. It's just a short trip to get out of the city and into nature for a bit of a recharge.

Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive, Canton, IL

Take I-80 W and in just over three hours you'll be enjoying the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive in Fulton County. The drive follows the natural trail of the Spoon River, and there are over 100 miles of scenic routes to enjoy. If you arrive in one of the first two full weekends of October, enjoy the official tour complete with food, arts and crafts, a flea market and other entertainment! The Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive Tour goes through seventeen villages and visits historic sites. The drive is beautiful at any time on it's own, though, and can be enjoyed throughout the fall for the turning of the leaves.

Related:  5 Of The Best Road Trips Around Chicago

Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway, Peoria, IL

Take I-55 S to I-80 W and follow the Illinois River Road National Scene Byway, which begins in Ottawa and ends in Havana, about 140 miles south. The Byway runs through over one hundred nature-themed destinations along the Illinois River. You can drive through and take in the views, or find a place to stop for a number of outdoor activities from fishing and hiking to canoeing and biking. Stop and check out the wildlife or explore the wetlands along the way. Check out the website for activities along the way or advice on planning your drive.

Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway

Take I-57 S to I-72 W and get your kicks on Route 66! Route 66 has a colorful history all it's own, and the Route 66 Association of Illinois has taken care to revitalize the road with museums, travelers guides, markers and even some historic landmarks from the old Route. The site has several maps and brochures available for download so that you can customize your drive and get the Route 66 experience you want. There are even listed events and places to dine if you'd like to stop along the way.

Related: America's Most Romantic Outdoor Adventures

Meredith Lyons is an actor, competitive fighter and fitness instructor in Chicago who also owns an amazing cat named Jake. Meredith has been writing on Examiner as the Chicago Martial Arts Examiner since 2008. Her work can be found at
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