Explore the Top 10 State Parks in Illinois for an Unforgettable Adventure

Have you been seeking out exquisite State Parks in Illinois? Delve into this comprehensive list of the finest State Parks in Illinois. Although it may not be widely known, Illinois boasts an array of stunning nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and picturesque outdoor scenery that are definitely worth checking out. Here’s a selection of the top ten State Parks in Illinois that you should make a point to drop by.

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Matthiessen state park IllinoisMatthiessen state park Illinois

Top State Parks in Illinois

Park Highlights // Admission Fees

Take a look at:

    Starved Rock State Park

    Illinois Beach State ParkIllinois Beach State Park

    ● The crystal-clear waterfalls serve as a significant attraction of this magnificent Park

    ● Lover's Leap Overlook provides an awe-inspiring view of the area

    Free Entry

    Matthiesen State Park

    Beautiful fall colors and the Original Office building in the Pere Marquette State Park in IllinoisBeautiful fall colors and the Original Office building in the Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois

    ● Matthiesen State Park is home to distinct flora such as black oak and red cedar among several other varieties

    ● The nearby Plum Island Eagle Sanctuary gives you an opportunity to sight eagles

    Free Entry

    If you're into birdwatching, you'd be remiss if you didn't visit Illinois Beach State Park. This lovely park is home to many rare bird species, including Solitary Sandpipers and Brewer's Blackbirds. What's surprising is that you can actually relax on a sandy beach in Illinois!

    The beautiful Kankakee river in Kankakee River State ParkThe beautiful Kankakee river in Kankakee River State Park

    Are you looking for the biggest state park in Illinois? Look no further than Pere Marquette State Park, which boasts a massive 8,050 acres! This park is full of historic natural features that were formed millions of years ago due to glaciers.

    Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in IllinoisFall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois

    Thrill-seekers will love the Rock Creek Suspension Bridge at Kankakee River State Park. This unique mode of transport takes visitors over the beautiful Kankakee River and can also provide an adrenaline boost. Speaking of the Kankakee River, its beauty is unparalleled and must be seen to be believed.

    Finally, nature lovers will adore Shawnee National Forest. This expansive forest is a must-see for anyone visiting Illinois.

    Castle Rock State Park IllinoisCastle Rock State Park Illinois

    Experience the grandeur of nature by embarking on a picturesque trek to the enchanting Jackson Falls, which exudes tranquility and beauty in equal measure.

    Take pleasure in a breathtaking view of the vast expanse of the forest from Garden of the Gods, one of the most attractive spots in the park that is sure to leave you spellbound.

    Rock Cut State Park, IllinoisRock Cut State Park, Illinois

    The coveted Castle Rock State Park continues to be a hub of botanical exploration and conservation, boasting an impressive array of over 27 distinct species of ferns that make for a unique and enriching experience for all botany enthusiasts.

    Delight in the rich landscape of Rock Cut State Park with its plethora of interesting flora, including a stunning variety of over 100 wildflowers that are sure to captivate your senses.

    A rockshelter at the Giant City Sate Park in IllinoisA rockshelter at the Giant City Sate Park in Illinois

    Take a step back in time at Giant City State Park, where the historic Lodge and Cabins offer an immersive experience into the park's ambiance and splendor. Additionally, the park houses notable carvings etched in stone faces dating back to the early 1800s, providing a glimpse into the long and fascinating history of the area.

    Finally, a visit to Fern Clyffe State Park is sure to leave you in awe with its breathtaking scenery, beautiful trails, and vibrant wildlife that make the park a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts.

    The access road to Ferne Clyffe State Park, one of the best state parks in IllinoisThe access road to Ferne Clyffe State Park, one of the best state parks in Illinois

    Explore the wonders of Illinois' wilderness with a trip to Fern Clyffe State Park. Embark on an adventure by hiking the half-mile Hawk's Cave Trail, which leads to a majestic shelter bluff that's sure to leave you in awe. Another thrilling trail to explore is the Big Rocky Hollow Trail, where you can marvel at a stunning waterfall on your journey. Best of all, admission to this park is completely free for visitors.

    If you're looking for a more iconic nature park experience, look no further than Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. The park boasts an impressive collection of over 13 miles of trails for hiking enthusiasts, along with countless opportunities for photography, fishing, and boating. Don't miss out on the 12 beautiful waterfalls that are present throughout the park; check out our list of the best waterfalls and explore them all when you visit. Keep in mind that some of the waterfalls are seasonal, so plan your visit accordingly.

    French Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park, one of the best state parks in IllinoisFrench Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park, one of the best state parks in Illinois

    Looking for more entertainment options? Click here for a list of other Starved Rock attractions. With so much to explore, it's worth spending several days here and at neighboring Matthiesen Park. Check out our list of the 12 Best Airbnbs in Starved Rock for 2021 if you're looking for accommodations in the area. Alternatively, if hotels are more your style, this post has got you covered.

    LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park IllinoisLaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois

    Starved Rock State Park also offers extensive trails for nature enthusiasts, making it one of the finest nature parks Illinois has to offer. Check out our list of amazing hikes in Illinois and broaden your hiking experience. And if you're looking for unbeatable views, be sure to visit Lover's Leap Overlook - it's a sight that will stay with you forever. Keep in mind that the park is open from 6:30 am to sunset daily.

    Matthiessen state park, one of Illinois' best state parksMatthiessen state park, one of Illinois' best state parks

    Admission to this park is completely free of charge!

    You'll find Matthiesen State Park situated in close proximity to the aforementioned Starved Rock State Park, making it an excellent addition to any itinerary.

    With five miles of hiking trails and nine miles of mountain biking and equestrian trails, there are plenty of ways to explore the park and take in its unique natural beauty. Keep your eyes peeled for the various animals that call Matthiesen home, from white-tailed deer to salamanders and intriguing bird species like the cliff swallow.

    Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State ParkCascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park

    While Matthiesen can be viewed as Starved Rock's smaller companion, it still boasts plenty of waterfalls and stunning rock formations – minus the crowds that can sometimes gather at the latter. The park is split into two areas, with most visitors finding the Northern section (known as the Dells area) to be the most picturesque. Be sure to bring waterproof or water-resistant shoes, as the trails can get quite muddy.

    Illinois Beach State ParkIllinois Beach State Park

    Matthiesen's unique climate enables a range of interesting trees and mosses to thrive here, including black oak and red cedar. If you're lucky, you might even spot an eagle – the Plum Island Eagle Sanctuary is located nearby.

    Once again, admission to this park is completely free!

    Illinois Beach State Park is a stunning 4,160-acre expanse that stretches along the coast of Lake Michigan. Soak up the serene views of the crystal-clear water and white sand, while enjoying over 6.5 miles of pristine beaches.

    You'll never run out of activities to enjoy at this beautiful park – go hiking, try your hand at fishing, take a refreshing swim in Lake Michigan, and more. Finally, please note that separate parking lots are available for the northern Dells area and the southern Vermilion river area.

    Greetings adventure seekers! Are you itching for some free fun in Illinois? Look no further than our recommended activities below.

    In the winter months, don't miss the opportunity to cross-country ski in the nearby park area. If you prefer the water, North Point Marina accommodates larger boats, while smaller paddle boats and kayaks are perfect for exploring Lake Michigan's waters.

    Please note, furry friends are not permitted on the beach or nature preserve, but leashed dogs are welcome at the campgrounds, picnic areas, and certain hiking trails.

    Illinois Beach State Park proves a gem for birdwatchers. Keep an eagle eye out for rare species like Solitary Sandpipers and Brewer's Blackbirds. Surprisingly, the park even sports a sandy beach you can relax on for free!

    Beautiful fall colors and the Original Office building in the Pere Marquette State Park in IllinoisBeautiful fall colors and the Original Office building in the Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois

    The historic Pere Marquette State Park grants visitors thousands of acres of wildlife and natural wonder. Before its inception, Native Americans once called this area home, clues of their presence still visible today. Named after French missionary Pere Marquette, this destination has something for everyone. Hike trails, fish, rock climb with proper safety preparation, or opt for horseback riding or bird watching.

    For eagle enthusiasts, Pere Marquette State Park is a prime destination during January and February. Check out our handy guide for best sightings. Camp sites, cabins, and even a lodge with a swimming pool, sauna, and cocktail lounge are available for you to book.

    Excitement awaits – start your free adventure today!

    Irrespective of your preference, there are numerous ways to make your visit to Pere Marquette State Park an unforgettable experience.

    With an astonishing 8,050 acres, Pere Marquette State Park is the largest state park in Illinois. It features awe-inspiring natural formations that were sculpted millions of years ago by glaciers. Bird enthusiasts can spot a whopping 230 species of birds here. The park operates from 5:30 AM to 8:00 PM and, even better, the entrance is free! It is situated at 13112 Visitor Center Lane, Grafton, Illinois 62037.

    The beautiful Kankakee river in Kankakee River State ParkThe beautiful Kankakee river in Kankakee River State Park

    Kankakee River State Park spans 4,000 acres of picturesque surrounding areas, making it the perfect location for an array of exciting activities. Visitors can explore the park's fantastic hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. If you are keen to enjoy the river, you can participate in a canoeing expedition or try your hand at fishing. Winter sports enthusiasts are also covered, with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling on offer. The park's beauty is complemented by the Rock Creek Suspension Bridge, which takes visitors over Rock creek and is a part of the Kankakee river trail. This park is free to visit, and it operates from 6:30 AM to 8:00 PM. You can find it at 5314 W, IL-102, Bourbonnais, Illinois 60914.

    Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in IllinoisFall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois

    Nestled in Illinois' southern region is the Shawnee National Forest - a vast swath of beautiful woodlands, lakes, and dynamic landscapes that have been managed by the US Forest Service since August 1993. It was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who protected the land nationally. The real game-changer in this forest happens in fall when the foliage changes color, rendering the Garden of the Gods attractive and breathtaking. There's something for everyone at this national forest.

