20 Illinois State Parks

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Illinois, home to the Windy City of Chicago, is a midwestern state defined by farmland, hills, forest, wetland and its Lake Michigan shoreline. There are also some incredible state parks in Illinois that are well worth exploring. Many visitors to the state might overlook some of the state parks on this list, choosing to head to the more popular Illinois attractions instead. But if you love nature, make sure you tick some of these Illinois state parks off your to-explore list. 

Illinois State Parks

20 State Parks In Illinois

1- Rock Cut State Park

Rock Cut State Park Sunset
Rock Cut State Park is one of the southern Illinois state parks to enjoy.

Rock Cut State Park is a 3,254-acre (1317 ha) park in northern Illinois.

Close to Rockford in Winnebago County this Illinois state park is well worth visiting for those who want to explore the outdoors.

This state park has two lakes (Pierce Lake and Olson Lake) and hiking trails for walking, horse riding and cross-country skiing in winter.

There is also a wonderful campground with 270 pitches and a youth camp.

This state park makes for the perfect holiday weekend destination.

Nature enthusiasts will particularly love Rock Cut State Park for its abundance of wildlife.

There are believed to be more than 100 types of wildflowers that flourish in spring and summer.

The Rock Cut State Park is at 7223 West Lane Rd, Caledonia, IL 61111.

2- Matthiessen State Park

Matthiessen State Park - Illinois
Matthiessen State Park is one of the best state parks in Illinois to see waterfalls.

Matthiessen State Park is a couple of miles from the famous Starved Rock State Park (more on that later).

You’ll find the entrance to these state parks along Illinois State Route 178.

This Illinois state park is well worth a visit and its primary attraction is the waterfall, Cascade Falls.

The waterfall is within the gorge and features overhanging walls and alcoves.

It is best to begin exploring the park at the Upper Dell at Deer Park Lake.

Along this walk, you will see the 45-foot Cascade Falls, which you should try and visit after rainfall to see the waterfall in all its glory.

This state park is the perfect place for the whole family.

At the park’s northwestern edge, there is an archery range that kids and adults will love.

Make a day of it and bring a picnic too.

Matthiessen State Park is at 2500 IL-178, Oglesby, IL 61348.

3- Ferne Clyffe State Park

When visiting southern Illinois, you must check out Ferne Clyffe State Park, which offers hiking trails, camping and the opportunity to fish on Ferne Lake.

There are also several playgrounds in the park that are great if you are visiting with kids.

One of the best things to do in the park, however, is to hike to a picture-perfect waterfall.

An enjoyable 2.1 km loop trail starts at Deer Ridge Campground and takes you to the Ferne Clyffe Waterfall.

Ferne Clyffe State Park is at 90 Goreville Rd, Goreville, IL 62939.

4- Giant City State Park

Another southern Illinois park is Giant City State Park near Carbondale, this park was just made for outdoor enthusiasts.

There are numerous horse riding trails, fishing spots and even opportunities for abseiling.

One of the most popular hiking trails is the Giant City Nature Trail, which features huge bluffs of sandstone formed more than 12,000 years ago.

The park gets its name from the sandstone-like structures that dominate a landscape of dense trees.

While the park, it’s also well worth heading to the Giant City Visitor Center to pick up some information about the park and the surrounding area.

Giant City State Park is at 235 Giant City Rd, Makanda, IL 62958.

5- Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park

Everybody loves a beach.

Yes, you were right in thinking that Illinois is not by the coast, but it is along Lake Michigan.

The Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park is a 4,160-acre (1683 ha) park with a North and South Unit.

This beach park stretches for 6.5 miles and is the only beach ridge shoreline in Illinois.

The landscape is diverse, there’s beaches, dunes, marshes, forests, and various animals and vegetation.

This park offers fantastic swimming, walking, cycling, fishing, camping and boating opportunities.

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park is at 1 Lake Front Dr, Zion, IL 60099.

6- Buffalo Rock State Park

Buffalo Rock State Park is around an hour and a half drive outside Chicago.

This state park is located on a bluff that was once an Illinois River island.

The park now offers expansive views of the Illinois River.

The park covers 298 acres (121 ha) and is popular among picnickers.

There are picnic areas, as well as cooking grills for you to use and shelters with large stone fireplaces, making for an excellent location for a large family to get together or even a team-building day.

You can even see the park’s American bison that call Buffalo Rock State Park home, usually opposite the baseball diamond.

Buffalo Rock State Park is at 1300 N 27th Rd, Ottawa, IL 61350.

7- Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park - Illinois
Starved Rock is a fabulous Illinois state park with lovely waterfalls.

