National Parks Near Chicago
National Parks near Chicago. There’s so much more to the Land of Lincoln than the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
Now let’s go ahead with 8 reasons why you’ll want to hop in your car and make a day’s drive from Chicago to one of these truly amazing places.
Best National Parks Near Chicago
1. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Distance From Chicago: Three hours and 8 minutes (210 miles) via I-88 W & I-80 W.
The National Park Service was originally created in 1916 and one of its earliest supporters was President Herbert Hoover. During Hoover’s presidency, appropriations for park operations increased by 70 percent. He also expanded the size of the National Park System by 40 percent.
Visitors can take a self-guided walk of the grounds and historic buildings. You can see the birthplace cottage which was a typical starter home for a young late 19th century family.
Visiting the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is like stepping into a time machine. You are transported back to a 19th century world where you can see a one-room schoolhouse much like the one in which Hoover was educated.
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum contains some fascinating exhibits chronicling the life and times of the president who presided over the worst economic calamity in our nation’s history.
2. Ice Age National Scenic Trail | National Parks Near Chicago
Distance From Chicago: One hour and 56 minutes (103 miles) via I-94 W.
Imagine a trail formed during the Ice Age. It was a time 15,000 years ago when much of North America lay under a huge glacier. There were mammoths, saber tooth cats and cave lions. Oh my!
Evidence of this glacier is found today in Wisconsin such as the state’s many lakes, river valleys, gently rolling hills, and ridges. The nearly 1,200 mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail was established in 1980. It traces the glacier’s edge.
While the trail is primarily enjoyed for hiking and backpacking, other activities include: (1) Birdwatching and Nature Walks, (2) Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing, (3) Stargazing and Wildlife Viewing, (4) Camping , (5) Hunting and Fishing (during the proper seasons), (6) Biking, (7) Horseback Riding and (8) Snowmobiling.
If you’re camping, be advised that in some areas camping is allowed anywhere along the trail; in others only at designated sites. These facilities may be spaced quite far apart. Along such segments it may be difficult to find any place to camp legally. You should plan your multi-day hike carefully. (Source: NPS)
3. I & M Canal National Heritage Area
Distance From Chicago: One hour and 49 minutes (103 miles) via I-80 W.
The 96-mile hand-dug Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1848 to connect the American heartland to New York Harbor and New Orleans. The canal was carved through a glacial passageway and used by migratory birds, Native Americans, French fur traders, nineteenth-century pioneers, canal traders, and modern shipping industries.
For the first time, manufactured goods from the eastern U. S. and products from the south such as molasses, tobacco, and oranges, could be shipped to Chicago. Chicago’s rapid development from a frontier settlement to the bustling city is also directly linked to this great US shipping canal. (Source: NPS)
Today the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Area continues as a passageway for transportation and recreation.
Visitors to this historically rich area can explore points of interest which include: I & M Canal Visitor Center & Boat, Lemont Area Historical Society & Museum, Bronzeville Neighborhood, Navy Pier, Morris and the Canal Port Plaza, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Isle a la Cache Museum and Reddick Mansion.
4. Indiana Dunes National Park
Distance From Chicago: Forty-six minutes (36 miles) via I-90 E.
I love history, but my wife frequently reminds me that there are actually people who would rather visit national park sites to enjoy the wonderful outdoor activities which they have to offer. Or, they go there to take in the beauty and become one with nature. Could she be right?
In our marriage, she usually is. Rest assured that, if you’re one of those people, you can’t lose by taking a trip to Indiana Dunes National Park. This beautiful park includes 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. It has so much to offer that you won’t find in the history books.
While you’re there you can you look for rare species of birds or fly a kite along the sandy beach. This national park includes 15,000 acres so you won’t run out of space. If you love hiking there’s 50 miles of trails. They cover rugged dunes, magnificent wetlands, sunny prairies, winding rivers and tranquil forests.
