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15 National and State Parks Near Chicago

Chicago might be famous for its iconic skyline and bold architecture, but there’s tons of nature to explore just outside the Windy City, too. Sandwiched between the Great Lakes’ beaches, Midwestern prairies and glacier-carved canyons, there’s plenty to explore. Put these national and state parks on your list the next time you’re in Chicago.

Starved Rock State Park

Where: LaSalle County, Illinois

What to Expect: One of the Midwest’s most popular parks, ancient glaciers formed Starved Rock’s namesake 125-foot butte which hangs precipitously over the Illinois River. The area is full of waterfalls and canyons, making it a dream for hikers as well as kayakers. Settle into a campground for the night or splurge on a room at the historic Starved Rock Lodge. 

Size: 4.4 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, picnic areas, visitor center, kayak and canoe rentals, lodge, restaurant and hiking trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: Accessible trails are limited, however the park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including parking and restrooms.

Indiana Dunes National Park

Where: Porter County, Indiana

What to Expect: One of the most ecologically diverse preserves in the nation with over 15,000 acres of dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers and forests, Indiana Dunes boasts unusual features like oaks growing right out of the sand. Spend the afternoon hiking, kayaking, birding, horseback riding or swimming along 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Size: 24 square miles

Amenities: Guided tours, visitor center, campgrounds, picnic areas, kayak and canoe rentals, and hiking, cycling and equestrian trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are allowed on a leash in specific areas.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible trails and beach wheelchairs.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Where: Wisconsin

What to Expect: And now for something completely different: a massive, prehistoric trail. Harkening back to a time some 15,000 years ago when an ice sheet covered much of North America, this route traces ancient sedimentary formations such as kames (sand mounds) and eskers (long, winding ridges) and provides fascinating insight into glacial history. Primarily for hikers, this trail is also used for cycling, camping, horseback riding, birdwatching, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. 

Size: 1,200 miles point-to-point

Amenities: Campgrounds, visitor center, picnic areas, exhibits and hiking trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome in some areas.

Wheelchair Accessible: Parts of the trail are accessible.

Moraine Hills State Park

Where: McHenry County, Illinois

What to Expect: Surrounding 48-acre Lake Defiance, one of the few glacial lakes in Illinois that remains largely undeveloped, Moraine Hills State Park immerses visitors in the area’s woodlands, wetlands and abundant wildlife. While hiking, fishing, skiing or boating, check out the park’s eponymous moraine, a large accumulation of boulders and stones deposited by a glacier thousands of years ago.

Size: 3.4 square miles

Amenities: Fishing piers, boat rentals, picnic areas, campgrounds, concessions, and hiking, cycling and skiing trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible trails and fishing spaces.

Volo Bog State Natural Area

Where: Lake County, Illinois

What to Expect: It’s home to the only open-water “quaking bog” in Illinois, so called because the bog’s floating mat of sphagnum moss, cattails and sedges shakes when you walk on it—a bit like a giant water bed. This protected area attracts nature lovers who are curious to see this unusual wonder. Meet up with a ranger or head out on your own to explore.

Size: 1.8 square miles

Amenities: Guided tours, picnic areas, visitor center, and skiing and hiking trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are allowed on a leash, but can’t go on the interpretive boardwalk trail. 

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible trails and a visitor center.

Chain O’ Lakes State Park

Where: Lake County, Illinois

What to Expect: Located smack in the middle of Illinois’ largest concentration of lakes, this aptly named park offers access to a series of 15 connected kettle lakes, 6,500 acres of water, and 488 miles of shoreline. Predictably, boating and fishing are the most popular activities here, but you can also find horseback riding, skiing and hiking. 

Size: 4.4 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, boat rental, concessions, archery range, fishing piers, horse stable, picnic areas, and hiking, biking and equestrian trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible boat launches and camping.

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park

Where: Lake County, Illinois

What to Expect: Yes, you can enjoy a beach day in the Midwest. Just head to this park, which stretches 6.5 miles along the sandy shore of Lake Michigan. Encompassing the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in Illinois, people come here to boat, swim, hike, fish, camp and admire the beauty of the dunes.

Size: 6.5 square miles 

Amenities: Campgrounds, fishing pier, marina, concessions, picnic areas, and cycling and hiking trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are allowed on a leash, but can’t go on the beach or in the nature preserve.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including an accessible fishing pier and campsite.

