Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Apple Canyon River State Park
8763 E. Canyon Road, Apple River, Ill., (815) 745-3302, dnr.state.il.us
Though relatively small, this park and its 297 acres have much to offer visitors.
Part of the Driftless Area, its hills and valleys weren’t swept away by the glaciers that leveled nearby areas.
Carved even more by the winding Apple River, the park’s limestone bluffs, deep ravines and numerous streams are home to abundant wildlife including 47 types of birds, eagles and hawks. It also supports 14 ferns and 165 varieties of flowers.
Campers will find large campsites made private by surrounding tall trees, with electricity, drinking water and toilets but no showers. For anglers, the clear water of the Apple River holds bass, crappie, sunfish and other species, as well as keeper-sized trout released each year by the IDNR. Hikers can choose from five trails, some of which can be completed in an hour, but with elevation changes and great scenery; one crosses over the river.
The park has four picnic areas, with tables and grills, and three shelters that can be reserved. Drinking water and toilets are located in places along the river bank.
Attractions nearby include wineries, golf courses, historic sites like Ulysses S. Grant’s home in Galena and the Apple River Fort in Elizabeth, riverboat rides, shopping, and fine dining.
Chocolate Experience Museum
113 E. Chestnut St., Suite B, Burlington, Wis., (262) 763-6044, burlingtonchamber.org
This museum honors the town’s designation as “Chocolate City USA.” The moniker was bestowed in 1987 by then Gov. Tommy Thomson, to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1967 opening of the Nestlé Chocolate & Confection Co. in Burlington.
Located in the Chamber of Commerce office, the museum offers several chocolate carvings, including a Pegasus made of white chocolate and four solid chocolate pieces. Also, Farfel the Dog, originally a puppet created by ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson, relates the history of chocolate.
Baby boomers may remember the Nestle Quik jingle: “N-E-S-T-L-E-S. Nestlé’s makes the very best … ,” when Farfel would sing the last word in a low register: “Choc-late.”
See other creations made from chocolate morsels, test your chocolate knowledge and buy chocolate gift items.
Every Memorial Day weekend, Burlington’s Chocolate Fest features live music, children’s activities and a Chocolate Parade.
The museum is open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sat., 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Amboy Depot Museum
99 E. Main St., Amboy, Ill., (815) 857-4700, amboydepot.org
This museum is located in the former depot and headquarters of the Illinois Central Railroad (ICR).
While settlers had lived in the area since 1835, Amboy itself was laid out by the ICR in 1855, as it built the first rail line to connect Cairo to Galena. Because the route was largely uninhabited, the ICR established towns every 10 miles, with each main street leading directly to the train depot. Amboy became its division headquarters in this part of the state.
The original depot burned in 1875, and its replacement, which stands today, was completed in 1876, with two floors, the first serving as the station depot and the second providing offices for accountants, engineers and other ICR staff. In 1894, ICR restructured and eliminated all divisional headquarters, which also eliminated many jobs in Amboy. The station agent and his family used the second floor of the depot as a residence, but the bottom floor, with its large winding stairway, eight-foot tall windows and 11-foot high ceilings, was unchanged and remains an excellent example of railroad architecture of the 19th century.
ICR closed the depot in 1967 and leased the building to the City of Amboy in 1973; the City and its citizens, who donated building materials and items for exhibits, restored the building for the 1976 bicentennial and opened it as a museum. When the ICR abandoned its charter line to Amboy in 1984, the City took outright possession of the depot and the adjacent rail yard. With no tax support for upkeep, however, by 1991, the building was in a desperate state of disrepair, with the threat of being closed to the public.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, the depot was saved by a then-new Federal Highway Administration program that funded restoration of transportation structures listed on the register. Following a complete renovation, the Amboy Depot Museum Grand Opening was celebrated in June 2003, with artifacts and exhibits that chronicle both the history of the railroad and of the town, which, like a railroad track, follow a parallel path.
The museum is open Thurs. and Sun.,1-4 p.m., and Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free, with donations accepted.