There are over a hundred state protected areas in Illinois which include wildlife areas, state forests, nature reserves, state parks, and so much more. Together, they provide a variety of recreation opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you’re into something as simple as hiking or something more unique like metal detecting.
1. Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park
Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park has all of the usual facilities you’d expect from an outdoor space such as hiking trails, bike trails, camping sites, fishing piers, boating facilities, and cross-country skiing trails in the winter. What makes it really stand out is additional recreational opportunities such as swimming, scuba diving, and geocaching. The swimming beach is one of the best in the state - a 6.5 mile golden sandy turf of Lake Michigan. The park also has an on-site resort which is perfect for a couple’s getaway or a vacation with the entire family.
Address: 1 Lake Front Drive, Zion, Illinois 60099, Phone: 847-662-4811
2. Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor
The Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor (I&M Canal) was the first national heritage area to be designated as so by Congress. Since it was established in 1982, people have come from far and wide to enjoy the well-preserved area which has significant natural, cultural, and historical value. You can walk in the footsteps of Chief Shabbona or Abraham Lincoln, have a memorable time on a canal boat tour, or walk the 15-mile stretch of trail which goes through three interesting canal towns. Anglers can head straight to Lock 14 on the I&M Canal, which has two distinct fishing environments on the canal and the Illinois River full of largemouth bass, channel catfish, rainbow trout, and walleye.
Address: I&M Canal Visitor Center: 754 First Street, LaSalle, IL 61301, Phone: 815-220-1848
3. Illinois State Parks: Big River State Forest
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Big River State Forest was acquired by the state in 1925, but prior to that, it was an Oquawka Refuge as well as the Milroy Plantation. The land has expanded to 2,900 acres since it was established in 1928, but still has some of the area’s oldest and tallest pine trees. You’ll be able to explore the park’s stunning natural features such as the vast prairie woodlands, several endangered plant species, and unique flora such as Sullivan’s milkweed and kittentail. Everyone in the family will have a memorable time as they spend their days hiking, horseback riding, fishing, boating, camping, or hunting.
Address: 1337 Township Road 2850 N, Keithsburg IL 61443-9609, Phone: 309-374-2496
4. Big Rock Forest Preserve
There are so many beautiful aspects of Big Rock Forest Preserve, but some of its best highlights are the 65-foot deep lake, crystal-clear creeks, the tallgrass prairie, and the mature woodlands. You will find so much to enjoy and explore, no matter what season of the year you find yourself there. You can go birdwatching during the spring migration, fishing during the summer, hiking in the woods and seeing the fall foliage in autumn, and cross-country skiing during the winter months. Though swimming is not allowed, fishing is allowed in the Big Rock Quarry and it has several species of fish which are sure to excite anglers. Other activities including picnicking, bicycling, horseback riding, and more.
Address: 46W072 Jericho Rd, Big Rock, IL 60511, Phone: 630-232-1242
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5. Blackberry Maples Forest Preserve
One of the best times to visit Blackberry Maples Forest Preserve is from July to September, when the open prairie is in full bloom and you can further explore the sloping prairie, the mature maple forest, and the lush meadows. It’s a great place to go bird watching and see all the resident and migratory birds build nests high in the treetops. The forest preserve is also a wonderful place to observe the diverse local wildlife and their various natural habitats. Things you can do while you’re there include hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and more - you can also bring your pets along as fur friends are more than welcome at Blackberry Maples.
Address: 43W231 Main St, Elburn, IL 60119, Phone: 630-232-5980
6. Buffalo Rock State Park
From hiking, biking, and camping, to cross-country skiing, hunting, and geocaching, the things you could do while visiting Buffalo Rock State Park are endless. The park is situated on a bluff which was once an island in the Illinois River; standing there today, you will see amazing panoramic views of the river and the surroundings. For those who enjoy camping, you’ll be thrilled to know that there are three primitive camping sites which offer a beautiful way to experience nature without modern-day influences. The sites are only fitted with a fire ring and can only be access by walking or cycling.
