What to do in Illinois Beach State Park

*This information was provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources*

A full range of recreation opportunities complement the expansive shoreline of Illinois Beach State Park. Interested in jogging and bicycling? The trails are waiting! Or, is physical fitness your current pursuit? Whether you're an active outdoor enthusiast or just interested in a quiet walk along some of the Midwest's most scenic beaches, this is the place for you!

Stretching leisurely for six and a half miles along the sandy shore of Lake Michigan in northern Illinois, Illinois Beach State Park encompasses the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state.

Illinois Beach is a unique and captivating natural resource for all to enjoy. It was created by the titanic forces of glacial advance and retreat and the steady winds that breathed across expansive Lake Michigan. The park has dunes and swales with sprawling marshes, forests of oak and vast arrays of animal life and vegetation.

The 4,160-acre park, consisting of two separate areas, offers ample opportunities for swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping and just appreciating nature.

More than 650 species of plants have been recorded in the dunes area alone, including dozens of types of colorful wildflowers. Prickly pear cactus thrives in large colonies in the dry areas, and the wet prairies are carpeted with a wide variety of grasses and sedges. Large expanses of marsh in the swales support dense stands of cattail, bluejoint grass, prairie cordgrass, reed grass, big bluestem and sedges.

The sandy ridges are crowned by black oak forests with an open, savanna-like appearance, and several kinds of fragrant pines, introduced here a century ago, also prosper in the southern area.

Just north of these pines is the Dead River which actually is a stream that is blocked by sandbars much of the year forming an elongated pond. When the water finally rises high enough, it breaks through the sandbar and drains the surrounding marshes. The abundance of aquatic plants and fish flourishing in this changing environment belie its name.

History-Long recognized for its complex geological structure, unique flora and spectacular beauty, the Lake Michigan dunes area originally was, in the 1700s, part of the "Three Fires" of the Algonquin Nation: the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa. Prior to then the area had been occupied by the Miami.

In the late 1600s French explorers first visited the area as part of their survey of what was then known as the Northwest Territory. By the time Illinois became a state in 1818, the area was full of transient hunters and trappers. In 1836, a treaty was made with the local Native Americans, who were moved westward, and the area became part of Lake County.

During the Civil War what is now the northern unit of the park became Camp Logan, a Union prisoner of war camp. This installation went on to serve as an Army basic training center through World Wars I and II (when it provided ideal conditions for practicing tank maneuvers), and, in the late 1940s, was turned over to the Illinois National Guard.

Preservation efforts were considered as early as 1888, when Robert Douglas, a Waukegan nurseryman, and Jens Jensen, a famous landscape architect, discussed making it a regional park. With industry advancing from the south, sand mining ravaging the dunes, and parts of the surrounding countryside succumbing to pasture and homesteads, legislative efforts to save the area finally began in the 1920s.

In 1948, the state finally acquired the first parcels of what is now Illinois Beach State Park. In 1950, the Illinois Dunes Preservation Society was established to protect the natural qualities of the area, and through its efforts and the efforts of the Department of Conservation the area south of Beach Road was dedicated in 1964 as the first Illinois nature preserve. The northern unit, from the Commonwealth Edison power plant to the Wisconsin border, was acquired between 1971 and 1982.

Camping- A campground in the southern unit provides 244 Class A Premium sites with electricity and access to showers and sanitary facilities. You must obtain a camping permit from the park staff before settling in. After Labor Day, NO RESERVATIONS will be excepted. Send the completed reservation application to Illinois Beach State Park. Due to the high use of this area from Memorial Day to Labor Day, reservations are recommended but not required. Campsites are also available on first come first serve basis but usually fill up by early Friday mornings. E-mail and phone-in reservations are not accepted. For questions about your reservation application please call 847-662-4811.

Swimming Beach-During the summer season, swimming is a major attraction along the sandy shorelines, and both units provide ample parking and bathhouse with showers. There are no on-duty lifeguards, so please be careful.

Lodging-For comfortable accommodations, the 96-room Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center is the perfect place to get away for a weekend or week-long vacation. The hotel features a restaurant, cocktail lounge, video game room, an olympic-size indoor heated swimming pool and a giant whirlpool. A full service health club includes exercise equipment, and sauna. Conference facilities include fully equipped private rooms for banquets and meetings that can accommodate up to 500 people comfortably. For additional information or to make reservations call 847/625-7300.

Recreation
Fishing-Fishing is allowed along the beach area in both units (except in the swimming areas) and there are several small inland fishing ponds, including Sand Pond, where a fishing pier for the disabled is available. No fishing is allowed in the nature preserve.

Hiking-From guided nature hikes to individual treks, Illinois Beach provides excellent hiking opportunities. The southern part of the park features 5 miles of trails, including a 2.2-mile loop trail with a graveled surface. In the north, Camp Logan Trail is a 1.8-mile multi-use loop that cross-country skiers also can use. Cross-country skiing is not allowed in the nature preserve.

Bike Trail-Bikers can travel between the North and South units of Illinois Beach State Park by utilizing the Zion Bike Trail, a section of trail connecting 29th Street at the south end to 17th Street at the north end.

Picnicking-Easy access to Lake Michigan make this park a relaxing and enjoyable place to picnic with the family. Both the northern and southern units of the park contain ample picnic grounds complete with tables.

Location
From the South are: I-294 north to Rt 173 east (approx 8 miles) to Sheridan Road. Make a right on Sheridan Road to Wadsworth Road, make a left and you will be in the park.From the North are: I-94 South to Rt. 173, east on Rt.173 to Sheridan Road, right on Sheridan Road to Wadsworth Road and make a left on Wadsworth into the Park.

Climate
Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.

Address
Lake Front
Zion, IL 60099

Phone: 847-662-4811

Fax: 847-662-6433

Email: R2Parks@dnrmail.state.il.us
  • Illinois Beach State Park Travel Q&A