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Trip Report: Chestnut, Galena Make A Scenic Summer Combo

Chestnut Mountain Sunset Grill

Just having returned from my first summer visit to the Galena, Illinois, area and Chestnut Mountain I was blown away by the scenic beauty of the region and all it has to offer visitors.

Having visited Chestnut in the winter I was aware of the stunning views of the Mississippi River from the resort, perched on a 500-foot bluff overlooking the mighty river, but they are even better in the summer.  I’m told that fall is outstanding with all the hardwood covered hills and bluffs.

Galena, a treasure trove of pre-Civil War buildings and a dozen or so Victorian mansions-turned B&Bs, is arguably one of the prettiest 19th century towns in the Heartland. The little town produced nine Civil War generals and post-war president Ulysses S. Grant. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln all made stops in Galena prior to the Civil War. Grant’s home is now open to the public, as are many of the town’s mansions to tour.  The historic main street is home to a variety of boutiques and a handful of antique stores. You can take a walking tour of this Heartland shrine on Sundays with a Grant look-alike leading the way.

A bike/hiking trail meanders for five miles along the Galena River on its way south to join the Mississippi and north of town to a nature preserve. Eventually they hope to extend the bike path from where it currently ends south of town along the railroad tracks out to Chestnut where you could take a chairlift up to the hotel for lunch or libations. It’s a hilly eight-mile drive from the resort into town.    

Chestnut Alpine Slide

I would be hard pressed to find a better dining spot in the Midwest than the deck of Chestnut’s Sunset Grille, lunch or dinner. The deck looks out over the Mississippi River and the slopes where skiers and boarders glide in the winter leading down to the water’s edge. The menu features a variety of steaks, fish and daily specials to go along with that wonderful view.

The friendly wait staff quickly responds to all your needs. I saw paddle wheelers and barges churning up the river toward the Twin Cities, and sunset views were outstanding. A nice breeze and large umbrellas made it very tolerable sitting out on the deck despite the warm lower Midwest temperatures.

Chestnut offers a variety of activities on property; chairlift rides, an alpine slide, Segway tours, disc golf, bike and hiking paths, and Mississippi Explorer River cruises where naturalists point out eagles’ nests, islands and wildlife on the 90-minute trip. Hurtling down the alpine slide is a blast. It looks like you’re heading right into the river on the way down. A short hike out to an open point on the property offers one of the best views of the river corridor passing far below you. It’s a tri-state view where you see Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin from the point. The Segway tour will also get you to the point.

Another quick side trip that I found worthwhile was a visit to Mississippi Palisades State Park within 20 miles of Chestnut. The road runs along the riverbank, and you can head further into the park for bluff-top views that breed Lewis and Clark-like moments of discovery. 

This was an area that had flown under my radar, but for a quick summer getaway it’s outstanding. It’s a combination of scenery and history that you won’t find anywhere else in the Midwest.  Loved waking up in the morning looking out over the Mississippi River valley from my hotel room.

Chestnut is offering a July special that includes a two-night stay on Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday for $89 per person, based on double occupancy.  It includes a complementary breakfast. 

Photos: Top -- Sunset Grill, Chestnut Mountain Resort; Bottom -- Alpine Slide, Chestnut Mountain Resort 

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