Best Winter Weekend Getaway at Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

By Trent Jonas

Best Winter Weekend Getaway at Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

Northwestern Illinois is home to some of the state’s most stunning terrain. Rolling hills, forests and towering river bluffs along the Mississippi make this part of Illinois especially gorgeous in the winter months—and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is an awesome place for a great winter weekend getaway in the Land of Lincoln.

Main Street Inn, Galena, IL

Main Street Inn has everyone raving over its location, beyond-hospitable staff, gorgeous interiors, and prime location. What more could you ask for? Right on Main Street in Galena, south of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, you won’t be able to miss this historic inn. You won’t want to leave once you enter the luxurious family-run building (circa 1850). Be sure to book your room with enough time in advance, as there are only six rooms available. Head to the inn to drop off your luggage and begin your winter getaway in style!

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Angela R. Davis (@adavisdst) on

Fritz and Frites Bistro, Galena, IL

Under half a mile from the Inn along Main Street you’ll find this quaint restaurant with nothing short of mouth-watering dishes to fuel you up on your day of wintery adventures. The owners gave Galena the best French and German food in the area. If you’re a garlic lover you’ll love Poulet Roti, and if you’re a meat-eater, grab a plate of corned beef. There’s something for everyone here, the locals and visitors from out of town can both agree!

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Jenn Thomas (@jenncancook) on

Hit the slopes at Chestnut Mountain Resort

The state’s premier ski destination is Chestnut Mountain Resort can be found in the vibrant town of Galena. The resort offers 19 ski trails, a seven-acre terrain park and nearly 500 feet of vertical over more than 220 acres of rolling hills and bluffs. And there’s plenty of opportunity for some apres ski fun at the resort’s restaurants, bars and lodge.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Chestnut Mountain (@chestnutmtn) on

Grab a winter photo op

Not only will you find sweeping vistas up and down the bluff-lined Mississippi River Valley in the refuge, you’re sure to encounter many of the birds and other species that use the river as a flyway during the winter months. Be sure to bring your camera and check some migratory species—such as bald and golden eagles—off your list of birds to see.

Reel in a river monster

The waters of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge include the massive river itself, as well as the backwaters, sloughs and lakes that have been created by millennia of flooding, sediment build-up and channel alterations. This creates unique winter angling opportunities like ice fishing on the frozen backwaters (when ice is thick enough) or chasing leviathans in the channels. Make sure you have all the appropriate licenses and know where you can fish before you go. 

Cross-country ski the Galena River Trail

The Galena River Trail, just outside the refuge and near the historic city of Galena, follows the river of the same name for six scenic miles. It makes for a perfect day of out-and-back cross-country skiing. If you don’t feel like skiing the entire 12 miles, you can always follow one of the shorter trails in junction to the trail

Fat bike the Great River Trail

One awesome way to experience the winter majesty of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge is by rolling through the refuge on two wheels. The best place to do so is the stretch of the Great River Trail that cuts through the refuge, away from highways and most vehicle traffic, southward from the town of Savanna. If you bike the length of the 10-mile segment to Thomson, you’ll see plenty of what the refuge has to offer—without much elevation gain. Keep going if you want to challenge your quads. 

Bag a trophy

Mississippi Palisades State Park is contiguous with the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, and during season, 1,500 acres of the park is open for hunting. Licensed hunters can take deer or wild turkey during archery seasons. A limited firearm hunt is also offered to a small number of hunters every year. Be sure to check the Illinois DNR website for current seasons, regulations and restrictions before you go.

Hike or snowshoe the Bittersweet/Deer Trails

Some of the best hiking or snowshoeing in the refuge is located in the contiguous Mississippi Palisades State Park. Lace up your boots, and depending on the snow depth, strap on your snowshoes, and head out on the Bittersweet Trail. When it meets up with Deer Trail, follow the loop around and return to the trailhead via the Bittersweet Trail for an under-five-mile round trip trek.

Galena Brewing Company, Galena, IL

After a long weekend of adventure, you’ll definitely want to unwind at Galena Brewing Company. With an exciting menu full of cheesy goodness, this place is perfect for capping off the weekend. There is an array of different beer to choose from, such as Miner’s Treasure Amber Ale and the award-winning Famer’s Blonde Ale. Be sure to come on an empty stomach because the giant pretzels and cheddar biscuits will be calling your name! 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Galena Brewery (@galenabrewery) on

Subscribe for future Step Outside News!