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Your To-Do List for Exploring the Great Outdoors

Apr 03, 2020 Outdoors & Regional


Being the Middle of Everything, there’s a wealth of state parks, wetlands and more that are ripe to explore in Illinois.

From gorgeous waterfalls to serene nature strolls, adventure can be found anywhere. Here are a few outdoor activities you can add to your to-do list this summer.

kids paying with boulders either side of them

Picturesque Parks & Preserves

Discover a wealth of greenery and wildlife with these state parks, forest preserves & more.

  • Starved Rock State Park, Utica - The waterfall at French Canyon, one of eight you can hike to, sits less than a half-mile from the visitors center in Oglesby. 
  • Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Darien - Discover 11 miles of trails open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders, plus Rocky Glen Waterfall and a bluff overlook in Darien. 
  • Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge, Havana - During migration season, open water, wetlands and abundant food draw thousands of white pelicans and other birds to this refuge in Havana.
  • Grafton Lighthouse, Grafton - The 47-foot-tall structure was erected as a symbol of resilience after a 1993 Mississippi River flood damaged most of Grafton. 
  • Grant Park, Chicago - Plan a picnic, play basketball or walk your pet; the park named for hometown son—the 18th U.S. president—sits alongside the Galena River in downtown Galena.
  • Lake Springfield, Springfield - Anglers, boaters, swimmers (in designated areas) and water sport enthusiasts enjoy this central Illinois lake with 57 miles of shoreline.
  • Cave-In-Rock State Park, Cave-in-Rock - In addition to the 55-foot-wide cave carved by water thousands of years ago, the wooded park has moderate to difficult hiking trails along the Ohio River in Southern Illinois. 
  • Island Park, Momence - A footbridge over the Kankakee River connects Maple Street to the wooded park in Momence.
Two kids running across grass

Scenic Strolls, Treks & Gardens

Rejuvenate the soul (and your soles) with a walk through these vibrant scenic spaces. 

  • Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe - With 385 acres of blooming landscape, this is one of the largest public gardens in the world. Walk among wildflowers and native plants while crisscrossing the arching bridges of nine interconnected islands.
  • Hoof It Goat Treks, Galena - Wander through woods and prairies on a guided trek with friendly bleating goats. The hike takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the goats’ energy, which improves with hand-fed treats. 
  • The Morton Arboretum, Lisle - Lose yourself in a winding maze garden lined with fragrant arborvitae hedges. Feel the satisfying crunch of gravel beneath your feet as you meander toward the giant sycamore tree at the center of this 1-acre puzzle in nature. 
  • Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington - Once a U.S. Army arsenal, this restored site boasts 30 miles of hiking trails through the largest tallgrass prairie east of the Mississippi. Bring binoculars to spot a herd of 70-plus bison or hike to the preserve’s bison overlook. 
A waterfall

Serene Spots for Waterfalls & Lakes

Explore cascading waterfalls to and bubbling streams . 

  • Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area, Ozark - Descend a stone staircase to discover this network of cool streams and striking rock formations tucked into Shawnee National Forest. Follow a trail that traces a sandstone cliff to see beautiful Boulder Falls.
  • Matthiessen State Park, Utica - Walk through a mile-long canyon to Lake Falls, where the water plunges 45 feet into the Lower Dells and then Cascade Falls. Notice the colorful patterns on the surrounding sandstone cliffs made by minerals in the water. 
  • Jackson Falls, Shawnee National Forest - The trail winds from the top of Jackson Falls to the bottom, where a quiet ravine awaits with a welcoming pool and stunning view of the soaring bluffs above.
  • Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Darien - Among the prairies, savannas and tree-lined trails sits a fascinating tiered waterfall created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
People doing yoga at lakefront

Find Your Zen with Outdoor Fitness & Yoga

Nurture your soul and let nature inspire your workout. 

  • Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford - Find balance and serenity on the mat (and in life) with slow-moving yoga sequences surrounded by the beauty of the gardens. You can also take a tai chi class or embark on an awareness walk.
  • Goat Yoga, Galena - “Baaa-maste” is the mantra at the family-run Silver Linings Farm, where you can roll out your yoga mat among friendly goats on a historical property. The farmhouse was an original redbrick stagecoach stop.
  • Magic Meadows Alpacas, Wonder Lake - Mingle with the calming energy of alpacas in a guided Yogapaca class. Bring the whole crew for a family-style experience, or join for yoga and a glass of wine at Wine(d) Down Wednesdays. 
  • Viceroy Chicago, Chicago - Hotel guests can jump into a quiet morning swim in a rooftop pool with panoramic views. Enjoy cocktails and small bites with a view at Devereaux, the rooftop lounge.
  • Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago - The Olympic-size, rooftop pool is surrounded by the city skyline and welcomes guests for a cool and meditative swim. Sun soakers will enjoy the poolside cabanas.

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