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The area now known as Illinois Beach State Park was first inhabited by the indigenous Miami people. It later became home to the "Three Fires" of the Algonquin Nation: the Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa. In the 1600s French explorers arrived to explore this part of the Northwest Territory. By 1818, transient hunters and trappers had pretty much taken over the area.
Illinois signed a treaty with the remaining indigenous people in 1836, and the land was officially incorporated into Lake County. During the Civil War, Camp Logan, a Union POW camp, was established here. In World War I and II, the camp morphed into an Army basic training center where soldiers practiced tank maneuvers. After the war ended, the land was turned over to the Illinois National Guard and the state finally acquired it in 1948.
Today, Illinois Beach State Park runs a full 6.5 miles along Lake Michigan in Northern Illinois. It features a varied landscape of beaches, dunes, marshes, prairie, wetlands, and even a black oak savanna, making it one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the entire state. More than 650 species of plants call Illinois Beach State Park home, including colorful wildflowers, prickly pear cactu, cattail, big bluestem, and a wide variety of other grasses and sedges. Because of the great plant diversity, the area attracts rich wildlife and it's especially known as an excellent birdwatching area.
The 4,300 acres of parkland is divided into two parts: The North Unit and the South Unit. The South Unit is a designated nature preserve that was named a U.S. National Natural Landmark in 1980. This is the most-visited part of the park, offering wide stretches of beach, dunes, campsites, and picnic areas. The North Unit is where Camp Logan once stood, providing an array of hiking and biking trails, marina access, and fishing at Sand Pond. It's also where you'll find Dead River, a quirky little stream normally landlocked by a sandbar that occasionally breaks free (sometimes violently!) to meet Lake Michigan. Maybe the fickle and unpredictable nature of Dead River is why so many visitors decide to grab a drink at The Tropics, a bar located in the North Unit?
Gorgeous scenery. Ecological diversity. Nature appreciation. Swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, biking, fishing, camping (and in the winter, cross-country skiing). The only hotel in Illinois located directly on Lake Michigan. Whatever you're looking for, you'll find it here at Illinois Beach State Park.
Cover photo credit: kyd227 via Instagram