3 Hours or Less From Chicago: Mississippi Palisades State Park

Why on a map the Mississippi looks like a never ending S
The Driftless Area in Illinois (a hilly land that glaciers have never known) is confined mostly to Jo Daviess County with charming Galena the definite tourist hub. Away from Galena, the country is decidedly less built up with towns like Savanna (about thirty miles south of Galena and situated near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple River) neither thriving nor overtly struggling. Immediately north of Savanna is Mississippi Palisades State Park.
Campfire fun
For us, camping is usually more a means to an end instead of a destination. Some of our favorite places to be last summer, such as Twillingate, involved us sleeping in a crowded field (but man the icebergs and whales were something to see). Mississippi Palisades State Park is an inversion of that. Although a beautiful area to explore, the main attraction for us was the tree ringed campground. There also is no light pollution which in August meant scanning the Milky Way streaked skies for shooting stars (which we counted until our sore necks returned us to the fire). And aside from the hooting owls and howling coyotes (whose sudden cries startled us around midnight and then stopped just as suddenly) we had few neighbors. The campground also features many restored prairie areas that were bursting with colorful grasses and flowers. The hummingbirds were many, the bugs were few, and for $10 it was the perfect place to be.
Bittersweet
The state park is divided into two units with the southern one better geared for hiking. We especially enjoyed the loop trail leading to an overlook of Sentinel Rock (a premier Midwest rock climbing destination). Past the overview the trail does involve some bush whacking and if you park at the base of the hill, make sure you follow the sing to the “Main Shelter” in order to return to your car. Other trails from the southern unit are shorter and lead to nice views of the forever windy Mississippi. The campground is in the northern unit and has a series of poorly marked, buggy trails that lead to obscured views of the river. Good times there.
Fartheewell Summer
Driving home on our beloved Route 20 (which will take you west all the way to Newport, Oregon) we stopped at a wonderful farm stand a little east of Freeport. Sitting near a bunch of pens holding sheep and other animals, I met a man watching his two great-grandchildren. He was young for a great-grandfather (maybe early 60s) and looked to be as content as a man could be. The more I talked to him the more I liked him and pretty soon I learned that he and his wife were more than just watching the great-grandchildren (his daughter “has some troubles”). I also learned that he lived in Schaumburg but fell so in love with Jo Daviess County he moved to the country a few years ago. The only thing he misses is the restaurants. Watching Henna contentedly feeding the lucky farm animals I understood his decision. Eventually we had to leave and, with our car filled with sweet corn and other goodies, we made the trek back to Chicago.

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