The state’s most famous park is Starved Rock State Park, which is unlike anything else you will see in the state.

In 1966 Starved Rock State Park was named a National Historic Landmark.

The park has 13 miles (21 km) of trails by which you can enjoy this wonderful park.

Starved Rock is one of those places well worth visiting at different times of the year.

In winter there’s ice climbing and in summer beautifully cascading waterfalls.

Visit in early spring for the best waterfall conditions.

The park is home to 18 canyons, some with waterfalls are as high as 80 feet (24 m).

Open daily, it’s a good idea to first head to the visitor centre, where you can pick up all the information you will need for visiting the park.

Starved Rock State Park is at 2678 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348. 

8- Kankakee River State Park

Rock Creek Cascades in Kankakee River State Park
Kankakee River State Park is one of the state parks in Illinois with wonderful natural assets.

The Kankakee River State Park was treasured for hundreds of years by Native Americans and later used by farmers until it was transformed into a state park in the 1890s.

This state park is another Illinois gem for those looking to canoe, camp, hike, bike and fish.

The park is around 4,000 acres (1619 ha) and spans either side of Kankakee River.

Those looking to fish are in with a chance of catching smallmouth bass, channel catfish, Northern pike, and walleye.

You can also choose to stay the night at the park’s campground, where there are over 200 campsites to choose from in the park.

Kankakee River State Park is at 5314 IL-102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914.

9- Moraine Hills State Park & McHenry Dam State Park

How about two state parks for the price of one?

Moraine Hills State Park & McHenry Dam State Park is around an hour’s drive north of downtown Chicago.

This state park is defined by its wetlands, lakes, forest and river.

Because around half of the park’s 2,200 acres (890 ha) of land is wetlands and lakes there is no surprise that there is an abundance of wildlife.

You’ll find McHenry Dam State Park on the east side of Fox River and while there, you can also see McHenry Lock & Dam too.

Moraine Hills State Park is at 1510 S River Rd, McHenry, IL 60051.

10- Chain O’Lakes State Park

Grass Lake is a small lake in Chain O'Lakes State Park
Chain O’Lakes is one of the best Illinois state parks for lakes.

Another northern Illinois state park is Chain O’Lakes State Park, which is all about lakes and being on the water.

If you have a boat or want to rent boats, this is the perfect Illinois state park to visit.

Chain O’Lakes consists of nine interconnecting lakes.

At this State Park, 23 miles (37 km) of forested trails allow you to see some of the park’s waterways.

There are also 8 miles (13 km) of trails for horse riding as well as 6 miles (9.6 km) of biking trails.

There’s an archery range at Rt. 173 West of the Fox River.

Chain O’Lakes State Park is at 8916 Wilmot Rd, Spring Grove, IL 60081.

11- Siloam Springs State Park

In west-central Illinois, there is Siloam Springs State Park.

This beautiful state park showcases what Illinois has to offer in terms of nature.

The park is defined by its wooded terrain and stunning lake.

One of the things that Siloam Springs State Park does well is trails and there are several enjoyable trails all with varying difficulty.

The Red Oak Trail is a 6km trail that takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to complete.

This trail leads you over creek crossings with a couple of steep sections.

This is a fun hike for those looking for a bit of an adventure, as you may need to scramble over some streams.

Siloam Springs State Park is at 938 County Rd 3003 E, Clayton, IL 62324.

12- Sangchris Lake State Park

Just a few minutes outside Springfield, Sangchris Lake State Park is a popular local park.

This park is more than 3,000 acres (1214 ha) and the 120 miles (193 km) of Sangchris Lake’s shoreline are the park’s main focus.

If you want a great place to camp in Illinois, this is the place to be. You can camp near the lakeshore at Hickory Point and Deer Run campgrounds.

This state park is a boating, camping, fishing, and hiking haven. It’s a great place for the whole family to enjoy a lovely day out.

Sangchris Lake State Park is at 9898 Cascade Rd, Rochester, IL 62563.

13- Apple River Canyon State Park

The river in Apple River Canyon State Park
Apple River Canyon State Park in southern Illinois is near the Wisconsin border.

The Apple River Canyon State Park is in northwest Illinois around eight miles from the Wisconsin border.

The Apple River Canyon State Park was established in 1932 and is around 1,900 acres today.

Over the centuries, the Apple river has cut through the surrounding limestone rock.

It’s fascinating for geology enthusiasts to wander around Apple River Canyon State Park.

Nature lovers will also enjoy seeing the wide variety of birds and wildlife. You can spot deer, raccoons, eagles and around 50 varieties of birds in this state park.

