Illinois Beach State Park has been on my radar for a long time, but a visit has always been delayed due to sloth, other options, or nice weather. Nice weather? Yup, the Park is only about an hour from Chicago, so I’ve always imagined it inundated when the weather is nice (a park ranger confirmed this for me when I asked). And, as so many Illinois state park campgrounds, the densely packed sites usually are wide open to each other. I go camping to get away, not necessarily join a party. With a forecast low of 30 degrees, I expected the campground to be relatively quiet, and I was right – of the several hundred sites, there were less than 10 or so other campers, all but 1 hunkered in their RVs.
I did really want to visit though, because I’d heard it was beautiful and there is a whole lot of history there. Made up of two units (North and South) that bracket the Zion Nuclear Power Station, a nuclear power plant that is being decommissioned, the park encompasses over 4,000 acres of land stretching along six miles of Lake Michigan. The northern section was formerly an Illinois National Guard training facility named Camp Logan, itself sited on a parcel of land that was a Union prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Too cool. We visited exclusively the southern section, but hopefully will return sometime to explore the northern side as well.
The park itself is approached through mostly developed areas, and the developed feeling continues at the park. Lots of roads, signs, parking, even the beach shore has been rip-rapped to slow down the erosion. Despite this semi-urban feeling, the nature is quite beautiful, with plenty of trees, grassy marshes, and of course, the shoreline. There is also a nature center (closed when we visited), from which several hiking trails radiate. As this was just an overnight microadventure, we didn’t have time to explore these, but walking along the shoreline sufficed for this visit.
This does not look like our ideal camping destination, but the history, hiking, and quiet enjoyment of nature will probably have us return, I’m sure in the off season again.