Illinois is home to some amazing parks that are perfect for hikers, so if you’re looking to explore one of these beautiful locations, check out this list of the best state parks in Illinois for hiking!
There are over 60 State parks in Illinois. Located all over the state, covering the six regions. Making the locations ideal for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Illinois does not charge any entrance fees to their state parks. Except for the $1.00 fee to access the beaches. Encouraging residents and visitors to enjoy their beautiful lands. Without the need for a state park pass. As a result, these parks draw up to 44 million visitors each year to the state.
Each state park is unique in its way. Ranging from cascading waterfalls to sandy beaches. The area can be enjoyed year-round. Visitors flock to the areas from May to September, making it peak season. Enjoy the summer sun and extensive hiking trails. The fall months attract fall foliage lovers. When the trees turn vivid colors of orange, red, and yellow.
The trails are just as beautiful in the winter but do remain icy. Remember to pack traction for your boots, if visiting in the off-season. Most parks are open year-round, making them season-friendly. You can spend the day solo hiking or road tripping with friends. If road-tripping, stop at the Illinois highway welcome center for information and brochures. Keep reading to learn more about the best state parks in Illinois for hiking.
7 Best State Parks in Illinois for Hiking
One of the most rewarding, adventurous and educational things to do in life is to get outside and explore a new state. There’s so many great places to visit and experience even in Illinois! If you’re looking for some less-traveled destinations to explore, look no further than these top-rated state parks for hike:
- Matthiessen State Park – Bald Eagles
- Illinois Beach State Park – Beach Day
- Starved Rock State Park – Waterfalls
- Kankakee River State Park – Historic
- Castle Rock State Park – Plant Lovers
- Rock Cut State Park – Wildflowers
- Pere Marquette State Park – Fall Foliage
Matthiessen State Park – Bald Eagles
Located in central LaSalle County, Matthiessen is a hiker’s paradise. Featuring five miles of trails and picnic areas. Don’t forget to pack a lunch to enjoy after your journey. The most popular trail in the park is Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail. Which is a 2-mile loop and rated as moderate. This trail features rivers and several waterfalls. Enjoy breathtaking rock formations while hiking the canyon.
Visitors that want an easier route can tackle the Matthiessen State Park River Trail. Rated as easy and covers 2.5 miles of the park. Recommend a stunning sunset view over the river. The state of Illinois attracts 3,100 bald eagles each year. Bald eagles are commonly spotted on this route. Making it a great hiking trail for the avid bird watcher and nature lover.
Matthiessen State Park is named for Frederick William Matthiessen. A prominent industrialist and philanthropist from LaSalle. Following his death in 1918 the park was renamed on his behalf. A stream that has eroded partway through the sandstone layers caused unique rock formations throughout the park. Adding it to the bucket list for hikers who have an interest in geology.
Illinois Beach State Park – Beach Day
Did you know you can have a beach day in Illinois? Stretching over 4,160 acres is the sandiest state park in Illinois. Illinois Beach State Park is six and a half miles of serenity along Lake Michigan. This is the last beach ridge shoreline in the entire state. Filled with dunes and forests, it is a fantastic destination for hikers. The park is located in Lake Country, Illinois. Home to nearly 7 miles of trails, on both the south and north side of the park.
The Dead River and Dunes Loop Trail is a 2.5-mile trail, rated as easy. One of the more peaceful trails in the vicinity. Take a leisurely stroll around the lake and enjoy the alluring wildlife. From cranes to muskrats, your trek will be filled with excitement. The terrain on this hike is sand, grass, and pavement. Providing a great amount of variety.
If you are looking for a longer adventure, the North Unit Trail might be more your speed. A 7.9 trail, which is one of the more popular destinations. The path is mostly gravel, with a few wooded areas. Be aware that It can get muddy in the spring or after summer showers. On blue skies days, make sure to pack your sunscreen. There is not much shade on this loop. It will get your heart racing.
Starved Rock State Park – Waterfalls
A popular destination in Illinois is Starved Rock State Park. Waterfalls cascade in the spring and summer. There are 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons throughout this LaSalle County park. Hikers will have plenty to explore. Starved Rock is a great destination for every season. Autumn foliage makes a picturesque hike in the fall. In addition to the frozen waterfalls in the winter months.
