After arriving in Galena, Illinois, an easy roadtrip family vacation destination from our home near Chicago, I realized I misunderstood my assignment. You see, I was going to write a story about where to go to find fun events in Illinois. Once I arrived, I realized the key question in this quaint Illinois town is not where to find the most activity and not to just see the crimson-tipped trees, but how best to observe their beauty.
Should you see them on a hike?
Should you see them on a bike?
Should you view them from afar
Driving the hills in your car?
Will the colors make you swoon
When viewed from a hot air balloon?
Nestled in the rolling hills of western Illinois and sloping down into the mighty Mississippi River, Galena was once a busy port and thriving mining town. The area doesn’t have gold in its hills, but rather lead.
In fact, the town was named after the principal ore of lead. The decline of the lead mining industry, the California gold rush and a rail system that bypassed the town put an end to its glory days.
Now Galena enjoys a glory of a different sort as a popular Midwestern tourist destination. Each year, about 1 million visitors stop in for golfing, skiing, girlfriend retreats romantic weekends and family getaways.
Back to the leaf peeping. Bucolic pastoral views alternate with forest-filled hills on the roads leading to town. Just how you choose to view the colorful bounty of autumn is up to you; there are many interesting options:
From the water: As guests of the Eagle Ridge Resort we received two hours of paddleboats and canoes on the calm, picturesque Lake Galena surrounded by towering trees. Those with a more adventurous spirit might enjoy a kayak trip on the Galena River while leisure travelers can embark on a river cruise .
For real adventure, take a trip down the 2,000+ foot-long alpine slide at Chestnut Mountain Resort as the sun begins to set. Rates vary based on the group size, age of rider and time of the ride. Ticket prices include a ski lift ride back to the top, so it’s like two rides in one. Exhilarating rides aside, the mountaintop view of the sun setting over the Mississippi is beautiful any time of year.
For a more relaxing and romantic fall getaway, consider a tour and tasting at Galena Cellars vineyard . A fine bottle of wine complements any experience.
Get a bird’s-eye view of the golden trees in a hot air balloon . At $175 per person, a ride was out of reach for my family of four, but we did get to watch as the balloon was set up for one happy couple. Gliding over the countryside peeking down at the golden trees below would be the memory of a lifetime.
Riding on horseback through the groomed trails at Eagle Ridge Resort and the Galena Territory offers another way to get a unique view of Mother Nature’s big show.
If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, nearby Apple River Canyon State Park offers easy and moderate hiking as well as camping. In addition to close view of the trees, a hike up the canyon affords a lovely view of the river below. The bolder members of your group may enjoy wading in the rocky river as colorful leaves rain down into the chilly water.
Whatever method of fall foliage viewing you choose, don’t dawdle. The cool summer has brought an earl fall to the Midwest. The trees already are turning color and starting to drop the first few leaves. Peek fall foliage season could hit as early as mid-September, nearly a month earlier than normal.