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Illinois state parks/national sites

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Did You Know … ?

  • Cave-in-Rock State Park is named for a cave that sheltered outlaws until the 1830s.
  • Edward Everett Hale used Illinois’ Fort Massac as a setting for his classic, “The Man Without a Country.”
  • The Native American city of Cahokia was larger than London in the year 1250.
  • Bison in North America once numbered 20 million to 30 million.
  • The Starved Rock State Park is named for a rock where the last of the Illinois tribe are said to have died of starvation.

Mormons, mounds and more

Illinois is a farm state in the U.S. Midwest, not a place known for parks on a grand scale. Nevertheless, it boasts an assortment of state parks as well as national historic sites that are popular with visitors, particularly those travelers at the center of the personality spectrum.

At the national level, the most publicized sites are those associated with President Lincoln. In 2008, the U.S. Congress created the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, encompassing 42 counties in central Illinois, with the purpose of preserving and promoting the state’s heritage as it relates to Lincoln’s life.

Upwards of two dozen communities have some claim on the 16th president, but Springfield is at the area’s heart. Attractions in the state capital include the Lincoln Home, occupied by the president and his family for 17 years, and the new (2005) Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

History buffs also can get their fix seeking out other places or activities associated with the American story, including the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. The Mormons started their journey to Utah from Nauvoo, Ill., where they had lived for seven years before being driven out.

State parks run the gamut for types of terrain and activities, including sites for rock and ice climbing, as well as gardens and picnic grounds. Several offer options for camping, canoeing, cross-country skiing, cycling, fishing, hiking and horseback riding.

The Wildlife Prairie State Park at Hanna City is a 2,000-acre zoological park where visitors may observe bison, black bears, cougars, elk, otters or wolves. Fort Massac State Park at Metropolis recalls Illinois’ past, too, while offering popular recreational options. It is named for the fort at its center and the logical setting for reenactment events.

Illinois also boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cahokia Mounds at Collinsville, 15 miles east of St. Louis, Mo. Also designated a state historic site, Cahokia preserves 68 of 120 original earthen mounds. The historic park combines learning opportunities with activities, nature trails and picnic grounds.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Do some rock climbing in Ferne Clyffe State Park. The park also is suitable for hiking any of 18 marked trails, camping and backpacking.
  • Or, make that ice climbing at Starved Rock State Park.
  • Get thee to the Raging Buffalo Snowboard Park for the obvious reason.
  • Overnight in a renovated caboose or lakeside cottage at the Wildlife Prairie State Park at Peoria. Then, hike on paths that offer viewings of resident bison and elk. In winter, take these paths on cross-country skis.
  • Go scuba diving in one of the lakes in Kickapoo State Park.
  • Camp in Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park on a peninsula in Rend Lake. Go horseback riding on the park’s trails.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go cross-country skiing at Swallow Cliff in Palos Park, and time this to coincide with the annual Winterfest at the Lake Katherine Nature Preserve in Palos Heights, which features hayrides and a dogsled race.
  • Try your luck at fly-fishing in Apple River Canyon State Park in Jo Daviess County. Bring a picnic lunch, as well.
  • Hike with a guide through the canyons at Starved Rock State Park at Utica to see its icefalls.
  • Bike or hike in the Buffalo Rock State Park and Effigy Tumuli, at Ottawa, not too far from Chicago.
  • Travel by horse-drawn wagon while seeing the sights in Nauvoo, once a Mormon town, now a National Historic Landmark District and on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.
  • Go horseback riding with a guide through the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Alternatively, take that ride in Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton in the southwestern part of the state.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Illinois boasts five National Scenic Byways, as well as the famed Route 66. Choose one when you plan a driving trip in the state.
  • Take a tour, led by a Park Service ranger, of the Lincoln Home in Springfield.
  • Fish at the lake in Nauvoo State Park.
  • Study an Illinois map and plan a self-drive itinerary that utilizes the segments of the 42-county Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area that interest you the most.
  • Attend the October Fort Massac Encampment at Fort Massac State Park or any of several living history weekends staged at the park throughout the year.
  • Take a guided tour of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Time your visit for an equinox or solstice observance or to attend the Native Harvest Festival. Another option is picnicking on the grounds.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Illinois Office of Tourism at