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State Spotlight: Illinois

From the foliage on scenic byways to the frights of Halloween at an amusement park, fall ushers in a diverse array of experiences to groups traveling through Illinois.

The season brings colorful foliage and crisp air to Illinois, and destinations throughout the state use the season as an opportunity to showcase their history, harvest and natural beauty. Groups can get a look at classic fall scenery and rural Illinois history by joining in the Spoon River Valley Drive, or enjoy autumn flavors and top-shelf entertainment at the Mount Vernon Fall Festival.

In Springfield, fall visitors hear bizarre stories about Abraham Lincoln on the Lincoln Ghost Walk. The Quad Cities Balloon Festival lights up the skies of East Moline on the Mississippi River, and Frightfest adds a ghoulish twist to the thrills of Chicagoland’s Six Flags Great America.


Quad Cities Balloon Festival

Bright colors are expected during fall in Illinois. But colors get a little bit brighter in East Moline during the Quad Cities Balloon Festival, an event that sends dozens of hot-air balloons into the skies over this Mississippi River town during the last weekend in September.

Numerous events taking place over the course of the weekend highlight the beauty and grace of hot-air balloons. There are four balloon launches, which send the balloons soaring overhead in a mass movement. Friday and Saturday evenings feature balloon glows, when all of the balloons are inflated and their burners are lit against the darkness of night.

Visitors to the festival can take tether rides in balloon baskets, which allow them to experience a bit of flight while the balloon is still secured to the ground with ropes. An art fair and car show are also part of the festivities.


 Six Flags Great America Frightfest

Set along the shore of Lake Michigan in northern Illinois, Six Flags Great America is Chicagoland’s favorite amusement park. Though summertime is the busiest season for visitors, fall brings its own style of entertainment to the park with Frightfest.

Taking place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from late September to early November, Frightfest is Great America’s celebration of all things scary. The park is made over into a Halloween-themed setting, complete with scary stage shows and ghoulish street performers. Visitors can explore several haunted houses at the park and add an extra layer of thrills to all of the standard rides by experiencing them in the dark after night falls.

This year’s Frightfest will feature rides on the park’s newest attraction: the Goliath roller coaster. This triple-record-breaking ride is the tallest, steepest and fastest wooden coaster ever built.

This year’s Frightfest will be September 27 through November 2.



Spoon River Valley Drive

Fall means spectacular scenery to the Spoon River Valley in Fulton County, an area of central Illinois near Peoria. The area became nationally known due to the writing of Edgar Lee Masters, author of “Spoon River Anthology.”

Groups can get to know the valley by joining in the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive, an event that occurs throughout the valley over the first two weekends in October. The byway comprises more than 100 miles of scenic routes that follow the river southeast from London Mills until it flows into the Illinois River. During the fall, these charming country roads are covered by a canopy of brilliant foliage.

Groups that participate in the drive can enjoy peak color as well as special food, arts, crafts and entertainment set up in towns and villages throughout the valley. Tours can visit 17 historic sites in the area along with several shopping, dining and hiking destinations.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.