The Midwest’s heartland is a treasure trove not only of charming cornfields and vibrant cities but also of celestial wonders that unfold as the sun sets. In Illinois, it seems like the cosmos reach down to touch the prairie; sure, stargazing in the Chicago area isn’t optimal due to light pollution – but there’s a lot more to the Land of Lincoln than the Windy City!
By night, the agricultural and natural parts of Illinois transform into a stargazing sanctuary; the state’s expansive, flat landscapes provide unobstructed views, making it seem as though the stars are just a touch away. Every constellation, every distant galaxy, every meteor streak feels like it’s putting on a show just for you. As you can tell, stargazing in Illinois can be a truly awe-inspiring experience.
Whether you call Illinois home or are passing through and want to appreciate the night sky during your visit, this guide will help. Below you’ll find some of the best spots for stargazing in Illinois from the lake to the Mississippi River and in between.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Meškwahki·aša·hina (Fox), Kaskaskia, Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Myaamia, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Peoria, and oθaakiiwaki‧hina‧ki (Sauk) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Map of Where to Go Stargazing in Illinois
By popular request, I’ve added a map to this post to help make it easier to understand where each of the best spots for stargazing in Illinois can be found. I hope this helps you plan the ultimate stargazing trip!
Bay Creek Hiking Area
Bay Creek Hiking Area is a natural hiking area in Southwest Illinois. Nestled amidst pristine woodlands, this destination offers an unparalleled setting for stargazing in Illinois.
There’s no shortage of stargazing spots as darkness descends. Vin Fiz Road is a fantastic rural area to set up your telescope. You can also venture into the hiking trails and roadside pull-offs for some night sky viewing. The best news: Bay Creek area is open 24 hours.
Chain O’Lakes State Park
For a truly immersive stargazing experience, head yourself to Chain O’Lakes State Park in Spring Grove. This not very-well-known state park would surprise most first-timers. The lakes are the highlight and the absolutely beautiful channels that connect them.
With its vast expanse of unspoiled nature and pristine lakes, this breathtaking park offers an ideal setting for stargazing. As the night sky unveils, you’ll witness a dazzling array of stars that invade the sky. What’s a better plan than admiring the beauty of the universe while surrounded by the serenity of nature?
Diamond Hurricane Island
Diamond Hurricane Island is a stargazer’s paradise. This secluded island getaway is nestled in the heart of Illinois, providing an unmatched vantage point for observing the cosmos. With minimal light pollution, the stars shine in all their glory.
Feel free to explore the area, but this area has tons of pull-offs and scenic stops along Godar Diamond River Access Area for great stargazing opportunities.
Goodes Woods Nature Preserve
Goodes Woods Nature Preserve is a less known Illinois stargazing spot. It is a hunting preserve, but it has a lot to offer to stargazers as well. The best asset of this hidden gem is that it successfully escapes the city lights, allowing the night sky to come alive. The preserve’s lush trails sit under star-studded skies where you can marvel at the constellations and witness shooting stars.
Lake Michigan Shoreline
For some, lakes are their favorite setting to go stargazing. If that’s you, Lake Michigan Shoreline is your number one alternative. The Illinois coastline extends 63 miles along the southern reach of the western shore of Lake Michigan. In all honesty, without the lake, Chicago wouldn’t have the appeal it does.
But back to stargazing, the lake provides both a scenic and unique place to go watch the stars. The lakeside trail, the piers, the boats, and the constant breeze of fresh and clean air, all guarantee one of the best stargazing sessions.
Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
Middle Fork River Forest Preserve is one of the best spots for stargazing in Illinois. Why? Because it is the state’s only Dark Sky Park. The sky quality is so good that lots of stars can be seen with the naked eye. You’ll find endless spots to see the stars. However, the waterfowl area offers great night sky viewing opportunities.
You can also get great views at the Harry L. Swartz campground. By the way, this is one of the best places for astrophotography near the Chicago area.
McCully Heritage Project
McCully Heritage Project is another great alternative when searching for Illinois stargazing spots. This historic site is surrounded by expansive open fields with minimal light pollution.
Just bear in mind that the area is open until 6pm, but you can camp overnight. You’ll find the best locations for stargazing on hiking trails or near the campground. As I always say, feel free to explore the area and find a spot that suits you.
McMaster Woods Nature Preserve
McMaster Woods Nature Preserve is located in rural Fieldon leading from Spankey Road. The lack of light pollution has made this place a gem for stargazers with unparalleled night sky viewing. The preserve is 40 acres and is rich in wildlife like American bald eagles, white-tailed deer, and coyotes.
You’ll notice there’s no formal access into the preserve, but there are country roads with pull-offs that are perfect for stargazing and the preserve is close to the Mississippi River.
Otter Lake Park
If fishing and stargazing are two hobbies of yours, then Otter Lake Park truly is a hidden gem. The lake offers so many breathtaking views and an amazing fishery, from Bass to Crappie, Wipers and Musky; this lake has it all.
When the night comes, the stars don’t disappoint either. Otter Lake Park is on the smaller side. You’ll find the best locations for night sky viewing are on the northeast side of Otter Lake or near campground.
Riprap Landing Fish and Wildlife Management Area
Situated far from the city lights, Riprap Landing Fish and Wildlife Management Area is a great place with unobstructed views of the night sky. With its expansive open spaces and minimal light pollution, it shelters from the pesky city lights. RipRap Landing has multiple pull-offs and parking lots perfect for stargazing.
Roodhouse Lake Community Park
Roodhouse Lake Community Park is an outdoors recreation area in Rural Greene County . It’s very close to Jacksonville, so if you live there, you have a great place to stargaze at your doorstep. It has some of the best night sky views.
As night falls, the stars come alive. The best locations for night sky viewing will be in parking near the park, campground, or near the lake.
Wild Pickins Winery
I don’t know about you, but watching the stars with a glass of wine in hand sounds like an amazing plan. Wild Pickins Winery, nestled amidst rolling vineyards, offers a unique opportunity to taste exquisite wines while immersing yourself in the beauty of the night sky. The best locations for stargazing are in the outer parking lot, but you can ask anyone at the winery for suggestions.
Know of any other great spots for stargazing in Illinois, or have questions about these ones? Let me know in the comments below!