Apple River Canyon State Park is at 8763 E Canyon Rd, Apple River, IL 61001.

14- Nauvoo State Park

On the banks of the Mississippi River, close to the border with Iowa, is Nauvoo State Park.

Nauvoo was originally called Quashquema, a Native American word meaning “peaceful place”.

The park is now named Nauvoo, the Hebrew word for “pleasant land”.

Nauvoo State Park is only 148 acres (60 ha) and includes a 13-acre (5.2 ha) lake with a mile of shoreline that you can explore.

As well as boating, camping, fishing, hiking, sledding and cross-country skiing in winter the Nauvoo State Park is also home to the Nauvoo Grape Festival.

Held on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Labor Day weekend, this festival is fun for the whole family, not just grape and wine lovers.

There’s excellent food, a pageant, wine tasting, carnival rides, a 5km run, arts and craft stalls and even mud volleyball.

Nauvoo State Park is at 980 S Bluff St, Nauvoo, IL 62354.

15- Illini State Park

Along the banks of the Illinois River and around one hour’s drive from Naperville is Illini State Park, which is named after the Native Americans who used to live in the area.

While most Illinois state parks are about nature, this park also has a history to tell.

The park was first dedicated in 1935.

This park is perfect for visiting with family or a big group of friends and you should consider bringing BBQ or picnic things with you.

Several picnic shelters are dotted around the park, including ones built by the CCC in the 1930s.

There are also several baseball pitches and playgrounds dotted around the park, ideal for anyone travelling with kids or staying active.

Illini State Park is at 980 S Bluff St, Nauvoo, IL 62354.

16- Lincoln (Abraham) Park

No mention of Illinois parks is complete without discussing Lincoln (Abraham) Park in Chicago.

Though not technically a state park, you have to add Lincoln (Abraham) Park to your Illinois to-do list.

This park is around 1,188 acres (480 ha) and is more than just a park.

It’s home to the free Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, Theater on the Lake, Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park Archery Range, and more.

There are playgrounds for kids and some of the best on-the-ground views of the stunning Chicago skyline.

Lincoln (Abraham) Park is at 500-5700 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60614.

17- Lake Murphysboro State Park

Head to southern Illinois, just north of Shawnee National Forest and you will find Lake Murphysboro State Park.

Lake Murphysboro is the central focus of this park and is shaped a little like an outstretched hand with all its long fingers.

Surrounding the lake are wonderful rolling hills and woodland.

There’s plenty to do in this 1,022-acre (414 ha) park, such as fishing, boating and camping at the scenic campsites around the park.

There are also three miles (4.8 km) of designated trails, so you can lose yourself in nature and try to spot some of the park’s wildlife.

Lake Murphysboro State Park is at 52 Cinder Hill Dr, Murphysboro, IL 62966.

18- Mississippi Palisades State Park

The Mississippi Palisades State Park is not just a state park but also a National Natural Landmark.

Just under five miles drive north of Savanna, this state park is truly spectacular.

This part of the Mississippi River is littered with islands, and lucky for you, there are four overlooks in the park where you can look out over this mighty river.

As well as views of the river, there are 15 miles (24 km) of hiking trails.

Along some of these trails you can see spectacular rock formations like the ‘Twin Sisters’ and ‘Indian Head’.

There is also a nature preserve which I know for its ferns and wildflowers.

Mississippi Palisades State Park is at 16327A IL-84, Savanna, IL 61074.

19- Beall Woods State Park

Beall Wood State Park is along the banks of the Wabash River in southeast Illinois.

This park is home to some of the last remaining virgin timber trees east of the Mississippi River.

Visit this Illinois state park and see 120 feet (37 m) tall trees with a whopping 3 feet diameter.

The park is open all year and is ideal for hiking, camping, picnicking and fishing on the river.

You can also check out the visitor centre for educational displays about the area, its trees and its history.

Beall Woods State Park is at 9285 Beall Woods Fire Ln, Mt Carmel, IL 62863.

20- Cave-In-Rock State Park

You guessed it; this state park is focused on a cave in a rock.

Located north of the Ohio River, close to the border with Kentucky, this Illinois state park is super fun.

The main attraction at this state park is the 55-foot-wide (17 m) cave carved out of the surrounding limestone rock.

This erosion was caused by water thousands of years ago.

As well as the cave, hiking trails lead through the surrounding forest.

There’s a pond for fishing or you can head to the Ohio River for excellent fishing and boating opportunities.

Cave-In-Rock State Park is at 1 New State Park Rd, Cave-In-Rock, IL 62919. 

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harriet comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!