Things to Do in Ottawa IL

Uncover the Hidden Gems: 10 Exciting Things to Do in Ottawa, IL

Things to Do in Ottawa IL

Things to do in Ottawa, IL: Explore top attractions and hidden gems for an unforgettable visit!

Ever wondered what it’d be like to step into a town where history whispers from every corner and nature beckons at every turn? Look no further than Ottawa, Illinois. This charming riverside town is packed with surprises that’ll make you wonder why you hadn’t visited sooner.

Nestled at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois rivers, Ottawa is a treasure trove of outdoor adventures, historical sites, and small-town charm. Whether you’re a history buff, nature enthusiast, or just looking for a unique getaway, Ottawa’s got something up its sleeve for you.

Ready to dive into the top things to do in Ottawa, IL? Let’s hit the road and uncover what makes this town a must-visit destination.

Basic Information

  • Population: Approximately 18,000
  • Elevation: 482 feet (147 meters)
  • Zip Code: 61350
  • Geographical Location: Ottawa is located in north-central Illinois, at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois rivers.

Proximity Details

Closest Cities:

  • Chicago: 85 miles northeast (1.5-hour drive)
  • Peoria: 80 miles southwest (1.5-hour drive)
  • Rockford: 80 miles north (1.5-hour drive)

Closest Airport: Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD): 85 miles northeast (1.5-hour drive)

Nearby Small Towns:

  • Utica: 10 miles west
  • Marseilles: 10 miles east
  • Streator: 20 miles southeast

Ottawa IL History

Ottawa’s story begins long before European settlers arrived, with Native American tribes calling this fertile river valley home. The town was officially founded in 1837, named after the Ottawa tribe.

But Ottawa’s claim to fame? It hosted the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858. This historic event put Ottawa on the map and cemented its place in American political history.

The town boomed during the 19th century, thanks to its strategic location on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Glass manufacturing became a major industry, earning Ottawa the nickname “The Glass Capital of the World.”

Today, Ottawa stands as a testament to small-town resilience, blending its rich history with a forward-thinking approach to tourism and community development.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Main Attractions

Things to Do in Ottawa IL - Main Attractions

Washington Square Park

Site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate. Don’t miss the statue commemorating this historic event.

Reddick Mansion

Tour this stunning Italianate mansion and step back into 19th-century luxury.

Buffalo Rock State Park

Home to a small herd of American bison and offering panoramic views of the Illinois River.

Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum

Dive into local history and the roots of the Boy Scouts of America.

Illinois & Michigan Canal

Walk or bike along the historic towpath and imagine the canal’s bustling past.

Fox River Amusements and Events

Enjoy mini-golf, go-karts, and seasonal events at this family-friendly spot.

Ottawa Visitors Center

Start your visit here for maps, brochures, and insider tips on exploring the area.

Allen Park

A beautiful riverside park perfect for picnics, fishing, or just relaxing.

Weber House and Garden

Tour this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home and its stunning gardens.

August Hill Winery & Illinois Sparkling Co. Tasting Room

Sample local wines and bubbly in a charming downtown setting.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Outdoor Activities

Things to Do in Ottawa IL - Outdoor Activities
  • Starved Rock State Park
    • Just a short drive away, hike to stunning canyons and waterfalls in this Illinois gem.
  • Heritage Harbor Ottawa
    • Rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the Illinois River.
  • Dayton Bluffs Preserve
    • Hike through prairies and woodlands in this scenic nature preserve.
  • Skydive Chicago
    • For thrill-seekers, experience the ultimate adrenaline rush with a skydive.
  • Ottawa Bike Trails
    • Pedal along the scenic Illinois & Michigan Canal trail or the Fox River Trail.
  • Fishing on the Fox and Illinois Rivers
    • Cast a line for catfish, bass, and other local species.
  • Catlin Park
    • Enjoy hiking trails, disc golf, and outdoor fun in this spacious county park.
  • Ottawa Public Pool and Splash Pad
    • Cool off on hot summer days at this family-friendly aquatic center.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Cultural Experiences