Address: 1300 N 27th Rd, Ottawa, IL 61350, Phone: 815-433-2224
7. Chain O' Lakes State Park
Chain O’ Lakes State Park is situated right in the heart of Illinois, surrounded by stunning bodies of water such as Fox River and Grass Lake. Furthermore, the state park has a 44-acre lake within its boundaries, which gives visitors an additional 488 miles of shoreline to enjoy during their visit. The park also has four trail systems, seven picnic areas, and over eight miles of equestrian trails. If you enjoy camping, then you can choose to stay in one of over 230 campsites; there are also three cabins for rent which are perfect for those who want to enjoy nature but still need amenities from the modern day.
Address: 8916 Wilmot Road, Spring Grove IL 60081, Phone: 847-587-5512
8. Clinton Lake State Recreation Area
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy nature while fishing off a boat or camping under the stars, then there’s no better place to do so then at Clinton Lake State Recreation Area. The lush green area spans over 9,000 acres and includes a 4,900-acre lake which is full of bass and catfish that anglers can catch from their boats, from the banks, or the designated fishing pier. The lake is a popular and busy boating area, full of big and small sailboats and motor boats. Other aspects of the recreation area include a sandy swimming beach, hiking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, campsites, and designated hunting areas where you can catch deer, rabbit, pheasant, and more.
Address: 7251 Ranger Rd, De Witt, IL 61735, Phone: 217-935-8722
9. Franklin Creek State Natural Area
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The Franklin Creek State Natural Area is an 882-acre green space that was established in 1970. As you walk through and explore the land, you’ll come across a pristine ecosystem full of hardwood forests, several natural springs, and bedrock outcroppings which provide a home for a varied array of flora and fauna. The site includes a 198-acre nature preserve that is so diverse and beautiful, you’ll want to capture it as much as possible, so be sure to take your camera along. Some of the common wildlife you’ll come across are woodpeckers, warblers, racoons, fox squirrels, and deer; nearly 20 species of fish live in Franklin Creek.
Address: 1872 Twist Rd, Franklin Grove, IL 61031
10. Grant Ulysses Park
What Central Park is to New York, Grant Ulysses Park is to Chicago. It is often called “Chicago’s Front Yard” and is a 313-acre green space that can be found right in the heart of the city’s central business district. The centerpiece of the park is considered to be Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, which was built in 1927 to protects the park’s breathtaking lakefront views. Grant Park is home to some of the area’s most notable attractions and features such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Campus, Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium. In addition to several breathtaking gardens, the park also houses tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and other designated sport areas. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to attend one of the many events which are held there such as The Grant Park Music Festival or The Taste of Chicago.
Address: Columbus Drive, Chicago, IL 60602, Phone: 312-742-3918
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11. Hidden Springs State Forest
Formerly known as Shelby State Forest, Hidden Springs State Forest is a 1,200-acre outdoor space that is wonderful for exploring Illinois’ lush greenery. The name change was the result of them uncovering seven springs around the property which were used by early settlers for drinking water, but over the years had been hidden by vegetation and natural growth. During your visit, you can go picnicking on their Rolling Meadows picnic area, catch bass or channel catfish from one of the five fishing ponds, or go hiking on one of the several trails such as Possum Hollow Nature Trail or the Big Tree Trail. The entire park, other than the areas which house the picnic area, headquarters, and campground, are open to hunting - only shotgun and bow and arrow hunting are permitted.
Address: 2438 E 700N Rd., Strasburg IL 62465, Phone: 217-644-3091
12. Illini State Park
In addition to usual outdoor activities which are available at parks such as hiking or camping, you can also participate in some unique things such as geocaching or metal detecting during your visit to Illini State Park. There are amenities for visitors who enjoy boating, fishing, cross-country skiing, and more. The park has several stunning riverside picnic areas which offer beautiful views of the surroundings, making it the perfect place for friends and family to pack and take a basket lunch. In addition to picnic areas, other park facilities include shelters which can be rented out for large gatherings and playgrounds for little kids to enjoy.
