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The Illinois River: Paddleboats, Canals and Treasured State Parks

Program Number: 4267RJ
Start and End Dates:
6/8/2014 - 6/11/2014; 6/12/2016 - 6/15/2016;
Duration: 3 nights
Location: Peoria, Illinois
Price starting at: $675.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: History & Culture Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 9; 3 Breakfasts, 3 Lunches, 3 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian    

When you make your way along the Illinois River and its shorelines, discover a treasure trove of history — from the stories of early Native Americans to the nostalgic era of the 19th century and back to modern day. Experience the “Spirit of Peoria,” a 19th-century replica paddleboat, sailing the Illinois River from Peoria to Utica. Visit Starved Rock State Park for an immersive look into the history of Woodland Indian tribes. Finally, learn how the Army Corps of Engineers maintains Starved Rock Lock as you meet the rangers, and hear how “Wild” Bill Hickok once drove mule teams along the Illinois & Michigan Canal.


• Learn about the history and ecology of the river as you spend a day on board the paddleboat “Spirit of Peoria.”
• Learn about the raptors that make Illinois their home during a live birds of prey demonstration.
• Discover the I & M Canal as you ride along by mule-drawn replica packet boat.

Activity Particulars

Minimal walking and standing on this program.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Peoria, Ill., 1 night; travel onboard the “Spirit of Peoria” en route to Utica, 2 nights; coach to Peoria, departure.

Coordinated by Illinois Valley Community College.


This Illinois River community is at the heart of central Illinois' many riches, including Native American history and culture, unique river ecology and wildlife, and the magnificent Starved Rock State Park, Illinois' premier state park known for its canyons and waterfalls.

Comfortable hotels throughout; 1930s-era stone-and-log lodge at the park.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Bob Anton

“You know, you look a lot like Mark Twain.” This observation from steamboat captain Dennis Trone was all that was needed to inspire Bob Anton to pursue a career as a living history interpreter. With a white suit and a background as a teacher, Bob began to educate and entertain audiences as “Mark Twain.” After retiring from the Peoria public school district, he served as captain of the steamboat Spirit of Peoria from 1988-1993, and later as the captain of the Julia Belle Swain.
Meals and Lodgings
   The Mark Twain Hotel
  Peoria, IL 1 night
   Starved Rock Lodge
  Utica, IL (Starved Rock State Park) 2 nights
 The Mark Twain Hotel
Type: Hotel
  Description: Built in 1967, the building now known as the Mark Twain Hotel was purchased by the former mayor of Peoria in 1990. Guests are greeted by a style that is hip, yet warm and comfortable, beginning with the moment you walk in – you can even smell it in the atmosphere. Sink into the soft leather chairs in the lobby, cozy up to the custom-built oak fireplace and relax to the sounds of upbeat music and friendly conversation. Open up your laptop, reader or tablet - wireless internet access is always complimentary to Mark Twain Hotel guests. If you didn't bring yours, borrow a tablet from the front desk so you can catch up on your email or check on the weather. Or sip on a complimentary Starbucks coffee or cocoa as you browse 300+ titles in our DVD library. This is the Mark Twain Hotel and yes, you are still in Peoria.
  Contact info: 225 NE Adams Street
Peoria, IL 61602 USA
phone: 309-676-3600
  Room amenities: 100% Non-Smoking Guestrooms Cable/Satellite TV Iron/Ironing board Coffee Maker Microwave Flat Panel TV with DVD player Hair Dryer Room Service Mini-Fridge Contact Road Scholar if you need to make a reservation requiring special request such as an ADA compliant room.
  Facility amenities: Airport Shuttle Fitness Center Free Local Calls Cable Coffee Maker Microwave Flat Panel TV with DVD player Hair Dryer Iron/Ironing Board Room Service Restaurant on Premises Mini-Fridge Fitness center on-site *Pool: There is no pool on-site, however you can ask at the hotel desk for a River Plex pass and shuttle ride to the Peoria River Plex where a pool is available. The River Plex is located a few blocks from the hotel.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Check in time: 3:00 PM

