Road Trips: State parks beckon for weekend getaways

By Judy Harvey Chronicle Media

Pere Marquette State Park offers some impressive views of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers along its trails. (Photo courtesy of Pere Marquette Lodge)

UPDATED July 30, 2020

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources operates 309 state parks and recreational sites on more than 475,000 acres of land across the state.

These sites are as varied in their landscape as Illinois itself — from natural prairie lands to rocky bluffs overlooking rivers to campgrounds and beaches.

Some of these state parks are more than destinations for day trips and in this week’s entry in our Road Trips series, we profile the parks where you can settle in for a weekend or longer in historic lodges or comfortable cabins.

The amenities and nearby sites may surprise you.

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock Lodge

2688 E. 873rd Road. Oglesby

815- 667-4211 or 800-868-7625

Starved Rock State Park is located along the Illinois River in Utica/Oglesby and offers different options for overnight or weekend stays.  Visitors can choose the comfort of the spacious hotel rooms at the Lodge and Conference Center, which offers 90 private accommodations. You can get a sense of the 1930’s and stay in the original lodge rooms or book a room in the modern hotel wing room.

The Lodge and Conference Center at Starved Rock State Park opened in the 1930s but the rooms have been modernized over the years. (Photo courtesy of Starved Rock Lodge)

The Lodge includes a restaurant, gift shop and other amenities.

If you are looking for a more rustic getaway, there park offers authentic log cabins originally built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  The cabins vary in size and can accommodate anywhere from two people to a family up to seven.  Check for whether pets are allowed.

In addition to the hiking and exploring of Starved Rock Park, nearby Utica offers wineries and you can enjoy boat cruises along the Illinois River.


Pere Marquette State Park

and Lodge

13112 Visitor Center Lane



Pere Marquette State Park is the largest state park in Illinois covering nearly 8,000 acres. It features some of the most picturesque locations on the Illinois River and visitors come for the hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding and scenic drives.

The Visitors Center has several displays telling the story of the famous explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet as well as the evolution of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

One of the stone cabins available to rent for a stay at the Pere Marquette State park, the state’s largest park. (Photo courtesy of Pere Marquette Lodge)

Visitors can stay in one of 22 stone cabins on the grounds or in one of the 50 rooms at the Pere Marquette Lodge, which features a full-service restaurant, winery and pool and other amenities.

In addition to the park, there are many nearby attractions to explore.


Illinois Beach State Park

Lake Front – Park Office


Illinois Beach State Park extends 6.5 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan in northern Illinois and is the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state, with dunes and swales, marshes, forests of oak and vast arrays of animal life and vegetation.

Illinois Beach Resort Hotel is a popular location for weekend getaways as well as weddings. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Beach Resort Hotel)

The park encompasses 4,160 acres and has two separate areas — North Unit and South Unit campgrounds.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) announced that beginning Saturday, Aug. 1, the beach at will be closed Saturdays and Sundays to encourage social distancing and prevent further spread of COVID-19. The beach, including the North Unit, South Unit and North Point Beach, will remain closed on Saturdays and Sundays until further notice.

Visitors can go hiking, fishing, camping or just have a picnic while taking in the natural world around them.

In addition to the beaches, trails and campgrounds, the Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center (  offers spa-like getaways for a weekend or a weeklong vacation. The hotel features 92 rooms that lean to an art deco design.

The Lakeside Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Giant City State Park 

and Lodge

460 Giant City Lodge Road



The park — located in the Shawnee National Forest — covers 4,000 acres of natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation. (Photo courtesy of IDNR)

The park — located in the Shawnee National Forest — covers 4,000 acres of natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation, including camping, picnicking, hunting and fishing, rock climbing, rappelling and horseback riding. Giant City State Park Visitor’s Center contains an exhibit hall with displays of the natural, cultural, and geological features of the park. Visitors can view a 10-minute film about the park can be viewed at the center.


Giant City offers cabins on the grounds along with the historic lodge, which is known for its architecture and top-rated food at its restaurant.  There is also an outdoor pool on site.


Cave-in-the-Rock State Park

420 East Park Road



Located at the southeastern tip of Southern Illinois, Cave-in-Rock State Park is 204 acres located along the Ohio River. It was created in 1929 and the 55-foot wide cave is situated on the north bank of the river and served as shelter for Native Americans as well as French explorers.

Visitors to Cave-in-the-Rock State Park in far southeastern Illinois can enjoy views like this during their stay. The park offers cabins overlooking the Ohio River. (Photo courtesy of Cave-in-the-Rock State Park)

Aside from the cave, there are also two hiking trails that give visitors a variety of scenic views of the park and river. Garden of the Gods is one of the main attractions for rock climbing or hiking trails to see spectacular rock formations, including Camel Rock.

The Cave-in-the Rock features cabins perched 80 feet above the Ohio river on Pirate’s Bluff. The restaurant provides lunch and dinner in the dining room or on the patio.