Illinois Beach State Park is one of the loveliest state parks in the whole Mid-West. But what is it that sets this park apart from other well-known sites like Wisconsin’s Big Foot Beach and Missouri’s Montauk State Park?
The wide-open park stretches over six miles along the environmentally protected, placid beach ridge shoreline of Lake Michigan in Lake County, which extends from Zion, IL to Winthrop Harbor, IL. Combined, these two small Mid-West towns are home to more than 30,000 local residents throughout the year. In total land area, Illinois Beach State Park spans approximately 4,200 acres, and interestingly, the park is actually sectioned into two areas, north and south.
Illinois Beach State Park offers visitors the usual variety of outdoor and family recreational activities (i.e. camping, resort amenities, hiking, biking, etc). But perhaps the most stunning features of the park remain its glacial dunes, gorgeous nature preserve, flanked by an encircling black oak-pine forest. Sunrises overlooking Lake Michigan’s distant, misty horizon are truly magnificent when you travel to this impressively expansive, yet tranquil state park.
Locating the park is not at all difficult even if you are an unfamiliar, first-time traveler to the region. The park is easily accessible from all directions via Illinois State Highway 137. For those who are familiar with the region, the park is located north of the greater Chicago metropolitan area in unincorporated Zion and Winthrop Harbor. In fact, the park sits quite close to the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
The southern portion of the park can be reached via the Wadsworth exit off of highway 137. To reach the northern portion of the park, exit along 17th street. Each portion of the park keeps a well-staffed visitor center to welcome guests and offer guides to the park’s natural attractions.
Illinois Beach State Park – North (Camp Logan)
The anchor of the park’s northern portion is the visitor facility known as Camp Logan. Here, day visitors can enjoy multiple designated picnicking areas within the camp’s grounds. Swimming in the cool waters of Lake Michigan, trail hiking, and mountain biking are some of the more popular outdoor activities during the warm spring-summer months.
In the winter, however, Camp Logan transforms into a winter park of sorts and provides visitors with safe cross-country ski trails, which over look the wide expanse of Lake Michigan’s glass-smooth surface. There is even a designated fishing area along the waters of Sand Pond.
Traveling anglers from across the state have reported reeling in trout and bass during the peak fishing season. The park even allows ice-fishing in the frigid months when lake winds breathe frosty gusts into the flat camp grounds of Camp Logan.
Illinois Beach State Park – South
Traveling naturalist and outdoorsmen have raved about the southern portion of the park, home to a vast, sheltered nature preserve to the south of the park’s visitor facility and camp grounds. The nearby Youth Campgrounds are surrounded by woods with the usual amenities easily accessible. The vast majority of Illinois Beach State Park’s visitors pass through this portion of the park.
The south unit, like Camp Logan to the north, provides designated areas for camping, hiking, and mountain biking. In the winter, cross country skiing becomes a popular activity among local residents. Youth Campgrounds are surrounded by wood with the usual amenities nearby.
Vacationers have spoken well of the Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center located along the longest continuous portion of the park’s ridgeline beach front. The park’s most striking natural feature rests to the south of the resort and camping grounds, The Dead River. Hiking off the beaten path, further south of the Dead River within the preserve is prohibited without a permit however.