Starved Rock and Sandstone Point Overlook Trail is a 4.3-mile loop. Rated as moderate due to the distance and steps. The trail goes to the top of a rock overlooking the stunning river valley. This area is known for its eagle viewing. A rare experience, if you are lucky enough to spot one. One of the most traveled trails in the park makes it heavily trafficked on weekends and holidays.
If you are looking for an easier option, then try Saint Louis Canyon Trail. It is only 2.1 miles and is for all skill levels. This hike offers beautiful views from the bottom of the waterfall. If stairs are difficult for you, access the trailhead from the St Louis Canyon parking area. This is the easiest way to access the canyon. In the spring, you can hear frogs in the water at the bottom of the waterfall.
Kankakee River State Park – Historic
4,000 acres of land first cherished by the Native Americans is a hiking history buff’s dream. Full of heritage and hiking trails is Kankakee River, State Park. Sitting on both sides of the Kankakee River is eleven miles of beauty. When entering the park you will notice a small graveyard. Family members of Ira Smith are buried there. Those that lie there sadly died of different epidemics. Mostly from the Yellow Fever.
This park has one trail, which is 11 miles long. The Kankakee River Trail. A graveled rocky terrain that turns to a nice paved path. At the three-mile mark on the east end of the trail. Enjoy this longer trek as it takes you along the river. The trail goes through forested areas and even across a few bridges. Is history and beautiful scenery what you are striving for? Then spend the day at Kankakee River State Park.
Castle Rock State Park – Plant Lovers
Only three miles south of Oregon, Illinois. Castle Rock State, is located along the west bank of Rock River in Ogle County. In the Rock River Hills region of Illinois. Remarkable rock formations and unique plants make up this area. A narrow layer of glacial till shelters the region. Making unique plants and forests still exist. This park is a plant lover’s dream, home of twenty-seven different types of fern. It is one of the biggest natural areas in the northern part of the state.
Castle Rock North Trails is known for its gorgeous plants. A 3.5-mile stroll through the park’s magnificent loop. Bringing you to the top of a lookout point. The best views Illinois has to offer. It is a fantastic spot for birding. Dogs are allowed here as well. So leash up your pup and take a walk near the river.
Rock Cut State Park – Wildflowers
3,092 acres of beauty and two lakes in Winnebago County, Illinois. About an hour from Chicago is Rock Cut, State Park. A destination for fishermen, hikers, and horseback riding. In the springtime, over a hundred different wildflowers bloom. Offering five hiking trails to different levels of hikers. Waterfowl, deer, fox, and muskrat are just a few of the animals who call this place home.
Featuring a lake is the less challenging of the trails. Rock Cut State Park Trail is 3.2 miles long. The trees assist in making it a shady stroll. Keeping visitors cooler during hot summer days. A great option for a day out with your family, as it is kid-friendly.
Pierce Lake Trail is ideal for hikers who want a bit more of a challenge. 3.6 miles around Pierce Lake, makes it a scenic day. Tranquil views of the water serve as a mental escape. The first part of this trail is shadowed by the forest. You will ultimately reach a grassy area. Where you can sit and enjoy a picnic.
Pere Marquette State Park – Fall Foliage
The largest state park in Illinois is Pere Marquette, State Park. 8,000 acres of wooded trails, bike routes, fishing, and boating in the Illinois River. The infamous road that runs through the park makes it a fall color drive destination.
The Pere Marquette Outer Loop is a more challenging expedition. It is a 5.9-mile loop with a steep elevation gain of 990 feet. The climb makes it quite the workout, with constant ups and downs. You can take a rest stop on Goat Cliff while taking in the scenery. Recommended for summer but tangible in the colder months.If properly prepared.
Hickory Trail (Red) is a quick 0.8-mile hike if you are short on time. Filled with beautiful greenery down a graveled dirt road. Short in time but a little steep. It is doable for the whole family. Ending with rewarding views.
From sandy shorelines to luscious forest paths. These are some of the best state parks in Illinois for hiking. Offering hikes for each level. You could be sitting at the bottom of a waterfall, listening to the surrounding nature. These locations are built for history fans, nature lovers, and families. Hiking may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you visit Illinois. Making this list ideal for hikers needing a break from the infamous windy city. Lace up your boots, pack a picnic and spend the day outside this summer. The Prairie State is waiting for you to indulge in its breathtaking scenery.