We may be biased, but we believe Illinois is one of the most beautiful states in America.
Illinois includes many architectural marvels and historic landmarks, but its unique natural beauty often goes overlooked.
In this post, we’ll take a look at four of the most amazing locales in the Prairie State.
Garden Of The Gods
Featuring dramatic rock formations, cliffs, and trails, the Garden Of The Gods is the most visited site in Shawnee National Forest.
The iconic Camel Rock, located inside the Garden, even represents the region for the U.S. Mint’s America The Beautiful Quarters program.
The Garden also features Anvil Rock, Devil’s Smoke Stack, and more mesmerizing rock formations that hikers and photographers alike love to experience.
In addition to the Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest offers many scenic drives, wilderness areas, historic sites, and more throughout its 289,000 acres.
Shawnee National Forest is headquartered in Harrisburg in between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Great River Road
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway is one of the most historic and scenic routes in America.
It begins at the source of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota and stretches for 3,000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
In all, 10 states and hundreds of towns are connected by the Great River Road, which takes about 36 hours to drive all the way through.
The western edge of Illinois, which is defined by the Mississippi River, enjoys one of the road’s longest stretches. Communities like Grafton, East Alton, Nauvoo, and Cairo all are must-see stops along the way.
Travelers can identify the Great River Road by spotting a white sign with a green pilot’s wheel. “The route has been selected for its natural, cultural, historical, recreational and scenic properties,” according to its website. “The communities you’ll encounter along the way – from tiny riverside villages to vibrant metropolises – are where you’ll experience the living history of the region through music, culture and local cuisine.”
Matthiesen State Park
Located in Utica, Matthiesen State Park boasts 1,938 acres of unusual but beautiful rock formations, mineral springs, exposed sandstone, canyons, and dells. The rocks are colored by minerals carried in the water.
The park also showcases unique plant and animal life.
“Along the forest edges, bright blue indigo buntings fly among the wild crabapple and plum trees,” says the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website. “Cottontail rabbits scamper through the bluestem and Indian grasses. Red-tailed hawks soar overhead searching for field mice.”
For those looking to make a weekend out of exploring and fun activities, Matthiesen State Park is located just a few miles from Starved Rock State Park.
Volo Bog State Natural Area features the only quaking bog in Illinois.
Formed over the course of hundreds or thousands of years, National Geographic says “a bog is a freshwater wetland of soft, spongy ground consisting mainly of partially decayed plant matter called peat.”
A quaking bog, such as Volo Bog, bounces when people or animals walk on it.
The area offers activities such as cross-country skiing, picnicking, hiking trails, and hunting.
Volo Bog Natural Area sits on more than 1,100 acres in Ingleside.
For more sites to see in Illinois, check out some of our other articles:
- 5 Unusual Sights to See in Illinois
- 6 Beautiful Sights to See in Springfield
- 6 Cold Weather Sights to See in Illinois
- 5 Can’t Miss Sights to See in Illinois
- Beautiful Sights To See in Galesburg