Illinois is known as the “Land of Lincoln.” It’s popular for the city of Chicago, as well as it’s vast cornfields which cover 85% of the state.
The famous Route 66 begins in Chicago, IL and runs all the way to the Pacific Ocean on the west coast.
If you ever find yourself on a road trip through Illinois, make sure to stop at some of its National Parks and Historic Trails. The state is rooted in history and has a number of great tours and scenic hikes to explore.
What National Parks are in Illinois?
There are two parks run by the National Park Service in the state of Illinois:
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site
- Pullman National Monument
There are also three commemorative sites of Illinois. All three of these are considered National Historic Trails that recognize original trails or routes of historical significance:
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
- Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
- Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is located in Springfield, Illinois–which is also the state capital. This is where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1844-1861 with his family before becoming the 16th President of the United States.
This is not a huge National Park, you’ll need to set aside just 1.5-2 hours to visit.
The Lincoln home tour is the main attraction. It lasts about 25 minutes with tours running throughout the day from 9am-4:30pm. The tour is free, but you’ll need to get tickets at the front desk to secure your spot. Tours are limited to 15 people and can fill up quickly in the summer months.
Things to do at the National Park include:
- Tour the Lincoln Home
- Explore the visitor center
- Watch a 25 minute film at the visitor center
- Explore the neighborhood (4 block historic area)
- Participate in live history demonstrations (during summer)
Pets: Leashed pets are allowed in the neighborhood historic area but not in any of the buildings.
Camping: There are no campgrounds in downtown Springfield, but there are a few in surrounding area.
We recommend checking out the campgrounds in Sangchris Lake State Park if you want something near a lake. Or consider heading north towards Carpenter Park and you’ll pass a few campgrounds along the way.
Things to do in Springfield, Illinois
Nearby in the city of Springfield, you can find a variety of restaurants and small shops. In addition, some of the main attractions to visit in the area are:
- Visit the Old State Capitol
- New Salem State Historic Site
- Abraham Presidential Museum and Library
- Illinois State Capitol
- Lincoln Tomb
Pullman National Monument
The Pullman National Monument is located in Northern Illinois, about 30 minutes south of Chicago. This is another small National Park consisting of a historic district and one main building which also serves as the visitor center.
What is this Monument Known For?
The Pullman District was the first planned industrial community in the US. It served as a model for future communities where citizens could live, work and play all within a few blocks.
The goal was to build a utopia with perfect working conditions for residents which were sanitary and safe.
When you visit the center you’ll learn about the history of the area, how it was built, and what life was like living in the Pullman district.
District Surrounding the Pullman National Monument
- With a short walk around the area you can visit these free and paid attractions:
- Historic Pullman Foundation
- Pullman State Historic Site
- National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
- Pullman Park
Pets: Leashed pets are allowed on the premises but not inside the building.
Camping: There are no campgrounds at the National Monument but you can find a number of them in the greater Chicago area. If you’re traveling west, look for campsites near the McMahon Woods.
If you’re traveling east, one of our favorite places to visit is the Indiana Dunes National Park which is about 3 hours away. There are a number of campgrounds in the surrounding area within walking distance of Lake Michigan.
Things to do Nearby
- Visit Chicago (30 minutes north)
- Indiana Dunes National Park (2 hours 45 minutes east)
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (3 hours west)
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site (3 hours south)
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail crosses 16 states including Illinois. While the main park headquarters are located in Omaha, Nebraska you can find the state historic site in Hartford Illinois.
Hartford is on the far west side of Illinois across the Mississippi river from St. Louis.
At the historic site you’ll find a small building with interactive exhibits and information about the Lewis and Clark expedition. You can also walk along the original trail and explore the landscape.
Pets: Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails around the Lewis and Clark National Historic Site. They are not allowed inside any of the buildings.
Camping: From Hartford, IL head south to get to the closest camping in Granite City.
If you’re looking for camping near hiking trails and rivers, drive 30 minutes west over the Mississippi River and visit Sioux Passage Park in Florissant, MO.
Free camping: You can find free, primitive camping in the Shawnee National Forest. It is about 2 hours southwest of Hartford.
The Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri also has free dispersed campsites. It is about 3 hours southwest of Hartford.
Things To Do Nearby:
- St. Louis Missouri (30 minutes south)
- Springfield, Illinois (1 hour, 20 minutes northeast)
- Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (3 hours north)
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail crosses five states including IL, IA, NE, UT, and WY. This trail marks a 1,400 mile route where Mormons fled from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1846.
Nauvoo is the site of the historic district on the far west side of Illinois. It was once the mormon headquarters and the largest city in Illinois.
At the National Historic District you can walk around 1,100 acres of restored homes and shops as well as visit Brigham Young’s home. There is also a visitor center to learn more about the area.
Many portions of the trail itself are privately owned and don’t allow public access.
Pets: Pets are not allowed in the Nauvoo Historic District
Camping: You can find campground either south along the Mississippi River, or west in the Shimek State Forest.
Things To Do Nearby:
- Carthage Jail (30 minutes southeast)
- Springfield, Illinois (2 hours 30 minutes southeast)
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (3 hours south)
- St. Louis, Missouri (3 hours south)
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail crosses nine states including 60 miles of the southernmost portion of Illinois. This trail represents the path that many American Indians were forced to travel as part of resettlement during the Indian Removal Act.
There is no official visitor center in Illinois, but you can drive or walk along segments of the trail.
Illinois Segments of the Trail
- Trail of Tears State Forest
- Hamburg Hill
- Shawnee National Forest
- McGinnis Cemetery
- Camp Ground Cemetery
- Toler Farm
- Jentel Farm
- Wayside Store and Bridges Tavern
- Crabb-Abbot Farm
- Wagner Farm
The Trail of Tears State Forest in Alto Pass Precinct, IL is a large and rugged area to go hiking as well as experience some of the areas that were traveled. Unfortunately, you won’t find much historical information there. There is an official visitor center in Jackson, Missouri at the Trail of Tears State Park.
Pets: Rules vary based on segments
Camping: You can find free dispersed camping and campgrounds with amenities in the Shawnee National Forest.
Illinois National Parks
While Illinois isn’t home to the most famous National Parks, there are still a lot of historic sites, monuments, and interesting trails to follow. If you find yourself in Northern Illinois, take some time to visit the Pullman National Monument.
Central Illinois is home to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.
If you’re traveling to southern Illinois, be sure to visit a few sections of the Trail of Tears and try camping in the Shawnee National Forest.