Address: 2660 E 2350th Rd, Marseilles, IL 61341, Phone: 815-795-2448
13. Apple River Canyon State Park
Filled with wooded areas, limestone bluffs, streams, springs, and deep ravines, Apple River Canyon State Park is one of the most scenic outdoor spaces in Illinois. The park was established in 1932 and currently comprises 1,907 acres. There are several aspects of the park which visitors enjoy; for examples, campers can choose to stay at either the Walnut Grove Camping Area or the Canyon Ridge Camping Area, while hikers can choose from five different trails, three of which are looped. Popular activities in the park other than camping and hiking are picnicking, fishing, and hunting, the last of which is limited to certain areas and need proper licenses.
Address: 8763 E Canyon Rd, Apple River, IL 61001, Phone: 815-745-3302
14. Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area
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Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area (JEPC) is one of the largest public access areas in the state of Illinois. As you explore the land, you’ll come across rare hill prairies, grasslands, forests, and agricultural lands - all of which is home to a varied assortment of flora and wildlife. There are several areas designated for recreation as well as conservation in the 16,550-acre natural area. You can choose to go fishing on Prairie Lake, Gridley Lake, Drake Lake, or at several other bodies of water. Hunting for wild turkey, deer, pheasant, and several other animals is also allowed at JEPC.
Address: 10149 Co Rd 11, Chandlerville, IL 62627, Phone: 217-452-7741
15. Kankakee River State Park
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Kankakee River State Park is the perfect year-round outdoor space to explore while you are in Illinois. The land was first home to Native Americans, and later farmers and traders, before it was recognized as a treasured recreational space. The park attracts all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, bicyclers, anglers, hunters, canoeists, and campers, and rightly so because it is filled with stunning features and facilities. The park envelopes both sides of the Kankakee River, which is perfect for fishing for channel catfish, smallmouth bass, Northern pike, and walleye. There are seasonal hunting programs as well which allow for upland game hunting and archery deer hunting.
Address: 5314 W. Rt. 102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914, Phone: 815-933-1383
16. Kickapoo State Recreation Area
Kickapoo State Recreation Area has any and every outdoor activity you can imagine, whether it be hiking and horseback riding or mountain biking and boating. There is so much that you can partake in and enjoy. If you love being in and around the water, you may want to spend your time at the park canoeing, fishing, or even scuba diving. Those who prefer land activities may want to go camping or hunting, both of which are allowed in designated areas with proper licenses. The natural beauty of the 2,842 acre recreational area is just stunning and is a thriving habitat for wildlife, flora, and both residential and migratory bird species.
Address: 10906 Kickapoo Park Rd, Oakwood, IL 61858, Phone: 217-442-4915
17. Lake Murphysboro State Park
The star-shaped namesake lake is the main feature of Lake Murphysboro State Park and is a main feature for the park’s many visitors. Surrounding the lake, you’ll find rolling hills, thriving woods, and so many other natural habitats full of flora and fauna. The park is 1,022 acres and is a wonderful environment to enjoy picnicking, hiking, boating, fishing, and camping. Archery is another activity that is extremely popular at the park and an archery range is located in the northwest section. Anglers can try their hand at fishing off a boat, bank fishing, or fishing off the lake’s pier to catch channel catfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, crappie, and more.
Address: 52 Cinder Hill Dr, Murphysboro, IL 62966, Phone: 618-684-2867
18. Lincoln (Abraham) Park
Lincoln Abraham Park spans nearly 1,200 acres and comprises several aspects such as the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago History Museum, Theatre on the Lake, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the Lincoln Park Archery Range, the North Pond Nature Sanctuary, and so much more. The park’s features are incomparable and also include five playgrounds, a rowing canal, numerous playing fields, and several other world-class amenities and historic landmarks for park users to enjoy. While you’re there, be sure to stop by and visit the famous and prominent statue of Abraham Lincoln whom the park is named after.
Address: 500-5700 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60614, Phone: 312-742-7726
19. Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge
The Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1973 and can be found beside the Illinois River. It spans over 3,582 acres and provides a sanctuary for wildlife and migratory birds such as waterfowl. You’ll be able to explore marsh habitats, seasonal wetlands, prairies, and upland forests during your time there. Anglers can take advantage of the fishing opportunities on both the Illinois River as well as Meredosia Lake. Other activities which are available are wildlife viewing, photography, self-guided and staff-led hikes full of information, and classes and workshops on the natural environments of the refuge for visitors of all ages.
