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5 of the Most Beautiful Places to See in Illinois

Jamie Delos Reyes

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Illinois is one of the most scenic Midwestern states in the US. There’s no shortage of spectacular natural and human-made sights in The Prairie State, from breathtaking Cahokia Mounds to the modern marvel that is the Cloud Gate. Make it your next vacation destination for an unforgettable retreat. Don’t forget to keep your camera handy when you stop by some of the most beautiful places to see in Illinois!

1. Shawnee National Forest

Photo Credits: Byron Hetzler

Many of the most beautiful places to see in Illinois are nestled in this picturesque park.

Burden Falls is one such destination. Considered as one of the highest waterfalls in The Land of Lincoln, Burden Falls is one of the best waterfalls in the Land of Lincoln.  You can reach it by exploring the 400 miles of scenic trails in the park. Nature trails leading to Burden Falls are open for hiking and equestrian use. They can take you through lush forests, orchards, abandoned roads, and cemeteries.

Another must-see attraction at the Shawnee National Forest is the Garden of the Gods, an awe-inspiring collection of unique rock formations. The most famous hike in the park. It not only gives visitors a fantastic insight into the geological structure of the Praire State, but it also offers a spectacular view of the Shawnee Forest’s stunning sceneries.

Look for the most popular formations —the Devil’s Smoke Stack, Anvil Rock, and Camel Rock— once you reach this jaw-dropping destination. Want to savor the sights of this destination? Camp out or book a cabin to enjoy the beauty of the Garden of the Gods overnight or for days.

Finally, don’t forget to visit Inspiration Point before leaving Shawnee National Forest. This 1.1-kilometer trail is scenic and secluded, tucked close to Wolf Lake. You can reach this hidden gem by with a quick but slightly demanding hike up from the lake. Don’t worry; the breathtaking view of the Mississippi River valley at the top is more than worth the effort.

2. Cahokia Mounds

Photo Credits: National Geographic Creative | Ira Block

The one and only United Nations World Heritage Site in The Prairie State Cahokia Mounds is one of the most beautiful places to see in Illinois. It encompasses 2,200 acres of land that hosts a significant portion of the biggest Native American civilization across the states. Discover what life was like in this ancient city from A.D. 1050 to 1200 amidst a sweeping, green landscape.

Explore the 5.4-mile nature trails throughout the site, which leads to the more remote areas of Cahokia Mounds. Note the scattered signs throughout this destination to learn more about the culture of ancient Mississippians, from what plants they use for food and medicine to what their daily life was like. For a unique excursion, opt for a tape cassette tour of Cahokia Mounds.

  • Spend a day exploring this historic destination. Climb the Grand Plaza-Twin Mounds-Mound 72 or the 100-ft. Monks Mound. Don’t forget to visit the Woodhenge, the ancient Mississippians’ sun calendar. You can book one of the guided tours or go on a self-guided adventure.

3. Anderson Japanese Gardens  

In Rockford, Anderson Japanese Gardens is one of the loveliest and most authentic Japanese Gardens in Northern America for more than a decade. This 12-acre sanctuary features breathtaking sights, from koi-filled ponds and stunning waterfalls to pristine lakes and gorgeous rock gardens.

Cross bridges over scenic streams and take your time exploring the pathways that wind around the gardens. If you get tired of walking, sit in one of the many benches scattered throughout this tranquil haven and soak in the sights and cool breeze. All the structures in the gardens, from the partitions to the shelters, feature authentic Japanese architecture.

Anderson Japanese Garden is a gateway to the best of what nature has to offer in the Land of the Rising Sun.

  • If this tranquil destination is a part of your Idaho itinerary, visit its official website to confirm it’s open during your retreat.

4. Garfield Park Conservatory

One of the most beautiful places to see in Illinois, this community-run conservatory is truly a sight to behold. Nestled in the middle of the concrete jungle that is Chicago, the Garfield Park Conservatory is a lush, green haven that is well-loved by locals and tourists alike.

The conservatory has of several inter-connected indoor gardens, each featuring a unique selection of plants, and a fantastic outdoor garden. Each section frequently features light shows.

Exotic flowers, vibrant ferns, towering palm trees, and stunning landscapes —what’s not to like about this stunning sanctuary? Once you’ve gotten a visual taste of this gem, you’ll surely want to come back for more.

  • If you come by the Land of Lincoln in the winter, Garfield Park Conservatory presents the perfect retreat from the cold, grey days. Meanwhile, if you’re in the area in the summer, the sanctuary offers a lush, cool place to hang out.

5. Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is unlike any other place in The Prairie State. Tucked on the Illinois River bluff, this stunning sanctuary is one of the most beautiful places to see in Illinois. It is home to 18 breathtaking canyons, over 13 miles of scenic nature trails, fantastic overlooks, gorgeous waterfalls, crystal springs, and amazing sandstone overhangs. Towering oak, pine, and cedar grow on the sandy, bluff tops.

Starved Rock State Park is the place to be for those looking to have an adventure in the great outdoors. Take a map and pay attention to the trail maps and signs during your exploration.

If you’re lucky, you may spot wild turkeys in the woods or a soaring bald eagle during your excursion. Put your observation skills to the test while you trek scenic nature trails, and see if you can spot coyote, raccoon, fox, and opossum tracks.

  • You can take your canine companions with you when you visit Starved Rock State Park, just make sure to keep them on a leash and pick up after them. Don’t let them drink in the creeks, springs, rivers, and waterfalls.

There’s so much to discover in the state of Illinois. Take a deep in magical swimming pools, sample the local fare, and experience an unforgettable getaway!

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