As a seasoned backpacker, I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting destinations to explore. Recently, I’ve been hearing whispers about the hidden gems that Illinois has to offer for backpackers like me. Intrigued, I decided to do some research and plan a trip to see for myself what this Midwestern state had to offer. After all, with its diverse landscape and unique history, Illinois seemed like the perfect place for a backpacking adventure.
Top Reasons to Go Backpacking in Illinois
Illinois may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of backpacking, but it has a lot to offer adventurous travelers. For starters, the state is home to a variety of stunning natural landscapes, from rolling hills and dense forests to expansive prairies and sparkling lakes. Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or a peaceful stroll, there’s a trail in Illinois that’s perfect for you.
Another reason to go backpacking in Illinois is its rich history. The state played an important role in the development of the United States, from the early Native American settlements to the arrival of European explorers and pioneers. Along the way, Illinois was also home to some of the most famous figures in American history, including Abraham Lincoln and Al Capone. By backpacking through Illinois, you can immerse yourself in this fascinating history and see the places where it all happened.
Finally, backpacking in Illinois is a great way to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with nature. With so many beautiful and peaceful spots to explore, you can truly escape the stresses of work and technology and focus on the simple pleasures of life.
Best Backpacking Trails in Illinois
One of the best things about backpacking in Illinois is the variety of trails available to explore. Whether you’re looking for a challenging multi-day trek or a leisurely day hike, there’s a trail in Illinois that fits the bill. Here are a few of my favorites:
Shawnee National Forest
Located in the southern part of the state, the Shawnee National Forest is a backpacker’s paradise. With over 280,000 acres to explore, you’ll find a wide variety of terrain, from rugged bluffs and canyons to peaceful lakes and streams. The River to River Trail is one of the most popular routes in the forest, stretching 160 miles from the Mississippi River to the Ohio River.
Starved Rock State Park
Located in central Illinois, Starved Rock State Park is a popular destination for day hikers and backpackers alike. The park boasts 13 miles of trails that wind through stunning canyons and along the banks of the Illinois River. For a longer backpacking trip, try the 21-mile Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail, which passes through the park and offers scenic views of the canal and surrounding countryside.
The Illinois Ozarks may not be as well-known as their counterparts in Arkansas and Missouri, but they offer some of the most beautiful and challenging backpacking trails in the state. The River to River Trail passes through this region, offering stunning views of the Shawnee National Forest and the Mississippi River Valley.
Illinois State Parks for Backpacking
In addition to the Shawnee National Forest and Starved Rock State Park, Illinois is home to many other state parks that are perfect for backpacking. Here are a few you should definitely check out:
Matthiessen State Park
Located just south of Starved Rock, Matthiessen State Park is a hidden gem that’s popular with locals but often overlooked by visitors. The park boasts 5 miles of trails that wind through stunning canyons and along the banks of the Vermilion River.
Giant City State Park
Located in southern Illinois, Giant City State Park is a popular destination for rock climbers and backpackers alike. The park is home to over 12 miles of trails that wind through giant rock formations and dense forests. For a longer backpacking trip, try the 25-mile River to River Trail, which passes through the park and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Pere Marquette State Park
Located in western Illinois, Pere Marquette State Park is a popular destination for nature lovers and backpackers. The park is home to over 12 miles of trails that wind through dense forests and along the banks of the Illinois River. For a longer backpacking trip, try the 21-mile Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail, which passes through the park and offers stunning views of the canal and surrounding countryside.
Backcountry Camping in Illinois
If you’re looking for a true wilderness experience, backcountry camping is the way to go. In Illinois, backcountry camping is allowed in some areas of the Shawnee National Forest and other designated wilderness areas. Before heading out, make sure to obtain any necessary permits and check the regulations for the area you plan to camp in.
Camping Spots in Illinois for Backpackers
If you prefer to camp in established campgrounds, Illinois has plenty of options to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites:
Turkey Run State Park
Located just over the border in Indiana, Turkey Run State Park is a popular destination for backpackers and campers alike. The park boasts 11 hiking trails that wind through stunning canyons and along the banks of Sugar Creek. There are also two campgrounds within the park, as well as backcountry camping options.
Illinois Beach State Park
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinois Beach State Park is a popular destination for beach lovers and backpackers alike. The park boasts over 6 miles of hiking trails that wind through sandy dunes and along the shores of the lake. There are also two campgrounds within the park, as well as backcountry camping options.
Kankakee River State Park
Located in northern Illinois, Kankakee River State Park is a popular destination for canoeing, fishing, and backpacking. The park is home to over 11 miles of hiking trails that wind through dense forests and along the banks of the Kankakee River. There are also two campgrounds within the park, as well as backcountry camping options.
Essential Backpacking Gear for Illinois Trips
No matter where you’re backpacking in Illinois, it’s important to have the right gear. Here are a few essentials that I always make sure to pack:
A good quality tent is essential for any backpacking trip. Look for one that’s lightweight and easy to set up, but also sturdy enough to withstand the elements.
A warm and comfortable sleeping bag is key to a good night’s sleep on the trail. Look for one that’s rated for the temperatures you’ll encounter on your trip.
