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Best Illinois State Parks to Visit in the Spring

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Best Illinois State Parks to Visit in the Spring

Giant City State Park - courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources

The Top Three Choices Offer Opportunities for Viewing the "Giant City Streets," Hiking to Waterfalls, and Viewing Bird Migration.

Giant City State Park

(Makanda, IL)
Phone: 618-457-4836
With its natural beauty and plentiful opportunities for outdoor recreation, Giant City State Park has something to delight visitors of all ages. From camping and horseback riding to fishing and rappelling, it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise. Visitors can explore the many wilderness trails, and a sure treat awaits anyone hiking the Giant City Nature Trail, home of the “Giant City Streets,” formed 12,000 years ago by huge bluffs of sandstone.

Nestled in the Shawnee National Forest, just minutes south of Carbondale, the area was named for the unique impressions made by its massive sandstone structures. Eons of geological faulting and folding have molded a unique landscape, which is now clothed in lush garments of fern, moss, large flowering mints, hundreds of species of wild flowers and 75-plus varieties of towering trees. The natural splendor of Giant City has made it a renowned retreat that attracts more than 1.2 million visitors annually.

Starved Rock State Park

(Utica, IL)
Phone: 815-667-4726
Whether you enjoy hiking along the nature trails or viewing the many spectacular overlooks along the Illinois River, recreational opportunities abound at , including picnicking, fishing, boating, horseback riding and camping.

The backdrops for your activities are 18 canyons formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles at Starved Rock State Park, which is located along the south side of the Illinois River, one mile south of Utica and midway between the cities of LaSalle-Peru and Ottawa. The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface. During early spring, when the end of winter thaw is occurring and rains are frequent, sparkling waterfalls are found at the heads of all 18 canyons, and vertical walls of moss-covered stone create a setting of natural geologic beauty uncommon in Illinois. The Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage in May is another good reason for a spring visit to the park.

Mississippi Palisades State Park

(Savanna, IL)
Phone: 815-273-2731
The Native American pathfinders along the rock palisades of the Mississippi River did as present-day hikers do – in coursing the bluffs, they took the paths of least resistance. The trails at the Mississippi Palisades, especially the park’s southern routes, put you in touch with the past. Walk them and you’ll trace the footsteps of all those who came before you, some of whom came this way nearly a thousand years ago.

Located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple rivers in northwestern Illinois, the 2,500-acre Mississippi Palisades State Park is rich in American Indian history. Each spring and summer the valleys and slopes are dappled with the blooms of trillium, bluebell, lobelia, shooting star and yellow ladies’ slipper.

Animal life, within the park and the river areas immediately adjoining it, is varied. Waterfowl and shorebirds are numerous, as are wild turkeys. Striking pileated woodpeckers make their home in the park, and depending on ice conditions, eagles feed at the river in January and February. Because so many birds migrate along the river, their lyrical songs can be heard at the Mississippi Palisades each spring and fall.

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