If you are a current, former or future Illini from the Chicagoland area, you have taken the same trip many times. It’s a straight shot. You probably know it like the back of your hand. The journey lasts somewhere between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours depending on where you live and how fast you drive.
I’ve always loved road trips and the trek to Champaign is a mini road trip every time. In a blink of an eye you are transported from a booming metropolis to a field of dreams. It’s long enough to settle in, play some driving music, and let your mind wander without being too long to become an uncomfortable and annoying chore. Can you tell I romanticize road trips?
Many students will be driving back and forth between campus and home this summer for work or summer classes, new students will be moving in next fall, and alumni are always coming home.
Today we are going to power rank the best places to stop along the way. Now, many of us can make this trip without a stop, but we all have our go-to spots just in case. In order to be eligible, the stop must be located between I-80 and campus.
Criteria: Edible food, clean bathrooms, reliable gas, and efficiency.
So let’s set the mood with a nice road trip song to read along to:
Gilman is about 50 miles north of Champaign on I-57. If I know I need to make a stop, I make it Gilman if I can.
The Pilot Travel Center offers plenty of gas pumps, clean bathrooms and the station is huge and has anything you could possibly need (snacks or otherwise) for the rest of your trip. This exit also has a McDonald’s, Dairy Queen and a Monical’s. It’s located in a great spot. It’s about as close to the middle of the trip as you can get. It’s a little closer to Champaign, but not too close where you can’t justify stopping.
It’s nothing flashy, but it has everything you need.
2. Monee/Manhattan Road
I’m from the SW suburbs so this is far too close to home for me to normally stop here. But it’s the only eligible stop with a Culver’s right off the highway. Therefore by law, it can be no lower than #2. Those are the rules.
Often described as “A Poor Man’s Gilman”.
It has a variety of options for food and gas, but it’s a little too close to I-80 for me.
4. Peotone/Wilmington Road
“There’s a Casey’s around Wilmington Road or there about. Clean restroom.” - My Dad. Throw in a McDonald’s and that’s good enough for #4.
If you stop in Kankakee you are just going to be slowing yourself down. There are just too many cons to deal with. With the traffic from constant highway construction and the high police presence, you want to get in and around Kankakee as fast as possible.
Also, there are multiple exits and too many options at those exits for gas and food. You are going to get off the highway and people are going to want to sit down at Steak n’ Shake or Texas Roadhouse. And while those places are great, you’ve just added an extra 45 minutes to your trip. Get in and get out.
There’s also another reason you don’t want to stop in Kankakee.
Do you know that part of the trip where the interstate kind of curves and becomes a bridge? And then you pass a big Abe Lincoln statue? And then cross a river?
Of course you do. You remember it because it’s the only mildly interesting part of the drive. It’s the only stretch of road that doesn’t look like every other single stretch of road. Don’t stop in the middle of that.
6. Main Line Station Rest Stop
This rest stop is about 30 miles north of Champaign. There’s maybe 25 minutes of driving left. You’re basically there! Don’t stop now!
There’s no food or gas, it’s just a rest stop. Everyone knows this stop. This stop is of course where your parents pull off after passing all of the stops mentioned above because they thought they could make it the whole way without using the bathroom. Or it’s where your kids start whining that they need to go to the bathroom after you’ve asked them five times already before passing all the good stops.
This also applies to Rantoul and Paxton, regardless of the direction of travel. Either you have just started your trek home from Champaign or you are about to see your alma mater for the first time in a long time. Nobody wants to be making a pit stop this close to Champaign. When in doubt stop closer to the city, not Campustown.
I know there are plenty of other small towns along the way worthy of a description, but I must admit that I haven’t spent enough time in all of them to give them an honest ranking.
Let the TCR community know why they should stop in Chebanse, Ashkum, Clifton, or elsewhere in the comments below!