A good quality backpack is essential for carrying all your gear on the trail. Look for one that fits well and has plenty of pockets and compartments for organization.
Clean drinking water is essential on the trail, but carrying enough water for your entire trip can be impractical. A water filter allows you to safely and easily purify water from streams and other sources.
First Aid Kit
Accidents can happen on the trail, so it’s important to be prepared. Pack a basic first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, pain relievers, and other essentials.
Osprey Rook 50 Men’s Backpacking Backpack
A good backpack is essential for any backpacking trip. Look for one that is comfortable, durable, and has enough space for all of your gear.
Marmot Ironwood 20-degree Mummy Lightweight Sleeping Bag.
ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2-Person Tent. A sturdy, waterproof tent is a must-have for any backpacking trip.
Sawyer Products SP2101 Mini Water Filtration System. Access to clean drinking water is essential on any backpacking trip. The Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System is a compact and effective water filter that removes 99.99999% of all bacteria and protozoa.
Black Diamond Equipment Spot 400 Headlamp. A reliable headlamp is a must-have for any backpacking trip, whether you plan to do any night hiking or simply need to navigate your campsite after dark.
A portable stove is essential for cooking meals on the trail. The Fire-Maple Fixed Star X2 Backpacking and Camping Stove is a lightweight and reliable option that can boil water in just three and a half minutes.
|Hiking Boots||A good pair of hiking boots will keep your feet comfortable and protected on any backpacking trip. The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX Hiking Boots are a top-rated option, with waterproof and breathable construction and plenty of support.||Ladies: https://amzn.to/3J1DqTd
|Insect Repellent||Mosquitoes and other insects can be a nuisance on any backpacking trip. The Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent is a highly effective option that can provide up to 14 hours of protection.||https://amzn.to/3YDp5C1|
|Multi-Tool||A multi-tool is a handy item to have on any backpacking trip, providing a variety of tools in one compact package. The Leatherman Wave Plus Multi-Tool is a popular option, with 18 different tools and a durable stainless steel construction.||https://amzn.to/3mB7CNA|
|First Aid Kit||A well-stocked first aid kit can help you handle any injuries or illnesses that may occur while backpacking. Look for a kit that includes items such as adhesive bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.||https://amzn.to/3kUIPUe|
Tips for Backpacking in Illinois
Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a first-timer, there are a few tips to keep in mind when backpacking in Illinois:
Check the weather
Illinois weather can be unpredictable, so be sure to check the forecast before heading out. Pack accordingly, and be prepared for changes in temperature and precipitation.
Stay on the trail
To protect the environment and stay safe, always stay on designated trails when hiking and backpacking in Illinois.
Illinois is home to a variety of wildlife, including bears, coyotes, and snakes. Always give animals plenty of space, and never feed them.
Pack out what you pack in
To keep Illinois’ trails and wilderness areas beautiful and pristine, always pack out any trash and leave no trace.
Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Backpacking Destinations in Illinois
While places like the Shawnee National Forest and Starved Rock State Park are popular backpacking destinations, there are plenty of lesser-known spots in Illinois that are just as beautiful and exciting to explore. Here are a few of my favorites:
Cache River State Natural Area
Located in southern Illinois, the Cache River State Natural Area is a hidden gem that’s perfect for backpackers looking for a peaceful and scenic spot. The area boasts over 60 miles of trails that wind through stunning wetlands and along the banks of the Cache River.
Ferne Clyffe State Park
Located in southern Illinois, Ferne Clyffe State Park is a beautiful and peaceful spot that’s often overlooked by visitors. The park boasts over 18 miles of trails that wind through stunning bluffs and along the banks of the Big Muddy River.
Hennepin Canal State Park
Located in northern Illinois, the Hennepin Canal State Park is a unique and historic spot that’s perfect for backpackers. The park boasts over 100 miles of trails that wind along the historic Hennepin Canal, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
While you may be tempted to head straight to the beach when you’re hiking in Illinois, don’t forget that there are plenty of other beautiful spots to camp and get lost in nature as well. From riverside campsites to deep-woods hiking trails, there’s a lot to explore in this Midwestern state.
Before you take off on your backpacking trip, make sure to pack out any garbage you bring into the woods. Also, stay on the trails and obey any posted signs. You never know what kinds of wildlife roam these parts, so it’s important to leave them undisturbed. Once you arrive at your campsite, be sure to pitch a tent and enjoy the beauty of Illinois’ natural landscape.
With its vast array of natural wonders and fascinating history, Illinois is one of the best states in which to backpack. If you’re looking for a state with lots of variety and natural beauty, you can’t go wrong with Illinois. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or new to backpacking, there are plenty of options to choose from in the state.
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Welcome folks, my name is Martin and I’m just your average backpacker, wanderer, and general travel enthusiast. I’ve recently returned from completing the North 500 route in Scotland and also backpacked solo around Western Australia, and boy are my arms tired! But in all seriousness, I’ve had the time of my life and I want to share my experiences, tips, and tales with all of you. My blog is a window into my wanderlust world, where I’ll be spilling all the beans on how to survive long bus rides, where to find the best street food, and how to avoid getting lost (most of the time). So, grab a cuppa and join me on my journey, it’s going to be one hell of a ride!