Five Top National Park Sites and 60 State Parks in Illinois

March 10, 2023

The state of Illinois has a lot to offer visitors. From its five top national park sites to more than 60 state parks, there's a lot to see and do.

Some of these parks are incredibly historic, while others focus on nature. Whether you're looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, there are plenty of options.

Starved Rock State Park

If travelers are looking for a place to soak up stunning waterfalls and towering canyons, they’ll love Starved Rock State Park. Located along the Illinois River, this park is home to numerous canyons and cliffs that are sure to impress.

Besides hiking, visitors can also enjoy fishing, boating and extraordinary views at Starved Rock. The park offers 13 miles of trails and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

The park derives its name from a Native American legend of revenge, according to which an Illiniwek tribe member stabbed the Ottawa chief Pontiac. After a fierce battle, the remaining members of the Illiniwek took refuge on top of the 125-foot butte.

Cap au Gres State Park

A favorite of nature lovers, Cap au Gres State Park offers hiking, fishing and boating opportunities. Its trails are well-maintained and offer scenic views of the Missouri River.

The 5.3-mile loop trail allows you to hike among 100-foot-tall Missouri River bluffs. You'll also be able to investigate sharp rock formations, stand on the Cap au Gres Fault Line and pass by springs gushing out from under the trail.

The 1.5-mile path ends at McAdams Peak, where you can gaze into three different bodies of water and see an Indian burial mound nearby. You can grab an interpretive pamphlet at the trailhead.

Prairie du Rocher State Park

Prairie du Rocher State Park is located in the heart of Randolph County in southwestern Illinois. It is home to the French Colonial Historic District, which played an important role in the development of American westward progress.

In 1722, the town was founded just across from Fort de Chartres, a fort built to protect French possessions on the Mississippi River. It was one of the first European settlements in Illinois and is located on the Kaskaskia Cahokia Trail, the most vital road to the new colonial cities and towns.

Piney Creek Ravine State Park

If you are looking for a unique and interesting hiking experience in southern Illinois, consider visiting Piney Creek Ravine State Park. It offers a great combination of natural beauty, wildlife and history.

The 198-acre nature preserve is a true treasure and features short leaf pines, sphagnum moss, liverworts, American agave, and a variety of bird species. The trails are well-maintained and easy to navigate.

The most impressive site at Piney Creek is the Native American rock art that is scattered throughout the area. These petroglyphs date from the Late Woodland to Mississippian periods and were likely created for religious purposes.

Fort de Chartres State Historic Site

Located in southwestern Illinois, Fort de Chartres State Historic Site is a national park that preserves the ruins of the first French fort built in the area. It was the center of French civil and military government in the Illinois Country during the 1750s.

The Illinois Country was a vast territory that included independent trading missions, rare settlers, and native tribes. The French established this fort to protect trade, the delivery of provisions down the Mississippi River to the Louisiana colony, and to help control Indians who were threatening trade and the enslavement of a large number of French negroes.

Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trial

If you are looking for an exciting bicycle trip in the United States, then look no further than the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail. It’s a bike touring route that commemorates the bicentennial of the 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery expedition.

It covers 4,900 miles, from Wood River, Illinois to the mouth of the Columbia River near present-day Astoria, Oregon. It’s a very long route but it is well worth the journey.

The route is made up of a variety of paved and unpaved roads, as well as trails. It also follows the Missouri and Columbia rivers as closely as possible.

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, established in 1978, is one of our premier emigrant trails. From Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Great Salt Lake, Utah, tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints traveled along this trail from 1846 to 1869.

The emigrants used several methods of transportation during the trip, including ox-drawn wagons and handcarts. Handcarts were a cheaper and more efficient way to transport European converts than ox-drawn wagons.


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