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.
HISTORY OF THE AREA
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.
For comfortable accommodations, the 96-room Illinois Beach Resort is the perfect place to get away for a weekend or week-long vacation. The hotel features a handicap accessible restaurant, cocktail lounge, video game room, an olympic-size indoor heated swimming pool and a giant whirlpool. A full service health club includes exercise equipment, and sauna. Conference facilities include fully equipped private rooms for banquets and meetings that can accommodate up to 500 people comfortably.
While in the area, be sure to visit North Point Marina, Illinois’ newest and largest marina. Located 5 miles north of Illinois Beach, this full-service marina has 1,500 slips, a boat service center and food concession. For additional information about slip rental, write the Department of Natural Resources, North Point Marina, 701 North Point Drive, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096 or call 847-746-2845.
A Concession trailer (Camp Store) offering refreshments, etc. is located at the main beach area in the Southern Unit. Hours vary seasonally from May 1 to October 31.
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.
Fishing is allowed along the beach area in both units (except in the swimming areas) and there are several small inland fishing ponds, including Sand Pond, where a fishing pier for the disabled is available. A fishing license is required to fish. No fishing is allowed in the nature preserve.