Epic Bucket List Road Trips to 7 Illinois National Park Sites

From breathtaking views of waterfalls to serene lakeside campsites, start your bucket list and create road trips to seven Illinois National Park Sites in the US.

The Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor is a popular destination where visitors can immerse themselves in the rich history of the region.

Starved Rock State Park is yet another gem that offers incredible opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and wildlife watching.

If you are still not convinced that you should pack your bags and take a road trip to an Illinois National Park Site, then wait until you read our guide on the best national parks in the Land of Lincoln.

From the best time to visit the must-visit spots and activities, our expert guide has you covered.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive into the world of the Illinois National Park Sites and get ready for an adventure.

Illinois National Park Sites

road trip Illinois State Park Sites

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Lincoln Home National Historic Site is in Springfield, Illinois and was the home of Abraham Lincoln and his family for 17 years before his presidency.

The site includes several historic buildings, including Lincoln’s home, a visitors’ center, and a museum that showcases the life and legacy of the former President.

Guided tours are available to provide visitors with a glimpse into Lincoln’s family life and the domestic aspects of his presidency.

The home has been restored to its 1860s appearance, and you can see many original artifacts and furnishings.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

When visiting the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, you will see beautiful views of the Missouri River and the surrounding area.

You can also explore the historic sites and learn more about the expedition of Lewis and Clark.

Unique points of interest include Pompeys Pillar, where William Clark carved his name into the sandstone, and the Giant Springs State Park, which boasts one of the largest freshwater springs in the country.

Don’t forget to check out the visitor’s center, which offers exhibits and educational programs on the history and significance of the trail.

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

The journey trail is a voyage of discovery along the arduous and perilous path of the Mormon Pioneers, spanning a distance of approximately 1,300 miles across five states (Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming). 

It was a harrowing journey undertaken by the Mormon faithful who fled the tumultuous environs of Nauvoo, Illinois, seeking refuge in the sanctuary of the Great Salt Lake Valley in the years 1846-1847.

Trail of Tears

The Trail of Tears is an Illinois National Park Site that narrates the historic journey taken by Native American tribes including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.

In the late 1830s, the US government forced over 100,000 Native Americans from their ancestral lands to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.

This resulted in a journey that was both physically and emotionally grueling, with at least 4,000 Native Americans dying along the way.

Chicago Portage National Historic Site

When visiting Chicago Portage National Historic Site, you can expect to see a variety of fascinating exhibits and preserved artifacts from Chicago’s history.

Some unique points of interest include the spot where Native Americans once led explorers and fur traders across a portage linking the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers. 

The exhibit also tells the history of Chicago’s waterways and transportation systems.

Overall, this site offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of Chicago, making it a must-see for any history buff or curious traveler.

Pullman National Monument

Pullman National Monument is a historic community located on Chicago’s South Side. The area was once home to the Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured luxury railroad sleeping cars.

When visiting Pullman, you can expect to see a variety of historic buildings and landmarks, including the Hotel Florence, the Clock Tower, and the Factory Complex.

This Illinois National Park Site provides insight into the history of the community and its role in the development of industrial America.

One unique point of interest is the annual Pullman House Tour, which allows visitors to explore some of the historic homes in the area.

New Philadelpha National Historic Landmark and Park

Located in Pike County, Illinois, this historic site tells the story of New Philadelphia, the first town in the United States to be founded by an African American.

Travelers can explore the site and learn about the history of the town through exhibits and interpretive programs.

The site is also home to several historic buildings, including the schoolhouse, church, and general store.

Why Visit Illinois National Park Sites

America has some of the best national parks in the world. But why should you visit one?

If you are accustomed to vacationing in large cities and being where the action lives – museums, restaurants, beaches, entertainment – the idea of visiting a national park may be a distant afterthought.  

But if you are not an outdoors person, visiting a national park provides a great escape into nature.

Today, there are twenty-nine states and two U.S. territories that comprise a total of 61 national parks. 

That is about 52 million acres of natural wonders just waiting to be discovered!

Whether you’re a city-dweller, a nature-lover, or an adventurer, here are 10 fantastic reasons to visit a National Park this year.

1. Social distancing is easy.

The nice thing about the Illinois National Park Sites is that you are not subject to small crowds in an enclosed space.  Thus, it is a great getaway option if you are within a 2- or three-hour drive.  

2. It’s affordable.

Park entrance requires a pass but for the regular price of $80 (one entrance at Disney), you can take a carload and have access to over 2,000 U.S. parks for one year! 

Here are several more ways to save money with the annual pass:

  • Seniors Annual Pass – $20  
  • Access Pass – Free (for US permanent residents with disabilities)
  • 4th Graders Pass – Free (valid Sep thru Aug)
  • US Military – Free
  • Volunteers – Free

The National Parks also offer free entrance days, periodically.  And while you may not want an annual pass, you can visit one park for a fraction of that fee.  

3. The views are natural and scenic.

While touring an Illinois National Park Site, the rock formations and waterfalls are simply stunning.

It’s nice being surrounded by natural formations of rocks, cliffs, and foliage. Hearing the rush of the waterfalls and streams brought a sense of calm with every step.

The fields are expansive. The green landscape, the chirp of birds in the trees above, and the casual stroll of wildlife are evident that the National Parks protect some of our greatest national treasures.

