ILLINOIS BEACH STATE PARK
ILLINOIS BEACH STATE PARK
Zion, Illinois 60099
Illinois Beach State Park 'Day End'
Illinois Beach State Park 'Beach in Fall'
Illinois Beach State Park 'Harold Hutsie'
A full range of recreation opportunities complement the expansive shoreline of Illinois Beach State Park. Interested in jogging and bicycling? The trails are waiting! Or, is physical fitness your current pursuit? Whether you're an active outdoor enthusiast or just interested in a quiet walk along some of the Midwest's most scenic beaches, this is the place for you!
Stretching leisurely for six and a half miles along the sandy shore of Lake Michigan in northern Illinois, Illinois Beach State Park encompasses the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state.
Illinois Beach is a unique and captivating natural resource for all to enjoy. It was created by the titanic forces of glacial advance and retreat and the steady winds that breathed across expansive Lake Michigan. The park has dunes and swales with sprawling marshes, forests of oak and vast arrays of animal life and vegetation.
The 4,160-acre park, consisting of two separate areas, offers ample opportunities for swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping and just appreciating nature.
More than 650 species of plants have been recorded in the dunes area alone, including dozens of types of colorful wildflowers. Prickly pear cactus thrives in large colonies in the dry areas, and the wet prairies are carpeted with a wide variety of grasses and sedges. Large expanses of marsh in the swales support dense stands of cattail, bluejoint grass, prairie cordgrass, reed grass, big bluestem and sedges.
The sandy ridges are crowned by black oak forests with an open, savanna-like appearance, and several kinds of fragrant pines, introduced here a century ago, also prosper in the southern area.
Just north of these pines is the Dead River which actually is a stream that is blocked by sandbars much of the year forming an elongated pond. When the water finally rises high enough, it breaks through the sandbar and drains the surrounding marshes. The abundance of aquatic plants and fish flourishing in this changing environment belie its name.
Long recognized for its complex geological structure, unique flora and spectacular beauty, the Lake Michigan dunes area originally was, in the 1700s, part of the "Three Fires" of the Algonquin Nation: the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa. Prior to then the area had been occupied by the Miami.
In the late 1600s French explorers first visited the area as part of their survey of what was then known as the Northwest Territory. By the time Illinois became a state in 1818, the area was full of transient hunters and trappers. In 1836, a treaty was made with the local Native Americans, who were moved westward, and the area became part of Lake County.
During the Civil War what is now the northern unit of the park became Camp Logan, a Union prisoner of war camp. This installation went on to serve as an Army basic training center through World Wars I and II (when it provided ideal conditions for practicing tank maneuvers), and, in the late 1940s, was turned over to the Illinois National Guard.
Preservation efforts were considered as early as 1888, when Robert Douglas, a Waukegan nurseryman, and Jens Jensen, a famous landscape architect, discussed making it a regional park. With industry advancing from the south, sand mining ravaging the dunes, and parts of the surrounding countryside succumbing to pasture and homesteads, legislative efforts to save the area finally began in the 1920s.
In 1948, the state finally acquired the first parcels of what is now Illinois Beach State Park. In 1950, the Illinois Dunes Preservation Society was established to protect the natural qualities of the area, and through its efforts and the efforts of the Department of Conservation the area south of Beach Road was dedicated in 1964 as the first Illinois nature preserve. The northern unit, from the Commonwealth Edison power plant to the Wisconsin border, was acquired between 1971 and 1982.
A campground in the southern unit provides 244 Class A sites with electricity and access to showers and sanitary facilities. You must obtain a camping permit from the park staff before settling in. Reservations may be made by mail for the summer months. Send the completed reservation application to Illinois Beach State Park c/o North Point Marina, 701 N. Point Drive, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096. Due to the high use of this area from Memorial Day to Labor Day, reservations are recommended but not required. Campsites are also available on first come first serve basis but usually fill up by early Friday mornings. E-mail and phone-in reservations are not accepted. For questions about your reservation application please call 847-746-2845 Tuesday - Saturday.
During the summer season, swimming is a major attraction along the sandy shorelines, and both units provide ample parking and bathhouse with showers. There are no on-duty lifeguards, so please be careful.