11 State Parks Near Chicago
- 11 State Parks Near Chicago
- Chain O Lakes State Park
- Illinois Beach State Park
- Kankakee River State Park
- Channahon State Park
- Indiana Sand Dunes
- Gebhard Woods State Park
- Starved Rock State Park
- Matthiessen State Park
- Rock Cut State Park
- Mississippi Palisades State Park
- Moraine Hills State Park
- Shabbona Lake State Park
- Tips for visiting Illinois State Parks
Looking for state parks near Chicago? Fortunately, there are plenty of options. The Chicagoland area is home to a handful of state parks within a short distance from the Windy City. These are your best bets for searching for a nearby state park.
Illinois is home to some of the most beautiful state parks in the country, many of which are just a short drive away from the city. From forests and lakes to rivers and canyons, these parks offer a variety of outdoor activities and stunning scenery that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. This post’ll highlight ten Illinois state parks perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway.
Chain O Lakes State Park
8916 Wilmot Rd., Spring Grove, IL 60081; 847-587-5512
Of all the state parks near Chicago, Chain O Lakes is perhaps the best option for outdoors enthusiasts. It’s a 2,793-acre state park in Spring Grove near the Wisconsin border. You’ll find nearly 200 camping sites, 80 acres set aside as a nature preserve, and great fishing and canoeing options on the lakes.
- Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 20 minutes (60 miles)
- Website: http://dnr.state.il.us/Lands/landmgt/parks/R2/CHAINO.HTM
Camping at Chain O Lakes State Park
Forested campgrounds are nice, but what if you want to hang out by the lake and do some boating, canoeing, or fishing? Consider Chain O Lakes State Park, a 2,793-acre park in northern Illinois near the Wisconsin state line.
According to Reserve America, standard camping sites range in price from $12 to $25, depending on whether you need electricity. Chain O Lakes Park features shower facilities, and most of the 195 sites have electric hookups.
P picnic areas near the Fox River, playgrounds, and multiple volleyball parks exist. 80 acres are set aside for a nature preserve protecting a fragile boggy environment. Are you into ice fishing? In the winter, you can ice fish on the lakes here. Cool!
The park is broken down into separate camping areas. The Honeysuckle Hollow and Turner Lake South campgrounds are closest to the 44-acre Turner Lake. The Prairie View, Fox Den, Mud Lake East, and Mud Lake West campgrounds are far from the lake. Turner Lake South, Prairie View, and Mud Lake East do not offer electricity and therefore are cheaper.
Illinois Beach State Park
1 Lake Front Dr., Zion, IL 60099; 847-662-4811
A little farther east of Chain O Lakes is Illinois Beach, which is right on Lake Michigan about 48 miles north of Chicago, making it one of the closest state parks to Chicago – and a super convenient option if you live on the city’s north side. You can even bike all the way there on a series of trails. And you can bring alcohol, which is not the case at many state parks near Chicago. The park features six and a half miles of sandy shoreline along Lake Michigan, making it the perfect spot for swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing.
- Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 8 minutes (48 miles)
- Website: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/Parks/R2/ILBEACH.HTM
In addition to its beautiful beaches, Illinois Beach State Park boasts several hiking trails that wind through the park’s dunes, wetlands, and forests. The park is home to bald eagles, sandhill cranes, and monarch butterflies, making it a great spot for birdwatching and nature photography. Illinois Beach State Park visitors can enjoy various recreational activities, including boating, fishing, and camping. The park has more than 240 campsites, cabins, and group campsites available for rent.
Camping at Illinois Beach State Park
A lot of Chicago-area campgrounds don’t allow you to bring alcohol. That’s fine for people who just want to experience nature, but some campers out there want the option to bring booze and have a few brews while grilling and enjoying the great outdoors.
For those folks, Illinois Beach State Park is a great option. Less than 50 miles north of Chicago, near the Wisconsin border, the park is conveniently located on Lake Michigan and offers 241 Class A campsites, most of which permit alcohol use. Woohoo, pop a cold one now! Many of the sites are forested, and there’s a dump station, a playground, and multiple water faucets and bathhouses.
Campground reservations are accepted from May 1 to September 30, and they’re highly recommended during busy summer weekends. Check out the Illinois Beach State Park campground map (PDF) to make sure you’re picking a site that allows alcohol if you so desire.
The state park attracts plenty of visitors who aren’t camping, so if you want to spend time at the beach, expect to deal with many other Chicago families.
Another draw of this park is that it’s easily accessible from Chicago by bicycle. Cyclists can follow the lakefront path and then the North Shore Channel Trail to the Green Bay Trail, which will take you most of the way there. Google Maps says the ride is four hours from the heart of Chicago, but it’s much shorter if you’re starting from a northern suburb.
