Unique National Parks in Illinois
How many National Parks are in Illinois?
There are 5 national park sites in Illinois, but no congressionally designated “National Parks”, but don’t worry, these Illinois national parks sites are all worth visiting, and I’ve got a few additional places included that will give you that national parks in Illinois feel!
Table of Contents of the National Parks in Illinois
What is the closest National Park to Chicago?
The closest National Park site to Chicago is the Pullman National Monument. Whether you are visiting Chicago for a weekend getaway or kicking off your Route 66 road trip from the Chicago starting point, be sure to leave time to check out this monument.
Pullman National Historic Park
The Pullman National Historic Park (also sometimes called the Pullman Historic District) encompasses the site of the first planned industrial community.
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At one time, the Pullman factory employed almost 50% of its workforce from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an early African-American Union. In 1937, an agreement was reached between the two parties making it the first major labor agreement between a company and an African-American union.
The site was designated as a National Monument in 2019 by President Obama.
Start your visit at the Visitors Center located in the Administration Clock Tower Building. If you have time, try to participate in a Park Ranger-led chat or tour. However, even if you just walk around the area, it’s a fascinating neighborhood within Chicago, and the National Park Service does offer a self-guided map for you to explore on your own.
🌟 Extend your visit to Chicago by including some of these fun activities!
National historic sites
The only home ever owned by President Lincoln is located in Springfield, Illinois, and has been designated as a National historic site.
Lincoln Home national historic site
Interested in visiting the Lincoln Home National Historic Site? If you love American history, a visit to this home should be on your bucket list. Admission to the home is free, but you do need a ticket, and they are first come, first serve so plan accordingly.
Luckily, while you are waiting for your home tour time, you can explore the surrounding area. The connected park includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits so be sure to check them all out while you are visiting.
Springfield is located about two hours from St. Louis and three and a half hours from both Chicago and Indianapolis.
👉 Springfield is well worth exploring after you’ve visited the Lincoln Home Historic Site, so extend your visit and enjoy everything this vibrant town has to offer. Book your stay HERE!
National historic trails
Although there aren’t any specifically designated National Parks in Illinois, there are three designated National Historic Trails.
Trail of Tears national historic trail
The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail commemorates the plight of the Cherokee who were forced to leave their homes and move to Oklahoma. Walking much of the way.
The Trail of Tears actually runs over 5000 miles through nine different states, but a small portion goes through the bottom part of Illinois. Along this route were several areas where the Cherokee stopped to rest and camp, including McCorkle Creek, Golconda, and Camp Ground Church.
Lewis & Clark national historic trail
If you’ve visited the St. Louis Arch, you’re already familiar with the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. However, I bet you didn’t realize part of it runs through Illinois too!
The trail runs 4900 miles through sixteen different states and follows the 1803 – 1806 Lewis & Clark expedition.
If you want to follow the trail through the Illinois portion, there are seven potential stops including the Camp Dubois site, Fort Massac and the Fort Massac State Park, the Chester Welcome Center, the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower, the Cairo Custom House Museum, and The Cahokia Courthouse State Historic Site.
I’d recommend starting at the Camp Dubois site and enjoying the Visitors Center which highlights the Illinois portion of the journey. The Visitors Center will give you an excellent overview and help you decide what other portions of the trail in Illinois you’d like to cover.
🌟 Want more westward expansion history? Plan a trip to St. Louis to visit the fascinating museum at the St. Louis Gateway Arch National Park.
Mormon Pioneer national historic trail
The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail starts in Nauvoo, Illinois where in 1846 the Mormons who had settled in Nauvoo fled the state to their eventual stop in Salt Lake Valley in Utah. The trail is 1300 miles and covers five states.
Nauvoo Landing is where the first group of Mormons ferried across the Mississippi River to begin their trek toward Utah. Begin your visit at the Visitors Center and be sure to include the Nauvoo State Park & Museum during your explorations.
👉 If you want to spend the night while exploring Nauvoo, or beginning to explore a leg of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the Williard Richards Inn has excellent ratings!
Options other than National Parks in Illinois
When thinking of visiting a National Park, many people think of a wooded area with hiking and the like. Although there are no national parks in Illinois that fit that description, there are numerous lovely state parks and other natural areas.
Here are a few favorites …
Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is one of the BEST state parks I have ever visited. The hiking is phenomenal for the Midwest. The trails are interesting with plenty of ravines, waterfalls, and the like. A must-do for any hiker.
Starved Rock is also home to a lovely lodge, that offers seasonal trolley tours, river cruises, and guided hikes. Visiting for a day is simply not enough. Between the park and the charming nearby Ottawa, this area is well worth at least a weekend visit.
👉 Enjoy a comfortable getaway in nearby Ottawa by booking your stay here.
Shawnee National Forest
At the southern tip of Illinois, across 289,000 acres is the Shawnee National Forest. Perfect for hiking, camping, kayaking, and more!
This national forest is the ideal place to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. You’ll enjoy interesting trails, lots of wildlife, and a chance to relax and recharge.
If you haven’t visited a national forest before, it’s a bit like a state park – but large areas of them tend to be less developed. If you are in the mood for nature in Illinois, Shawnee National Forest will deliver.
FAQs about National Parks in Illinois
It’s very interesting that although Illinois does have the five designated areas, there aren’t technically any national parks.
What is the biggest national park in Illinois?
Of the five designated areas, the trails are the largest, however, only portions of them are in Illinois. If you want a wide expanse of natural areas, visit the Shawnee National Forest.
National Parks in Illinois with waterfalls
There are no national parks in Illinois with waterfalls, although many lovely waterfalls can be viewed at Starved Rock State Park.
What is not allowed in national parks?
What is and isn’t allowed varies by nationally designated area, so check the National Park Service (NPS) for the latest information on what is not allowed.
Are pets allowed in national parks?
Pets are allowed in some places in national parks (although typically not in buildings unless they are service dogs). Check the specifics before your visit to ensure your pup can come along.
Is there camping in national parks?
Many national parks allow camping (typically with reservations), however as there aren’t any actional national parks in Illinois, there isn’t camping.
Conclusion: National Parks in Illinois
As you can see, although there aren’t any “parks” designated as national parks in Illinois, there are some interesting and historical national locations well worth a visit.