    Despite being a National Forest rather than a State Park, Illinois' nature enthusiasts are in for a treat with a visit to this wonderful destination. If you appreciate wildlife and exploring, you cannot miss out on what the Illinois wilderness has to offer.

    Treehouse in Shawnee national forest

    At the park, visitors can experience diverse activities such as hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and exploring the region by boat. Located along the Mississippi and Ohio river, the forest boasts many unique waterways yet to be explored.

    The Jackson Falls area of the park offers an adrenaline-packed experience for hikers who desire a bit of thrill. At Jackson Falls, visitors can enjoy rappelling and rock climbing, with several sites catering to different expertise levels. Over 250 different routes are available, with the easiest graded 5.6 and the hardest a grade of 5.13b.

    Castle Rock State Park IllinoisCastle Rock State Park Illinois

    Several dispersed camping sites in the park are available to those who desire a night under the stars. For those uninterested in camping, budget hotels near the park are available for booking. Additionally, even visitors not interested in camping can use the park’s vault toilets.

    Visitors can hike to the beautiful Jackson Falls, where the water flows into a turquoise blue pool surrounded by bold rock faces offering unique climbing opportunities. One of the most gorgeous spaces in the park is the Garden of the Gods, known for its stunning panoramic view of the forest. For visitors looking to stay near Garden of the Gods, cozy cabins are available nearby.

    Rock Cut State Park, IllinoisRock Cut State Park, Illinois

    The Castle Rock State Park, situated along the Rock River, is named for a remarkable sandstone formation. The park offers a diverse landscape with rock formations, ravines, and varied vegetation, including many different species of ferns. Six miles of hiking trails throughout the park provide an excellent opportunity for spotting birds and other wildlife. In the winter, visitors can try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing along the snowy trails. About 710 acres of the park are reserved for a Nature Reserve, dedicated to study and preservation of unique Illinois plant species specific to this region of the state.

    For more Southern Illinois attractions and amazing cabin stays in Shawnee National Forest, click the links provided.

    Pierce LakePierce Lake

    Castle Rock state park offers primitive camping on the Rock Creek bank accessible only by canoe, as there are no standard campsites available. The park is dedicated to preserving and exploring nature, with 27 identified species of ferns for plant enthusiasts to enjoy. Admission is free, and the park is open from 6:00 AM to sunset daily. Visit at 1365 W Castle Road, Oregon, Illinois 61061.

    A rockshelter at the Giant City Sate Park in IllinoisA rockshelter at the Giant City Sate Park in Illinois

    Rock Cut State Park got its name from the Kenosha-Rockford rail built during its construction in 1859. Though the rail is no longer in use, visitors may spot tracks hidden in Pierce Lake on the 3,092-acre protected land. With 26 miles of bike trails, 40 miles of hiking trails, and 25 miles of equestrian trails, the park offers ample opportunity for exploration and adventure. Pierce Lake is great for fishing or ice-skating while Olsen Lake provides a swimming spot. The park contains almost 300 campsites for all-year use, with a minority available for reservations. Discover the park's varied flora, including over 100 types of wildflowers and wildlife such as deer, foxes, and beavers. Admission is free, and the park is open from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM daily at 7318 Harlem Road, Loves Park, Illinois 61111.

    Stone Fort TrailStone Fort Trail

    Giant City State Park is a nature lover's paradise, featuring woodland areas with unique rock formations such as the impressive sandstone bluffs on the Giant City Nature Trail. Visitors can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, picnics, and even rock climbing trails for a more daring adventure. The park has rich historical significance, with the lodge built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936, and additional cabins added in 1985. The visitor center houses educational programs for all ages throughout the year, free for all to attend. Overnight guests can stay in replicas of the original 1930s cabins. Admission is free, and the park is open from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily at 235 Giant City Road, Makanda, Illinois 62958.

    The access road to Ferne Clyffe State Park, one of the best state parks in IllinoisThe access road to Ferne Clyffe State Park, one of the best state parks in IllinoisThe access road to Ferne Clyffe State Park, one of the best state parks in IllinoisThe access road to Ferne Clyffe State Park, one of the best state parks in Illinois

    Ferne Clyffe State Park offers visitors a breathtaking nature experience with eighteen different trails for hiking and horseback riding. The park's picnic areas are a popular attraction, with seven available sites complete with grills, toilets, and a playground for children. Overnight guests can choose from a range of campsites, including primitive setups or ones with shower facilities, depending on personal preferences. The Hawk's Cave Trail leads half a mile to a shelter bluff aptly named the "cave," while the Big Rocky Hollow Trail takes hikers to an impressive waterfall perfect for summertime splashing and play. Admission is free, and the park is open all hours of the day at 90 Goreville Road, Goreville, Illinois 62939.

    Visiting any of these stunning Illinois State Parks offers a unique opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of the state. Spend a few days at one park or take a road trip to see them all. For the best national parks in Illinois, consult our link. Accompanying web stories are available through the provided links.

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