For more info, you can find this park on Facebook.
Kankakee River State Park
5314 West Rt. 102, Bourbonnais, IL; 815-933-1383
For Chicagoans living on the south side, head 60 miles south to reach the Kankakee River. It’s a basic state park with 260 camping spots, plus hiking and biking opportunities. Some are rustic sites with no showers or electricity, in case you’re into that.
- Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 15 minutes (59 miles)
- Website: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS/R2/kankakee.htm
Camping at Kankakee River State Park
Looking for a place near Chicago with a ton of camping sites? Check out Kankakee River State Park, just over an hour from the Windy City, which offers 260 camping sites, each with a picnic table and grill.
The Potawatomi Campground provides 110 Class A sites (with showers and electricity) open during the normal camping season. The Chippewa Campground has more than 150 rustic sites of Class B and C. These sites have no showers; while some have electricity, others do not. You may make reservations in advance. See maps of both campgrounds on the park’s official site.
As for the rest of the park, plenty of recreational opportunities keep you occupied. Kankakee River State Park offers trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, fishing, canoeing, and horse and snowmobile riding. No swimming is allowed in the Kankakee River because of its fast currents and rocks.
Visitors can even hunt in the park. Deer may only be taken by bow, but other small animals can be hunted with rifles. Hunters must inquire with the park to ascertain which areas of the park are open for hunting, so don’t expect any hunters to fire arrows through your campground accidentally.
The Kankakee River State Park sits on land once used by various Native American groups into the 1800s. A boulder along the nature trail at Rock Creek notes the grave of Potawatomi Chief Shaw-waw-nas-see.
Channahon State Park
25302 W. Story St., Channahon, IL 60410; 815-467-4271
Channahon is another site located less than an hour’s drive from Chicago. This park has no campgrounds, although primitive camping is permitted. This is more of a place to hang out during the day, maybe do some grilling and hiking and play a little frisbee.
- Time from Chicago: 53 minutes (50 miles)
- Website: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS/i&m/east/channaho/park.htm
Camping at Channahon State Park
Looking for the closest campground to Chicago? Check out Channahon State Park, located in Channahon, Illinois, less than one hour from the Windy City, not far from Joliet.
Now, there’s no actual campground at Channahon State Park. It’s primitive camping, which means you must bring in your own gear, and you’ll need to have a permit, which you can pick up from the park’s information center.
Even though the park’s website describes the camping as “primitive,” that’s not exactly true because pit toilets, fire rings, grills, and picnic tables are available. The website makes no mention of a fee or costs for camping here.
“Channahon” is a Native American word meaning “the meeting of the waters.” This is not a super-rural setting there’s a bar within walking distance to the park. The park is along the DuPage, Kankakee, and Des Plaines Rivers. The I&M Canal Trail runs right through the park, so many Chicago area residents might have biked in the park without realizing it.
The state park is less than 15 miles from Gebhard Woods State Park, a mediocre camping option offering “primitive” walk-in camping.
What else can you do at Channahon? Canoeing is available on the river leading down to Gebhard Woods. Fishing is available. You can set up a picnic or play horseshoes.
Indiana Sand Dunes
1600 North 25 E., Chesterton, IN 46304; 219-926-1952
Don’t forget about this popular state park in Indiana. It’s closer to Chicago than Illinois Beach or Chain O Lakes, and it has a lot to offer, with camping sites, dunes you can hike, and a lengthy beach area. It’s a popular park for families with kids. Be sure to make campground reservations in advance because they often fill up.
- Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 15 minutes (50 miles)
- Website: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm
Indiana Dunes State Park Campgrounds
Not to be confused with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, located right next door, Indiana Dunes State Park is home to more than 2,000 acres of beach, forest, and campground.
The sand dunes are one of the most popular features. The dunes formed over thousands of years and grew to more than 200 feet above Lake Michigan. Trees and forests have grown into some of the dune areas, but there are still wide-open sand trails you can run or roll down.
You’ll have to walk down the road (or through the forest) from the campground to the beach. But from personal experience, I can tell you that making the trek is worth it for the views and the fun of playing in the sand.
If you walk along the beach and the weather is clear, you can see the skyline of downtown Chicago, 50 miles away. Cool!
Reservations are required during the summer when camping spots fill up fast. You can make online reservations up until noon on the day of your arrival.
During non-peak months, before late April, spots are first-come, first-serve. You’ll pay $5 to enter the park ($10 if you live outside Indiana). Prices for camping at Indiana State parks vary – you can see a pricing chart here.
The 140 camping sites have 50 amp outlets, and the campground has two modern shower and restroom facilities. There’s an East Loop and a West Loop, which have comfort stations, play areas, and water fill stations. Purchase wood and other basic food and camping essentials at the camp store. There is also a dump station available.
