While you may picture the urban jungle of Chicago when you think of Illinois, but don't let the flatlands of the Midwest fool you -- there are plenty of adventures to be had. From the stunning state parks to watery fun on Lake Michigan, here's how to explore beyond the city walls.
Kayak the City
There are plenty of ways to see Chicago, but outdoor enthusiasts will want to take to the Chicago River for an amazing urban kayaking adventure. Navigate the city via the river and get a close-up view of its famed skyline. There are several kayaking companies which offer a unique spin on the traditional architecture tour.
Make it a Beach Day
Head for the fun and sun at Lake Shelbyville, one of Illinois’ largest lakes. Swim at the sandy beach, or boat and fish on the azure waters of the 11,000-acre lake. Go horseback riding or hiking in the surrounding Eagle Creek State Recreation Area and Wolf Creek State Park.
You’ll be wowed by the shimmering waterfalls and rugged canyons at Starved Rock State Park in Utica. Hike the wooded trails and marvel at the 18 canyons carved out of 400-million-year-old sandstone bluffs. Go fishing and boating on the easy Illinois River, or take a cruise on the Belle of the Rock paddleboat. Hop a trolley at Starved Rock Lodge for a guided tour of the picturesque area.
Get Lost in the Forest
The Shawnee National Forest carpets the southern tip of the state, creating miles of rolling emerald hills and ribbons of trails. The awesome Garden of the Gods is a popular destination for hikers, known for its towering rock formations with names such as Camel Rock and Devil’s Smokestack. Try to squeeze through Fat Man's Misery, a narrow passageway crammed between huge boulders. Horseback riders will want to tackle the equestrian trails that wind through the leafy forest.
Hike the Wetlands
At 8,000 acres, Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton is the biggest state park in Illinois. Go hiking past wetlands, biking along scenic bluffs, fishing and boating on the Illinois River, or horseback riding through the forest. Pedal the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail that skirts along the Great River Road between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park, with the rolling Mississippi River on one side and soaring cliffs on the other.
Zip lines are one of Illinois’ newest outdoor attractions. In Grafton you can soar high above the limestone cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Or head to Makanda, where you’ll step off from a bluff in the Shawnee National Forest and whip through the woods on nine different zip lines for a birds eye canopy tour.