Skip to Content

Best State Parks in Northern Illinois you must visit

If you’re looking for scenic state parks in northern Illinois to visit, you’ve come to the right place.

Some people don’t realize how many unique histories lie within the natural areas and forests of Illinois.

However, you’ll be amazed when you discover how many state parks are in northern Illinois as well as the rich histories that they hold within them.

In fact, Northern Illinois has some of the most amazing state parks in the Midwest region of the United States.

There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.

In a hurry? These are the best parks in north Illinois state parks

Northern Illinois State Parks that you should explore

Parks in Northen Illinois You Should Visit

Highlights Entrance Fee
Buffalo Rock State Park

This 298-acre state park is the perfect place to explore some panoramic views of the Illinois River and the surrounding area.

Free

Rock Cut State Park

This 3,092 acres of protected land is with over 40 miles of hiking trails a real hiking paradise.

Free

Moraine Hills State Park

This vast state park features diverse ecosystems including marsh wetlands, grasslands, and even a humongous 48-acre lake.

Free

St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Starved Rock State Park

This popular state park is located just 90 minutes away from the bustle of Chicago making it the perfect place for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Free

Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park Mathiesen State Park

Featuring five miles of hiking trails and nearly 10 miles of mountain biking and equestrian trails, this is a nature lover’s paradise.

Free

Apple River Canyon State Park in Winter Apple River Canyon State Park

This incredible state park has plenty of unique rock formations and caves for you to explore. The Apple River runs straight through the limestone bluffs making this area perfect for fishing, hiking, or relaxing.

Free

Gebhard Woods State Park

This 30-acre state park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, camping trip, or even go canoeing. Its exquisite scenery makes it one of the most popular state parks in Northern Illinois.

Free

Mississippi Palisades State Park Mississippi Palisades State Park

Nestled along the Mississippi River, Mississippi Palisades State Park is the perfect place to enjoy a historical hike along the bluffs just as the Native Americans did hundreds of years ago.

Free

Morrison-Rockwood State Park

Morrison-Rockwood State Park features picturesque scenes including a large lake and diverse wildlife. This is the perfect location for a picnic, bird watching, or exploring some of the local plant life.

Free

Silver Springs State Park

With a clearwater pool that bubbles fresh from a spring and panoramic views of Fox River and the surrounding prairie lands, this is one of the most beautiful state parks in all of Illinois.

Free

White Pines Forest State Park

Nestled within the heart of Rock River valley, this gigantic state park is the perfect place to explore concrete fords and sit back and relax while you observe the birds and aquatic life that runs through the rivers.

Free

llini State Park

This wooded area has lots of nature and activities for you to experience during your visit. Rent a bike, hike the trails by foot, or sit and relax by the river, the choice is yours.

Free

Best State Parks in Northern Illinois

Buffalo Rock State Park

Perched atop a bluff of Illinois that was once an island within the Illinois River, you’ll find a state park that comes with an intriguing past.

Because of its unique location and diverse landscapes, Buffalo Rock State Park features some of the best panoramic views in Illinois.

With serene, scenic trails along the valley of the Illinois River, this 298-acre park is the perfect state park to explore in northern Illinois.

This state park offers tons of activities, from camping accommodations to E-Bike Rentals which will allow you to cycle along their incredible bike trails with your family and friends.

Another popular activity among visitors is the geocaching experience that the park offers.

Whether you are cross-country skiing or walking along the hiking trails, you are sure to uncover a unique adventure in Buffalo Rock State Park.

Highlights

This 298-acre state park is the perfect place to explore some panoramic views of the Illinois River and the surrounding area.

Entrance Fee

Free

Address

1300 North 27th Road, Ottawa, Illinois 61350

Sunset over Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park

Rock Cut State Park

Rock Cut State Park dates back to 1859 when railway builders constructed its unique features by blasting their way through a rock with the aim of creating a railway in its place.

This left the surrounding area with some impressive, man-made rock cut outs which make for some incredible scenic outlook locations that are perfect for enjoying picnics and other activities with your family.

Today, Rock Cut State Park is one of the largest state parks in Illinois, with over 3,092 acres of land where you can explore the bike trails, hiking trails, and equestrian trails however you prefer.

