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state and national parks in Illinois

National + State Parks in Illinois 🏞️ | Explore the Best State and National Parks in Illinois

Last Updated on: 2nd July 2024, 04:07 pm

Known for its wide open spaces and beautiful scenery, Illinois is home to many great parks offering great opportunities for outdoor adventure. Illinois’s state park system began in 1908 with the opening of Fort Massac State Park. Today, there are over 60 state parks in Illinois and roughly the same number of recreational and wildlife areas.

In addition to state parks, there are also several historic sites and national parks in Illinois that feature unique attractions and activities. So whether you’re looking to go camping, hunting, learn about history, or simply spend a relaxing day in nature, you can find something that suits your needs. But with so many fantastic options, knowing where to begin may be difficult. To help make your decision easier, here is a list of the best national and state parks in Illinois you can visit today.

Starved Rock State Park | One of the Best State Parks in Illinois with Waterfalls

Starved Rock State Park is one of the best state parks in Northern Illinois. Located in Lasalle County outside the city of Oglesby, Starved Rock State Park is a 2630-acre wilderness area on the Illinois River.

Starved Rock State Park is known for its breathtaking sandstone canyons formed by glacial meltwater. It’s a popular destination for hiking, fishing, and boating and even features a lodge and cabins, making it one of the best state parks in Illinois for camping. A notable attraction in Starved Rock State Park is Lover’s Leap Overlook, a 1.8-mile trail that offers gorgeous views of the nearby rivers.

Plus, if you’re looking for state parks in Illinois with waterfalls, Starved Rock is the place to be because St. Louis, Wildcat, and French canyons all have them. So whether you want to go kayaking or have a picnic, Starved Rock State Park is a great destination.

Oglesby, IL 61348 (815) 667-4726


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White Pines State Park | A Historic Illinois State Park with Magnificent Trees

White Pines State Park is another fantastic option if you’re looking to spend some time outdoors. The 385-acre park is located in the Rock River Valley of Ogle County near the communities of Polo, Mount Morris, and Oregon. Its name derives from the fact that the park contains the southernmost remaining crop of white pine trees in Illinois.

White Pines is famous for its lodge and cabins, which were built during the Great Depression and are now on the National Register of Historic Places. In the park, you’ll find two freshwater streams, hiking trails, white sandstone formations, a campground, and other exciting amenities.

It’s the third oldest state park in Illinois and one of the most frequently visited, welcoming over 350,000 visitors every year. It also features over 100 campgrounds and over 5 miles of trails, making it a popular area for hiking in Illinois State Parks. In the winter, it’s also open for cross-country skiing.

W Pines Rd, Mt Morris, IL 61054 (815) 946-3717

Pyramid State Recreation Area | The Best State Park in Illinois for Birdwatching

Pyramid State Recreation Center is another popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Located in Perry County, about an hour and a half outside of St. Louis, Missouri, it’s one of the top state parks in Southern Illinois. It covers close to 20,000 acres, making it the largest state recreation area in Illinois. It gets its name from the Pyramid Coal Company, which previously owned much of the property.

It’s also home to over 500 acres of water in ponds ranging in size, making it a great area for fishing. Visitors will find a wide range of features and activities in the park, including an archery range, boat docks, campsites, equestrian trails, and mountain biking trails. Pyramid State Park is also listed by the Audubon Society as an important bird area of Illinois due to the exotic species that inhabit its native wetlands. It’s a territory for birds such as the sandhill crane, trumpeter swan, and barn owl.

Hunting waterfowl is prohibited in most of Pyramid State Park, although you can hunt deer and upland game in certain parts of the park. So whether you’re interested in birdwatching or horseback riding, Pyramid State Recreation Area is one of the top state parks in Illinois.

