Illini State Park is the kind of park you think of when you think of big picnics and family gatherings. With its rustic Civilian Conservation Corps buildings and riverside picnic areas, Illini State Park offers beautiful views and a sense of history not found in many other parks.
Named for the native Americans who once inhabited the area, Illini State Park is located south of the Illinois River from Marseilles and U.S. Route 6. The northern edge of the 510-acre park is bordered by the Great Falls of the Illinois River. In just two miles, the river drops three feet, creating beautiful roaring rapids.
Although the Illinois River rapids are wonderful to watch, they made barge traffic difficult. In the mid-1920s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a barge canal to bypass the rapids. The canal borders the park on the north, and visitors can watch as large barges pass by the park and through the Marseilles Locks.
The prestigious Marsatawa Country Club once graced the east end of the park. Organized by Ottawa resident W.D. Boyce, who also founded the Boy Scouts of America, the club boasted one of the premier golf courses of its day.
In the 1930s, two companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps converted the golf course to a park and built park buildings that are still in use today. The former country club building was moved into Marseilles and serves as the American Legion Hall.
The CCC camp at the west end of the park was converted into a semi-correctional boys’ camp that provided maintenance in the park until it was closed in the late 1960s.
Illini entered the state park system in 1934 and was dedicated in 1935.
Hickory, ash, walnut, elm, cottonwood, oak and maple trees provide shady coolness in the summer and beautiful colors in the fall. Spring is highlighted by blooming wildflowers, Whitetail deer, squirrels, possum, beavers, raccoon, groundhogs, and a variety of waterfowl and songbirds can be seen during all seasons.
Scattered throughout the park are picnic areas and shelters with tables, outdoor grills, drinking water, toilets and playgrounds. Several of the shelters also have working fireplaces.
There is something for every type of camper at Illini State Park. Both tent and trailer sites, including electric and sanitation service, are offered and some of the sites offer breathtaking views of the river. All reservations for camping, youth group area, and activity permits must be made online at www.reserveamerica.com. No reservations will be taken at the park office. All reservations have to be no more than 180 days away, and the activity permit will have to be approved 30 days in advance of your event. Questions can be directed to the park office: (815) 795-2448.
Boating and Fishing
Anglers will find ample supplies of crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, carp, bullheads and many other species in the Illinois River. A boat ramp is available for visitors’ boats, but rental boats are not available. Although there is no motor limit on the Illinois River, boaters should be aware of the danger of barge traffic and the close proximity of the Marseilles Lock and Dam.
Illini State Park is the perfect place for winter fun. An ice skating pool and hills ideal for sledding provide hardy outdoor enjoyment. A shelter offers a comfortable setting for warming fingers and toes after a winter workout.
Hikers will enjoy exploring the park and its many scenic and historic offerings. Open fields, a baseball diamond and numerous horseshoe pits provide additional recreational opportunities. A concession stand has food and drink in the warmer months.
Illinois Fallen Tree Memorial
At the far west end of Illini State Park, across a two and a half acre meadow, is a grove of 250 oak trees. Each tree celebrates the lives of Illinois soldiers lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. A natural granite monument stone weighing about seven tons was added to the site with a bronze memorial plaque memorializing these heroic Illinois soldiers.
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