A state full of contrasts, Illinois offers everything from sprawling farmland, thick forests, rolling hills, and large areas of wetlands to the shiny sky-scraper-filled urban gem Chicago which seems to dominate the midwestern state. Most visitors head to America’s legendary windy city but there are many pockets of true beauty further afield just waiting to be explored. From pretty historic towns to cypress-filled swamps, here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Illinois…
State Capitol City – a must-see place in Illinois
The city of Springfield hosts two state capitols, the old and the new. Located in the old town square, this historic Greek revival building was associated with Lincoln as early as 1837. While the new State Capitol took 20 years to complete in 1888. The current building is the sixth to serve since Illinois was admitted to the U.S. Built in the architectural style of French Renaissance and Italianate, today is the center of Illinois Government.
This gorgeous building with an impressive dome is taller than the U.S Capitol and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Watch Illinois politics in action or tour the stunning artwork, statues, and painting inside this magnificent architectural building.
Hotels and Airbnbs in State Capitol City
Illinois Beach State Park – a unique and captivating natural spot to explore in Illinois
Stretching 6.5 miles along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, The Illinois Beach State Park in northern Illinois is full of recreational activities like swimming, boating, biking, and hiking. This captivating natural resource has been recognized for its geological structure, black oak forests, sandy ridges, and impeccable beauty.
The Illinois Beach is the sole beach ridge shoreline in the state. With beautiful dunes and sprawling marshes, the state park is rich in species of animal and vegetation. A perfect place to unwind yourself and appreciate nature.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Illinois Beach State Park
The Morton Arboretum – a beautiful tree museum to explore in Illinois
With Magnificent trees, sweeping vistas, and seasonal colors, the Morton Arboretum offers an impeccable setting for exploring the beautiful ecosystem. Spreading across 1,700 acres, this public garden and the outdoor museum is home to numerous live plants ad gardens.
Besides a leading center of tree science, the Arboretum is full of recreational activities including hiking, cycling, driving, bird-watching, and maze. To conserve trees and preserve nature, the Arboretum has been collecting & studying trees from around the world since 1922.
Hotels and Airbnbs in The Morton Arboretum
Lincoln Park at sunset, Chicago – one of the most photogenic urban areas in the state
Overlooking the Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan, Lincoln Park is an ideal place to end your day with diminishing sunlight at play. Attracting millions of tourists each year, it is arguably Chicago’s largest park, covering an area of 1,208 acres.
The most popular attractions include the Chicago History Museum, Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, North Pond Sanctuary, and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Take a stroll along the North avenue beach or hike through Lakefront Trail you will experience the most scenic views ever. Sit back and enjoy the beautiful Chicago sunsets at Lincoln Park.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Lincoln Park at sunset, Chicago
Galena – one of the prettiest towns to visit in Illinois
Touted as one of the best small towns of America, Galena is admired for its beauty and historic roots. Established in 1826, the town of Galena is named after a rare mineral from the lead ore. Nestled in northwest Illinois, the steep rolling hills, historic buildings, and charming riverside, Galena preserves the natural beauty of Illinois.
With more than 85% of the buildings listed on the National Register of Historic places, Galena is known for its hospitality and friendly nature. History enthusiasts can explore the Old Market House and the Historical Society and Museum in this quaint getaway. Once a booming lead-mining town, today visitors can descend underground into the Vinegar Hill Lead Mine. Definitely one of the most beautiful places to visti in Illinois – enjoy!
Horseshoe Lake – one of the most beautiful lakes to visit in Illinois
Bordered by the towns of Madison and Granite city, the Horseshoe Lake is the second-largest natural lake in Illinois after Lake Michigan. Formed by the isolated section of the meandering river, the Horseshoe Lake is one of the oxbow lakes found in Southern Illinois. The combination of cypress trees which reside here and the lotus flowers out in full bloom makes for a highly photogenic place!
Spreading across 2,400 acres, the lake is a part of the Horseshoe Lake State Park in southern Madison County. An excellent spot for bird-watching, visitors can often spot a variety of shorebirds along the lake. Boat, hike, or just soak in the beautiful views, Horseshoe Lake is a stunning spot to explore in Illinois.
Waterfall Glen forest preserve – a stunning forest preserve to visit in southern DuPage County
A beautiful forest preserves in southern DuPage County, the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is the most impressive natural landscape in the open space. Ranked one of the highest conservation areas in the county, the ravine is known for its waterfall and best hiking experience in Chicago.