1562 Pyramid Park Rd, Pinckneyville, IL 62274 (618) 357-2574

Beaver Dam State Park | The Best State Park in Central Illinois for Fishing

Located in Macoupin County outside the city of Carlinville in Central Illinois, Beaver Dam State Park is a 750-acre public wilderness area managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It’s centered around a 59-acre artificial reservoir created by the Carlinville Fishing Club in the late 19th Century. The lake is full of largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, and sunfish, and the park is great for hunting deer, wild turkey, and small game. However, you won’t find many beavers in the park itself, as its name comes from a beaver dam that originally created the lake.

Beaver Dam State Park offers common activities such as fishing, picnicking, archery, and tent and trailer camping. It also has over 40 reservable campsites shrouded in large oak and hickory trees and a rent-a-cabin available through online reservation. Whether you’re looking to cast a line or spend a weekend away with the family, it’s one of the best state parks in Illinois.

14548 Beaver Dam Ln, Royal Lakes, IL 62685 (217) 854-8020

Giant City State Park | A State Park in Illinois with Hiking, Campgrounds, and a Restaurant

Another popular Illinois park is Giant City. Located outside of Carbondale in Jackson and Union Counties. The sprawling 4,000-acre state park in Illinois is a top destination for outdoor adventurers and offers a number of activities such as hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, and rock climbing.

It’s a popular hiking spot and connects to the River to River Trail, serving the Shawnee National Forest. Other popular trails inside the park include the Arrow Wood Trail, the Red Cedar Trail, and the Trillium Trail, and there is even a 12-mile equestrian trail for those who bring their own horse. Also inside the park is the Giant City Stone Enclosure, a prehistoric stone structure built between 600 and 900 AD, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are also 85 Class A campgrounds that provide water, electricity, showers, and other conveniences, as well as 14 Class C campgrounds for those who want to do some camping in Illinois state parks without all the amenities. The park is also home to the Giant City Lodge and Restaurant, which offers cabin rentals, family-style dining options, and signature cocktails. So, if you’re looking for outdoor adventure with all the conveniences of home, check out Giant City State Park.

235 Giant City Rd, Makanda, IL 62958 (618) 457-4836

Lincoln Home National Historic Site | The Best Illinois National Park for History Lovers

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is one of the four national parks in Illinois. It’s located in a neighborhood of Springfield, Illinois, on the site of the home where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1844 to 1861 before he became the president of the United States. It includes a presidential memorial as well as four blocks on 12 acres of land surrounding the home. The streets around the site are blocked off by traffic, and the Lincoln home, as well as the neighboring buildings, have been restored to resemble what they looked like in 1860.

National Park Service Rangers conduct tours of the property, and there are a variety of historic exhibits on the grounds that can be viewed at your own pace. Lincoln Park is one of the most famous Illinois National Parks and stands as a testament to the great achievements of one of the state’s most prominent residents. It may not be the best destination for nature lovers, but for history buffs, it’s one of the best national parks in Illinois.

413 S 8th St, Springfield, IL 62701 (217) 492-4241


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New Philadelphia | The Newest National Park in Illinois On the Site of an Old Pioneer Town

New Philadelphia is another national park in Illinois with historical significance. It’s the newest of the four US national parks in Illinois and only became designated as a national historic site in 2022 with the passing of the Omnibus Bill in Washington.

New Philadelphia was an integrated, pre-civil war pioneer town, located about 55 miles from Peoria. It was founded in 1836 by a freed slave named Frank McWorter, making it the first town in the US to be legally platted and incorporated by an African American. It was incorporated for about 15 years and also served as a stop on the underground railroad. Today, New Philadelphia features exhibits and artifacts dedicated to Black History and what life was like during that time period.

The park features exciting attractions like an augmented reality tour and Lucy’s Butterfly Garden, which is named after McWorter’s wife and filled with plants that would have grown back when they lived in the town. Residents can freely explore the town, which covers about 120 acres and features lush farmland and historic attractions.

Those who want to do some camping or fishing are better off heading to one of the state parks in Illinois. But New Philadelphia is a great national park in Illinois if you want to learn about a pivotal moment in American history.

Broad Street, 2159E Cty 2, Barry, IL 62312 (217) 335-2716

Map of State and National Parks in Illinois

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