If you need a wheelchair-accessible site, you have six options. Look for sites #7, 22, 28, 53, 119, or 127.
Gebhard Woods State Park
401 Ottawa St., Morris IL 60450; 815-942-0796
- Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 10 minutes (62 miles)
- Website: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/i&m/east/gebhard/park.htm
Camping at Gebhard Woods State Park
Finding cheap campgrounds near Chicago can be a chore for budget-minded folks living in the Windy City. One decent option is Gebhard Woods State Park, which offers nightly camping for just a few dollars. But it’s not a full-on nature experience. Read on for more…
Gebhard Woods can be found in Morris, Illinois, a little over an hour outside Chicago. The nightly rate is just $6 per tent, so it’s extremely affordable.
It’s not car camping here – you cannot pull directly into your site. Instead, you’ll have to hike about a half mile (5-10 minutes) into a grassy designated camping area. I like that – the walk keeps away meek and keeps the site relatively uncrowded.
The camping area has grills, picnic tables, and fire pits. The park has fishing ponds and streams throughout, as well as a hiking and biking trail. The problem is that the hiking trail runs right past a sewage plant! We tried to hike and were overcome by the stench, so we cut short the hike.
If you arrive after check-in time (only 3 pm on some days), you must pay your fee the next morning. That means a guy comes around to collect the camping fee at 8 am, rustling tents and waking everyone up. Not cool at all. I guess you get what you pay for, sometimes.
Starved Rock State Park
2668 E. 873rd Rd., Oglesby, IL 61348; 815-667-4726
Starved Rock State Park is located in Utica, Illinois, and is one of Illinois’s most popular state parks. The park covers an area of over 2,600 acres and is home to 18 canyons, each with its own unique waterfall. Starved Rock State Park offers many outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing, and camping, making it a great weekend destination for nature lovers.
- Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 45 minutes (92 miles)
- Website: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/i&m/east/starve/park.htm
One of the main attractions of the park is the scenic Illinois River. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the river while taking in the beautiful scenery or take a boat tour to explore the river and its wildlife. If you are interested in history, you can visit the Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center, built in the 1930s and offers stunning views of the park. The lodge also has a restaurant that serves delicious food and local craft beer.
One of the most popular activities at Starved Rock State Park is hiking. You can choose from 13 miles of trails that range from easy to difficult. Each trail offers a unique experience, from the towering canyons to the peaceful meadows. The park also has many picnic areas, perfect for a family outing or a romantic picnic with your special someone.
The park is transformed into a winter wonderland with frozen waterfalls and snow-covered trails during the winter months. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing are popular winter activities at the park.
Camping at Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock is one of the most popular camping getaways for residents of the Chicago area. It’s 92 miles southwest of the Windy City, which means it’s also within driving distance of several other locations – Starved Rock is 118 miles from Champaign, 127 miles from Springfield, and 224 miles from St. Louis.
Many Chicago campgrounds don’t offer much nature or scenery. Starved Rock has it all: Waterfalls, thick forests, 425 million-year-old rock formations, and sandstone cliffs along the Illinois River.
The park is home to ducks, hawks, and deer. Poison ivy is everywhere in Starved Rock, so dress accordingly. You’ll find 13 miles of hiking trails within the park, marked by colored guideposts. Cross-country skiing is allowed during winter.
The campground has 129 class A camping sites, which cost $25 most days ($35 on holidays), plus a $5 reservation fee. That’s more expensive than many other Illinois campgrounds, but it’s worth it. Reservations are recommended and can be made at Reserve America. The lodge also offers hotel and cabin rooms, an on-site camping store for firewood, and any last-minute supplies you’ve forgotten.
Starved Rock is a good choice if you’re looking to bike to a Chicago area campground. Bikely has a nice map showing the 108-mile bike route from the city to Starved Rock, much of which are bike lanes via the I&M Canal Trail. Biking is prohibited on the hiking trails within the park.
Matthiessen State Park
Matthiessen State Park is a natural oasis in LaSalle County, Illinois, just two hours from Chicago. It’s a perfect destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway with family and friends. The park boasts stunning waterfalls, canyons, and rock formations that take your breath away. The park features five miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, and campgrounds that offer visitors a chance to experience nature at its finest.
One of the main attractions of Matthiessen State Park is the stunning Dells Area, a canyon-like formation that features a series of waterfalls and rock formations. Visitors can hike through the canyon, explore the various rock formations, and even dip in the refreshing waters of the creek that flows through the park. The park also features a unique cave system that is open for exploration.
