A holiday weekend, no plans, what to do? Road trip? While I invited my whole family, only the little adventure buddy was up for two days of driving the Rock River Trail (Southbound), roads roughly paralleling the Rock River National Water Trail. At 300+ miles long, it could easily be driven in a day, but we scheduled two, just to allow for time to stop and smell the roses, as it were.
Our trip started in Waupun, WI, after a night in a hotel not too far away. Since I was doing all the driving, I wanted to be fresh for the trip and not adding 2 1/2 hours of driving that same morning. Plus, we love staying in hotels.
A side note to our road trip: while the Rock River Trail can be paddled or driven (also hiked, biked, or flown), it can also be tasted, via the Rock River Chocolate Trail. Yes, the organizers of the trail have scouted out candy shops along the way as an additional way to experience this trip. There are 13 stops on the Chocolate Trail and we aimed to visit 9 of them – of that, we got to 5 of them, due to our trip taking place on a Sunday and holiday Monday. Yum.
First off, the drive is through some amazingly beautiful countryside. While the route is sometimes tortured in its attempt to follow the river, it also means plenty of time on small side roads through rolling farmland and other less developed areas.
Second, the routing also means visits to small towns in Wisconsin and Illinois that would otherwise never come onto our radar. That’s a shame, because we saw some great old architecture and roadside attractions that made this trip WAY more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Some of these small towns were near death, with empty storefronts and a general feeling of emptiness, but others surprised us with their vitality and neat appearance (where is the money coming from?!).
From the start, we were really impressed with the signage that the Trail organizers have provided. It seemed like we could drive the entire route without referring to a map. That was Day 1. While Day 2 started off similarly, the signage disappeared halfway through Illinois – from Sterling on down to the end in Rock Island, signs were few and far between.
Maybe we missed them and maybe they’re not there, but I was glad I had printed the entire route from the website. Between that packet and my phone’s GPS, we figured out most of the trip and didn’t get too far off track. Hopefully that is something that will be fixed in the future.
I don’t know what you’re definition of a road trip is, but I can heartily recommend driving the Rock River Trail. It was the perfect blend of an organized trip (pre-planned route), with so many chances of serendipity along the way. It’s also a great introduction to the National Water Trails System, experienced from a car.
You could probably drive this route several times and see it differently each time. Maybe one of these days we’ll drive it Northbound, just to see how differently that turns out.
What’s a great road trip you recommend?