Whether you’re new to Champaign-Urbana or just now finding time to travel, lots of interesting places are within a few hours’ drive.
Whether you want to go away for the day – or spend the night or two or five, there are plenty of options.
Hearing the call of the city? Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis are two to three hours away, depending where you go.
Just want to go walkabout? You can be on The Great River Road in less than three hours. When you get there, decide whether to follow the Mississippi River north toward Minneapolis or south toward Memphis and New Orleans.
Central Illinois: Following Lincoln, from Springfield to Charleston to New Salem
If you’re starting from Champaign-Urbana, we suggest beginning with the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln lived much of his adult life in Springfield, an just 90 minutes west on I-72. His home there is a national historical site. But his law practice and political ambitions introduced him to the entire state.
In 1858, Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas engaged in seven debates as Douglas, a Democrat, campaigned to retain his U. S. Senate seat and Lincoln, a Republican, ran against him. Historians have long viewed the debates as among the most significant events in American political history. Visiting the debate sites makes a great two or three day road trip.
At The Old State Capitol in Springfield, Lincoln served in the legislature, delivered his famous “House Divided” speech and launched his presidential campaign. His tomb in the Oak Ridge Cemetery is also the final resting place of his wife, Mary, and three of their four sons. A highly majestic site.
The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a state-of-the-art facility with interactive displays, two theaters and more than enough stuff to fill two or three hours.
And…as long as you’re there…you might get a flavor of Springfield’s place in Route 66 lore with a visit to Cozy Dog Drive In, home of the famous “hot dog on a stick” and a Route 66 fixture since 1949.
Closer to home, the Lincoln Log Cabin, about eight miles south of Charleston, offers a peek at life in 1845.
Need more? Lincoln’s birthplace in central Kentucky is a National Park; it’s about four hours away, just south of Louisville. A “symbolic” log cabin (not the one in which Lincoln was born) resides in a neo-classical memorial building which dates from the early 20th century. It’s located on a knoll where the Lincoln cabin is believed to have been.
More Presidential History Within a Few Hours Drive
President Reagan: Most people associate President Ronald Reagan with California, and for good reason. But Reagan was born in Illinois in a small town called Tampico in North Central Illinois. The Ronald Reagan Museum and Peace Garden is a museum on Eureka College’s campus, just outside of Peoria and about 90 minutes from Champaign. For more, follow the Ronald Reagan Trail.
President Grant: Galena is a beautiful trip for many reasons (especially in the fall) but if it’s history you’re after, the place to be is the Ulysses S. Grant Home. See where the 18th President of the United States lived and worked before the Civil War. Also worth a stop, see the many artifacts from Grant’s time in Galena at the The Galena & U.S. Grant Museum.
President Obama: The Obama home is located in Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago, about two hours from Champaign-Urbana. While the home is not open for tours, there are often tours of the neighborhood. The planned Obama Presidential Center is in nearby Jackson Park.
President Harrison: One of the lesser known presidential stops within driving distance of Champaign-Urbana is the home of the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison. Built in 1875, the home is beautifully furnished with many of Harrison’s paintings, furniture, and other artifacts including political memorabilia. Located in downtown Indianapolis, an easy two hours from C-U.
Quirky Fun in Central Illinois
One of our favorite road trips is an easy day trip: seeing all the Big Things in Casey, Ill., about 90 minutes from Champaign-Urbana. This charming town has a great sense of humor – and a knack for the whimsical. See the world’s largest chair, mailbox, and golf tee – and much more. You can even rent a golf cart so you don’t have to walk!
Authors, Artists and Architects
Mark Twain’s hometown, Hannibal, Mo., is less than three hours away, and a great place to spend a day or two. Located on the Mississippi River, you can tour Twain’s boyhood home and ride on a riverboat. And more.
Head to Oak Park, about 2.5 hours away in the Chicago suburbs, to learn more about the life and times of two legends: author Ernest Hemingway and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Visit their homes, as well as see many more of Wright’s legendary designs.