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5 EPIC national parks in Illinois you need to visit (2022 guide)

Are you looking to check out some beautiful and historic national parks in Illinois? You’ve come to the right place.

Illinois is a state that stands out for its natural beauty and incredible historical sites.

With adventuresome hiking trails, scenic outlooks, and rich history, it’s no wonder why this state is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Midwest.

Read on to discover some of Illinois’s most incredible national treasures.

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How many National Parks are There in Illinois?

Although there are not any official national parks in Illinois, the National Parks Service operates two federally owned sites.

One of these is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Located in Springfield, Illinois, this is where Abraham Lincoln lived prior to becoming the 16th President of the United States.

The other is a National Historic Monument, the Pullman National Monument which is located within the first planned industrial community in Chicago.

In addition to these historic sites, there are three beautiful National Historic Trails located within the Land of Lincoln.

These include the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

We will go over all these nationally recognized sites in detail below.

While there are not any national parks in Illinois, there are plenty of incredible State Parks in Illinois that are well worth exploring.

Some of the best state parks in Illinois include the Starved Rock State Park which is also a great place to bring your dog for a play day. Another popular state park is Pere Marquette State Park, the largest state park in Illinois.

Read on to discover the best national parks in Illinois.

The Lincoln home in Springfield. This is one of the national park service sites in Illinois.
The Lincoln home in Springfield

National Park Service Sites in Illinois

Let’s start this post by describing the 2 federally owned sites what there is to see and why they are worth a visit.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

  • Address: 413 South 8th Street, Springfield, IL 62701
  • Entrance fee: Admission is free, but you need to reserve tickets for the tour beforehand to secure your spot and reduce wait times.
  • Opening hours: 9 AM-5 PM daily
  • Time needed: The organized tour of the home takes 20 to 25 minutes. It is advised to reserve 1.5 to 2 hours to see the entire site.
  • Parking: There is a parking lot available a few blocks away from the museum. Parking is 2 dollars per vehicle per hour.
  • Dogs allowed: Service animals are allowed throughout the site and inside the home but must be kept on a leash at all times.
  • Highlights: Take a tour through the historic twelve-room house that Abraham Lincoln and his family called home before he was elected the 16th President of the United States.

Description of the National Historic Site

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site consists of the house where Abraham Lincoln raised his family before he became the 16th President of the United States of America as well as the surrounding area located in the heart of Springfield, IL.

This is the only house that Abraham Lincoln ever owned. Three of Abraham Lincoln’s four sons with his wife Mary Todd were born within the walls of this home.

It was first recognized as a National Historic Landmark on December 19th, 1960 to later become a national historic site in 1972.

In addition to the Lincoln House, there are more than a dozen historic buildings to explore that span over four blocks.

Things to do

There is almost 200 years’ worth of history to explore within the Lincoln Home Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois.

Within the numerous historic buildings that encircle the Lincoln Home, you will find plenty of diverse activities and experiences to enjoy throughout your visit.

It is recommended to plan a 2-hour visit so you can explore all that the Lincoln Home Historic Site has to offer.

Abraham Lincoln's bedroom
The bedroom in Abraham Lincoln’s home (photo credits; Jasperdo)
Tour the Lincoln Home

One of the most popular things to do is to go on a tour of the Lincoln Home, of course.

This guided tour will take you on a journey through the life of the Lincoln family during their 17-year stay in this beautiful colonial-style home.

Gain a first-hand perspective of Abraham Lincoln’s values as a family man as well as his rise to success as a lawyer and politician.

On this tour, you will be led through the formal parlor, sitting room, dining room, bedrooms, kitchen, and many others.

Admission:

Admission to the guided tour is free, but you will need to reserve your tickets at the Visitor Center to ensure your spot.

This is the most popular activity within the Lincoln Home Historic site, and it lasts from 20 to 25 minutes per tour.

Read Also:

Are you interested in historic sites? Check out this post in which we share more historic sites in Illinois.