The Rocky Glen waterfall offers excellent trails for hiking, bicycling, and camping. The 700 acres of forest hosts prairies, savannas, maple oak woodlands, and rich species of wildlife. This geologically significant preserve featuring glacier-carved rock ridges is a historic landmark in the county.
Tunnel Hill State Trail – a unique bicycle trail running from Eldorado to Karnak
A gem of Illinois rail-trails, the Tunnel Hill State Trail is built on the former Cairo and Vincennes Railroad. Running 45 miles from downtown Harrisburg to Karnak in southern Illinois, this trail provides a nice ride for any level of cyclist.
Managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the crushed limestone makes an ideal surface to ride along the rocky ravines and dark tunnels. Riders can encounter agricultural fields, rocky streams, and wooded bluffs along the northern half and scenic ponds, marshes, and bottomland woods in the southern half of the trail.
Cache River Wetlands – a Illinois beauty spots featuring ancient cypress-tupelo swamps
Hidden away in Southern Illinois, is one of nature’s mystical wonderland, the stunning Cache River Wetlands. Named after Henry H. Barkhausen, the wetlands exhibit a unique natural and cultural history of Cache River. Featuring ancient cypress-tupelo swamps and sandstone bluffs, this natural wonder is easily mistaken for an enchanted land.
Stroll the boardwalks, hike, or paddle along these wetlands holding international importance. Start your journey with the nature center to learn more about the ever-changing landscape of Cache with interesting exhibits.
Starved Rock State Park – one of the most stunning destinations to visit in Illinois
Best-known for fascinating rock formations, the beautiful Starved Rock State Park was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Located less than 100 miles southwest of Chicago, the park’s magnetic canyons, sandstone bluffs, and pretty waterfalls provide an excellent spot for hiking, canoeing, paddle-boat cruises, and picnicking.
Meandering along with the towering trees and scenic overlooks, the park offers extraordinary views and a great place to relax in along the banks of the Illinois River.
Fabyan Forest Preserve – a historic riverbank estate which nature lovers will love exploring
Along the Fox River to the south of Geneva is the gorgeous Fabyan Forest Preserve that used to be a part of the large country estate of George and Nelle Fabyan. Delighting the visitors for more than 100 years, the Fabyan Japanese Garden offers a cute spot with amazing scenery throughout the year.
History buffs can visit the Fabyan Villa Museum and know more about the Fabyans. On the east side of the Preserve stands the majestic 68-foot Fabyan Windmill where visitors can enjoy a moment of harmony with nature.
Eldon Hazlet State Park – one of the most beautiful camping spots in Illinois
Positioned on the largest man-made lake in Illinois, the Eldon Hazlet State Park spreads across 3,000 acres site on Lake Carlyle. Named after the attorney of Carlyle, the Eldon Hazlet State Park has leased to the Department of Natural Resources.
Featuring one of the largest campgrounds, most of the campsites are located along the shoreline. Popular recreational activities include bird watching, boating, sailing, hiking, and much more.
Garden of the Gods Recreation Area and Shawnee National Forest – a beautiful hidden gem to explore in southern Illinois
Nestled in the Ozark and Shawnee hills, the picturesque Shawnee National Forest is the single largest publicly owned body of land in Illinois. An area unlike any other, the landscape provides access to unique locations and spectacular views. The most popular hike in the Shawnee National Forest, the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area with beautiful rock formations and cliffs formed millions of years ago.
The pretty trails with backpacking and horseback riding, offer a stunning view of miles of forests over the pristine hills of Shawnee Forest. One of the most photographed locations of the state, the park offers a well-maintained observation trail, picnic spots, and campgrounds.
Matthiessen State Park – a beautiful spot to explore in Illinois
A few miles south from the pretty Starved Rock State Park and you’ll find the less crowded landscape to your delight. Located in LaSalle County, roughly 4 miles south of Utica, the Matthiessen State Park features many unusual and beautiful rock formations with abundant wildlife and woodland.
With canyons, streams, waterfall & prairies, Matthiessen is a paradise for nature seekers. A great day trip with hiking & picnic area, Matthiessen makes for an ideal outing with family.
Promontory Point, Chicago – a charming man-made peninsula with juts out into Lake Michigan
Positioned directly on the banks of Lake Michigan and South Lake Shore Drive, charming Promontory Point was constructed from a landfill and opened to the public in 1937. Designed by Alfred Caldwell, this scenic man-made peninsula is protected by a revetment of limestone blocks.
A part of Burnham Park, visitors can access the Point through a tunnel underneath Lake Shore Drive or Lakefront Trail. A true treasure, the Point is a popular wedding site with the best views of the Chicago skyline.