You can even still see the old railroad tracks that are sprinkled throughout the site and hidden away in Pierce Lake.

It’s no surprise that Rock Cut State Park is one of the best state parks in Illinois.

You can find more info about Rock Cut State Park here.

Rock Cut State Park, Illinois
Rock Cut State Park

Highlights

This 3,092 acres of protected land is with over 40 miles of hiking trails a real hiking paradise. 

Opening Hours

6:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Entrance Fee

This park is free to visit!

Address

7318 Harlem Road, Loves Park, Illinois 61111

Moraine Hills State Park

Moraine Hills State Park is a beautiful nature preserve which hosts a variety of unique special events, educational classes, and training programs.

Here you can find diverse views of the woodsy trails as well as a glimpse or two into the lives of the woodland creatures who thrive within it.

There are plenty of activities for you and your family to participate in including fishing, bird watching, biking, and exploring the riverbank.

If you’re looking for a place to go hiking in northern Illinois, you won’t regret taking a trip to Moraine Hills State Park.

One of the recommended walks is the Lake Defiance trail which will take you on a journey throughout the unique ecosystems that you’ll find within this state park in northern Illinois.

Highlights

This vast state park features diverse ecosystems including marsh wetlands, grasslands, and even a humongous 48-acre lake.

Opening Hours

Open daily from 8 am to 7 pm

Entrance Fee

Free

Address

1510 South River Road, McHenry, Illinois 6005

St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park
St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is one of the most popular state parks that you can experience in northern Illinois. Located just an hour and a half away from Chicago, this is the perfect location for a laid-back retreat with the ones that you love.

Featuring water activities, hiking trails, nearby wineries, and quaint hotel accommodations, this state park has a variety of activities to choose from to keep you busy on your next getaway.

Many people throughout the nearby area turn to Starved Rock for a weekend escape or day trip.

We absolutely love Starved Rock and have many more Starved Rock posts.

The Council Overhang in Starved Rock State Park, northern Illinois

Highlights

This popular state park in Illinois is located just 90 minutes away from the bustle of Chicago making it the perfect place for a day trip or a weekend getaway. With water activities, hiking trails, and scenic outlooks, there is something for everyone to enjoy at this beautiful location.

Opening Hours

6:30 AM – Sunset

Entrance Fee

This park is free to visit!

Address

2678 E 875th Road, Oglesby, Illinois 61348

Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park, northern Illinois
Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park

Matthiesen State Park

Located just a short distance away from the aforementioned Starved Rock State Park, you will find this gem of state parks in northern Illinois.

Matthiesen State Park stands out for its pristine campgrounds, hiking trails, biking trails, and famous equestrian trails.

You can visit Matthiesen State Park any time throughout the year to experience its glory in a completely different setting.

Many people prefer to explore Matthiesen State Park in winter when they can enjoy a thrilling horseback ride through the snow among other winter activities for guests to enjoy.

Highlights

Featuring five miles of hiking trails and nearly 10 miles of mountain biking and equestrian trails, this is a nature lover’s paradise.

Opening Hours

7:00 AM – Sunset

Entrance Fee

This park is free to visit!

Address

2500 IL-178, Oglesby, Illinois 61348

There’re separate parking lots for the northern Dells area and the southern Vermilion river area.

Apple River Canyon State Park in Winter
Apple River in Winter (photo credits: Justin Meissen)

Apple River Canyon State Park

Within this state park in northern Illinois, you will find plenty of activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, and enjoying an afternoon picnic.

Here you will uncover limestone bluffs, deep rivers, springs, streams, and vivacious wildlife and aquatic life.

Apple River Canyon State Park spans over 1,907 acres within Jo Daviess County in Illinois and is home to some of the best waterfalls in Illinois.

This scenic canyon area is nestled within the hilly northwest part of Illinois.

The views throughout the park include exclusive looks at layers of sedimentary rocks and the local plant life.

There is also plenty of wildlife for you to encounter during your visit including deer, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and 49 different species of diverse birds.

Apple River Canyon State Park in northern Illinois.
Apple River Canyon State Park (photo credits: Ivo Shandor)

Highlights

This incredible state park has plenty of unique rock formations and caves for you to explore. The Apple River runs straight through the limestone bluffs making this area perfect for fishing, hiking, or relaxing.

