In the early days of the area, the Rock River was an important navigable river connecting the Mississippi to portions of northern Illinois and south central Wisconsin. The area was renowned for manufacturing and industry. It has since fallen on hard times, and many parts of the area are now known for unemployment and economic depression. However, there are many beautiful natural sites and unique attractions in the area worth visiting.
A number of different major routes crisscross the Rock River Valley.
- Interstate 90 (tolled): Interstate 90 connects Rockford and its suburbs to Chicago, Madison and Rock County. It enters the area near Belvidere and heads northwest before entering Rockford. Once it Rockford, it joins I-39 and turns north exiting at the Wisconsin border.
- Interstate 39 (portions tolled): Interstate 39 connects Rockford and Rochelle to Bloomington-Normal and runs north-south through the area. In Rockford, it joins I-90 and continues north to the Wisconsin border.
- Route 20: US Route 20 runs east-west through the region. Entering just west of Belvidere, it runs due west and joins I-39 just south of Rockford. From there, it bypasses the city and resumes a western course to Freeport and ultimately connects the area to Galena (Illinois) and Dubuque.
- Route 30: US Route 30 also runs an east-west course through the extreme southern portions of the region. Entering the area just east of Kendall County, it runs straight west and connects Dixon (Illinois) and Sterling-Rock Falls before entering Eastern Iowa.
- Illinois Route 2: A transregion north-south route, IL 2 connects Rockford and its suburbs with Dixon and Sterling.
- Illinois Route 251: A north-south route, IL 251 connect Rockford and its suburbs with Rochelle.
- Illinois Route 72: IL 72 runs east west and connects the middle part of the region, principally Byron.
Rockford has a mass transit system, but the majority of the region is only accessible via car.
- Byron Dragway: The Byron Dragway is a local car racing track located immediately outside of Byron. The track typically has races each weekend during the spring and summer.
- Rock River Activities: The Rock River Valley is dotted with numerous parks, picnic areas and boat launches for those who would like to enjoy the scenery and canoe or kayak on the river. Many of these areas are on Illinois Route 2.
The Rock River Valley is close to Chicagoland and many of the regional beers, wines and liquors are available in this area (often at a lower price than what can be found closer to the city). In addition to those, the region has some distinctive local breweries including the following:
- Prairie Street Brewing (based in Rockford)
- Carlyle Brewing (based in Rockford)
- Pecatonica Brewing (based in Pecatonica)