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Illinois

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The Central Plains state of Illinois is called the Land of Lincoln, though Barack Obama and Ulysses S. Grant were also residents when elected. Ronald Reagan is actually the state’s sole homegrown president.

In the state capital, Springfield, visitors can explore a vast collection of Lincoln artifacts, from the dramatic to the mundane, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. A multimedia presentation brings the history of the Civil War era to life.

Nearby, Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site gives yet another glance into daily life at the time of Lincoln. Period-costumed guides welcome guests to the 23 reconstructed or original log cabins and shops in the village, all backdrop to where the once-future president first entered politics.

Sightseers can experience the state’s four distinct seasons in several outdoor venues. The Japanese Garden in Rockford, a small city in the northern part of the state, is open May through October. Starved Rock State Park, comprising 18 canyons and stony bluffs in the Illinois River Valley, contrasts markedly with the vast expanses of flat farmlands in the state's heartland. The famous stone formation was named for a Native American legend in which a group of Illiniwek was besieged there by a group of Potawatomi.

Tucked in between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the southern tip of the state, Shawnee National Forest offers scenic views and outdoor recreation from climbing and cycling to camping and hunting. Thousands of horseback riders gather there in late July for the annual Nine-Day Trail Ride.

The state’s major city, Chicago, is known for its deep-dish pizza, Italian beef and hotdogs, but is likewise renowned for world-class dining, entertainment, museums, shopping and parks. Famous Chicago architecture, much of which resulted from rebuilding after the fire that destroyed vast areas of the city in 1871, lends the city its character and grandeur.

Among many attractions, Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago and Wrigley Field should not be missed. Travelers also frequent the Museum of Science and Industry, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo (free and open every day of the year), and The House of Blues, with its popular Gospel Brunch.

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