If you love boating Lake Michigan features kayaking, powerboating and sailing. While canoeing is not recommended on the lake itself due to the windy conditions, it is quite popular on the Little Calumet River. There’s even horseback riding on the specified portion of the Glenwood Dunes Trails from March 16th to December 14th. And, let’s not forget cross-country skiing from December 15th until March 15th. Those trails stay busy year-round.
5. Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Distance From Chicago: Three hours and 39 minutes (200 miles) via I-55 S.
In 2021, C-SPAN asked a group of distinguished presidential historians to rank our nation’s presidents from worst to best. At the top of their list, with a total score of 897 points, was Abraham Lincoln. George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt came in second and third respectively.
Why is Abraham Lincoln considered the greatest president of all time? Simply put, he saved the Union. In the process of saving the nation, Lincoln managed to define the creation of a more perfect Union in terms of liberty and economic equality that rallied the citizenry behind him.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the Lincoln Home. You can step back in time and see how Abraham Lincoln as a family man and a lawyer. He lived in this house with his wife and family for 17 years before moving to Washington. And the best news of all is that admission is free.
Before heading to the Lincoln Home, however, I recommend going to the Visitor Center. There you can watch two films. One highlights Abraham Lincoln’s life in Springfield and the other is a virtual tour of the Lincoln Home. Visitors can also explore a four block historic neighborhood and see various exhibits and displays while learning about the history of the Lincoln’s neighborhood.
6. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Distance From Chicago: Six hours and 16 minutes (380 miles) via I-43 N.
Sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, inland lakes, deep forest, and wild shoreline beckon you to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The power of Lake Superior shapes the park’s coastal features and affects every ecosystem, creating a unique landscape to explore. Hiking, camping, sightseeing, and four-season outdoor opportunities abound.
Ice climbing is a popular winter sport at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The combination of cold temperatures, ample lake effect snow, numerous waterfalls, porous sandstone cliffs, and water seeping out of the rock layers creates spectacular curtains and columns of ice.
Snowmobiling is a popular activity in and around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. A number of unplowed roads lead to major points of interest within the park, particularly Miners Castle and Log Slide. Winter campers generally access the park’s three drive-in campgrounds via snowmobile.
Viewing ice “caves” and ice formations has become a popular winter activity at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the surrounding area.
Water seeping out of the porous sandstone cliffs freezes into curtains and columns of blue, white, or yellow ice. The ice generally begins to form by mid-December and remains until early April. (Source: NPS)
7. Pullman National Monument
Distance From Chicago: 0 minutes – It’s IN Chicago!
The Pullman Strike of 1894 would forever change labor relations in the United States. It began on May 11, 1894, when several thousand train workers started an unannounced strike at the Pullman Company in Illinois.
Why did this strike happen? In 1893, the country was gripped by a severe recession. George Pullman had built a company famous for making railroad cars. He also created a town for his workers in Illinois. There they enjoyed many amenities but were also financially dependent on the Pullman Company for their homes and utilities.
I recommend starting your visit at the National Park Service Pullman Visitor Center in the Administration-Clock Tower Building. There you will be able to explore exhibits which cover topics on labor rights, manufacturing, urban planning, civil rights and so much more.
You should also check out the Historic Pullman Foundation Shared Pullman Exhibit Hall located at Cottage Grove and 112th Street. There are informational displays, artifacts and an introductory film available.
8. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore
Distance From Chicago: Five hours and 22 minutes (319 miles) via US-31 N.
Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore encompasses a 35 mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline which includes the North and South Manitou Islands.
The park was established for its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also contains many cultural features including an 1871 lighthouse, three former Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard Stations and an extensive historic farm district.
Visitors will find a 64-mile curve of sweeping vistas, miles of perfect freshwater beaches, forested wilderness islands, miles of hiking trails and the paved Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail which is a multi-use pathway that runs from the northern end of the park to a point just south of Empire.
Map Of National Parks Near Chicago
List Of National Park Sites Near Chicago
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
- Ice Age National Scenic Trail
- I & M Canal National Heritage Area
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Pullman National Monument
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and proud dad of these two guys hopelessly obsessed with the national parks.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!