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Starved Rock State Park
Seasonal waterfalls, awe-inspiring bluffs and rugged canyons dominate the storied landscape at Starved Rock. Rich with history and beauty, Starved Rock’s hiking trails meander through towering trees and scenic overlooks along the Illinois River. Outdoor activities include hiking, canoeing, paddle boat cruises, cross-country skiing, trolley rides, fishing and picnicking. Visitors can stay at the historic Starved Rock Lodge or in one of its cozy cabins.
Shawnee National Forest
The Shawnee National Forest is famed for its awesome Garden of the Gods, and is home to the Rim Rock Recreational Trail (the forest has a system of 403 miles of equestrian/hiking trails). Hikers are greeted by magnificent jutting walls of rock covered with emerald-green moss, and paths that meander through canyons under the forest canopy. Nestled between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the stunning Shawnee National Forest landscape features rolling hills, lakes, creeks and rugged bluffs. If you’re into climbing than a must-see is Jackson Falls, located near the town of Ozark in the Hidden Springs Ranger District in Shawnee National Forest. The climb takes place on 60 feet of sandstone cliffs and boulders that include numerous freestanding towers.
Tunnel Hill State Trail
Rolling agricultural fields, reclaimed strip mines, ravines, rocky streams and wooded bluffs dominate the northern half of the Tunnel Hill State Trail. With 47.8 miles (one-way) of crushed gravel surface, extended inclines and dark tunnels, this trail is a difficult one, but one not to pass up, as long as you’re up for the challenge. The southern half of the trail explodes with scenery that includes bottomland woods, ponds, streams and marshes. The trail, which winds through seven towns, even touches upon a handful of ghost towns that faded into the landscape after the trains here stopped running.
Giant City State Park
Spectacular woodlands and sheer sandstone walls create a challenge for rock climbing and rappelling, as well as hiking. Outdoor lovers will also find horseback riding, a lookout tower, cabins and a swimming pool. Dine at historic Giant City Lodge, known for its homemade fried chicken dinner. Two different locations in Giant City State Park near Carbondale give you climbing options. A trail behind the picnic shelter takes you to a set of steep bluffs known as Shelter #1 near the Makanda entrance; another climbing area of the park includes the steep sandstone cliffs in Devil's Standtable. Plan to bring all of your own equipment since no permanent anchors are allowed. Ropes are permitted in both areas. After rainstorms, the wet sandstone gets really slippery. Use caution when grabbing for ledges as copperhead snakes warm themselves on the rocks during sunny days.
Kayak through canyons of skyscrapers and architectural wonders, or explore the waters just off beautiful Lake Michigan. Kayak Chicago is Chicago’s premier full-service outfitter, offering a variety of tours with certified instructors and guides. It’s a truly unique way to experience the urban landscape.
The 200,000-sq.-ft. Scheels has everything you need to scratch your activity itch. From name brand equipment and gear for running, hiking, biking water sports and so much more.
Buffalo Rock State Park
On the bluffs of the Illinois River, this small but charming park is home to an enormous outdoor sculpture. Mounds representing five earthen sculptures molded from Illinois clay, known as Effigy Tumuli, invite visitors to walk around and explore. All five subjects, including a snake, turtle, catfish, frog and insect are native to the Illinois River area. This State Park offers the ideal terrain for the beginner hiker.
Pere Marquette State Park
At 8,000 acres, Pere Marquette State Park is the largest state park in Illinois. Go hiking on wooded trails, biking along scenic bluffs, fishing and boating on the Illinois River, or horseback riding through the forest. The park is also known for its guided fall color drives and eagle-watching tours in the winter. The rustic stone-and-timber Pere Marquette Lodge makes a great base for exploring the area.
Chestnut Mountain Resort
Ski along scenic slopes at Galena's Chestnut Mountain Resort, perched high above the Mississippi River. Rated by Ski Magazine as one of the top ski resorts in the Midwest, Chestnut Mountain goes all out with a snowboarding park and night skiing. Stay at the rustic 120-room lodge, which has three restaurants, including the fine-dining Sunset Grille. There are fun non-skiing activities in the summer as well, including boat cruises on the Mississippi Explorer and the exhilarating Alpine Slide, which speeds 2,000 feet down a hillside. Or try the new Segway Mountain Adventure Tours, a three-mile guided ride through rolling terrain.
The Chicago Riverwalk trail in downtown Chicago is an easy way to experience the vibrant city while exploring some of its more nature-oriented offerings. This trail is rated as easy, and will take you only 2.5 hours or 4.2 miles round-trip to complete.
Cache River State Natural Area
Renowned for its ancient cypress-tupelo swamp, this natural area has been named one of America's 10 Most Beautiful Hidden Gems by Budget Travel. This sprawling area contains 100 threatened or endangered plant and animal species, and 11 state champion trees that have stood for centuries. Visitors enjoy birding, hunting, wildlife watching, canoeing and hiking. Bikers can access the Cache River via the Tunnel Hill State Trail.
Located near the town of Ozark in the Shawnee National Forest, Jackson Falls offers arguably the best rock climbing in southern Illinois. There are roughly 60 climbing areas along the sandstone bluffs and freestanding boulders, each with multiple named routes on them. There are over 500 named routes in all. Most of the routes are 50-60 feet in height. The whole area sits in a very scenic glen. Most of the routes at Jackson Falls are sport routes, though there are a number of traditional routes, and a few areas suitable for setting up a top-rope. There are also many excellent bouldering opportunities here.