Watch a movie about Lincoln’s life

While you’re reserving your tickets for the tour in the Visitor Center, you can step inside the movie theater to catch a quick film highlighting the life of Abraham Lincoln and his family in Springfield, IL, as well as catch a brief preview of the historic home.

The schedule alternates between two 20 to 25-minute films.

Looking for national parks in Illinois?The Abraham Lincoln site is absolutely worth a visit.
The Abraham Lincoln Site
Explore the rest of the neighborhood

Plan out some time during your visit to explore the neighborhood in which the Lincoln Home is located.

There are plenty of self-guided tours and exhibits for you to uncover within a four-block radius of the home.

Here you can dive into the local history through the Dean House exhibit and the Arnold House exhibit.

The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site located in the Jameson Jenkins lot is a must-see while you are visiting.

Insider tips

Maximum 15 people are permitted per group

A maximum of 15 people are permitted per group for a tour of the Lincoln Home. If you are planning a tour with more than 15 people, you must schedule your tour in advance. The busy season for this attraction is in the summer, so you will want to plan ahead if that is when you are visiting.

You must have a ticket

You must have a ticket to access the free guided tour of the Lincoln Home, which can be obtained at the Visitor Center Front Desk.

Springfield is the perfect place to visit if you are looking to learn more about our nation’s 16th president.

Explore the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Garden

Another nearby historic site to explore is the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Garden, a 100-acre site with over 6 miles of leisurely walking trails to experience.

This plant preservation area showcases trees and other plant life that is native to the Midwest states where Abraham Lincoln spent the majority of his lifetime.

Tour the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

You can also tour the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which is one of the most popular historic presidential centers in the entire united states.

Here you will find exhibits commemorating Lincoln’s life as well as his presidency.

Explore New Salem

If you are interested in learning about the early history of Abraham Lincoln, you will want to check out the recreation of the place where he grew up, New Salem.

It was in this frontier village that Lincoln worked as a rail-splitter and other various jobs before pursuing a career in law.

Visit the Lincoln Tomb

Another more serene place to visit while you are in Springfield is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln.

The Lincoln Tomb is a National Historic Landmark where Lincoln is buried alongside his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and the four children that they had together.

If you’re looking to learn more about the history of the 16th President of the United States, you will want to start by exploring central Illinois.

The Abraham Lincoln Site.
The Abraham Lincoln Site

More Amazing Things to do Nearby

Whether you’re interested in uncovering the local history or looking for a scenic trail to hike, there are plenty of things to do in central Illinois.

Explore Beaver Dam State Park

Explore Beaver Dam State Park, where you’ll find over 750 acres of woodland, lakes, and marshland.

Here, you will be able to explore more than eight miles of hiking trails as well as an archery range that you can access free of charge.

Grab a bite

There are also plenty of eateries and breweries to enjoy during your trip to Springfield, including Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery in addition to some delicious food, the menu boasts plenty of award-winning beers that are brewed on-site.

Motorheads is another great place to grab a bite to eat while you are visiting Springfield. Located off Route 66, this restaurant is filled with retro memorabilia and even has an onsite museum for you to explore.

Open for breakfast lunch and dinner, Motorheads is the perfect place to enjoy an authentic midwestern meal.

The Devil Ray in Knights Action Park (photo credits: Knights Action Park)
Visit a water park

If you love water parks, Knight’s Action water and amusement park is definitely a fun day out for the whole family.

Where to Stay in Springfield

If you need a place to stay during your trip to Springfield, look no further than The Inn at 835 Boutique Hotel

This unique bed and breakfast provides luxurious yet affordable accommodations that are absolutely timeless.

It is nestled in a convenient location that is central to many of Springfield’s local attractions and historic sites.

Here is a list of more wonderful boutique hotels in Illinois.

A house sta the Pullman National Monument in Chicago.
Row houses at the Pullman National Monument in Chicago

Pullman National Monument in Chicago

  • Address: 610 East 111th Street, Chicago, IL 60628
  • Entrance fee: Free admission
  • Opening hours: 9 AM to 5 PM daily
  • Time needed: You will need about half a day to explore this attraction.
  • Parking: On-street parking is available.
  • Dogs allowed: Pets are allowed on the grounds as long as they are kept on a leash. Service animals are allowed within the buildings.
  • Highlights: This district has a rich history to uncover. It was the first model for a planned industrial community in the United States.

