There are some spots in Illinois that will really make you ask yourself whether you are awake or dreaming. Sure, a lot of Illinois is flat land full of corn. But then there are some places that are just totally unique. Here are 11 of the best Illinois wonders.
1. Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe)
This 385 acre garden has 26 display gardens within it. Some of the favorite attractions are the butterfly garden, rose garden, and the miniature train. What's really nice about this garden is that they are open year-round, meaning you can see these awesome plants in full bloom and in bud form.
2. Cave-in-Rock (village of Cave in Rock)
Cave in Rock State Park features a cave with a 55 foot mouth. The cave overlooks the Ohio River. It was carved by water thousands of years ago, and it is made out of limestone. This cave was once home to bandits like pirates and bootleggers. Today, you can explore the cave.
3. Matthiessen State Park (North Utica)
This park is located right around the corner from Starved Rock, and while it is not nearly as popular, a lot of people like it better. You get the same sort of canyons and interesting tree formations. There are some waterfalls. And the dells area is just phenomenal. Lower dells can get a little muddy, so bring shoes you don't really care much about.
4. Mississippi Palisades State Park (Savanna)
This park is located where the Apple and Mississippi Rivers join up. The result is this incredibly lush scenery that you just will not believe, set on bluffs with a river as its backdrop. At 2500 acres, there is a lot for you to explore. Rock climbers describe this as one of the best places to climb in Illinois. Erosion has resulted in some really, really interesting rock formations - most famously, Indian Head and Twin Sisters.
5. Illinois Beach State Park (Zion)
This beautiful beach features 6.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. It actually is the only remaining beach ridge shoreline existing in Illinois. This park is a whopping 4,000 acres. Besides great views, you can see over 700 species of plants.
6. Cache River Natural Area (Belknap)
This area is basically a giant swamp, and you almost feel like an alligator is going to jump out at any time. Nope, no alligators here, but there are snakes. But the reason people come is to see these awesome cypress trees. Some of them are over 1,000 years old. And the flared bases--called buttresses--can be quite large. Some are 40 feet in circumference.
7. Garden of the Gods (Herod)
These rock formations are over 300 million years old. Getting to see this epic view is not as daunting as it looks, as the path around here is just .25 miles. Depending on the sun, you can witness a pretty phenomenal color show at sunrise and sunset.
8. Starved Rock State Park (Oglesby)
You truly will not know where to look. Incredible canyons sometimes are flowing with waterfalls. Trees seem to grow out of the side of the earth. There are numerous paths here, for the very adventurous to the casual hiker. Either way, you will see all sorts of natural beauty.
9. Anderson Japanese Gardens (Rockford)
You won't believe the beauty of this garden. At 12 acres, it is one of the largest and most authentic Japanese gardens in all of North America. The style of these gardens is actually a 13th century "pond strolling" garden. You can see waterfalls, streams and rock formations.
10. Inspiration Point (Wolf Lake)
Inspiration Point is just .8 mile trail. Is it worth a drive from Chicago? Yes. This view is absolutely stunning, perhaps the best in Illinois. The path is located in Shawnee National Forest. You will have panoramic views and see the Mississippi Valley like never before.
11. Giant City State Park (Makanda)
This park has some of the best wilderness trails in the state. We love the Giant City Nature Trail, a trail formed around 12,000 years ago. Along it are huge bluffs of sandstone with some very interesting geological formations. There are some pretty interesting plants here, too, from fern to moss to flowering mint.
Have you been to any of these places? Be sure to share pics on the Only in Illinois Facebook page.