Things to Do in Ottawa IL - Cultural Experiences
  • Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest (June)
    • Sample wines from across Illinois at this annual downtown festival.
  • Ottawa Riverfest (August)
    • Enjoy live music, food vendors, and river activities at this summer celebration.
  • Chris Kringle Market (December)
    • Get into the holiday spirit with this charming German-style Christmas market.
  • Ottawa Art League Gallery
    • Browse works by local artists in this downtown gallery.
  • Roxy Cinemas
    • Catch a movie in this lovingly restored 1920s movie palace.
  • Ottawa Historic Homes Tour
    • Take a self-guided tour of Ottawa’s beautiful Victorian-era homes.
  • Music in the Park
    • Enjoy free summer concerts in Washington Square Park.
  • LaSalle County Historical Society Museum
    • Dive deeper into local history at this comprehensive museum.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Food and Drink

Things to Do in Ottawa IL - Food and Drink
  • The Red Dog Grill – Enjoy riverside dining and American fare at this popular spot.
  • Cheese Shop’n’Deli – Savor gourmet sandwiches and stock up on specialty cheeses.
  • Lone Buffalo by Tangled Roots Brewing Company – Taste craft beers and elevated pub grub in a historic downtown building.
  • Hank’s Farm Restaurant – Experience home-style cooking in a unique barn setting just outside town.
  • Butch’s Pizza – Indulge in local-favorite pizzas and Italian dishes.
  • Beehive Bottleshop & Tap Room – Explore a vast selection of craft beers in this cozy downtown spot.
  • Jeremiah Joe Coffee – Start your day with a artisanal coffee and fresh pastry at this local roastery.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Shopping

  • A Mess of Things – Browse antiques, vintage items, and unique gifts in this eclectic shop.
  • Prairie Fox Books – Find your next read at this charming independent bookstore.
  • Iconic Boutique – Shop for trendy women’s clothing and accessories.
  • Deja Vu Boutique – Discover gently used designer clothing and accessories.
  • Ottawa Visitors Center Gift Shop – Pick up Ottawa-themed souvenirs and locally made products.
  • Franks’ Appliances and TV – Step back in time at this old-school appliance store, a local institution.
  • Quilter’s Clinic – Find fabric, quilting supplies, and handmade quilts in this cozy shop.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Family-Friendly Activities

  • Washington Square Splash Pad Let the kids cool off in this free water play area right downtown.
  • Starved Rock Adventures Take a family-friendly trolley tour or river cruise to explore the area.
  • Rader Family Farms Enjoy seasonal activities like pumpkin picking and corn mazes (fall only).
  • Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum Kids will love the interactive exhibits on scouting history.
  • B.A.S.E. Camp at Buffalo Rock State Park Participate in nature education programs and see live bison.
  • Jay’s Lanes Enjoy family bowling nights at this local alley.
  • Ottawa Flea Market Hunt for treasures together at this large indoor market (weekends only).

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Hidden Gems

Things to Do in Ottawa IL - Hidden Gems
  • Hoffer’s Fudge – Satisfy your sweet tooth with handmade fudge from this local favorite.
  • Zeller Inn Tavern & Eatery – Step back in time at one of the oldest continuously operating taverns in Illinois.
  • Ottawa Avenue Cemetery – Explore local history in this beautiful old cemetery with stunning river views.
  • Fox River Bed and Breakfast – Stay in a converted firehouse with a stunning view of the Fox River.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Annual Events and Festivals

  • Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest (June) Sample Illinois wines and enjoy live music in a beautiful outdoor setting.
  • Ottawa Riverfest (August) Celebrate summer with river activities, live music, and family fun.
  • Chris Kringle Market (December) Get into the holiday spirit at this charming German-style Christmas market.
  • Ottawa Ice Odyssey (February) Marvel at ice sculptures and enjoy winter activities downtown.
  • Ottawa Garden Walk (June) Tour beautiful private gardens throughout the city.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Where to Stay

  1. Starved Rock Lodge: Just outside Ottawa, this historic lodge offers rustic comfort and easy access to Starved Rock State Park.
  2. Fox River Bed and Breakfast: Stay in a converted firehouse with stunning river views.
  3. Hampton Inn Ottawa: Reliable comfort with an indoor pool, conveniently located near I-80.
  4. Heritage Harbor Resort: Rent a vacation home right on the water for a unique stay.
  5. Fairfield Inn & Suites Ottawa: Modern accommodations with free breakfast, perfect for families.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Travel Tips