Description of the Historic Site

As the very first model for a planned industrial community in the United States, this community has deeply influenced American history.

Designed in the 1880s, one of the incredible features of this town is that everything is located within walking distance.

Today, this design feature makes for the perfect destination for a day trip to Chicago, where you can uncover the entire monument on foot.

Best Things To Do

There is plenty of history to explore during your visit to the Pullman National Historic Site.

It is recommended to plan to spend a half-day at the site so you can experience all the activities that it has to offer.

Don’t forget to grab a map before you begin your adventure throughout the historic industrial community.

Explore the area around the Administration Clock Tower

Begin your self-guided tour of the neighborhood at the Administration Clock Tower.

Here, you will find introductory exhibits that will familiarize you with the history of the area.

Check in with one of the park rangers to get some recommendations of the best places to visit based on your interests.

Visit the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

There is no shortage of museums within the Pullman National Historic community.

Check out the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

Here you will learn about the struggles that African Americans in the Pullman Company faced to gain representation and rights within the community, including the story of A. Philip Randolph, who was the chief organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Here is a list of more interesting Illinois museums.

Explore Pullman Park

Nestled within the Pullman neighborhood you will find a 1.02-acre recreation area known as Pullman Park.

This park was donated to the town of Pullman by its founder, George M. Pullman.

Here, you can relax on the park benches that are spread throughout the open green space.

Pullman Park is the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of nature while you are visiting Chicago.

The administration clock tower at the Pullman National Monument
The administration clock tower at the Pullman National Monument

Our Best Tips

Start your day by grabbing a free self-guided walking tour pamphlet in the Pullman Exhibit Hall or the Administration Clock Tower Building.

More Amazing Things to do Nearby

There are plenty of free and paid attractions for you to explore during your visit to the Pullman National Historic Site.

With a short walk around the area, you can experience the rich history of the community.

Stop by the Historic Pullman Foundation

If you’re looking to chat with some local experts and ask some questions about America’s first industrial community, you’ll want to stop by the Historic Pullman Foundation.

Here, you will find informational displays and an introductory film that will help to familiarize you with the area.

You can also chat with volunteers and staff for suggestions or recommendations on where to visit next.

Visit one of the historic houses

If you are not sure where to head on your tour, ask one of the friendly and helpful park rangers for a recommendation. Nobody knows the park as well as they do!

Uncover the diverse history of this National Historic Site by exploring some of the most well-preserved homes and other locations within the Pullman State Historic Site.

While some of the homes in this area are privately owned and not available for observation, others are owned by the National Parks Service and its partners and are up for exploration.

Use your map to guide you through some of the most monumental buildings in this incredible area.

Read Also:

Chicago is also a great places for hiking. Here we share a list of  the best hikes near Chicago. 

The historic  church at the Pullman National Monument
The historic church at the Pullman National Monument

Where to Stay

If you need a place to stay while visiting the Pullman National Historic Site, we recommend checking in to the Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites.

Located in the heart of the city of Chicago, just minutes away from the famous Magnificent Mile, this luxurious hotel is central to plenty of Chicago’s most iconic activities.

If this hotel isn’t what you are looking for, check out these Chicago hotels with rooftop pools.

National Historic Trails

What is a National Historic Trail?

National Historic Trails are abundant throughout the United States.

These long-distance trails commemorate the historic paths of travel that influenced the history and culture of the United States as we know it.

Now, these walking trails present opportunities to uncover the rich and diverse histories of the people that helped to shape our country.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

Description of the Trail

Spanning nearly 5,000 miles, this historic trail cuts through sixteen different states, including Illinois.

With the intention of documenting the uncharted territories of the Northwest, Lewis and Clark set off on a trip across America.

The trail begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and extends to Astoria, Oregon.

Along the Illinois portion of this trail, you will find landmarks, monuments, and historic visitor centers where you can uncover the history behind this incredible journey.