Opening Hours

Open 24 hours daily

Entrance Fee

Free

Address

8763 East Canyon Road, Apple River, Illinois 61001

Where to stay

Check out this beautiful Apple Canyon lake log cabin on VRBO.

This is an amazing northern Illinois State Park.
Gebhard Woods State Park (photo credits: Dave Putz/Connie Sieh)

Gebhard Woods State Park

While it encompasses little more than 30 acres of land, Gebhard Woods State Park has become the go-to place for exploring wildlife in northern Illinois.

This beautiful area is full of wildlife and plant life for you to witness on your visit to northern Illinois.

This charming state park is bordered by the Illinois and Michigan Canal on the south and the northern border is marked by Nettle Creek.

Because it is surrounded by creeks and canals, this an ideal area for lounging along the waterways.

There are a variety of activities available including camping, fishing, and hiking along the scenic trails. There are also shelters available to rent throughout the park.

Colorful birds are frequently spotted throughout the area, making this a wonderful destination for bird watching.

Gebhard Woods State Park is the perfect place for a weekend getaway in northeastern Illinois.

Highlights

This 30-acre state park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, camping trip, or even go canoeing. Its exquisite scenery makes it one of the most popular state parks in Northern Illinois.

Opening Hours

Open daily from 5 am to 7 pm

Entrance Fee

Free

Address

401 Ottawa Street, Morris, Illinois 60450

Mississippi Palisades State Park, one of the best state parks in northern Illinois.
Mississippi Palisades State Park (photo credits: Parker Hayes)

Mississippi Palisades State Park

With the Mississippi River running along its western border, Mississippi Palisades is the perfect state park in northern Illinois for swimming, boating, and enjoying watersports.

Here, you can enjoy a plethora of activities such as camping, cross country skiing, fishing, geocaching, hiking, rock climbing, and even metal detecting.

You will also find tons of scenic picnic locations throughout the park where you can stop for a break along your hike or enjoy lunch with the family.

Hiking is one of the most exciting attractions of this state park in northern Illinois.

Here you will find miles upon miles of twisting trails that were carved by the Native American pathfinders hundreds of years ago.

While hiking throughout the park, you will uncover iconic rock formations such as Indian Head and Twin Sisters.

There are also plenty of intriguing caves to explore.

The best time of year to visit the Mississippi Palisades State Park is undoubtedly in the fall when the rich colors of autumn line the lively river on each side.

Highlights

Nestled along the Mississippi River, Mississippi Palisades State Park is the perfect place to enjoy a historical hike along the bluffs just as the Native Americans did hundreds of years ago.

Opening Hours

Open daily from 7:30 am to 10 pm

Entrance Fee

Free to visit

Address

16327A IL Route 84, Savanna, Illinois 61074

Morrison-Rockwood State Park

There are plenty of ways to make memories throughout Morrison-Rockwood State Park.

Throughout this gigantic 1,164-acre state park in northern Illinois, you will find a plethora of family-friendly, fun-filled activities to enjoy.

Open year-round, this is a great location for winter activities such as ice fishing, and cross country skiing.

You can also participate in some exciting summer activities such as archery, boating, camping, horseback riding, geocaching, metal detecting, and hiking.

A gorgeous, stream-fed body of water, Lake Carlton is located inside the park and features plenty of ducks, geese, and fish for you to catch on your next fishing trip.

Families love Morrison-Rockwood State Park because of its captivating hiking trails and scenic picnic locations that offer views of Lake Carlton.

Here, you can sit back and watch the beautiful birds perched among the hickory, ash, oak, and walnut trees that are native to the area.

Highlights

Morrison-Rockwood State Park features picturesque scenes including a large lake and diverse wildlife. This is the perfect location for a picnic, bird watching, or exploring some of the local plant life.

Opening Hours

Open 24 hours daily

Entrance Fee

Free

Address

18750 Lake Road, Morrison, Illinois 61270

Silver Springs State Park

Nestled within Silver Springs State Park in northern Illinois you will find mesmerizing oak trees and prairie grasslands which provide exquisite scenes of natural beauty for all who visit the park.

The lively Fox River runs throughout the park, providing exciting ecosystems for wildlife and visitors to enjoy.

