Illinois River Road Report: Utica and Ottawa

By WEEK Producer

May 27, 2014 Updated May 28, 2014 at 9:06 AM CDT

There are gems hidden all along the Illinois River and we have a special break-down of the hot-spots you can’t miss this summer.

News 25's Beau Ebenezer makes his first stop this week in our new "Illinois River Road" Report.

We start this week's road trip at a hot-bed for Illinois state parks, Utica.

Starved Rock is one of the most popular parks in the state located just off of Route 71 and Route 178.

This 3,000 acre park includes more than 13 miles of hiking trails and 18 canyons.

"Some of them are easier for the little kids to walk on but then there is still enough for the older kids to see,” said Bloomington Hiker Kathryn Gruber. “Of course, Starved Rock and Lover's Leap are a great view for the kids. We just love coming up here and exposing them to nature."

But many are not as familiar with a true hidden gem in North Utica, Matthiessen State Park.

One of the favorite stops for hikers at Matthiessen State Park is Cascade Falls.

It's home to a 45-foot waterfall that flows into a mile long canyon, which feeds into the Vermilion River.

If you’re looking for some history along the Illinois River, you are now just a ten minute drive away from the mule-ride of a lifetime.

The LaSalle Canal Boat offers a unique trip down the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

People come from all over the country just to get a tug from this large mule.

"It just looked so cute,” said Allison Churchman of California. “I think from San Diego, everything is very different out here. There is just this small-town kind of feeling. I think that is what kind of caught my eye."

Even more history awaits to the east on Interstate 80.

The city of Ottawa is the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate. Ottawa also offers a handful of murals and many places to eat.

"We are kind of the gateway to Starved Rock,” said Dennis Bute of the Ottawa Visitors Center. “People come through Ottawa, and it is always worth a stop. We have great restaurants, great businesses downtown, and great stores.”

So when you think you have no place to go, take a ride with us on the Illinois River Road.