The lookout point in Illinois in Fort Defiance state park
The lookout at the southernmost point in Illinois in Fort Defiance state park (photo credits: Kevin)

Best things to do on the Lewis & Clark Trail

This trail boasts a plethora of activities that you can participate in such as hiking, boating, and horseback riding available at certain locations throughout the trail.

Explore some of the historic sites where Lewis and Clark set up camp during their extraordinary trip, including the St. Nicholas Landmark.

You can also stop in at the Chester Welcome Center where you will gain perspective on the Corps of Discovery as well as enjoy breathtaking views of the river.

Enjoy Nature at Its Best

Many of the most exquisite and serene places that Lewis and Clark charted along their journey have been preserved to encapsulate all of the natural beauty that they held when the pair first laid eyes on them.

Fort Defiance State Park

Nestled in the city of Cairo, Illinois.

This scenic point is one of the most incredible places along the Lewis and Clark Trail.

The state park sits perched between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in southwest Illinois.

Here, you will find 16 different campsites for you to experience just like Lewis and Clark did back in the 1800s.

There are also picnic tables and swimming areas available.

Visit during the spring months to witness the vivacious beauty of the natural vegetation.

Fort Massac State Park

Another famous campsite along the Ohio River is Fort Massac State Park.

This area is known for its rich and dynamic history dating all the way back to 1778, when Lewis Clark’s brother, George Rogers Clark led troops to Illinois to retrieve the land from the British.

There is an 8.7-mile trail named after him which stretches into the nearby city of Metropolis, Illinois.

With 50 different campsites available with shower accommodation, there are plenty of locations throughout the park for you to choose from.

They also have a disc golf course for guests to enjoy.

Piney Creek Ravine

The 198-acre nature preserve known as Piney Creek Ravine has been preserved as a wilderness area with lush forests for visitors to appreciate.

With diverse plant life, lively woodland creatures, gorgeous views, and historic Native American rock art, there is something at Piney Creek for everyone to delight in.

Fort De Chartres in Illinois
Fort De Chartres
Visit a Fort
Fort de Chartres

Fort de Chartres is located in the French-inspired town of Prairie Du Rocher, Illinois.

Here, you will discover some of the French influence that settled among the Midwest territories before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

History lovers will adore the reenactments and the authentic traditions that still take place in this Fort over 200 years later.

It’s no surprise that visiting Fort de Chartres is one of the most exciting things to do in southern Illinois.

Fort Massac
Fort Massac
Fort Massac

Fort Massac is a replica of the original historic wooden fort that was perched within the town of Metropolis, Illinois.

Although Lewis and Clark only stayed here for two days throughout their entire journey across the United States, this location stands out for its rich American history.

Throughout centuries, Fort Massac has served as a prominent destination for all sorts of events that shaped history as we know it.

In 1908, it was dedicated as part of Illinois’s first state park.

View from Fort Kaskaskia over the Mississippi River
View from Fort Kaskaskia over the Mississippi River (photo credits: Goodpairofshoes)
Fort Kaskaskia

Located within Ellis Grove, Illinois, Fort Kaskaskia stands out for its gorgeous scenic overlooks that showcase the Mississippi River and surrounding area.

Visiting Fort Kaskaskia is something everyone should do while visiting southern Illinois.

Here you will find gorgeous picnic areas fitted with pavilions and tables, two playgrounds, and a variety of campsites to choose from.

The Camp Dubois reconstruction at the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site
The Camp Dubois reconstruction at the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site (photo credits; Chris Light)
Discover a Historic Site
Lewis & Clark State Historic Site (Camp Dubois)

This historic site is the place where Lewis and Clark camped for the bitter winter that they faced in 1803.

It features plenty of replicas of the equipment and supplies that Lewis and Clark carried with them throughout their journey.

Within the walls of the visitor center, you will uncover a lesser-known history of the complications and hardships that the Corps of Discovery experienced along their trek.