 Starved Rock Lodge
Type: Hotel
  Description: Located within Starved Rock State Park, Illinois' premier state park. Starved Rock Lodge and Cabins were designed by Joseph F. Booten and constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The lodge has a central lounge, known as the Great Hall, hotel wings and a dining room wing. On its exterior, the lodge is primarily constructed of stone, unhewed logs, clapboard and wood shingles. Booten’s design intended to impress upon visitors the idea of a “woodsy retreat”. This is seen in the way he designed round log purlins whose unevenly hewn ends extend beyond the lodge’s eaves. Despite the changes through modernization the lodge still retains much of the charm its architect intended. Relax in the rustic beauty and comfort of Starved Rock Lodge.
  Contact info: PO Box 570
Rt. 178 and 71
Utica, IL 61373 USA
phone: 800-868-7625
  Room amenities: 100% Non-Smoking Rooms Flat-screen TV Cable Hair Dryer Iron/Ironing Board Wireless internet Contact Road Scholar if you need to make a reservation requiring special request such as an ADA compliant room.
  Facility amenities: Historic building with modern amenities Indoor pool Hot tub Sauna Outdoor patio On-site restaurant On-site lounge Computers available on second floor to check email Access to trails
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Check-In begins at 3:00 PM at hotel in Peoria, IL. You will be staying at The Mark Twain Hotel that night.
  End of Program:
2:30 PM at hotel in Peoria, IL. You will be staying at Starved Rock Lodge the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Completed health form returned to coordinator prior to arrival. Valid photo ID such as driver's license.
  Parking availability:
There is a free on-site parking lot at the hotel in Peoria. Your vehicle will remain here for the duration of the program.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Peoria, IL
  Nearest city or town:  Peoria
  Nearest highway: I-74
  Nearest airport:  Peoria Airport (PIA)
  From End of Program
  Location:  Utica, IL (Starved Rock State Park)
  Nearest city or town:  Utica
  Nearest highway: I-74
  Nearest airport:  Peoria Airport (PIA)
Travel Details

Peoria International Airport


From Airport




Hotel Shuttle
Mark Twain Hotel
phone: 309-676-3600


Per Person/One Way:


Hotel shuttle is complimentary for hotel guests.
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


15-20 minutes 




8 miles


Please use a courtesy phone at the airport to call for transportation via hotel shuttle when you arrive at the airport and have collected your baggage. RETURN: Advance Reservation Required. Please talk to the hotel desk upon arrival regarding your departure day/time at completion of the program. Drop is at your terminal at Peoria International Airport. Reservation required.