4. It’s educational.

You can learn some history of America like learning about the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in their trail across western America. 

The trails commemorate pivotal points in American history like when the Mormon pioneers traveled from Illinois to Utah, the luxurious railway cars manufactured by George Pullman, and the portage route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.  

5. It keeps America beautiful.

The national parks are operated by the National Park Service, which is an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

While we are granted access to the parks, the parks are owned by the federal government.  Every dollar of support (fees, purchases) is used to offset the cost of operations. 

While there is an annual budget, there is an estimated $12 billion backlog in maintenance work.  Our parks depend on us and we play a key role in bridging the gap for funds.

6. It’s great for the adventurous.

We all love the thrill of vacation, but there are also adrenaline-pumping activities for even the most fearless adventurers at national parks.

For example, rock climbers can scale the vertigo-inducing Half Dome in Yosemite.  And in Mariposa (about 1 hour away), you can zipline through nature for two hours of non-stop fun.  The only sad part is that it ends! 

Cyclists can explore the parks on dirt paths and there are plenty of trails for hikers and mountain bikers.

7. It’s heart healthy.

Who knew that Illinois National Park Sites were healthy? Being close to nature can lead to significant health benefits.  Walking or hiking is an excellent way to increase your target number of steps for the day. 

Walking can also strengthen the heart, lower your blood sugar, boost your energy, and improve your mood.   

Exercise and fresh air are often used to clear the mind and relieve stress.  The air at higher altitudes is generally fresher than the air in the city which means you’ll return home refreshed and feeling better.

8. It will help you live in the moment.

We live in a technology-rich age where people can’t live for an hour without a cell phone.  This single device gives access to loved ones, money, purchased goods, world news, and social media. 

A visit to an Illinois National Park Site is an excellent opportunity to go tech-free. Switching off technology will help you live in the moment, be more social with those in your travel party, and appreciate the beauty of life around you.

9. It will take you outside your comfort zone.

Unlike vacationing in large cities, visiting an Illinois National Park Site has a much different appeal.  It’s not comparable to a hop-on/hop-off bus in Chicago.  National Parks are an adventure like no other and one of the advantages is reconnecting with yourself and nature. 

If you are used to multi-tasking, reading, and responding to loads of emails, constantly peaking in thoughts, or living the nightlife with friends, a visit to a park may take you out of your comfort zone. 

But not to worry. You will find yourself at ease as you soak up solitude, meditate at a stream, walk across a thick log, or come eye-to-eye with wildlife.

10. It will open the door to discoveries.

When you visit an Illinois National Park, not only are you exploring new territories, but you become open to discoveries…in nature, life, and yourself. 

Being outdoors in wide-open spaces can spark creativity and inspire you to imagine unlimited possibilities.   

Final Thoughts on Road Trips to Illinois State Park Sites

Chicago’s central location makes it an ideal starting point for fun family road trips in every direction.

Head north along the breathtaking shores of Lake Michigan, where scenic routes reveal charming coastal towns, sandy beaches, and stunning vistas.

Drive south and discover the enchanting beauty of the Shawnee National Forest, with its rolling hills, majestic forests, and hidden waterfalls.

Or explore towns along the famous Route 66 like Pontiac, Normal, Bloomington, and Towanda.

To the west, you can immerse yourself in the natural wonders of the Great Plains, where wide-open spaces and dramatic landscapes captivate the senses or visit small towns like Galena, Illinois.

Eastward, you can travel historic roads leading to small towns like Union Pier, Holland, or Frankenmuth. Or you can driver further to bustling metropolises like Detroit and Indianapolis, each offering their own unique cultural experiences.

Along the way, relish in the joy of discovering hidden gems, roadside diners, and unexpected detours that create lasting memories.

Taking a road trip to Chicago? That’s fantastic! The city allows you to embrace the thrill of the open road, connect with diverse destinations, and experience a connection with the urban landscapes that surround the town.

Buckle up and be safe.

FAQs on Illinois National Park Sites

What is the best time of year to visit Illinois’ national park sites?

The best time to visit Illinois’ national parks is during the spring and fall, when the weather is mild and the foliage is at its most vibrant.

Are there any entrance fees for Illinois’ national park sites?

Most of Illinois’ national parks do not charge entrance fees. However, there may be fees for camping, fishing, or other activities within the parks.

Can I bring my dog to Illinois’ national park sites?

Dogs are generally allowed in Illinois’ national parks, but they must be kept on a leash and are not allowed in certain areas, such as swimming beaches or wildlife habitats.

Are there any guided tours available at Illinois’ national park sites?

Yes, many of Illinois’ national parks offer guided tours, including ranger-led hikes and historical tours.

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2 Comments

  1. Arias Mara says:

    Great post Tanya. I have never visited Yosemite but your description of it makes the park sound like the perfect place to visit. I am currently in Brasil and yesterday I visited the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. Very interesting, rich in nature and wildlife as well as breathtaking views and lots of hiking trails. The landscape is completely different from Yosemite but as unique and beautiful. Hope you can visit it too. Bye. Mara.

    1. Tanya Taylor says:

      The Parque Nacional da Tijuca.sounds like a sight to beyold. My family and I enjoy being in nature. I will definitely add this to our bucket list, thank you for the recommendation!