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Northern Illinois is a region of Illinois generally located immediately along and north of I-80 and outside of Chicagoland. While largely rural, it does include Rockford, the third largest city in Illinois, as well as DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois University.


Map of Northern Illinois
State of Illinois
  Illinois Driftless Area (Jo Daviess and Stephenson County as well as the western portions of Carroll Counties.)
  Illinois River Valley (Kankakee, Grundy, Kendall and LaSalle Counties as well as portions of southern Will County.)
  Kishwaukee Valley (The western portions of McHenry County as well as Boone and DeKalb Counties.)
  McHenry County
  Rock River Valley (Cities and Villages along the Rock River including Rockford, Dixon and Rock Falls-Sterling as well as the nearby countryside in Winnebago, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside Counties as well as the eastern portions of Carroll County.)


  • 1 Rockford - in the Rock River Valley and third-largest city in Illinois.
  • 2 DeKalb - home to the inventor of barbed wire and to Northern Illinois University.
  • 3 Dixon - childhood home of US President Ronald Reagan, also known as the "Petunia City".
  • 4 Freeport - host to the second Lincoln-Douglas debate and home of many late 19th century homes and buildings.
  • 5 Galena - home of Ulysses S. Grant and lots of late 19th century heritage.
  • 6 Harvard
  • 7 LaSalle-Peru Peru, Illinois on Wikipedia
  • 8 Ottawa
  • 9 Sterling-Rock Falls - neighboring cities split by the Rock River.
  • 10 Stockton - small town filled with history and home to J.L. Kraft's first cheese plant
  • 11 Sycamore - DeKalb's "twin city" located to the northeast.
  • 12 Utica

Other destinations[edit]

  • 1 Apple River Canyon State Park Apple River Canyon State Park on Wikipedia - near Stockton: camping, hiking, fishing and hunting amid the limestone bluffs, ravines, springs and streams that characterize northwest Illinois.
  • 2 Apple River Fort Historic Site Apple River Fort on Wikipedia - in Elizabeth: a fort hastily constructed by settlers at the onset of the 1832 Black Hawk War.
  • 3 Apple Canyon Lake Apple Canyon Lake, Illinois on Wikipedia - near Stockton: boating, fishing, golfing; a planned vacation community with 400 acres (160 ha) lake.
  • 4 Castle Rock State Park Castle Rock State Park (Illinois) on Wikipedia - near Oregon: along the bank of the Rock River - boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting.
  • 5 Charles Mound Charles Mound on Wikipedia - near Scales Mound: the highest point in Illinois at 1,235 ft (376 m), located on private property with limited accessibility.
  • 6 Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Recreation Area Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Recreation Area on Wikipedia - near Lena: boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting.
  • 7 Lowden State Park - near Oregon: a site along the Rock River with a statue of Black Hawk as the Eternal Indian - boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting.
  • 8 Mississippi Palisades State Park Mississippi Palisades State Park on Wikipedia - near Savanna: many caves and large cliffs along the Mississippi River along the mouth of the Apple River.
  • 9 Rock Cut State Park Rock Cut State Park on Wikipedia - near Rockford: biking, camping, boating, fishing, hiking, hunting.
  • 10 Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area Shabbona Lake State Park on Wikipedia - near Shabbona: man-made lake created by damming a tributary of the Fox River; boating, camping, fishing, hunting, hiking.
  • 11 Starved Rock State Park Starved Rock State Park on Wikipedia - near Oglesby: boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting in the Rock River Hills region.
  • 12 Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge on Wikipedia - locally, north of Savanna - entire region spans along the Upper Mississippi River from Wabasha, Minnesota, in the north to Rock Island, Illinois, in the south: a 240,000-acre (970 km2), 261-mile long (420 km) wildlife refuge.
  • 13 White Pines Forest State Park White Pines Forest State Park on Wikipedia - near Polo, Mount Morris and Oregon: camping, fishing, hiking, hunting in the Rock River valley.


Northern Illinois is generally considered to be the area of Illinois north of I-80 and outside of Chicagoland. Another way to consider Northern Illinois is by the 815 and 779 area codes. Definitions might slightly differ to include Kankakee and Grundy counties, which may also be considered part of Central Illinois.

Northwestern Illinois topograhpy hilly with bluffs and cliffs, a stark contrast to the majority of the "Prairie State" that is mostly flat or with slightly rolling hills and farmland. This region is home to 9 of the 10 highest points in Illinois, with 8 in Jo Daviess County alone, including the highest point in Illinois, Charles Mound at 1,235 ft (376 m).

Culturally, the entire region is similar to many other rust belt rural areas. Residents tend to be politically conservative.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

By car[edit]

A number of different major routes run through Northern Illinois:


  • Interstate 80 is a cross-country east-west route running through the region, from Indiana and Chicago to the east to the Quad Cities and into Iowa.
  • Interstate 88 (portions tolled) runs east-west from Chicago west through Rochelle, Dixon, Rock Falls and on towards the Quad Cities.
  • Interstate 90 (tolled) connects Rockford and its suburbs with Chicago to the east, and with Madison and Rock County, Wisconsin, to the north. It enters the area near Belvidere and heads northwest before entering Rockford. Once in Rockford, it joins I-39 and turns north exiting at the Wisconsin border.
  • Interstate 39 (portions tolled) runs north-south through the area to Central Illinois and Bloomington-Normal to the south. In Rockford, it joins I-90 and continues north to the Wisconsin border.

US Routes:

  • US Route 20 is a major cross-country east-west route running through the region. Entering just west of Belvidere from Chicagoland, it runs due west and joins I-39 just south of Rockford. From there, it bypasses the city, runs through Freeport and Galena, and crosses the Mississippi River into Iowa at Dubuque.
  • US Route 30 is a major cross-country east-west route running across the Northern Illinois region. Entering the area just east of Kendall County, it runs straight west and connects Dixon and Sterling-Rock Falls before entering Eastern Iowa at Clinton.
  • US Route 52 enters the region from the east in the Mendota area, just north of LaSalle-Peru, then angles northwest through Dixon and Mount Carroll, then at Savanna cross the Mississippi River into Iowa.
  • US Route 51 is a major cross-country north-south route running through the region. Starting in South Beloit, running south (sometimes concurrently with I-80/I-39/US 20) through the region around Rockford, Rochelle, and LaSalle-Peru, then into Central Illinois.

Illinois Routes:

  • Illinois Route 72 runs east-west and connects the middle part of the region, principally Byron.
  • Illinois Route 2, a trans region north-south route, IL 2 starts at the Wisconsin state line in South Beloit, connects Rockford and its suburbs with Oregon, Dixon and Sterling, ending in Sterling.
  • Illinois Route 26 runs north-south from the Wisconsin state line south of Monroe, connecting Freeport and Dixon, continuing into Western Illinois.

Get around[edit]



Companies like Kayak Starved Rock provide unique and educational guided kayak tours as well as kayak rentals to explore the towering St. Peters sandstone bluffs and Bald Eagles.



Stay safe[edit]

Go next[edit]

This region travel guide to Northern Illinois is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!