The Caucus Blog – Winter Activity Opportunities at Illinois State Parks

The latest edition of The Caucus Blog features information on Illinois State Parks and fun winter activities. From ice climbing and cross-country skiing to frozen waterfalls and snow-filled canyons, there are fun winter adventures to be found at state parks. ❄

Every winter season, snow brings magic to the Illinois landscape and its numerous state parks. From ice climbing and cross-country skiing to frozen waterfalls and snow-filled canyons, there are fun adventures to be found at state parks. Here are some parks worth exploring during the winter months. 

Starved Rock State Park is located in LaSalle County on the Illinois River. This unique park offers canyons and waterfalls in the warmer months. During the winter season, Starved Rock can still be explored by foot and there are frozen waterfalls in the canyons. Cross country skiing is also popular, along with ice climbing. There are 13 miles of trails to explore at Starved Rock, and the property offers a variety of dining, lodging, and entertainment options. The park’s 14 frozen falls can be seen from any of seven overlooks, and some of the falls reach 80 feet high. 

Matthiessen State Park is located just a couple of miles from Starved Rock and offers six miles of cross- country ski trails or five miles of winter hiking trails. Beautiful forests, frozen waterfalls, sandstone canyons and icy streams are also found in the winter months. 

Moraine Hills State Park in McHenry features over 10 miles of trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Winter is a good time for birding in the park, and the hills and ridges can offer a great wind blocker. Those seeking solitude and scenery can check out the snowy landscape of Lake Defiance, which is considered the centerpiece of Moraine Hills. Lake Defiance encompasses 48 acres and is one of the few glacial lakes in Illinois that has remained largely undeveloped, maintaining a near-natural condition. 

Illinois Beach State Park along Lake Michigan includes the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state, with dunes, swales, marshes, forests of oak, and arrays of animal life and vegetation. The park offers camping in the winter but closes on December 31 each year before reopening on April 1. Illinois Beach State Park includes five miles of hiking and bicycling trails along with a Class A campground that offers electricity, hot shower facilities, and restrooms. 

Winter camping is also available at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Lake County. The park borders three natural lakes, offering plenty of cross-country skiing and ice fishing opportunities. There are also four trail systems, including a six-mile hiking and biking trail. 

Rock Cut State Park in Winnebago County includes two lakes that offer a retreat for those looking to ice fish or ice skate. This year-round destination includes hiking and horseback riding trails, along with cross-country skiing and wildlife watching. Rock Cut includes more than 200 campsites and 40 miles of trail systems. 

Other state parks that offer winter activities include: 

  • Lowden State Park in Ogle County offers year-round camping, four miles of hiking trails, and multiple picnic areas. Lowden is also home to the second-largest concrete monolithic statue in the world.
  • White Pines Forest State Park in the Rock River Valley offers affordable year-round camping and seven marked hiking trails that transform into cross-country skiing trails in the snow. Local scenery includes mossy cliffs and rock formations.
  • Illini State Park in Marseilles, located just south of the Illinois River, includes an ice-skating pool during the winter. Its steep hills are a big hit with sledders as well.
  • Benton KOA, located just two miles from Rend Lake, offers a unique and complete ‘glamping’ experience. Located just a short walk from restaurants and shops, Benton KOA’s ‘luxurious’ campground includes electrical hookups, cable TV access, Wi-Fi access, full bathroom facilities and more.
  • The Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area borders Rend Lake in southern Illinois and offers over 240 campsites. Ice fishing is a popular attraction during the winter months.
  • Giant City State Park in Makanda offers various camping experiences amidst 12,000-year-old sandstone bluffs and 75 species of trees.
  • Dixon Springs State Park in Golconda offers limited camping options, but hikers can enjoy snow-covered rock formations, waterfalls, and springs. Located in the Shawnee Hills, Dixon Springs is situation on a giant block of sandstone that was deposited over 300 million years ago.