Caution: As of Sept. 15, 2014: Due to severe storm washouts that occurred last summer, there are closed sections of the trail on its northern end between Toulon and Princeville. Check the state's DNR website or the Friends of the Rock Island Trail Facebook page for updates on the repairs.
The Rock Island Trail has two distinct sections. Its southern half (sometimes referred to as the Kellar Branch Trail), stretching from Peoria's riverfront to the community of Alta, has an urban feel. Managed by the Peoria Park District, this newer, fully paved 13-mile section was completed in 2014.
The trail's southern section provides access to two family-friendly Peoria attractions: the stunning Riverfront Museum and the Caterpillar Visitor Center, showcasing exhibits by the familiar black-and-yellow branded construction equipment company that's headquartered here. Older, but no less worthwhile attractions, include the historical Springdale Cemetery founded in 1855 and Glen Oak Park, which dates back to the late 1800s and houses a zoo, botanical garden, fishing lagoon and other recreational amenities.
Note that the Peoria section includes two short on-road sections between Abington Street and War Memorial Drive.
The northern section of the trail runs from Alta, in Peoria County, to Toulon, in Stark County, connecting the towns of Alta, Dunlap, Princeville, Wyoming and Toulon. This crushed rock portion, stretching more than 20 miles, has been managed as an Illinois State Park trail since 1989. Its connecting links through small towns are along well-marked streets with light traffic. This trail paints a great picture of central Illinois as it travels through friendly small towns, classic Midwestern farmland, and woodlands. The trail owes its name to the Peoria and Rock Island Railroad Company trains that once ran passengers and freight on this line.
Heading north from the Peoria Heights trailhead in Alta, have your camera ready to capture the views from the first overlook that comes up quickly. The farm and woodland setting of much of this trail is definitely picture-worthy. The corridor continues its straight-as-an-arrow path through farm fields as far as the eye can see. The trees lining the trail offer respite from the sun and also harbor a wide variety of bird life.
About 6 miles north of the county line trailhead, the fields start giving way to the outskirts of the small town of Wyoming. Upon entering Wyoming proper, look for the trail headquarters on the left. The restored Chicago Burlington & Quincy Depot, a bright, barn-red building, is absolutely beautiful, complete with the restored wooden cantilevers on the roofline. The depot also houses a visitor center and railroad museum.
The scenery becomes more heavily wooded as you leave Wyoming and enter the Spoon River area. The Spoon River is a great spot to stop for a rest and admire the trestle bridge that spans the river. The bridge has observation bump-outs that offer a convenient rest stop, with the wooded river valley for a backdrop.
After a mile, you leave the tree cover behind, and the scenery switches back to farm fields for the remainder of your journey. State Route 17 indicates your imminent arrival in Toulon, where the trail ends just east of town.
On the trail's southern end, parking is available along the Peoria RiverFront.
To access the Alta trailhead, take Interstate 74 to State Route 6 and head northeast for 5.5 miles. Take Exit 5 and turn north onto Allen Road. About 0.4 miles ahead, follow the main traffic flow to the left, as the road westward becomes Alta Lane/West Alta Road/County Highway 21. The trailhead is a half-mile ahead, on the right.
To reach the midway trailhead from I-74, take SR 6 north to Exit 2/US 150. Turn right at the exit and travel west on US 150 for just shy of a half-mile. Take SR 91 north through the towns of Dunlap and Princeville, for about 19 miles, and then turn right on County Line Road. The trailhead is on the right in a half-mile.
To access the Toulon trailhead from I-74, take Exit 71 to SR 78 north for 17 miles and turn right on SR 17. Follow it for just over 4 miles, through Toulon to the trailhead on the left, just east of town.