For those looking to extend their stay, Matthiessen State Park offers campsites and cabins for rent. The camping facilities are well-maintained and offer a variety of amenities, including fire pits, picnic tables, and access to restrooms and showers.
Rock Cut State Park
Rock Cut State Park is one of Illinois’s most popular state parks and for a good reason. It’s located in Winnebago County, just a two-hour drive from Chicago, making it a perfect destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway. The park boasts over 3,000 acres of rolling hills, pristine lakes, and scenic trails. It’s a perfect destination for hiking, camping, fishing, boating, and horseback riding. Over 40 miles of multi-use trails offer various terrains and difficulty levels, so there’s something for everyone.
In addition to outdoor activities, there are also several picnic areas, playgrounds, and a beach for swimming. The park is also home to a nature center that offers educational programs and exhibits about the local flora and fauna. If you’re looking for a place to stay overnight, the park offers over 250 campsites and several cabins and cottages for rent. The campground has all the necessary amenities, including showers, restrooms, and a camp store.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
16327A IL-84, Savanna, IL 61074; (815) 273-2731
Mississippi Palisades State Park is one of Illinois’s most stunning natural wonders, just a two-hour drive from Chicago. This park is a paradise for hikers, campers, and nature lovers, offering breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and its surroundings.
The park is home to towering cliffs, deep ravines, and beautiful forests, home to various wildlife species. Visitors can explore the park on more than 15 miles of hiking trails, including the popular Sentinel Trail, which offers stunning views of the river and the Palisades.
In addition to hiking, visitors can also enjoy fishing, boating, and camping in Mississippi Palisades State Park. The park has over 100 campsites, both primitive and with electric hookups, and picnic areas and playgrounds for families.
Moraine Hills State Park
1510 S River Rd, McHenry, IL 60051; (815) 385-1624
Moraine Hills State Park is one of the most picturesque and peaceful state parks within a short drive from Chicago. It is situated in McHenry County and is surrounded by the stunning remnants of the last ice age. The park is home to several lakes, wetlands, and moraines that provide a great opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to explore the natural beauty of Illinois.
One of the most popular activities in Moraine Hills State Park is hiking. The park offers miles of hiking trails that wind through oak groves, prairies, and wetlands. The hiking trails vary in difficulty, providing something for everyone, from beginners to experienced hikers. In addition to hiking, visitors can enjoy fishing, boating, and picnicking at the park. The park also offers cross-country skiing and snowmobiling during the winter months. The park is home to birds, deer, foxes, and other small animals. Visitors can observe wildlife from the park’s observation decks or hike through the trails.
Shabbona Lake State Park
4201 Shabbona Grove Rd, Shabbona, IL 60550; (815) 824-2106
If you’re looking for a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, Shabbona Lake State Park is the perfect destination. With picturesque views of the lake and surrounding woodland, this park is a nature lover’s paradise.
Shabbona Lake State Park offers a wide range of outdoor activities just two hours west of Chicago. Fishing enthusiasts will love the lake’s abundant fish population, including musky, bass, and catfish. Boating and kayaking are also popular activities on the lake, and boat rentals are available on-site.
In addition to water-based activities, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. The Eagle Trail is a must-visit, with stunning views of the lake and surrounding woodlands. You can also take a leisurely stroll on the park’s paved path or hit the mountain biking trails for a more challenging adventure. For those looking to stay overnight, there are plenty of camping options, including tent and RV sites and cabins available for rent. There’s even a primitive camping area for those looking to immerse themselves in nature truly.
Tips for visiting Illinois State Parks
Visiting Illinois State Parks is an excellent way to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy the state’s natural beauty. However, it’s important to be prepared before embarking on your adventure. Here are some tips for visiting Illinois State Parks:
- Plan ahead: Research the park you wish to visit beforehand and plan your trip accordingly. Check the park’s website or contact the office for information on hiking trails, camping facilities, and other amenities.
- Dress appropriately: Wear comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes suitable for hiking. It’s also a good idea to bring sunscreen, insect repellent, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
- Bring water and snacks: Illinois State Parks can be vast, and staying hydrated and fueled is important during your visit. Bring enough water and snacks to last your trip.
- Follow the rules: Respect the rules and regulations of the park. This includes staying on designated trails, properly disposing trash, and following any posted signs or warnings.
- Leave no trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles and leave the park as you found it. Take all of your trash with you and avoid disturbing the natural environment.
We hope you enjoyed our article about the top 10 Illinois state parks near Chicago. Whether looking for a weekend getaway or a day trip, these state parks offer beautiful scenery, hiking trails, and plenty of recreational activities. We hope our list inspired you to get out and explore all Illinois has to offer. So, grab your hiking boots, pack a picnic, and discover the natural beauty of these state parks!