Best State Parks and Forests To Explore When In Illinois (2024)
If you want to explore the Best State Parks and Forests in Illinois, then look no further. Land of Lincoln is a beautiful and flat state with 309 State parks and 6 State forests. From protected land to woodlands, water bodies, and wildlife, the state-protected areas in Illinois hold it all together. State Parks and Forests are evenly spread over 70% of Illinois’s land, providing you with a stop every next hour. These outdoor recreational spots alone attract and host nearly 44 million visitors every single year.
The Land of Lincoln happens to experience hot and sweaty summers. But fortunately, they have miles of forested land for rescue. While the developed urban and suburban get difficult to bear, it is an ideal time to run towards the wild. Whether you are into hiking, biking, camping, picnicking, fishing, or any outdoor fun, Illinois State parks offer an abundance of options. Though with an array of options, the only issue is choosing the finest. Here to help you out, we have rounded the 10 popular State Parks and Forests in Illinois.
10 Best State Parks and Forests to Explore When in Illinois
Have a look at our picks for Best State Parks and Forests to explore when in Illinois.
1. Starved Rock State Park
The Starved Rock State Park is, any day, the most popular State Park to explore when in Illinois. It is located in Oglesby, nearly 100 miles from Chicago. The Park is known for its steep sandstone canyons and some mind-blowing waterfalls. Nestled right inside the State Park is the comforting Starved Rock Lodge where you can stay for an affordable price. Opt for other lodges or sleep under the stars in your own tents or RVs. The State Park is also home to 18 miles of trails that pass through the most scenic natural views. Exploring the woodlands here will reward you with several wildlife views, geographical and geological amazements, and peace.
2. Chain O’ Lakes State Park
Located in the heart of Illinois, the Chain O’ Lakes State Park is blessed with lakes. This State Park alone is home to nearly ten lakes, all of which permit swimming and boating. Of the entire 2,793-acre of Park’s land, it offers nearly 488 miles of shoreline to the visitors. This largest concentration of natural lakes in Illinois opens up ways for several recreations, including both summer and winter adventure. The Park also includes over 230 campsites, over 8 miles of walking and hiking trails, and seven picnic areas. Except for Christmas, the Chain O’ Lakes State Park is open all throughout the year.
3. Mississippi Palisades State Park
A hub for outdoor enthusiasts, the Mississippi Palisades State Park is located in Carroll County. This National Natural Landmark is popular amongst campers and picnickers. While exploring the Palisades Park, one will come across extravagant cliffs and caves, display a unique experience on its own. Along with natural beauty, the Park is rich in history as well, do lay your eyes on Indian Head and Twin Sisters. There are plenty of hiking trails that will let you walk on the same path as the Native American pathfinders. Some popular outdoor activities here include geocaching, hunting, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, and angling.
4. Hidden Springs State Forest
The Hidden Springs State Forest is a beautiful natural area in Shelby County. The forest is spread over 1200 acres and is known for its lush greenery and peaceful environment. Earlier, it was known as Shelby State Forest, though after uncovering seven springs around the property, it is known as Hidden Springs. Early American settlers once used these springs for drinking water. While on your visit to the State Forest, hike at the Big Tree Trail or Possum Hollow Nature Trail. You can also stop and picnic at the beautiful Rolling Meadows picnic area. Visitors can also go for open hunting over even stay here overnight while camping at one of the designated sights.
5. Big Rock Forest Preserve
The Big Rock Forest Preserve is nothing but miles of woodland filled with natural beauty. The forest has several aspects that add to its culture, but lakes and creeks are prime amongst them. You can visit a 65-foot-deep lake or walk around the crystal-clear creeks to enjoy the true vision. Or hike in the woods, ride a horse, cycle around the pathways or go fishing. During spring migration, the Big Rock Forest Preserve is filled with birds from the entire Midwest. You can also enjoy the autumn foliage or come for cross-country skiing in winter. No matter which season it is, there’s something for everyone to do at the Bog Rock.
6. Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park
Ture to its name, the Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park opens up ways to the beach beauty. It is one of the best State Park to explore in Illinois, especially if you are looking for outdoor fun. From beach campgrounds to miles of uninterrupted shoreline, the Park has it all. One can take advantage of the fishing piers, boating facilities, and the miles-long stretch of trails. There are several additional recreations as well, including cross-country skiing, geocaching, scuba diving, and whatnot. There’s also an on-site resort in the park that will host you with warmness and amenities like never before.
7. Lincoln (Abraham) Park
Lincoln (Abraham) Park is named after the former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. It is the largest Park in Chicago and is a must-visit when in Illinois. Lincoln Park is located on the North of Chicago along Lake Michigan and is the second most visited city park in Illinois. Despite being a State Park, its area, popularity, and recreational usage argue to count it as a must-visit. Its highlights include the Chicago History Museum, Theatre on the Lake, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and North Pond Nature Sanctuary. Visitors can observe the popular Abraham Lincoln Museum, several historic landmarks and enjoy the urban settings here. The Lincoln (Abraham) Park with several unthought-of things from golfing to zoos, beaches, and animal sanctuaries, the Lincoln (Abraham) Park with several unthought-of things.
8. Shawnee National Forest
Illinois has some mesmerizing tourism attractions, and the Shawnee National Forest is definitely one amongst them. The main draw here is the Garden of the Gods, also the most dangerous trail in Illinois. It is home to rocky outcrops that looks no less than a human face. These unique geological formations are scenically stunning. Right on its outpost, there are some fabulous ice cream and souvenir shops. Another highlight is the lesser-known Golden Circle. You can stop and have a quick snack break here. Next is the incredibly unique geological formation, the Rim Rocks. These stone walls are speculated 5000 years old, and you cannot miss them. With that, there are a lot of obvious adds on as well, including waterfalls, lands, streams, ponds, barrens, and woodlands.
9. Nauvoo State Park
Nauvoo State Park is a relatively small park (148-acre) sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River. By visiting the State Park, one can access both including the Mississippi River and a beautiful 13-acre lake. Here indulge in boating, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and camping. Of all the hiking opportunities, Lake trails at Nauvoo State Park offers one of the finest experiences. You can also explore the 1840s house built by Mormons that today serves as a museum. Apart from the permanent attractions that State Park also hosts several festivals and events all throughout the year. The annual Grape Festival organized every year on Labor Day weekend is a must-visit amongst them all. It is one of the oldest annual festivals of Illinois serving the best wines of the time.
10. Kankakee River State Park
The Kankakee River State Park is a huge 4000 acres State Park located in Kankakee and Will Counties. The Park is sitting across 11 miles long river that opens ways for year-round sporting and other outdoor recreation. Before the Park was recognized as a treasured recreational space, it served as home to Native Americans. Visitors can indulge in hunting, hiking, canoeing, cycling, and camping. The Kankakee River is also ideal for fishing, and you may catch channel catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, and Northern pike. The Kankakee River State Park also operates several seasonal hunting programs, including archery deer hunting and upland game hunting. When in Illinois, it is one of the best places to visit.