Located just two minutes from the entrance of Starved Rock State Park, and a short drive from Interstate 80 and Interstate 39, you’ll find a true hidden gem, the village of North Utica. The canal town, steeped in rich history and beautiful nature, features some of the best pub-style dining and boutique shopping that north-central Illinois has to offer. Now with the return of its signature Burgoo Festival on the horizon, there’s never been a better time to start planning a trip to picturesque Utica.
Over the past half century, Utica’s Burgoo extravaganza has grown from a community block party into one of Illinois’ most celebrated fall festivals. Returning for its 53rd year in 2023, the multigenerational, all-ages event pairs Midwestern hospitality, artists, artisans, antiques vendors, live entertainment and, of course, giant cast-iron pots of scratch-made Burgoo stew.
What started as a small community homage to a famed pioneer dish, Utica’s Burgoo now regularly attracts more than 40,000 visitors to the two-day, open-air festival. It’s scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7 and 8, and held rain or shine. You’ll find there is no shortage of fun activities slated for every age level and interest.
With events inspired by harvest celebrations of the past, the star of the downtown Burgoo Festival is, of course, Burgoo. The thick stew, the origin of which likely pre-dates the Civil War, is a delicious hodgepodge of freshly harvested vegetables, local meats and flavorful herbs and spices. Similar to other regional delicacies like Irish and Mulligan stews, the slow-cooked dish became a staple of fundraisers and benefit events in Midwestern and Southern states.
Burgoo is simmered in massive cast-iron pots over an open fire, stirred all day and night by diligent cooks armed with nothing but wooden paddles the size of canoe oars. Seeing these hardworking volunteers stir the legendarily thick stew is a true sight to behold, accompanied by a delectable aroma you won’t soon forget. Burgoo only will be served Sunday, Oct. 8, starting at 9 a.m. and continuing until it sells out, so plan your trip accordingly.
The fun doesn’t stop there – the two-day festival also features a sprawling vendor show that rivals many of the state’s iconic outdoor artisan markets in both quality and scope. On Saturday, the LaSalle County Historical Society’s Canal Market will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., featuring over 250 curated vendors selling handmade, homemade, homegrown and vintage items. Sunday’s shopping event blooms to over 375 unique craft, gift and antiques sellers – a can’t-miss vendor show that fills several open areas throughout the downtown, all conveniently within walking distance.
Burgoo 2023 also will have free live music, children’s games, blacksmithing demonstrations and a classic car show (held from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday). These family-friendly festivities, and all other events taking place at Burgoo, are sponsored by and benefit the nonprofit LaSalle County Historical Society and other society projects. The fantastic museum campus, located on the banks of the historic I&M Canal, consists of six locations, also encompassing the canal warehouse, heritage center, a one-room schoolhouse, a working blacksmith shop and an original barn dating back to 1875. While you’re in town for the festival, be sure to visit these spectacular historic and interpretive sites to see how Burgoo continues to benefit the preservation of local history.