The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Rock Cut State Park by Good Free Photos / Public Domain

Many people who are visiting Illinois head straight for Chicago, but for nature lovers Illinois has plenty to offer as well. There are forests, waterfalls, lakes, and much more. On this page you’ll find descriptions of some of the best places to photograph in the state.  The interactive map below shows the location of each spot mentioned on this page.

This page will continue to be a work in progress, so please feel free to leave a comment with your own suggestions of great places to photograph.

Find great places to photograph in any state! We have similar guides for each state to help you find all of the best places to photograph. See the index page to find the guides for each state.

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is in northern Illinois along the Illinois River, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. It is the most popular state park in Illinois, and with good reason. The park features several deep canyons, river views, beautiful waterfalls, and several overlooks. It presents some of the best photographic opportunities in the state and should be near the top of your list of places to visit in Illinois.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Starved Rock State Park by Peter Ciro / CC BY-ND 2.0

Matthiessen State Park

Matthiessen State Park is just a few miles south of Starved Rock State Park. The park includes a stream that flows from Matthiessen Lake to the Vermilion River. Along the way there are beautiful rock formations and waterfalls that make this state park one that you will want to visit. The 45-foot Cascade Falls is the largest of the falls in the park. Five miles of hiking trails make it easy to explore.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Matthiessen State Park by Justin Meissen / CC BY-SA 2.0

Shawnee National Forest

The Shawnee National Forest is in southern Illinois in the Ozark and Shawnee Hills. There are seven different wilderness areas within the national forest, and plenty of great views for those who are willing to explore. There are also several trails for viewing wildflowers throughout the year.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Shawnee National Forest by Michael / CC BY ND 2.0

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is one of the wilderness areas within the Shawnee National Forest. Here you will find stunning, huge rock formations that are perfect for photographing. You’ll also get an awesome view of the surrounding forest. Garden of the Gods Road leads to the area and hiking trails are available to help with accessing and exploring this scenic area.

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The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Garden of the Gods by Daniel Schwen / CC BY-SA 4.0

Burden Falls

The Burden Falls Wilderness is another of the wilderness areas within the Shawnee National Forest. This roadless wilderness area includes trails that lead to a scenic series of waterfalls known as Burden Falls.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Burden Falls 4 by Curtis Abert / CC BY 2.0

Mississippi Palisades State Park

In northwestern Illinois Mississippi Palisades State Park provides great views of the Mississippi River, as well as cliffs and caves. Interesting rock formations also provide other photographic opportunities.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Mississippi Palisades State Park by Tripp / CC BY 2.0

Cache River State Natural Area

Cache River State Natural Area is southern Illinois features amazing cypress wetlands. Some of the trees are up to 1,000 years old. The park includes hiking trails, or you can take a canoe or boat to get the best views for photos.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Cache River State Natural Area by Miguel Vieira / CC BY 2.0

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan borders northeastern Illinois, including cities like Chicago and Evanston. There are countless possibilities for photographing along the lake. The photo below was taken in Evanston.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Lake Michigan from Evanston by Rick Seidel / CC BY 2.0

Illinois Beach State Park

Illinois Beach State Park is located in far northeastern Illinois along the shores of Lake Michigan. It includes 6 miles of shoreline but also includes dunes, wetlands, marshes, forests, and prairies.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Illinois Beach State Park by Good Free Photos / Public Domain

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake is in southwestern Illinois, just a short distance from St. Louis, and is the home of Horseshoe Lake State Park. This shallow lake (only about 3 feet deep in most places) is a great place to find and photograph birds. Each year the lake is drained to provide a habitat for shorebirds.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Horseshoe Lake by Agathman / CC BY-SA 3.0

Rock Cut State Park

Rock Cut State Park is in northern Illinois, northeast of Rockford. The park features Pierce Lake and Olson Lake and 40 miles of hiking trails that allow you to find plenty of subjects for your photos.

Rock Cut State Park by Good Free Photos / Public Domain

Shabbona Lake State Park

Shabbona Lake State Park is in northern Illinois, about 70 miles west of Chicago. This park includes prairies, woods, and a large man-made lake. If you are in the Chicago area and looking for a place to find some nature, Shabbona Lake State Park is a good option.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Shabbona Lake State Park by Good Free Photos / Public Domain

Chain O’ Lakes State Park

Chain O’ Lakes State Park is in far northern Illinois, very close to the Wisconsin border and about 60 miles northwest of Chicago. This is another good option for finding some nature in the Chicago area. The park borders three lakes and contains another lake within its boundaries. There are hiking trails available, but getting out onto the water will give you the best access to the park.

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The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Chain O’Lakes State Park by Good Free Photos / Public Domain

Chicago Skyline

While you are in Illinois, the Chicago skyline also makes an excellent photograph. With buildings like the Sears Tower and a setting on Lake Michigan, Chicago is a great city to photograph. There are a lot of possible vantage points, but this article points out 10 of the best places from where you can shoot the skyline.

The Best Places to Photograph in Illinois

Chicago Skyline by Nimesh Madhavan / CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo license links: CC BY-ND 2.0, CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY 2.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 2.0

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