Driving Directions
  From eastbound I-74 Follow I-74 East straight into Downtown Peoria. Take Exit 92B. At stoplight, continue straight to Fayette Street (one way). After three blocks, turn right into parking lot of hotel. *Please obey the speed limits on I-74 since cameras are being used to monitor speeding.
  From westbound I-74 Take I-74 West to Peoria. Just before reaching Peoria, you will cross the Murray-Baker Bridge (Illinois River). Stay in the Right Lane on the Bridge. Take Exit 93, marked Adams/Jefferson Streets. At second stoplight, turn left onto Jefferson (one way). Go one block and turn left on Fayette (one way). Hotel parking lot is immediately to the right. *Please obey the speed limits on I-74 since cameras are being used to monitor speeding.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Arrlival/Orientation/River Ecology
(Sunday, June 8)
 Afternoon: Hotel Check-in begins at 3 p.m. at the Mark Twain Hotel (located in downtown Peoria). Your room will be reserved under “Spirit of Peoria” group. You will receive your room keys from the hotel staff. Your coordinator, Kim Koehler, will be at a Road Scholar program check-in table in the hotel lobby, and you can check in with her anytime between 3-5 p.m. on Sunday afternoon to receive your program schedule, nametag, materials and luggage tags.
 Dinner: 6 p.m. - Dinner will be held at Packard Plaza a short walk outdoors. Packard Plaza is next door to the hotel (approximately 100 feet). You will be advised of the location of the banquet room when you check in with Kim. A brief orientation meeting and introductions will be made following dinner.
 Evening: A program on “River Ecology” by Brian “Fox” Ellis, historian and riverlorian for the Spirit of Peoria will set the tone for the days ahead. Brian will take you back in history as we learn about Native American trade routes, significance of Peoria, and the formation of the Illinois River valley through stories and song.
Accommodations: The Mark Twain Hotel
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Enjoy a full day on the Illinois river learning about it's history, lore and ecology. The Spirit of Peoria travels at a leisurely pace of 7 m.p.h. as we make our way upstream.
(Monday, June 9)
 Breakfast: 8-9 a.m. – Breakfast will be served on board the Spirit of Peoria Paddleboat. Boarding begins at 8 a.m.
 Morning: 7:45-8 a.m. In the morning, participants can either take a shuttle van or walk a few blocks to the Illinois River where we’ll board the Spirit of Peoria for a nostalgic journey “up river” on a 19th century replica paddleboat at the leisurely pace of 7 m.p.h. Enjoy panoramic views, hear river stories, on board musical entertainment, and just relax as you gain a unique perspective of life on the river. Don’t forget your camera and binoculars!
 Lunch: On board the Spirit of Peoria.
 Afternoon: Afternoon presentations such as storytelling, piano, banjo, and guitar music, and maybe even an old time sing-a-long. Watch for the heron, egrets, bald eagles, white pelicans, red tail hawk, and even the occasional turkey vulture. Learn about commerce on the river as we travel upstream. Listen to the calliope ring through the river valley. Wine and cheese will be served mid-afternoon (complimentary)
 Dinner: On board the Spirit of Peoria featuring Prime Rib.
 Evening: After a full day on the river, we will arrive at Starved Rock State Park at approximately 6 p.m., depending on river and weather conditions. Trolley transfer from the boat landing to the lodge. After you have had time to settle into your room, join us in the Great Hall at Starved Rock Lodge for a visit from “Mark Twain”. Bob Anton has performed as “Mark Twain” since the late 1970’s. He is retired from Peoria Public School District and was captain of the Spirit of Peoria from 1998 to 1993, as well as captain on the Julia Belle Swain. Have your questions ready, because “Mr. Twain” loves to share his opinion on his past, as well as past and present matters! We will have a brief meeting following “Mark Twain” to review our itinerary for the next day.
Accommodations: Starved Rock Lodge
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: History of Starved Rock State Park/Walk to the "Top of the Rock"/Native history, traditions and culture/Illinois Raptors
(Tuesday, June 10)
 Breakfast: At Starved Rock Lodge.
 Morning: In the morning, we have planned a guided hike to the top of Starved Rock (optional). You will hear the stories of the rock and the Native Americans who lived in this area. Afterwards, hikers and non-hikers will meet at the Starved Rock Visitor’s Center to find out about the spectacular geological rock formations which form the backdrop of this premier park, learn about the Civilian Conservation Corp.’s role in developing the park, an overview of the trails and history of the park over the years. We will return to the lodge mid-morning. Back at the Lodge we’ll learn about the history and culture of the Eastern Woodland tribes that lived in the Starved Rock region. Lou Aiello is a botanist, travel museum curator, and former naturalist for the Isle a la Cache Museum.
 Lunch: At Starved Rock Lodge.
 Afternoon: Continue our exploration of the Woodland Indian culture including the Illiniwek, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes that lived in this area. Learn how to make rope, about trading, travel methods, food preparation, hunting techniques and the conflicts with other tribes. Lou will look for volunteers to assist in demonstrating techniques. Mid-afternoon, you will have free time to use the indoor pool, go for a hike, visit the wood carving sculptures, or even just to rest and relax in your surroundings.
 Dinner: At Starved Rock Lodge. We will have a brief meeting after dinner to review our departure and itinerary for the following morning.
 Evening: This evening experience a live presentation on birds of prey. Learn about the American Bald Eagle, peregrine falcon restoration, and other Illinois raptors. Be sure to bring your camera!
Accommodations: Starved Rock Lodge
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Visit Starved Rock Lock and Dam/ Illinois & Michigan Canal boat ride/Return to Peoria/Independent Departures
(Wednesday, June 11)
 Breakfast: At Starved Rock Lodge.
 Morning: After breakfast, we’ll board the motor coach and go across the river to the Starved Rock Lock and Dam and the Illinois Waterway Visitor’s Center to learn about our modern waterway system. (If we’re lucky, we may get to watch a barge go through the locks!) Meet the rangers who work at the Visitor Center and attend a presentation on the Army Corp. of Engineers maintenance of the lock and dam and river channel. Don’t forget your camera! This is the best location to get that postcard photo of Starved Rock! At our next stop, we’ll go back in time and take an excursion on a full-size replica of an 1848 packet boat pulled by a mule. As you ride along a section of the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal, your captain and crew will take you back in time with stories about this hand-dug waterway. You will even get a lesson “Mule Tending 101”. The 96-mile canal was the final link in America’s great water highway system of the 19th century, which enabled people to travel by waterway from the East Coast all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The canal’s most famous celebrity, before he became famous, was “Wild Bill”. James Butler Hickok grew up on a farm in LaSalle County and drove mule teams on the I & M Canal.
 Lunch: Lunch at the Lock 16 Café and Visitor’s Center in LaSalle, Illinois before we depart for Peoria.
 Afternoon: After lunch we will board the motor coach and begin our journey back to Peoria where we will bid a fond farewell. We end right where we started, your vehicle will be waiting for your return. Estimated arrival time/end of program in Peoria is at 2:30 p.m.
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Illinois and Michigan Canal (Images of America Series)

