Hidden gems in Illinois

We’ve all been hearing comparisons lately to the Great Depression. Here’s an adventure packed with teachable moments about the can-do spirit of that historic time.

During the darkest days of the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Its mission: Put young men to work saving America’s natural resources. It employed nearly 3.5 million people and completed hundreds of conservation projects.

Dubbed Roosevelt’s Tree Army because it planted more than 2.5 billion trees throughout the country, the CCC also built four beautiful lodges in Illinois state parks. These lodges are affordable gems that can be the highlight of your next family vacation.

Starved Rock Lodge is closest to home, an hour and a half southwest of Chicago. The magnificent 70-room lodge, situated high on a bluff, is a sight to behold with massive stone fireplaces and aged stone walls. After exploring the surrounding canyons and waterfalls, you can relax in the hot tub, sauna or the indoor pool.

Two hours west of Chicago, in the scenic Rock River Valley, is the White Pines Inn. You can stay in one of the rustic cabins surrounded by the natural beauty of White Pines Forest State Park and enjoy dinner in the White Pines Inn restaurant. You might even want to stay for the popular dinner theater.

Along the Great River Road in southwestern Illinois is the Pere Marquette Lodge. It’s one of the best places in the United States to spot eagles in their natural habitat. Travel to southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest and you’ll find an exquisite stone and timber lodge with a marvelous great-room lobby. Like all Illinois state park lodges, Giant City Lodge was built of local materials. Architects here used stone from the enormous Shawnee sandstone bluffs and white oak timber. An outdoor pool makes Giant City Lodge a perfect escape.

 •Giant City Lodge
 (618) 457-4921

 •Starved Rock Lodge
 (800) 868-ROCK

 •Pere Marquette Lodge
 (618) 786-2331

 •White Pines Inn
 (815) 946-3817
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