Crisscrossed by the Mississippi and Rock rivers, this nature-lover’s playground was also the boyhood home of three United States presidents.
The unique landscapes and historic small towns of Northern Illinois make it a visually arresting Midwest region, perfect for outdoor adventures. Drive north from Chicago, passing prairies dotted with stone monoliths, rolling hills and rocky bluffs. Connect with presidential history in the small towns where Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan once lived.
Begin your trip outside Ottawa in Starved Rock State Park, one of the state’s most popular outdoor spaces, known for its dramatic rock formations. Go skydiving for unforgettable views of the rivers and landscapes of the region.
Move north to Dixon and visit the Lincoln Memorial & Old Settlers Cabin, on the site of historic Fort Dixon. From here a young Abraham Lincoln fought in the Black Hawk War. Learn about more modern history at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, which explores the family’s humble beginnings.
Once you reach the Mississippi farther west, visit Mississippi Palisades State Park, rich in Native American history as well as opportunities for hiking, fishing and boating. Bikers love nearby Savanna. Explore the classic bike and memorabilia collection and have a beer at the Iron Horse Social Club.
Admire 19th-century architecture and natural beauty in Galena, near the northern state border. Ski at the Chestnut Mountain Resort or hike through Native American sites and bird sanctuaries in the Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve.
Northern Illinois is the region west of Chicago, just south of Wisconsin. Fly into Chicago O’Hare International Airport, a 1.5-hour drive from Ottawa or into the smaller Chicago Rockford International Airport farther west, which offers connections to other Midwest states and Canada. Rent a car at the airport or drive your own from home. The region’s parks are best accessed in a personal vehicle.
Whatever your fitness level, the state parks in Northern Illinois offer wilderness experiences for all, no matter how prepared for exercise you may be.