Author: David A. Belden

Description: In 1673, Louis Jolliet and Fr. Jacques Marquette were the first Europeans to explore the Mississippi and the Illinois River Valleys. Their explorations took them through what is now northern Illinois. These early explorers of the region recognized the importance of a connection between Lake Michigan and the Illinois waterways. Constructed between 1836 and 1848, the Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal began the final link in a national plan to connect different regions of the North American continent via natural and man-made waterways. Once completed in 1848, the nearly 100-mile-long canal created a new transportation corridor that linked the Eastern United States, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. During the 19th century, the I&M Canal helped launch Chicago on its path to urban greatness and fostered the growth of a dozen towns along its banks that would soon industrialize the region. This book will open the reader to the unique flavor of the region and the towns and communities along its route, as well as the nature of commerce and water transportation of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois: The Work of the CCC along the I and M Canal (Images of America Series)

Author: Dennis H. Cremmins

Description: Visitors to Starved Rock State Park are often struck by the grandeur of its rustic lodge. They marvel at its massive fireplace and hand-hewn logs. Yet few realize that this structure is a tangible reminder of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which in the 1930s provided work for young men left unemployed by the Great Depression. Starved Rock Lodge was one of the biggest projects of the "CCC boys" along the Illinois and Michigan Canal, but it was far from the only one. Working as a team and living in camps from Willow Springs to La Salle-Peru, they built facilities that transformed the old canal into what became the I&M Canal State Trail (1974) and the nation's first National Heritage Corridor (1984). President Franklin D. Roosevelt's nation-wide program preserved the landscape from the ravages of soil erosion, flooding, and deforestation. In the process, the young men built beautiful parks, buildings, and shelters that we use and admire today.

Starved Rock State Park, the first 100 years

Author: Mark Walczynski

Description: What does Starved Rock State Park have to do with the allied invasion of Germany during World War II? Where were dance lovers forbidden to do the "shimmy' and 'tickle toe?" Where was one of the most complete and up-to-date camping grounds in America during the 1920's? What famous park was described as both a playground and a schoolroom? From model T's to modern automobiles, from antiquated river ferries to modern-day tour boats, and from primitive camp sites to a luxury lodge, Starved Rock State Park, the First One-Hundred Years traces the development of the famous park from its early beginnings to today's twenty-first century world. From 75,000 visitors in 1912 to over two-million annually today, Starved Rock State Park is still a wonderful place to see native Illinois at its best. The book also includes a look at park legends, both famous and infamous and a look at the ongoing concerns over protection of the natural resources, public use, and commercial profit. Starved Rock State Park, the First One-Hundred Years is a window to the past from which we can plan the future.

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