Address: 2227 N Beach Rd, Meredosia, IL 62665, Phone: 309-535-2290
20. Mississippi Palisades State Park
Mississippi Palisades State Park is a 2,500-acre outdoor space which was established in 1973. Also recognized as a U.S. National Natural Landmark, the park is one of the most popular ones in Illinois. In addition to its stunning wooded areas, visitors will also be able to explore and enjoy the several large cliffs and caves which are located within the park along the shore of the Mississippi River. Some of the activities offered include camping, cross country skiing, fishing, geocaching, hiking, hunting, metal detecting, rock climbing, and picnicking. Some of the hiking trails you’ll walk on are on the same path Native American pathfinders took so many years ago. The area is rich in beauty as well as history, and you’ll see and learn so much in the time you spend there.
Address: 16327A IL-84, Savanna, IL 61074
21. Nauvoo State Park
Nauvoo State Park was once a Fox Indian settlement that had nearly 500 lodges; the name Nauvoo is a Fox Indian word which means “peaceful place” and perfectly describes the state park you’ll see today. The 148-acre park sits on the banks of the Mississippi River and includes a 13-acre lake, both of which can be used for an array of recreational activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, and boating. They always have tons of community events throughout the year, with one of their most popular being the annual Grape Festival. While your there be sure to stop by the Nauvoo State Park Museum which is a restored 1840s house full of local exhibits and artifacts.
Address: 980 S Bluff St, Nauvoo, IL 62354, Phone: 217-453-2512
22. Shawnee National Forest
Shawnee National Forest houses over 280,000 acres of woodlands, glades, prairies, barrens, rocky outcrops, lands, streams, ponds, and waterfalls. Within this gorgeous expanse of land, there are so many recreational opportunities for visitors of all ages and skill levels. Some of the most popular activities park visitors partake in are hiking, camping, horseback riding, swimming, fishing, hunting, picnicking, and taking photographs of the park’s thriving flora and fauna. If you still want to enjoy the lush outdoors and its rolling farmland and rocky bluffs, but don’t want to get too close, then witness the beauty from the comfort of your car by driving through the Ohio River National Scenic Byway.
Address: Herod, IL 62947, Phone: 800-699-6637
23. Siloam Springs State Park
Siloam Springs State Park was originally a land owned by George Meyers for his service in the Mexican and Black Hawk wars as part of a military tract that set land aside to be given to combat veterans. After his death, the land was purchased by a local businessman who erected bathing houses and hotels around the Siloam Springs and marketed it to cure almost all ailments. Today, visitors can partake in so much while visiting the state park. Amenities and features of the park include picnic shelters with barbecue grills and tables, restrooms, playgrounds, parking, horseshoe pits, a number of campsites, hiking trails, horse trails, concession stands, boat and canoe rentals, row boat rentals, boat launching ramps, fishing piers, and much more.
Address: 938 County Rd 3003 E, Clayton, IL 62324, Phone: 217-894-6205
24. Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is known for its steep sandstone canyons, many of which also have gorgeous waterfalls. The canyons are formed by glacial meltwater and popular sites include French, Wildcat, and St. Louis Canyons. You can walk the wooded trails through the park’s stunning surroundings and wildlife; the trails lead to Lover’s Leap Overlook, where you will be able to see panoramic views of Starved Rock Dam and the river. 2.1 million visitors head to the state park every year, and rightly so, because it is nothing like you can experience anywhere else in Illinois.
Address: 2668 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348
25. William W. Powers State Recreation Area
The William W. Powers State Recreation Area is an IUCN category V protected landscape and seascape. It was established in 1947 and spans over 580 acres, including 419 acres of water in the form of the stunning Wolf Lake. Over half a million visitors come to the park annually to explore its rich collection of flora and fauna; numerous species call the park home, making it one of the most important biological sites in the area. Birdwatchers will be so excited to see native as well as migratory birds such as cardinals, orioles, Canada geese, woodpeckers, mallards, and even the occasional bald eagle.
Address: 12949 S Avenue O, Chicago, IL 60633, Phone: 773-646-3270
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