Here, you can take part in a number of thrilling activities such as archery, boating, camping, canoeing, cross country skiing, dog training programs, horseback riding, fishing, geocaching, and more.

The hiking trails that stretch throughout the park are amazing routes of exploration that the whole family will delight in.

Silver Springs State Park gets its name from the pool of clear water that bubbles from a spring within the earth and sparkles like silver underneath the sunshine.

This pool is a freshwater source that never freezes, not even on the coldest winter days.

The vivacious surrounding areas are sprinkled with native wildflowers, songbirds, and aquatic wildlife.

Highlights

With a clearwater pool that bubbles fresh from a spring and panoramic views of Fox River and the surrounding prairie lands, this is one of the most beautiful state parks in all of Illinois.

Opening Hours

Open daily from 7 am to sunset

Entrance Fee

Free

Address

13608 Fox Road, Yorkville, Illinois 60560

White Pines Forest State Park is a wonderful northern Illinois State Park
White Pines Forest State Park (photo credits: IvoShandor)

White Pines Forest State Park

This 385-acre park is perched within the heart of Black Hawk Indian territory which is now commonly known as Rock River valley.

Within White Pines Forest State Park, you’ll find the southern border of the Chicago-Iowa trail. Historically, this trail was the primary route of travel across the northern part of Illinois.

With plenty of activities to enjoy such as cross country skiing, fishing, hiking, and picnic areas, this is one of the best state parks in northern Illinois.

Today, White Pines Forest State Park dedicates much of its time and resources to the preservation of nature throughout the area.

Always wanted to drive through water? (photo credits: IvoShandor)

Here, you can spend a night or two sleeping underneath the stars at one of their incredible campsites. If you don’t feel like pitching a tent during your weekend getaway to northern Illinois, try out one of their cabin accommodations that are sprinkled throughout the park.

You can rent a room at the White Pines Inn, a historic log cabin that has been recently restored to all of its original glory. Originally constructed in the 1930s it still welcomes guests today.

Those who find camping a bit too basic can enjoy modern facilities such as air conditioning, TV, a refrigerator, and a private bathroom in these rustic cabins.

The perfect mix of an authentic and rustic log cabin with today’s comfort for a real wilderness experience.

Highlights

Nestled within the heart of Rock River valley, this gigantic state park is the perfect place for adventurers who want to drive their car through a river.

Thanks to the concrete fords spanning the creeks you can do exactly that.

Of course, you can also sit back and relax while you observe the birds and aquatic life that runs through the rivers.

Opening Hours

Open daily from 6 am to 6 pm

Entrance Fee

Free

Address

6712 West Pines Road, Mt. Morris, Illinois 61054

Illini State Park

This 510-acre state park got its name in honor of the native Americans who once lived in the area, the Illini.

Nestled between the Marseilles, Illinois, and US Route 6, this area was dedicated as a state park in 1935.

Scattered throughout the park, you will find hickory, ash, walnut, elm, cottonwood, oak, and maple trees which are all native to the area.

The wide variety of trees allows for a gorgeous, colorful fall season within the area.

During your visit, you can enjoy a variety of activities including boating, camping, cross country skiing, fishing, geocaching, hiking, metal detecting, and more.

There are also bike rentals available so you can explore the nature and trails on wheels.

Throughout the park, you will find plenty of riverside picnic areas that offer scenic views that will take your breath away.

The camping accommodations range from tent areas to campsites with electric hookups and sanitation services.

Here at Illini State Park, there are plenty of special features for guests to enjoy such as campsites with riverside views and shelters with working fireplaces available to rent.

Highlights

This wooded area has lots of nature and activities for you to experience during your visit. Rent a bike, hike the trails on foot, or sit and relax by the river, the choice is yours.

Opening Hours

Open 24 hours daily

Entrance Fee

Free

Address:

2660 East 2350th Road, Marseilles, Illinois 61341

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a picturesque state park in northern Illinois to visit, there are plenty of exciting options available.

Whether you plan to explore for a day or camp out for a night or two, northern Illinois is the perfect place to explore nature and uncover unique histories that come with the location.

Here is an overview of more fun northern Illinois activities.

See the web story that accompanies this post.