Discover the Wonder of Winter in LaSalle County
Want to make this winter unforgettable? Spend a few days in LaSalle County, located just 90 miles southwest of Chicago, where you can hike snow-covered forests, marvel at glistening ice falls and bask in the season’s glory.
If you’re feeling adventurous, go ice climbing at Starved Rock State Park or cross-country skiing at Matthiessen State Park. Visitors to Starved Rock can also take a guided winter hike, watch sled dog demos or look for bald eagles that flock to the county in droves every winter – the best season to witness these once-endangered creatures in their natural habitat.
Starved Rock Trolley Tours
For a fantastic way to see Starved Rock, board one of the park’s two trolleys, Ranger and Bella. The cozy trolleys take guests on both historic and seasonal tours, including Christmas Lights Tours and Discover the Eagles Tours in winter; Waterfalls & Canyon Tours in spring; and Fall Colors Tours in autumn.
Witness thousands of twinkling lights from the comfort of a heated trolley on the Christmas Lights Tours. The festive, illuminated tour winds through the LaSalle, Peru, Oglesby and Utica areas.
Discover the Eagles Trolley Tours take place in January and February on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Remember to bring binoculars and a camera. This tour includes an eagle presentation at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center and lunch. Reservations, required for all tours, can be made by calling (815) 220-7386.
LaSalle County History
Imagine what life was like when American Indians roamed the Illinois River Valley at the LaSalle County History Museum, housed in a restored 1848 sandstone building in Utica. The museum complex includes a barn, a blacksmith shop and a one-room schoolhouse. Displays include a collection of ceremonial and utilitarian tools used by Indians, furnishings from an 1850s prairie house, and pioneer tools and clothing worn by early LaSalle County settlers who died in the Indian Creek Massacre. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday.
The storybook cottage in Streator known as Weber House & Garden serves as a private residence, but owner Ted Weber opens it for tours daily from April through October so guests can enjoy its 18th-century furnishings and decor. In December, see 1700s-era Christmas decorations made from greens, pine cones, fruits and flowers adorn the home, along with multiple Christmas trees. Call ahead for special holiday hours.
Other historic homes include the Hegeler Carus Mansion, a National Historic Landmark in LaSalle, and Reddick Mansion, an Italianate home in Ottawa listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Reddick Mansion serves as the starting point for the Ottawa Mural Walking Tour for which your smartphone can become a time-travel machine. You’ll hear the strike of a pickax as men build the canal and the thundering hooves of a buffalo stampede along the tour of Ottawa’s hand-painted murals that depict the area’s history.
LaSalle County Shopping
While in Ottawa’s Old Town District, shop for antiques, collectibles and gifts at a number of boutique-style stores.
Wine lovers shouldn’t miss downtown Utica’s Winter Wine Walk held the second Saturday in February. Ride the free shuttle among a dozen different stops to enjoy wine, food, shopping and fun. Tickets are required.
If all that walking works up an appetite, stop in Utica’s Cajun Connection restaurant for a bite. Owner Ron McFarlain grew up in the swamps of Louisiana and has been educating the locals on Cajun food for 20 years. The menu features fried alligator, jambalaya, gumbo, oysters, peel-and-eat shrimp, frog legs, red beans and rice, and lots more. Check out the full menu at ronscajunconnection.com.