Peoria is a city built on the western shores of Peoria Lake, a huge reservoir that is part of the Illinois River. With an urban spread of over fifty square miles, it's a city that covers its fair share of the state of Illinois' central terrains. Peoria has a big history too and was first settled way back in the late 1600s by French explorers. That's a history that is remembered and recorded in the city's Riverfront Museum.
Although Peoria has its economy firmly rooted in the industrial manufacturing sector, it's a city with relatively low air pollution which makes it great for enjoying outdoor recreation in any of its expansive public green spaces. For a city with over two thousand people occupying each of the square miles it covers, Peoria has a laid back, sedate ambiance that makes it pleasurable to explore. Two main events that occur in Peoria every year can change that drastically. The Heart of Illinois Fair is a five-day festival held in the Exposition Gardens featuring everything from motorsports to music to beauty pageants. The fair and the Steamboat Classic running race, as can be expected, both attract large crowds of visitors to the city.
If you have time off and just want a quiet couple of days, consider planning a weekend road from Peoria to Salina in Kansas to escape the mayhem of either. Hit the I24 and follow the course of the Illinois River as it winds its way westward through the state and as you journey the five hundred miles, stop off to enjoy watersports in a state park, visit a museum dedicated to Walt Disney and take a tour around a vineyard in the prairies. You'll find the change of scene totally refreshing and return to Peoria feeling like new.
After around three and a half hours of motoring down the highway, including crossing over the Mississippi River and entering the state of Missouri, stop off and pitch camp at the Long Branch State Park. The state park is situated on the southern shores of Long Branch Lake near the town of Bevier. The campground there is open all year round, although some amenities like water and showers are only available from the beginning of April to the end of October. You can make a campsite reservation if you prefer, though there are always some that are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you don't have a craft to get out on the water, you can rent from the marina. They have everything from kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, kneeboards, and tubes. Relax at the beach, go fishing or head off hiking the park's trails leading across the prairies and through the Chariton River Hills Natural Area. Whatever you choose to do, you'll find it's a serene spot and one teeming with birdlife. Take some binoculars and you could see colorful kingfishers flitting around the shores of Long Branch Lake searching for food.
There is one name, synonymous with the film world, that has been part of most people's lives since their childhood. Everyone has a favorite film or character created by the Disney company or remember and love the early animations made by the founder, Walt Disney. As you continue your weekend road trip from Peoria to Salina, pull in to the rural community of Marceline in Missouri to visit the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.
The Walt Disney Hometown Museum houses an immense collection of personal artefacts and memorabilia pertinent to Walt, who was born there, and his family who lived in Marceline. The items on display range from correspondence to photographs and movie clips featuring the man himself. Housed in what was once a railway station adjacent to the museum there's an exhibition that relates the arrival of the Santa Fe railroad in the city and the effects it had on the people and economy.
As you roll through the prairies of Kansas on your weekend road trip to Salina, after you've gone around Kansas City, you'll pass by one location which looks much more verdant than the rest of its surroundings. The Holy Field Vineyards and Winery occupies thirty acres of ground just south of Basehor which lies around three miles north of the I 70 along the I73. There is a good-sized parking lot at the winery so no problems rolling up in your rig.
The extensive grounds of the vineyards are planted with over twelve thousand vines and stretch almost as far as the eye can see in a sweep of lush green. Once you've had a tour of those, and learned all there is to know about varieties, you can get down to the serious business of tasting what they produce. The Holy Field Winery produces more than seven thousand gallons of different wines every year – so there's no shortage of vintages to savor.
If you decide to make your road trip in the fall, around the end of August or sometime in September, it could coincide with harvesting time at the vineyard. Book a place in advance, then turn up early to help bring in the ripe grapes from the vines. The picking parties are usually held on Sundays so are an ideal and rewarding activity on a weekend road trip. If you're traveling with children, no worries, they can pick too.
It's an undeniable truth that a weekend road trip can fly by in the blink of an eye. No sooner will you have left Peoria than you'll be arriving in Salina after having driven through fields and fields of wheat growing on the prairies of Kansas. While Salina may be in the midst of an enormous agricultural area, there is nothing rural about the city whatsoever and even though it may share its name with a tiny Sicilian island, it isn't coastal either. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy some water-oriented activities there, you can.
Make a big splash in the Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park or take your photo standing in front of the city's unusually shaped water tower before browsing the Smoky Hill Museum or hiking up Indian Hill. Even if you run out of time to do the things you want to in Salina, the good thing is, as it's not so far from Peoria, you can always come back another weekend.