Illinois is also known as the Prairie State and as a result, has plenty of scenery and things to do. With more than 50 state parks and five scenic byways, there are pockets of nature in every corner of the Midwest. Its lakes, rivers, and forests are well-developed for hikes, biking, boating, and other casual outdoor recreation.
Illinois is also one of America’s best regions for golf. The city of Chicago has a plethora of elite professional sporting teams practicing everything from baseball and basketball to soccer and NFL football depending on the season. Chicago also sits on Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, so water recreation, shoreline bike paths, and sandy beaches are a main part of summer fun.
Chicago is the center of most trips to Illinois and even in one week you wouldn’t be able to do everything here. The public beaches along Lake Michigan are very popular in summer, especially Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach where there is nice sand, volleyball courts, biking and skating paths, and plenty of people watching. Lifeguards man the beaches from June 20 through Labor Day, but the water only really gets warm enough to swim in August.
One of the best ways to see Chicago, and many other parts of Illinois, is on a bike. Chicago alone has an 18-mile lakefront bike path, and shops like Bike and Roll Chicago rent gear and provide guided tours. The flat topography of Illinois makes lengthy path systems like the 36-mile Fox River Bike Trail or the 61-mile I&M Canal State Trail a pleasure to cruise. Bobby’s Bike Hike can help you arrange a full-day bike tour of the state.
Many plan vacations to Illinois just for a few days of golfing. Dozens of excellent, championship-caliber courses are spread around the state, with six public courses in Chicago alone and many more in its suburbs. Rockford’s Aldeen Golf Club and Cantigny Golf, just outside Chicago, are two of the nation’s top public courses. In fact, most of the courses in Illinois are public and within striking distance of Chicago. Shops like Dawg’s Golf specialize in helping visitors find the right course for their skills and interests.
All the professional sports teams in Illinois are based in Chicago. Visitors can catch a baseball game with the Chicago Cubs or White Sox in summer, a basketball game with the Bulls in winter, an American football game with the Bears, or an ice hockey match with the Blackhawks. There’s even a Major League Soccer team, the Chicago Fire, located a little outside the city. Use a service like Gold Coast Tickets or Ticket Chest to acquire event tickets.
With 50 or so state parks in Illinois, visitors are sure to find a natural site that inspires. Starved Rock State Park is particularly impressive with its 3,000 acres of canyons, bluffs, oak forests, and rivers. Just outside Utica, it’s a magical place to spot wildlife, learn a bit of history, and get in some top-notch hiking.
River rafting and boating are also top activities in the state. Rivers like the Big Vermillion have everything from white water to lazy float trips, and outfitters such as Vermillion River Rafting can arrange kayaking, canoeing, and rafting adventures. On Lake Michigan, firms like Spendthrift Charters arrange fishing excursions on private boats.