Being stuck inside during the pandemic has got us all hungry for some wide-open spaces. Lately there have been many stories about how the National Parks are extremely crowded with visitors eager to explore the outdoors. We all want the perfect Instagram photo with the mountains or a waterfall behind us. Not everyone can hop on a plane and escape this summer, and many of us don’t feel like fighting large crowds when wanting to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Illinois may not have mountains and we don’t have any national parks. That said, we do have some beautiful areas right in our state that can fulfill your needs to get back to nature.
Shawnee National Forrest
In Southern Illinois there is a hiker’s dream. Shawnee National Forrest has endless miles of hiking trails to beautiful natural formations. Garden of the Gods is one of the most popular hikes and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.
You can hike to caves and waterfalls, fish and kayak on the river, or even visit a 2,600-pound statue of Big Foot. Ziplining and rock climbing are also super popular in this park. Shawnee National Forrest is also an amazing place to do a little camping! This is a gorgeous natural treasure right here in Illinois. The forest is located at the very bottom of the state, but it is well worth the trip to enjoy this beautiful landscape.
The Shawnee National Forrest is located in Herod, Illinois.
Starved Rock State Park
This is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Illinois. Located only 90 miles from Chicago this oasis allows a little reprieve from city life. You can hike through the forest and take in incredible views along the Illinois River.
Canyons, water falls, and bluffs are located throughout the 15 miles of hiking trails in the park. Boating, fishing, and kayaking are just some of the water activities available in the park. There are plenty of camping options in the area or you can stay in the historic Starved Rock Lodge. The park is located in Utica, Illinois which has wineries and restaurants to help turn this trip into a mini vacation.
Matthiessen State Park
Matthiessen State Park is located in Lasalle County and is only about 5 minutes away from Starved Rock. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are some of the most popular activities in this park. Cross country skiing is a popular winter pastime.
The canyon rock formations and waterfalls make this small but mighty park a special place to explore. Matthiessen also has a sunflower field that should not be missed! The sunflowers begin bloom from mid-July thru September.
Matthiessen State Park is located in Oglesby, Illinois.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
This small state park is located in northwestern Illinois. This state park features bluff overlooks of the Mississippi river and has some great spots for hiking. Boating, fishing and camping are also popular activities in this park. The north side of the park features easier trails while the southern part of the park has the more strenuous hikes along the bluffs.
A palisade is a line if bold cliffs like the ones you see in this park along the mighty Mississippi river. Popular rock formations such as the Sentinel or Twin Sisters make for great hiking destinations and photo op spots. This park also offers up some spectacular fall colors!
Mississippi Palisades is located in Savanna, Illinois.
Pere Marquette State Park
Pere Marquette State Park is located near St. Louis and offers up 8,000 acres to explore. There are 12 miles of trails that range from easy to strenuous. The park’s bluffs and forest make this park worth the trip. This park is also a popular location for bird watching and people flock to catch a glimpse of majestic Bald Eagles. Hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding are just a few of the amazing activities available in this park. On a clear day you can get great views of the Gateway Arch right from the park!
Pere Marquette State Park is located in Grafton, Illinois.
These are just a sample of the parks available here in Illinois. If you know of a great hiking trail let us know in the comments below!