Hiking Northern Illinois: White Pines Forest State Park

Illinois is about as flat as states come, but a tiny state park off I-88 offers some postage-stamp-sized relief. White Pines Forest State Park is about two hours west of Chicago, and you can hike just about every inch of it in 2 hours, making it a perfect day trip.

While a state park in Illinois may never rank as a meaningful outdoor experiences, since I’ve been spoiled by amazing places like Yosemite, Glacier, and southern Utah, I nonetheless enjoyed my day at White Pines.

The best aspects:

  • There are a handful of “fords,” or points in the road where you literally drive right through Pine Creek’s rushing waters. It’s like off-roading. Sort of. Not really, but it’s fun!
  • The Sleepy Hollow Trail, though short, weaves back and forth across the creek, meaning you get to hop across the creek on concrete pedestals. It’s like river crossings. Sort of. Not really, but it’s fun. 
  • The Pine Creek runs along rock faces that stretch as high as maybe 60 feet in places. It’s sort of like a canyon, but not really. But it’s definitely more interesting than more prairie scenery.
  • The White Pines Cabins are a quiet retreat if you want to get away overnight. They even have a gift shop that sells wine and truffles among the jars of locally made jam, soaps, and tacky sweatshirts.

Because the park is so small, you will hear civilization from many spots, be it road noise, riding mowers trimming nearby lawns, or the whir of the giant AC that cools the restaurant.

Old-school slide at the playground near the cabins. Don’t make ’em like this anymore.

The trails at White Pines are interesting for northern Illinois; there are minor elevation changes, and they aren’t simply mowed paths through prairie land. If you’re interested in getting away for some peace and quiet, a visit to White Pines is a pleasant little trip.