When you start planning your first Route 66 road trip, images of classic restaurants, roadside attractions, and historic landmarks may come to mind first. However, The First Hundred Miles of the Mother Road is also lined with stunningly beautiful parks – and the fall season is one of the best times to visit them. Here’s a route that connects you to the best places to soak up the changing seasons along historic Route 66.
Waterfall Glen Forest Reserve
I-55 and Lemont Road, Lemont
Whatever your favorite outdoor pursuits, Waterfall Glen in Lemont has it all. On its more than 11 miles of winding trails, you can enjoy everything from hiking to horseback riding to biking, all within a short drive of the Mother Road. If your canine pal is accompanying you on your cross-country trip, this is the perfect place to stop – a popular dog-friendly picnic and fishing area. Marvel at the magnificent treetops as the fall color season approaches. In the spring, experience the park’s stunning tiered waterfalls while enjoying the more than 740 documented species of native plants. If you’re a birdwatcher, Waterfall Glen is home to hundreds of species of feathered friends each year.
I&M Channel Status Trail
Access near Joliet Street and Illinois Route 351
Crossing three counties, Will, Grundy, and LaSalle, the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail is one of the most historic natural areas along the Route 66 corridor. On the famous biking and hiking trail, visitors can savor fishing and other activities along the mid-19th century waterway. Popular winter activities like snowmobiling and cross-country skiing can also be enjoyed along the canal. Great opportunities for outdoor activities abound on the 79-mile old mule track. A precursor to Route 66, the I&M Canal was once the most important transportation hub for commerce and passengers in Illinois. It was after the development of the railway that the forgotten gem will be transformed into a spectacular outdoor recreation area.
Renwick Lake Reserve
15425 Joliet Road, Plainfield
Located just off historic Route 66 in Plainfield, a few blocks from the bustling downtown village, Lake Renwick Preserve is home to a sprawling 200-acre lake and wetland habitat. The wildlife found in the reserve includes a variety of bird species, such as the great blue heron and the great egret. Birdwatchers flock to Heron Rookery Nature Reserve each year to marvel at populations of herons, egrets and cormorants, as well as bald eagles, American white pelicans and hundreds of winter waterfowl eclectic. Access to Heron Rookery Nature Reserve is restricted on a seasonal basis to protect nesting activities from migrating birds, but Renwick Lake Copley Nature Park and Turtle Lake access areas remain open year-round.
554 Brook Forest Ave, Shorewood
Located directly on old Route 66 in Shorewood, Hammel Woods offers tubing, canoeing, and kayaking on the scenic DuPage River. Visitors can also run along the park’s 1.6 miles of nature trails. Other activities allowed in the park include biking, hiking, rollerblading, fishing, and cross-country skiing when the weather permits. The covered shelters can accommodate 25 people on a first-come basis, without the need for a permit. If you’re into geocaching, Hammel Woods is a great place to stop for a quick hunt.
Terrestrial and Aquatic Reserve of the Plains Dolomites Grasslands
24621 N. River Road, Wilmington
With a free skeet and archery range, the Des Plaines Dolomite Prairies land and water reserve is a unique and diverse sports park. The 5,000 acres of land and 2,000 of water provide plenty of room for your favorite hobbies, like horseback riding, jet skiing, and boating. The Des Plaines Dolomite Prairies land and water reserve is known as an excellent place for hunting and fishing, provided you have all the necessary permits. The park also offers a peaceful selection of on-site campsites, which can be reserved online in advance.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
30239 S. Route 53, Wilmington
Known as “the largest prairie restoration site east of the Mississippi River,” the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is also the largest open space in Illinois. At the site, managed by the US Forest Service and recognized as a US National Grassland, bison were reintroduced to the prairie in October 2015, making this beautiful patch of grassland even more authentic. Although not guaranteed, every visit offers the chance to see the elusive animals roaming the prairie.