Galena is an iconic town in the rolling hills of Northwestern Illinois that's know to we Chicago urbanites as a lovely place for a weekend respite. It bore a likeness to many of the little New England towns I used to frequent when I lived in Maine.
|Horseshoe Mound, just south of Galena
With D and I both locked in the high-paced and occasionally grueling lifestyle of being relatively new in our careers in Chicago, its been easy for us to forget about taking little trips from time to time. As with all the trips we take together, it always ends up being a strange combination of both our interests. Mine are obviously more to the tune of outdoor adventure and wilderness while hers are much more sophisticated. Galena suited both our tastes.
Galena is located near the rugged banks of the Mississippi river among storybook hills reminiscent of Ireland. The town itself has a famously picturesque Main street lined with boutique shops and historical sites. Not surprisingly, it is frequently mentioned as a destination for bikers and road-trippers and nearly everyone in metro Chicago has spent at least 1 weekend here. This would likely be the first of many trips for us.
|Driving to Galena was just as enjoyable as the stay
Our plan to visit Galena was a bit spur the moment and we found that most everything was booked as far as bed-and-breakfasts go. Fortunately, we grabbed the very last available room at The Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel
which provided posh accommodations. It was preferable to be about a half mile outside of town as it was quieter and we enjoyed the hotel more fully.
We got up early on Saturday and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel. Blueberry crêpes, potatoes, sausage, eggs and Irish crème coffee was the best "continental" breakfast we could ask for. With calories to burn, we headed across to our neighboring state and enjoyed Dubuque and the Mines of Spain Recreation area
. I've not spent much time in Iowa but I walked away with the impression that the Mines of Spain had to be some of the better hiking in the upper Mississippi river valley.
|Main Street, Galena
Galena's Main Street was a great time. I'm not much of a shopper but there were so many options that we both indulged. Like a good Northern Californian, I was instantly drawn to the Galena Garlic Company
store. We both stocked up on summer culinary novelties including tasty olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a few rubs to try for July barbeques. D was drawn to the numerous antique shops and I sheepishly admitted that I hadn't enjoyed shopping this much in a long time.
It is very fortunate that the hills of Galena offer much in the way of walking exercise because we must have consumed a week's worth of food in our weekend. Downtown Galena had about as many delightful and locally-sourced restaurants as our downtown Chicago neighborhood but with a distinctly rural sophistication. Fried Green Tomatoes
and One Eleven Main
lived up to their praises on yelp.
Galena has an abundance of open space and public parks that are as pleasant to walk as downtown. Grant Park pays tribute to General Ulysses Grant and the 8 other civil war generals which called the town home. A pedway across the river also gives one appreciation of how massively the river can swell during the spring.
|Grant Park Flora
|View from the top of the town
We felt that we had done enough walking and eating to justify a retreat to the hotel for the evening. Usually I'm one to stay out until the sun goes down doing outdoorsy things but we really enjoyed the ambiance of the Irish Cottage. There was live music and Irish Dancers at the pub and a surprising amount of talent with both.
|Stand Up Paddleboarders on the Galena River
We spent another lazy morning gorging ourselves on another gigantic "continental" breakfast of quiche and sausage. Horseshoe mound was the destination of the morning. At over 1,000 above sea level, it offered a 40 mile panoramic view of the Mississippi River Valley and Galena. It was strange to think that we were still in Illinois- could have sworn I had somehow traveled back to New England.
Our return trip to Chicago was punctuated by several stops along Highway 20 with similarly sweeping views. Northwest Illinois had so much in the way of outdoors and I was eager to return for more exploration. We did make a brief stop in Apple River Canyon State Park
. If there wasn't already a place in the state named "The Little Grand Canyon", I name it for Apple River Canyon.
Without a topographic map, it would be easy to miss this 300 foot gorge which is encircled by miles of dairy farms. We almost thought we missed it until the road took a precipitous drop into the canyon and it's shady oasis. Three creeks converge at this point to carve a Utah-like slot which is noticeably cooler on otherwise humid June days. A favorite spot for fishing and hiking, we were enamored by the novelty of this rugged canyon.
|Hiking Apple River Canyon State Park
|A perfect spot for fishing or a picnic
We couldn't believe how much we accomplished while we were there in the northern fin of the state but there was clearly much to come back for. The Mississippi river's "highlands" aren't the elevation of the Rockies or Appalachians but I'm finding that the area holds about as much potential for adventure and exploration. By the time our 48 hours had finished, I'd circled at least 12 destinations for future destinations. My more cultured counterpart was happy that these destinations were close to a town she could easily enjoy as well. We've already booked another stay for the Midwest Garlic Festival
Read. Plan. Get Out There!