Matthiessen State Park

Where: LaSalle County, Illinois

What to Expect: The uninitiated visitor might miss this stunning park, situated right next to its more famous neighbor, Starved Rock. Come here for a similarly scenic—and much less crowded—experience. Whether you’re horseback riding, hiking, skiing or mountain biking, you might just get Matthiessen’s exquisite sandstone formations and waterfalls all to yourself.

Size: 3 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, archery range, picnic areas, boat ramp, and hiking, equestrian, mountain biking and skiing trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including an accessible trail and campsite.

Buffalo Rock State Park

Where: LaSalle County, Illinois

What to Expect: Small but mighty, this beautiful park—which was once an island in the Illinois River—boasts several unique attractions. Visit the American bison that call Buffalo Rock home, admire a series of outdoor sculptures that are a tribute to Native American mound-building (earthen structures that were used for everything from burials to religious ceremonies) and hike to a sandstone dropoff with a 360-degree view of the river.

Size: 0.5 square miles

Amenities: Observation deck, campgrounds, exhibits, picnic areas, e-bike rental, and cycling and hiking trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including picnic areas and parking.

Castle Rock State Park

Where: Ogle County, Illinois

What to Expect: Named after a prominent sandstone bluff along the Rock River, Castle Rock State Park has a boardwalk trail running along the water and is a peaceful place to kayak. Deeper into the nature reserve, you’ll also discover several scenic hiking trails that are perfect for cross country skiing and tobogganing when weather permits.

Size: 2.5 square miles

Amenities: Observation deck, boat ramp, picnic areas, and hiking and skiing trails 

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including an accessible overlook and observation deck.

Rock Cut State Park

Where: Winnebago County, Illinois

What to Expect: One of Northern Illinois’ larger state parks, Rock Cut is actually less well-known for its rocky trails than its two recreational lakes: Pierce and Olson. People come here to fish, ice skate, boat and swim in the warmer months.

Size: 5 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, picnic areas, fishing piers, boat launches, boat rental, picnic areas, swimming beach, concessions, restaurant, store, and hiking, skiing, mountain biking and equestrian trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible trails and fishing piers.

Silver Springs State Park

Where: Kendall County, Illinois

What to Expect: Centered around a bubbling natural spring, this park is home to the Fox River as well as several small lakes, making it a great spot for fishing, boating and canoeing. It’s also a popular destination for winter sports lovers, who come here for ice fishing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating and cross-country skiing. 

Size: 2 square miles

Amenities: Picnic areas, canoe rental, fishing pier, campground, archery range and equestrian and hiking trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including an accessible fishing pier and picnic areas.

White Pines Forest State Park

Where: Ogle County, Illinois

What to Expect: Dreaming of camping in a log cabin like Illinois’s own Abraham Lincoln? White Pine Forest State Park is the place. Spend the night in their historic White Pines Lodge before hiking through the southernmost forest of native white pine trees in the Midwest.

Size: 0.6 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, lodge, cabins, giftshop, restaurant, picnic areas, and hiking and skiing trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including trails and cabins.

Channahon State Park and the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail

Where: Will County, Illinois

What to Expect: The official trailhead for the Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail, this diminutive park’s size belies its importance. From here, take off on a 96-mile route that was used extensively by Native Americans and traders and provided the first complete water route from the east coast to the Gulf of Mexico by connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by way of the Illinois River. In the park itself, visit the locktender house, where the locktender lived and worked to manually allow vessels through, and enjoy an afternoon of picnicking and kayaking.

Size: 0.03 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, picnic areas, historic site, and trail access

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including a picnic area and parking.

Kankakee River State Park

Where: Kankakee and Will Counties, Illinois

What to Expect: Once part of the 19th century that connected the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, come to this park for a relaxing  afternoon of fishing, kayaking or boating. It also has an extensive trail system, whether you prefer to travel by horse, bike or foot.

Size: 6.3 square miles

Amenities: Boat ramps, fishing pier, canoe rental, campgrounds, picnic area, and cycling, equestrian, snowmobile, skiing and hiking trails

Pets Permitted: Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Wheelchair Accessible: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including an accessible trail and fishing pier.

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