Illinois in Pictures: 15 Beautiful Places to Photograph

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 27, 2020

From the streets of Chicago to the Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois provides quite the collage of pictures. The most beautiful places to photograph in Illinois are downtown, on college campuses, and accessed via hiking trails. Each season adds new landscapes to photograph in Illinois, providing unlimited subjects to focus on through your viewfinder.

1. Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest

Sunset in the Garden of the Gods

Within the Shawnee National Forest near the southern border of Illinois, Garden of the Gods is one of the most photographed areas in the state. Unique hoodoo rock formations give this special recreation area its name. These tall formations provide expansive outlooks towards the dense surrounding forest. The quarter-mile Observation Trail is a great place to get a good look at the area.

2. Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline from the Adler Planetarium

The downtown skyline has grown to represent Chicago and the state of Illinois. Some of the best places to photograph the skyline are on Lake Michigan from the water. If a boat ride isn't immediately available, places like Navy Pier and North Avenue Beach Pier offer great shots from land. Outside the Adler Planetarium is another popular spot to snap a photograph.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chicago: Best Areas & Hotels

3. Starved Rock State Park, La Salle County

Behind Lasalle Falls at Starved Rock State Park

Less than a two-hour drive from downtown Chicago, Starved Rock is one of the most popular state parks in Illinois. A 13-mile network of trails is the best way to explore the bluffs and canyons of this state park next to the Illinois River. Photo opportunities abound atop the cliffs of the park overlooking the river. La Salle Canyon within the park is another popular spot to photograph, including a 25-foot bridal veil waterfall.

Within the park is Starved Rock Lodge, one of the top resorts in Illinois.

4. Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago

Bonsai Tree at Chicago Botanic Garden

North of the core downtown area of Chicago, this bountiful natural space provides something new in bloom every month of the year. Even throughout the winter, the greenhouse at the botanic garden displays plants from warmer climates. A beautiful bonsai collection and vibrant English Walled Garden at the Botanic Garden are notable places to bring a camera.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Chicago, IL

5. Illinois State Capitol, Springfield

Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol building is one of the most impressive government buildings in the state. Manicured grounds surround the domed building and provide scenic photo opportunities. The interior of the state capitol also contains intricate details that are fun to capture. The Old State Capitol building in Springfield, located a few blocks away, also provides grounds for a stunning photograph.

6. Morton Arboretum, Lisle

Autumn at the Morton Arboretum

Less than thirty miles from downtown Chicago, the Morton Arboretum offers fun things to do for the whole family. More than green space, Morton Arboretum features unique amenities, like an open-air tram ride and an acclaimed Children's Garden. Each season brings new landscapes to photograph at the Morton Arboretum. Special events like fun-runs, concert series, and the annual Breakfast with Santa celebration also take place throughout the year.

7. Galena

Rolling hillsides and historic buildings in Galena

A popular vacation destination in the Midwest, Galena is a quaint small town with postcard views. With 19th-century homes and colorful storefronts, the historic district of Galena attracts photographers from across the region. The rolling landscape near the Mississippi River adds an extra layer of charm to the city. Spots like the Galena River Trail are great places to take in the scenery.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Galena, Illinois

8. Anderson Japanese Garden, Rockford

Anderson Japanese Garden

One of the largest cities in Illinois outside Chicago, Rockford is also known as the City of Gardens. The Anderson Japanese Garden is a contributing factor. Constructed by the same designer behind the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon, the Anderson Japanese Garden features 12 acres of tranquil surroundings. Punctuating the space are decorative bridges, moving water features, and a sense of serenity.

9. Grant Park, Chicago

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

On the Lake Michigan shoreline in downtown Chicago, Grant Park is the crown jewel public space in the city. Regarded as "Chicago's Front Yard," Grant Park is home to many significant events, like music festivals and cultural celebrations. The impressive Buckingham Fountain is a popular feature to photograph in the park.

In the adjacent Millennium Park to the north, the Cloud Gate sculpture, a.k.a. "The Bean," offers another fun picture opportunity.

10. Mississippi Palisades State Park, Savanna

Mississippi Palisades State Park

Near the state border with Iowa, this state park features excellent views of the Mississippi River atop enormous bluffs and ledges. The park contains 15 miles of hiking trails that enable multiple perspectives of the ancient waterway. Camping is popular at the state park, with over 250 campsites for tent and RV camping available. Sunrise and sunset are particularly great times to snap a photograph.

11. University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana

University of Illinois Arboretum

The University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana offers academic appeal. Open-to-the-public institutions like the Spurlock Museum and Krannert Art Museum are fun to visit on campus. The college also features beautiful outdoor spaces, like a large lawn surrounding the McFarland Carillon. On the south side of the campus, the University of Illinois Arboretum offers a pleasant outdoor space that's fun to photograph.

12. Cantigny Park, Naperville

Cantigny Park

North of Naperville and less than an hour from downtown Chicago, this 500-acre park is a former private estate now open to the public. Hosting two incredible museums and a public golf course, Cantigny Park also features a growing collection of beautiful gardens. It's a great spot to bring a picnic and your camera, and it's easy to lose the day while strolling through this lush public space.

13. Navy Pier, Chicago

Aerial view of Navy Pier

Jutting over 3,000 feet into Lake Michigan from downtown Chicago, this iconic emblem of the city is both fun to visit and fun to photograph. Colorful crowds of people flock to the vibrant storefronts and tourist amusements on summer weekends. The centerpiece of Navy Pier, the Centennial Wheel, offers some of the best views as it spins 200 feet into the air.

14. Northwestern University, Evanston

Northwestern University, Evanston

A private university north of Chicago, this stunning college campus invites strolls and academic pursuits. Popular spots to photograph on campus include the Shakespeare Garden and Dearborn Planetarium. Deering Meadow is another accessible green space on campus where students tend to congregate.

15. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville

Monks Mound

This historic site preserves the remains of a vast prehistoric native civilization. Visitors today can touch upon this history at an interpretive center with art galleries and exhibits. On the grounds, the Monks Mound is the most visible remnant left behind by the indigenous culture. Visitors should head to the southern part of the state near St. Louis to visit Cahokia Mounds.

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