Cahokia Mounds
Cahokia Mounds, about 10 miles further up north from the Cahokia courthouse
Cahokia Courthouse State Historic site

Another winter headquarters for Lewis and Clark in 1803-1804 was the Cahokia Courthouse.

This building was originally constructed in the 1740s when Illinois was under French control.

Since then, the building has been dismantled and reconstructed several times throughout the Midwest.

Here is where Lewis and Clark planned for the long and bitter journey that lay in front of them.

Visit a Historic Landmark
St Nicholas Landmark

St. Nicholas Landmark is where Lewis, Clark, and the Corps of Discovery camped on Horse Island, located in the middle of the Mississippi River.

This location is known as one of the last remaining pieces of river history.

Today, you can enjoy a variety of activities at St. Nicholas Landmark, including cycling, grabbing a bite to eat, or sipping on craft beers at the local brewery.

The Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower
The Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower (photo credits: Eric Gunderson)
Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower

Located within Hartford, Illinois, this monumental tower was resurrected to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

With observation decks at the 50, 100, and 150-foot marks, you can climb the stairs or ride the tower’s elevator to the top and experience a glorious bird’s eye view of the surrounding area.

Our Best Tips

If you’re exploring the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail, you’ll want to check out the Chester Welcome Center.

Through uncovering the little-known history and fun facts about the great excursion that Lewis and Clark made through Illinois, you will gain a deeper understanding of their trip and the challenges they faced along the way.

The Altgeld Hall in Carbondale
The Altgeld Hall in Carbondale (photo credits: Mark Jaroski)

More amazing things to do nearby

There are plenty of nearby towns in southern Illinois that are worth a visit.

If you’re looking for a fun place to explore, check out the cities of Carbondale, Belleville, and Metropolis which are known for their adorable shops, fun breweries, and delicious restaurants.

A section of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
A section of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (photo credits: Chris Light)

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Description of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

There is plenty of history to explore along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, including the historic town of Nauvoo, which was the starting point of their journey.

This 1,300-mile-long trail stretches from Illinois all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah.

This trail features plenty of scenic views and historic sites which housed 70,000 Mormons along their journey from 1846 to 1869.

Best things to do on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Located along the Mississippi River, the little town of Nauvoo was once a bustling city inhabited primarily by Mormons.

Visit the Nauvoo State Park and Museum to learn more about the journey that the Mormons made to Salt Lake City as well as what influenced their decision to migrate.

In Nauvoo, you will also find other history-rich sites such as the Carthage Jail & Visitor Center.

A mural about the trail of Tears in Golconda
A mural about the Trail of Tears in Golconda (photo credits: Kevin)

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

Description of the National Historic Site

Stretching over 5 thousand miles long, this is the trail that more than 16,000 Cherokee people traveled along after they were forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to Oklahoma.

The trip they made was bitter, and more than one thousand Cherokee people died along the way.

This tragedy led to the trail they walked along to be left with a somber name, the Trail of Tears.

A portion of this trail cuts through southern Illinois.

Best things to do

Although this trail was originally traveled by foot, today you can make the trek by foot, bike, horseback, or even motor vehicle.

There are plenty of scenic overlooks and historic sites to experience along the way.

Burden falls are one of the best waterfalls in Illinois
Beautiful Burden Falls in Shawnee National Forest
Shawnee National Forest

Perched between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest is known for its breathtaking natural beauty scenes as well as its exciting range of outdoor activities.

While most of Illinois consists of flat terrain that is perfect for growing crops, the Shawnee National Forest boasts rolling hills and a diverse wildlife scene.

While visiting this vivacious outdoor area, you can participate in activities such as hiking, rock climbing, birdwatching, and more.

Golconda Riverfront

Located within the Golconda Historic District, this area is well-loved for its breathtaking riverfront views and historic architecture.

Many people prefer to drive along the riverfront and soak in the gorgeous scenes, especially in the winter months.

Conclusion

As you can see, while there are not any official national parks in Illinois, there is still plenty of history and natural life to explore.

Known for its exquisite natural beauty and rich cultural history throughout the state, there is something for everyone to enjoy while visiting Illinois.

See the web story that accompanies this post.