  • Best Time to Visit Spring and fall offer mild weather and beautiful scenery. Summer is peak tourist season, especially for outdoor activities.
  • Transportation Having a car is ideal for exploring Ottawa and nearby state parks.
  • Starved Rock State Park If visiting on a weekend, arrive early as parking lots fill up quickly.
  • River Levels Check river levels before planning water activities, as they can fluctuate.
  • Downtown Parking Most downtown parking is free, but pay attention to time limits.
  • Seasonal Activities Many outdoor activities are seasonal, so check availability in advance.
  • Bring Your Camera Ottawa’s historic architecture and natural beauty offer plenty of photo ops.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL – Famous People and Organizations

  • William D. Boyce: Founder of the Boy Scouts of America, born near Ottawa.
  • William H.W. Cushman: Inventor and manufacturer, his Ottawa-based company was once the world’s largest maker of library furniture.
  • Walt Willey: Actor known for his role on “All My Children,” born in Ottawa.
  • Libby Larsen: Renowned composer, born in Wilmington but raised in Ottawa.
  • Radisson Hotels: Founded by Otto Carlson, who opened his first hotel in Minneapolis but was born and raised in Ottawa.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL Conclusion

Ottawa, Illinois, is more than just a dot on the map – it’s a vibrant slice of Americana that punches well above its weight. From the historic echoes of the Lincoln-Douglas debate to the natural wonders of nearby state parks, this riverside town offers a surprisingly rich tapestry of experiences.

Whether you’re hiking through canyons at Starved Rock, sampling local wines downtown, or simply soaking in the small-town charm, Ottawa has a way of surprising and delighting visitors. It’s a place where history comes alive, where nature’s beauty is on full display, and where the warmth of Midwestern hospitality shines bright.

What truly sets Ottawa apart is its ability to blend its rich past with a vibrant present. While honoring its historical significance, the town doesn’t shy away from modern attractions and events that keep it relevant and exciting for today’s travelers.

So, whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, or just someone looking for a unique getaway, Ottawa deserves a spot on your travel list. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of small-town America and a reminder that sometimes, the best adventures are found off the beaten path.

Pack your bags, hit the road, and discover the charm of Ottawa for yourself. Who knows? You might just find yourself planning your return trip before you’ve even left town.

Things to Do in Ottawa IL FAQs

Q: How long should I plan to stay in Ottawa, Illinois? A: While you can see the main attractions in a day, a weekend would allow you to fully experience Ottawa and nearby Starved Rock State Park.

Q: Is Ottawa, Illinois, suitable for family trips? A: Absolutely! With its parks, museums, and family-friendly events, Ottawa offers plenty of activities for all ages.

Q: What’s the best way to get around Ottawa? A: While downtown Ottawa is walkable, having a car is ideal for exploring the town and nearby attractions like Starved Rock State Park.

Q: Are there any famous movies or TV shows filmed in Ottawa? A: While not a major filming location, Ottawa’s historic architecture has been featured in some period films and TV shows.

Q: What’s the weather like in Ottawa? A: Ottawa experiences all four seasons. Summers are warm (avg. 85°F/29°C), winters are cold (avg. 28°F/-2°C), with mild springs and colorful falls.

Q: Is Ottawa expensive to visit? A: Ottawa is generally an affordable destination. Many attractions, like state parks and historic sites, have low or no entry fees.

Q: Are there any annual events I shouldn’t miss? A: The Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest in June and the Chris Kringle Market in December are popular events. Riverfest in August is also a highlight.

Q: Is Ottawa wheelchair accessible? A: Many attractions in Ottawa, including parts of Starved Rock State Park, are wheelchair accessible. However, some historic buildings and natural areas may have limited accessibility.

Q: Can I see everything in Ottawa without a car? A: While you can explore downtown Ottawa on foot, having a car is essential to fully experience Ottawa and nearby attractions like Starved Rock State Park.

Q: What’s the best souvenir to buy in Ottawa? A: Local wines, handmade crafts, or books about local history make great souvenirs that capture the essence of Ottawa.

We hope you enjoyed this guide to things to do in Ottawa, Illinois! Have you visited Ottawa before? What was your favorite experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below and help other travelers discover the charm of this unique town!

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