The Top 8 State Parks in Illinois

View Of Waterfall At Starved Rock State Park
Eddie J. Rodriquez / EyeEm / Getty Images

Often less crowded than national parks, state parks afford visitors wonderful opportunities to get outside and explore. Home to 309 state parks and recreational sites, Illinois has something to offer every type of outdoorsy traveler, whether you're looking to camp or hike in the warm-weather months, go ice fishing come winter, or spot wildlife year-round. Keep reading to learn about Illinois’ best state parks, full of diverse ecosystems, flora, and fauna.

01 of 08

Moraine Hills State Park

Lake shore in a state park, Illinois
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1510 S River Rd, McHenry, IL 60051-9217, USA
Phone +1 815-385-1624

Moraine Hills State Park, located in northeastern Illinois 3 miles south of McHenry, stretches 2,200 acres and is comprised of wetlands and lakes. Bring your binoculars and spot more than 100 different bird species, including great blue herons and green herons, as well as migratory birds like great egrets. Don’t forget to look below as well—red foxes, coyotes, white-tailed deer, cottontails, and raccoons make their home here. You can also spend your time fishing, picnicking near the 48-acre glacial Lake Defiance, or hiking at Pike Marsh, a 115-acre area full of rare plants and flowers. As you explore the marsh, be on the lookout for Ohio goldenrod, dwarf birch, Kalm’s lobelia, hoary willow, and pitcher plants, the latter of which catch and digest insects.

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02 of 08

Illinois Beach State Park

Illinois Beach State Park
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1 Lake Front Dr, Zion, IL 60099, USA
Phone +1 847-662-4811

Spanning 6.5 miles along Lake Michigan, Illinois Beach State Park can be found near the towns of Antioch, Buffalo Grove, and Deerfield in the northern part of the state. You can enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities here, including swimming, boating, hiking, fishing, picnicking, and jogging. With more than 650 plant species, spring is a particularly nice time to visit due to the multi-hued wildflowers in bloom. See pine trees in the southern area of the park (where camping is also available) as well as Dead River, which is more of a pond in appearance.

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03 of 08

Matthiessen State Park

Idyllic View Of Waterfall In Forest
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2500 IL-178, Oglesby, IL 61348, USA
Phone +1 815-667-4868

This central LaSalle County state park attracts visitors from all over to wander its canyons, prairies, and forests, dotted with streams and large rock formations. The Upper and Lower Dells, in the main canyon, are some of the must-see sites, as the mineral deposits create a rainbow of colors on the rocks. The park is rich in flora and fauna, too: Keep your eyes peeled for deer, which are drawn to the mineral-rich springs, as well as the mosses, liverworts, and ferns growing in the wet canyons. Meanwhile, oak and cedar trees flourish on the sandy bluffs up high. This park is one of the most popular in Illinois; it's best visited early in the day and during the week, when there are fewer people to contend with. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are ideal months to explore.

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04 of 08

Kankakee River State Park

Water on the river at the Kankakee State Park IL
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5314 IL-102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914, USA
Phone +1 815-933-1383

Located 6 miles northwest of Kankakee, this 4,000-acre state park occupies land on both sides of the Kankakee River. It has a long history, with the area first attracting outdoors enthusiasts in the 1890s, although Native Americans, farmers, and traders lived and worked here at various points long before then. Today, you can hike and explore a 3-mile trail along Rock Creek, bike the Davis Creek Area trail for 10.5 miles, or, if you have a horse, ride the 12-mile equestrian trail. Camping, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking are also popular activities. Guided hikes and children's programs are wonderful opportunities to learn more about the park and are free of charge.  

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05 of 08

Rock Cut State Park

Autumn at Rock Cut State Park
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7223 West Lane Rd, Caledonia, IL, USA
Phone +1 815-885-3311

In Winnebego County, near Beloit, Rock Cut State Park is a gem in the far northern reaches of the state. Pierce and Olson lakes are the focal points of the park’s 3,092 acres and welcome plenty of waterfowl. It’s along these waterfronts that you’ll have your pick of aquatic activities like fishing, swimming, and kayaking in the warmer months and ice skating and ice fishing in the winter season. If you're not into water-based adventures, you can also enjoy 40 miles of hiking or 23 miles of mountain biking on designated trails. Primitive and electric sites are available for camping year-round. Forgot to pack a picnic? Head to the Lone Rock Café, which offers smoothies, coffee, and snacks from May to October.

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06 of 08

Starved Rock State Park

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2678 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348, USA
Phone +1 815-667-4726

Starved Rock State Park, situated near La Salle and Ottawa in the Illinois River Valley, is a unique natural wonder. The valley was created by floods as glacial meltwater coursed through moraines, resulting in heavily eroded sandstone and sedimentary rocks. Visitors to the park today can marvel at 18 canyons—including the French, LaSalle, and St. Louis canyons—all of which have waterfalls, an uncommon site in the state of Illinois. The beauty of the area is best explored deep in the canyons as well as up high on the bluffs. Be careful, however, of poison ivy, which flourishes all over the park, providing important sustenance for the wildlife.

Stay in the lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, which features 72 hotel rooms and 22 cabin rooms. Families love the swimming pool, sauna, hot tubs, and outdoor patio. The restaurant has a lovely brunch, too, and is worth experiencing even if you’re not staying inside the park. The park is heavily visited in the summer months, making the other three seasons ideal for stopping by.

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07 of 08

Castle Rock State Park

Observation deck at Castle Rock
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1365 W Castle Rd, Oregon, IL 61061, USA
Phone +1 815-732-7329

Located 3 miles south of Oregon on Highway 2, Castle Rock State Park is an outdoor wonderland full of rock formations, ravines, sandstone bluffs, and a plethora of flora and fauna. Stretching out for 2,000 acres, 710 of which are protected as an Illinois Nature Preserve, this park has three picnic areas and 6 miles of designated hiking trails. For day use, visitors can fish, hunt, swim, bike, and go primitive canoe camping. Although there are no campgrounds available at the park, Lake Ladonna in nearby Oregon offers cabins as well as tent and RV sites; Lake Louise Campground in Bryon is for RVing only.

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08 of 08

Chain O’Lakes State Park

Chain o lakes state park
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8916 Wilmot Rd, Spring Grove, IL 60081, USA
Phone +1 847-587-5512

It's no wonder how Chain O’Lakes State Parks got its name, considering that it borders three lakes that connect to seven others. (And if that weren't enough water for you, there's an 11th lake, 44 acres big, nestled within the park's margins). Boasting the largest concentration of natural lakes in Illinois, this state park attracts water lovers of all sorts to go boating, water skiing, and fishing for bluegill, largemouth bass, and northern pike. Hiking, biking, and equestrian trails can be found here, too. If you want to camp, Chain O' Lakes offers more than 230 sites, which can be reserved online. Water shoes are a must.

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The Top 8 State Parks in Illinois