Where can a person find sand dunes, black forests, miles of shoreline, and ample amounts of recreational opportunities all in the same place? Illinois Beach State Park is just such a place where visitors can experience all that and more while taking in the serene beauty of Lake Michigan.
Located in Zion, Illinois, and divided into the North and South Units, the park has a long history. First inhabited by several Native American tribes including first the Miami and then members of the Algonquin Nation, the area was eventually occupied by French explorers and others drawn to the rich natural resources. It was then used by the military from the Civil War through World War II and later the Illinois National Guard and law enforcement agencies.
The process of acquiring the land for the park started in the 1950s, but conservation efforts started as early as the late 19th century and are still ongoing. Part of the conservation effort is the Lake Michigan Biological Station where preserving the ecology of the region is the top priority.
A Place for Nature Lovers
The park boasts over 4100 acres of land that has become a bird watcher’s and plant lover’s paradise with rare and unusual species of both to be enjoyed. Over 600 species of plants have been noted in the sand dunes area. Hawk enthusiasts take part in the annual Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch in the North Unit to record migratory patterns and a hawk count.
Hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and biking are just some of the activities park goers can take part in. Along your hiking trek you may come across the Dead River, which still flows into Lake Michigan. Those who move at a slower pace can curl up with a good book on the beach along the six and a half miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Park attractions include the interpretive center which has exhibits and guides for visitors to learn more about the area and concessions at the Camp Store from May through October.
There is camping allowed on the South Unit, and sites fill up quickly at this popular destination. There are 244 units classified as Class A Premium with electricity and shower facilities. Reservations are accepted until Labor Day, one of the busiest times of the year. To make reservations in this piece of Illinois paradise and for more information about the park activities or volunteer opportunities, visit the Illinois Beach State Park website or call (847) 662-4811.