The midwest is more than prairie lands, cornfields, the city of Chicago, and Lake Michigan, and in today’s post, I’ll be sharing with you some of the best national parks and state parks to visit in Illinois.
Experiencing the midwest through its nature is one of the best ways to experience this part of the U.S. as there is an abundance of national parks and state parks to visit within Illinois, that maybe you didn’t know of before.
Being outdoors and visiting parks have been my way of traveling, as currently a lot of travel has been restricted, and it’s kind of been a gift in disguise.
I have been able to discover more of Illinois’ nature scene, vegetation, and even places that don’t look like the typical image of a midwestern state. And amid so much uncertainty and healing, being in nature has allowed for clarity and a bit of reflection. A break from the noise and fear projections – all while admiring nature and a change of scenery.
Whether you’re going to be visiting the Land of the Lincoln soon, or you are simply trying to find other parks and activities to explore within our state, keep reading to check out the best national parks and state parks to visit in Illinois.
Located in Ogelsby, Illinois ( about 1 hr. 40 minutes away from the city) is a beautiful park with 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons, beautiful waterfalls. It’s truly a really nice park to go for a picnic, hike the trails, and even camp during the camping season. It’s definitely one of the most popular parks to visit, and for good reason.
Matthiessen State Park
Located just a few miles south of Starved Rock lies Matthiessen State Park, which is a beautifully stunning park with canyons, streams, prairies, and forest, rock formations, and more. The sight of a variety of vegetation and wildlife is the perfect backdrop for picnics, hiking, and appreciation for nature. If you visit between the months of July and August, you will be able to experience the beautiful fields of sunflowers at their splendor.
Shawnee National Forest
Most famously recognized as the Garden of the Gods, this beacon for nature lovers is located in southern Illinois, just between the Mississippi River and the Ohio Rivers in Herod, IL. It offers 403 miles hiking, rolling hills, forests, lakes, creeks, open lands, and rugged bluffs. Jackson Falls, located within Shawnee National Forest, offers sandstone cliffs and boulders for climbing, and also just to admire. A place not talked about enough, but one worth making the trip for!
Burden Falls Wilderness
Located within Shawnee National Forest, Burden Falls Wilderness offers more perfect walking trails to admire nature in, as well as equestrian trails. Interestingly enough, a walk through this space of greenery will also give you insight into the use of this land before it became a top hiking destination in Illinois. Visitors share that you can catch glimpses of old roads, cemeteries, homesteads, and fruit trees. Nature and history in plain sight, don’t miss it!
Giant City State Park
Offering a wide variety of natural sites from a variety of around 75 different tree varieties, flowering mints, and abundant vegetation, Giant City State Park in Makanda, IL. accommodates both campers and day visitors. Horseback riding, hiking the scenic trails, rock climbing and even fishing in designated areas are just a few of the activities that you can do at this park. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit “Giant City Streets” which are huge bluffs of sandstone that formed 12,000 years ago!
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park
Quite unlike any of the parks listed, the Cahokia Mounds are ruins left by one of the world’s greatest cities to exist in North America, which dates back as early as 700 AD! It was the home of the native tribe, referred to as the Missippians or Mound Builders, and it is said to be the most sophisticated native civilization north of Mexico. It has even been said that Cahokia was larger than London was in AD 1250. The area itself has been preserved, and when you visit, you can see the mounds, which are man-made structures utilized within their civilization. This historic site is located in the southwestern point of Illinois touching Missouri (right across the Mississippi River and East St. Louis) in the town of Collinsville, Illinois. Make it a long weekend trip, and move across the Mississippi River into St. Louis for some STL style BBQ ribs, and top it off with a visit to Ted Drew’s for ice cream. You’re welcome.
Fabyan Forest Preserve
A little bit closer to Chicago in Geneva IL. is a park named after George and Nell Fabyan, the owners of the riverbank estate between 1908-1939 (now museum). Fabyan Forests is a park today that offers a tranquil Japanese garden, a history tour of the grounds and museum, and a view of the 5 story Dutch windmill constructed in 1870. There, you can also find what used to be an old farmhouse built in the mid 1800’s, redesigned by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright, which can also be admired on your visit. A forest preserves unlike many, with history, design, and nature. While you’re there, stay for a bit and stroll the charming downtown area, and walk along the iconic Fox River that runs through the town of Geneva, and a few other small, charming towns.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
Located in the northwest region of Illinois in a town called Savanna, IL., is a park that offers stunning views of cliffs, rivers, caves, and ravines to those who visit. The palisades, meaning steep cliffs, are viewed from different points of the park, and beyond the cliffs, a beautiful lake. Summer is a great time to visit, but many recommend the fall as well, as you get to really see the beauty of the red/orange tinged leaves all around. Due to erosion and other natural occurrences, rock formations such as Indian Head and Twin Sisters, are some of the most photographed rock formations of the park, so don’t miss them while you’re there!
Cache River Wetlands
Considered by many as Illinois’ “secret bayou”, Cache River Wetlands in Cypress, Illinois is a park that offers hiking trails including on floating boardwalks through the wetlands, kayaking, canoeing (which they have for rent), and learning more about this park at the Cache River Wetlands center, and how this part of Illinois resembles Louisiana, with it’s natural wildlife and vegetation of the area. Definitely a place to check out, experience, and see what the wetlands look like, without even leaving Illinois. Make it a weekend trip, and stay in the cabins not too far from the park, and enjoy food and drinks at Cache River Basin Vineyard and Winery.
So which one is the next park on your list to visit? Was there one that surprised you, or a few that you’ve been to? This isn’t a cumulative list of all the best parks in Illinois, but it’s definitely a start for those who are wanting to see something a little different,
To more natural escapes that give us what we need, and more ✨🌿