I & M Canal State Trail
The I&M Canal Trail offers 61 miles of picturesque hiking and biking trails that follow the historic route of the I&M Canal from Channahon to LaSalle. The Trail also boasts Illinois’ longest continuous snowmobile trail, and is a favored route for cross-country skiers.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
The Mississippi Palisades State Park, located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple rivers in northwestern Illinois is known for its steep cliffs and interesting rock formations, as well as its beautiful trails that lead you to some of those awe-inspiring giant boulders. One such trail is the Sentinel, clocking at over 1.3 miles it’s the longest trail in the park and leads you smack dab into Sentinel Rock, where you can take a turn at trying to conquer this monolith.
Illinois River at Buffalo Rock State Park
The Illinois River slices a 273-mile long path through the state—its waters lapping along the shores of many cities, including LaSalle, Peru, Peoria and Ottawa to name just a few. It’s in Ottawa where the Illinois River meets Buffalo Rock. Buffalo Rock sits like a sandstone island above the surrounding land and the Illinois River, and offers sweeping views of this famed waterway. Whether you’re kayaking or canoeing, you’ll experience the shear power of the winding river that was carved by glacial melt water in all its seasonal colors, with its various incarnations of forests, wetlands, bluffs and prairies to enjoy.
Starved Rock State Park East Hike
Starved Rock State Park has a beautiful East Hike that offers canyons galore, each with slightly different shapes, sizes and colorings. At 6.4 miles of dirt terrain, this hike is moderately difficult. Cool, shady and overgrown with ferns, the canyons offer a plethora of trees and flowering plants—a true delight to explore. You’ll also encounter scenic overlooks 100 feet above the Illinois River. The real crowd pleasers at Starved Rock are the numerous sandstone canyons that were carved deep into the bedrock as upland streams drained into the Illinois River. Some noted canyons of worth to explore are Kaskaskia Canyon, Ottawa Canyon and Hennepin Canyon Overlook.
Fever River Outfitters
From kayaking and biking to scooter rentals, Fever River Outfitters has everything you need to add a little adventure to your Galena getaway. The staff here knows the area well and offers excursions that take care of every detail—whether you’re kayaking to an island picnic or taking a scooter to a vineyard for an afternoon wine tasting. Want to explore on your own? Simply rent or purchase outdoor gear and set off on your own adventure along the many biking paths, waterways and winding roads of this scenic part of northwest Illinois.
Little Grand Canyon Trail
The Little Grand Canyon trail is located within the Shawnee National Forest. Experience the easy 3.6 miles of beauty it offers as you ride your bike or hike these fun trails that meander past lush wooded canyons, riverside bluffs, songbirds, woodpeckers and deer; while hawks and vultures soar high above the cliffs. Explore towering rock walls, eroded sandstone canyons, craggy bluffs and moist bottom lands, too.
Starved Rock State Park West Hike
Starved Rock State Park West Hike offers a decidedly different set of attractions than its eastern counterpart. On this hike you’ll encounter a series of overlooks from wooded bluffs and rocky cliffs high above the Illinois River. This 2.9-mile hike varies in difficulty due to the large amount of stairs that need climbing. The dominant feature of Starved Rock can be found on this hike, via a narrow bluff that runs 4-miles along the south branch of the Illinois River. The park’s namesake towers 125 feet above the river, offering commanding views of the nearby islands and river. Some notable excursions include, French Canyon, Wildcat Canyon and Pontiac Canyon with sweeping views of the Illinois River.
River to River Trail
If you want to truly experience the Shawnee National Forest, and Southern Illinois, then the River-to-River Trail in Illinois is for you. The Trail spans 160 miles of Illinois from Battery Rock on the Ohio River to Devil’s Backbone Park in Grand Tower Illinois on the Mississippi River, and it can take up to 2-3 weeks to complete in its entirety. With a combination of plains, bayous, bluffs and upland forests, there’s something for everyone to feast their eyes on. And, with difficulty levels ranging from easy to hard there’s a path for everyone in your party to enjoy.
Starved Rock State Park - Ice Climbing
While rock climbing is prohibited, there are up to five canyons in which ice climbing is permitted when conditions allow. All ice climbers must sign in at the ranger station (Park Office) and must have a partner. Call ahead to check ice and other park conditions.
Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park
This beautiful 715-acre state park with a 40-acre lake derives its name from a combination of the town of Lena and the Latin work for water, aqua. Lake Le-Aqua-Na offers a variety of outdoor recreational activities including more than 10 miles of mult-use trails. The large tracts of wooded land include oak, hickory, walnut and pine trees. Woodland flowers are on display, especially in the spring and early summer, and wildlife is abundant. There is boating, fishing, a children's fishing pond, swimming, picnic and playground areas, shelters, trails for mountain biking, hiking and cross-country skiing, equestrian trails, sledding, hunting and camping.
Galena River Trail
Scenic biking and hiking along a six-mile trail featuring views of the Galena River and towering bluffs.
Alpine Slide at Chestnut Mountain Resort
Fun for all ages. Ride your own sled down 2,050 feet of terrain-tailored track to the banks of the Mississippi.