SPRINGFIELD – Elsah, the tiny town that hardly seems to have changed in the past 150 years, was named the state’s top scenic spot by voters taking part in the Illinois Top 200 project. It was followed by the Great River Road, which follows the Mississippi River from Galena to Cairo, and a remarkable statue of Black Hawk in northern Illinois.
The top five also includes Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest and Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County.
The Illinois Top 200 project lets Illinoisans vote every two weeks on the most inspiring leaders, greatest books, top businesses and much more. By the state’s 200th birthday on Dec. 3, voters will have chosen 10 favorites in 20 different categories – the Illinois Top 200.
Voting in the next category, top museums, is underway at www.IllinoisTop200.com. Nominees include Chicago’s Field Museum, the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and Mount Vernon’s Cedarhurst Center for the Arts.
Here are the top 10 scenic spots historic sites:
- Elsah – Elsah still looks much the same as it did 150 years ago — cozy homes and gardens tucked into a small valley along the Mississippi River, not far from Alton. The entire village is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Great River Road – The route along the Mississippi from Galena to Cairo takes drivers through old river towns, towering bluffs, fertile fields and unique historic sites.
- Black Hawk Statue – Formally named “The Eternal Indian,” this statue by Lorado Taft is an impressive sight all by itself. Put it on a bluff above the Rock River and you have one of the most beautiful spots in the state.
- Garden of the Gods – Hills, forests and sandstone formations in the Shawnee National Forest combine to create one of the most dramatic landscapes in Illinois.
- Starved Rock State Park – A 2,600-acre park in LaSalle County filled with waterfalls, steep canyons, hiking trails and lush foliage, plus important archaeological sites.
- Galena – This river town in the state’s northwest corner has a downtown of beautiful old buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The surrounding bluffs and hills provide gorgeous views.
- Chicago Lakefront – This 30-mile stretch of beaches, parks, museums and skyscrapers has been called Chicago’s “undisputed crown jewel.”
- Giant City State – A haven for nature lovers, this park near Carbondale features huge sandstone bluffs, extensive trails and the remains of a stone fort built by Native Americans more than 1,000 years ago.
- Allerton Park – Designated a “national natural landmark,” this park near Monticello is filled with carefully maintained gardens and beautiful sculptures.
- Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site – The fort that once protected the village of Kaskaskia is long gone. What remains is a stunning view from the bluffs above the Mississippi River.
“From Starved Rock and Galena to Garden of the Gods and Giant City State Park, this is the perfect time of year to explore all the scenic places and natural wonders Illinois has to offer,” said Cory Jobe, director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. “Illinois is the only state that’s home to seven national scenic byways including the Great River Road, Lincoln Highway and Historic Route 66 – full of charming towns and local hidden gems to explore.
Among the sites that did not make the top 10: Chicago’s “Bean” sculpture, the Cache River Wetlands, the Grosse Point Lighthouse and Matthiessen State Park.
The Illinois Top 200 is a joint initiative of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.
Future categories include authors, musicians, actors, leaders and unforgettable moments. Everyone is invited to suggest possible nominees in each category by using the hashtag #ILtop200 on social media.