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 parks are as varied in their landscape as Illinois itself — from natural prairie lands to rocky bluffs overlooking rivers to campgrounds and beaches.
The parks are affordable — free to enter — and can be found all over the broad swath of the state, often easily accessed within a few hours or less. For these reasons and more, Illinois’ state parks are getting more and more popular for a day outing, a weekend getaway or longer, for families, couples, or individuals alike.
Some parks include camp grounds for those who want a true outdoors experience and others might surprise you with the lodging amenities they offer on site.
Here is a glance at just some of the state’s top parks.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
16327A IL Rte. 84
The trails at the Mississippi Palisades, especially the park’s southern routes, put you in touch with the past. Walk them and you’ll trace the footsteps of all those who came before you, some of whom came this way nearly a thousand years ago.
Located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple rivers in northwestern Illinois, the 2,500-acre Mississippi Palisades State Park is rich in Native American history.. It offers spectacular views of the Mississippi River at the Iowa border.
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.
The park encompasses 4,160 acres and has two separate areas — North Unit and South Unit campgrounds.
Visitors can go swimming, boating, 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 (https://ilresorts.com) 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.
Chain o’ Lakes State Park
8916 Wilmot Road
The park borders three natural lakes — Grass, Marie and Nippersink — and the Fox River that connects the other seven lakes that make up the Chain. The park contains a 44-acre lake within its boundaries. With nearly 6,500 acres of water and 488 miles of shoreline, Chain O’Lakes State Park is the heart of a water playground.
Chain O’Lakes State Park became a state park in 1945 when the State of Illinois made an initial purchase of 840 acres. The Chain O’Lakes Conservation Area was incorporated into the state park in 1957.
The park features seven picnic areas and four trail systems. The Nature’s Way hiking trail starts at Oak Grove Picnic Area and is 2 1/4 miles in length. The Pike Marsh North Picnic Area has an accessible trail that a quarter-mile long. The park also contains 8 miles of equestrian trail and a 6 miles biking/hiking trail.
Chain O’Lakes includes more than 230 campsites and a youth group camp.
Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock Lodge
2688 E. 873rd Road. Oglesby
815-667-4211 or 800-868-7625
The state’s most popular park, 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 1930s and stay in the original lodge rooms or book a room in the modern hotel wing room.
The Lodge includes a restaurant, gift shop and other amenities.
If you are looking for a more rustic getaway, the 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.
Kankakee River State Park
5314 W. Rt. 102
The Kankakee River State Park encompasses 4,000 acres along both sides of the Kankakee River for 11 miles, in an area 6 miles northwest of Kankakee. Illinois Rt. 102 on the north and Illinois Rt. 113 on the south frame the park, with I-55 and I-57 both providing convenient access.
Fishing the Kankakee River is great. Rock Creek also is a good angling spot. The park has boat ramps at the Warner Bridge Day Use Area and the Area 9 parking lot on the south side of the river.
For camping enthusiasts, Kankakee River State Park is one of the state’s most popular campgrounds, featuring more than 200 campsites, with reservations available online. Group and equestrian campgrounds are also available.
Wolf Creek State Park
1837 N Wolf Creek Road
In east central Illinois, the Wolf Creek/Eagle Creek sites, facing each other across the central portion of Lake Shelbyville, provide the perfect setting for outdoor recreation and natural relaxation for a day, a weekend, or even longer.
Wolf Creek State Park and the adjoining Eagle Creek State Recreation Area encompass 11,100 acres of water, 250 miles of shoreline and large tracts of woodlands is a great location for water sports and recreation in addition to camping and horseback riding.
Eldon Hazlet State Park
20750 Hazlet Park Road
Hazlet Cottages on Carlyle Lake in Eldon Hazlet State Park features 20 cottages available for rent in the park, located on the Carlyle Lake shoreline. Each unit offers many home-like amenities and central air and heat; single cottages have gas fireplaces, and duplexes without adjoining doors also have fireplaces.
Activities within the park and on Carlyle Lake include an in-ground pool ideal for families, camping, hiking, fishing, picnicking, nature watching, hunting, boating and sailing. There is also a camp store on site for restocking food, beverages and supplies.
It is perfect location for just getting away from it all and recharging for few days on a lakefront.
Giant City State Park
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, 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.
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.
Pere Marquette State Park
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.
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.