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Top 17 hidden gems to visit in Illinois

  1. Starved Rock State Park: Tucked away in the charming Illinois River Valley, this park is famous for its one-of-a-kind geological formations, canyons, waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas that showcase Mother Nature at its best.
  2. Matthiessen State Park: Located in the heart of LaSalle County, this park is a true gem, with lush forests, canyons, and picturesque waterfalls like the Dells Area and Cascade Falls. It’s a nature lover’s paradise!
  3. Ferne Clyffe State Park: Found in Johnson County, this park boasts awe-inspiring views of the surrounding forests and rock formations, including a whopping 60-foot waterfall that’s bound to leave visitors speechless. It’s a must-see for sure!
  4. Giant City State Park: Covering Jackson and Union Counties, this park is famous for its towering trees and mammoth sandstone bluffs, offering ample opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and basking in the natural beauty of the region.
  5. Shawnee National Forest: This breathtaking forest, located in Southern Illinois, is home to the River-to-River Trail and a variety of wildlife, making it a prime destination for hiking, camping, and communing with nature. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive sasquatch!
  6. Garden of the Gods: Set in charming Saline County, this park is known for its unique rock formations, hiking trails, and peaceful picnic areas, making it the perfect spot for a day trip or a weekend getaway. Just don’t forget the sandwiches and a good book!
  7. Cave-in-Rock State Park: Located on the banks of the Ohio River in Southern Illinois, this park is famous for its 55-foot-high cave that once served as a hideout for river pirates back in the day. The park also features hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and opportunities for fishing and boating. Keep your eye out for Blackbeard’s ghost!
  8. Buffalo Rock State Park: Situated in LaSalle County, this park boasts the impressive geological formation known as Buffalo Rock, which towers 125 feet above the Illinois River. Visitors can take in breathtaking views, hit the hiking trails, or enjoy a lovely picnic with friends and family.
  9. Mississippi Palisades State Park: This park, located in Carroll County, Illinois, is renowned for its stunning bluffs and rock formations, with plenty of hiking trails, fishing spots, and boating opportunities to enjoy. Visitors can also take in panoramic views of the river and surrounding countryside, and maybe even spot a bald eagle or two.
  10. Illinois Beach State Park: Positioned on the shores of Lake Michigan, this park is the only Illinois state park with direct access to the Great Lakes. Visitors can take a dip in the lake, go fishing or boating, and enjoy scenic hikes with stunning views of the lake and surrounding dunes. Don’t forget your swimsuit and sunscreen!
  11. Get ready to be amazed by Pere Marquette State Park! This picturesque park in the southwestern part of Illinois boasts vibrant wildlife and rolling hills, with scenic views of the countryside that will take your breath away. Whether you’re hiking, fishing, boating, or camping, this park has something for everyone to enjoy.
  12. Step back in time and explore the Trail of Tears State Forest in Southern Illinois, named after the forced relocation of Native Americans from their ancestral lands in the 1800s. This breathtaking forest offers hikers and anglers a wide array of scenic trails and fishing spots, with stunning views of the countryside that are sure to leave you in awe.
  13. Experience a piece of history at the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, a historical waterway in Illinois that was once used for transportation and commerce. Designated as a National Heritage Corridor, visitors can indulge in an array of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, biking, boating, fishing, and camping, surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the area.
  14. Chain O’Lakes State Park is a must-see destination for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature. This park in the heart of the Chain O’Lakes region covers over 6,000 acres of natural beauty, perfect for boating, fishing, camping, and hiking enthusiasts. The park also has picnic areas and a beach for swimming, making it the perfect spot for a fun-filled day with friends and family.
  15. Discover the beauty of the Kankakee River at Kankakee River State Park, situated along the river’s banks. This stunning park offers a wide range of outdoor recreational activities, including fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking, with scenic overlooks, picnic areas, and camping sites for visitors to enjoy.
  16. Get ready to relax and unwind at Cedar Lake, a shallow, natural lake surrounded by forests, prairies, and wetlands. This serene atmosphere is perfect for visitors looking to enjoy excellent fishing, boating, and birdwatching opportunities while taking in the stunning natural beauty of the area.
  17. Get lost in the beauty of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the country’s first national tallgrass prairie. This stunning park showcases the natural beauty and diversity of the prairie landscape, offering visitors a multitude of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife watching. Don’t miss out on this unforgettable experience!