Hit the road and uncover Illinois history along the I&M Canal Heritage Corridor

  • Rialto Square Theater, Joliet

    Rialto Square Theater, Joliet

  • The Blues Brothers at the Joliet Historical Museum

    The Blues Brothers at the Joliet Historical Museum

  • Matthiessen State Park in Oglesby

    Matthiessen State Park in Oglesby

  • The Joliet Prison Administration Building

    The Joliet Prison Administration Building

  • Robert Navarro

    Robert Navarro

Posted8/14/2020 1:00 AM

With the changing of the leaves and the fall season just around the corner, hold on to those last days of summer sunshine by taking a road trip along the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor. The Corridor offers a variety of unique opportunities to visit an important part of Illinois history while having some fun and adventure along the way.

Start along the I & M Canal


The Illinois & Michigan Canal, stretching 96 miles, was created in the mid-1800s to connect the Great Lakes in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago to the Illinois River at LaSalle-Peru.

Start your adventure outside Chicago at the new 300-acre adventure park -- The Forge: Lemont Quarries. An outdoor enthusiast's dream, the park opened in mid-July. With ropes courses and zip lines to mountain biking and hiking trails, there is something available for all ages. The park also offers a variety of unique event spaces, including options that are covered and outdoors, that can bring a new level of excitement and engagement to your next event.

After your outside adventure, stop by Pollyanna Brewing Company (Lemont). This craft brewhouse churns out nearly 6,000 barrels of beer each year. While some prefer The Full Lemonty, a golden ale, if you see a version of Fun Size, their imperial milk stout, on the menu, don't hesitate to order it.

What goes better with beer than a burger? Stop by Nick's Tavern (Lemont) for the best burger in Chicagoland. Nick's Tavern opened in 1945 and is Lemont's favorite gathering place for drinks, food, and welcoming atmosphere.

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Pack up and head on down the road to The Gaylord Building in Lockport. Constructed in 1838, the limestone building was a former warehouse where canal construction materials were stored. Today, the building houses one gallery with historical exhibits about the canal and a fine art gallery curated by members of Gallery Seven. The Public Landing restaurant, which is known for its patio dining and offers private event space, also calls The Gaylord Building home.

Around the corner, prepare for a quick trip to the Wild West inside The Lockport Stagecoach Eatery & Saloon. With a former stagecoach inside, the eatery embraces the time period by offering patrons beverages in tin cups and staff dressed in 1800s attire. The menu, which offers classic salads, burgers and sandwiches, also has wild game meats on the menu -- from bison and venison to elk and wild boar.

The First Hundred Miles: Route 66

The Heritage Corridor is home to the first hundred miles of Illinois Route 66 -- from Chicago to Pontiac. There are still plenty of kicks (or photo stops) to be had along iconic Route 66 -- known as the Mother Road or America's Main Street.

Stop by to snap a selfie -- and savor some ice cream -- with the dancing Jake and Elwood Blues atop Rich & Creamy (Joliet).

As Route 66 winds through downtown Joliet, there are a couple stops to make including the famous prison where "Joliet" Jake is released from -- the Old Joliet Prison. You can even take a self-guided tour while you're there to learn more about the historical site. Still need more history? Check out the Joliet Area Historical Museum -- where even Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles once stopped during his trip down Route 66. The museum, which has several options for private event space including its rooftop, provides an in-depth look at the I & M Canal as well as NASA engineer John Houbolt.


You can also see Joliet's "crown jewel" -- The Rialto Square Theatre. Built in 1926 as a "vaudeville movie palace," the historic theater today brings in a variety of entertainment including award-winning music artists, comedians, musicals, plays and more while also providing a stunning venue for private events with its ornate rotunda and "Duchess" chandelier.

Be sure to swing by MyGrain Brewing Co. for a taste of one of their award-winning brews -- a barrel-aged Belgian-style quad with tart cherries called "I Have Time" before heading on down old Route 66. Looming 30 feet tall and weighing in at 438 pounds, it's hard to miss the Gemini Giant at his home near the Launching Pad diner. Named after the Gemini space program, the statue is one of the most popular photo attractions along the historic highway.

More adventure awaits in Starved Rock Country

While the most popular attraction is Starved Rock State Park itself -- complete with picturesque canyons year-round, seasonal waterfalls and home to soaring bald eagles during the winter -- there is so much to take in.

Hop aboard the "Volunteer," a 70-passenger, mule-pulled 1840s replica canal boat for an I & M Canal Boat Tour in Lasalle. The hourlong ride offers a mix of history, nature and photo opportunities.

Just south of Starved Rock State Park is Matthiessen State Park in Oglesby which offers breathtaking rock formations and Cascade Falls. The park also offered camping, fishing and horseback riding trails.

Saddle up to the Cat's Eye Wine Bar or Tangled Roots Brewing Company's The Lone Buffalo Brewpub & Tap Room in downtown Ottawa for a quick snack and beverage.

If you're looking for a road trip this fall that offers a little bit of history along with a little bit of fun along the way, then make the Heritage Corridor your road trip destination.

For future meeting and event opportunities as well as local accommodations, visit HeritageCorridorCVB.com.

•Robert Navarro is president and CEO of the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau

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