Hi everyone! We are Stephanie and Emma, and this is our travel blog. It starts with a girls trip in 2019 to Utica, IL. Why Utica? Because it was affordable and easy to get to. Most of us were just out of school, or just didn’t have a lot of extra money to take a big trip. Or we didn’t have the vacation time to take off work, and could only go somewhere for the weekend. Utica is less than 2 hours away, but is completely different from Chicago. The rental home was very reasonable, and the main attractions were the state parks that didn’t charge admission. We’d intended to spend the weekend cooking ourselves, and hiking for free. We ended up going to the winery in town because our rental had vouchers for free tastings for all of us. In short, this all started with the need to save money.
Then the pandemic started, and we all missed travel so much. We couldn’t take a girls trip at all in 2020. But we were able to take several day trips back to Utica and the state parks nearby, because we remembered how easy it was to get there. It allowed us to get out of town and relax a little. Planning these trips and getting outside made us feel renewed during a time of insanity. We would go to either Starved Rock or Matthiessen, hike for an hour or two, and then go to Lodi Tap House or August Hill Winery for drinks.
At this point, Stephanie decided to use her free time to make a giant spreadsheet with all of the state parks. Where they are, how far away they are, how big they are. She told Emma and another mutual friend about this, and how she wanted to visit all of them. Emma immediately found the idea compelling. At first it was just the idea of going to all those new places, but then it evolved into a fully-fledged project.
So why a blog? Why not just go to these places? In doing a little research herself, Emma found that Illinois is so big, and so diverse in what the parks had to offer. She was also frustrated that not a lot of people were talking about the parks. The main source of info was the government website for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Even people who were writing or making videos about parks were either not dedicated to it, or they were writing on a very superficial level. She knew that her and Stephanie could not be the only people looking for something more substantial. So Emma told Steph that she had a crazy idea, and needed to talk to her about it.
When we finally had the chance to sit down over lunch and look at the opportunity in front of us, the excitement began to grow. Thoughts of how we could make this project happen were flying out of our mouths. The maps, brochures, notebooks and colored pens came out. We were ready to make a plan.
Our first thought: let’s look at the parks closest to our home base. So we started by re-sorting the spreadsheet, and decided that we would shift our focus to parks north of and along I-80. We also would start with parks we have not been to before, so we could experience new areas. While we find other activities such as archery and fishing interesting, the main thing we are looking for to start are hiking trails.
With our schedule planned out through the end of the summer, we felt ready for the journey to begin. Our main focus, of course, is the state parks, but we are also going to find points of interest to showcase nearby. With Illinois having 102 counties and 2,726 cities, towns, and villages there is so much to explore, including museums, restaurants, wineries, and breweries, just to start. We may also branch out to other states later, depending on where our travels take us. We would love to talk to people in communities around the region to learn more about the place we’ve lived most of our life. Because, as people who work in marketing and theater, we both love a good story.
So what can you expect from us as this journey begins? Well, we will offer you a perspective of each area we visit in a blog, instagram post/story, and TikTok video. While you could say Steph is a social media pro, we are not professional writers or photographers, so bear with us as we try to gain more experience in these areas. We will do our absolute best to paint an honest picture of every trip we take. Please understand that these will be from our point of view, and all opinions are our own.
We will be most active in the peak season, between April and October. If you haven’t been to Illinois, let me tell you, it’s rather cold and miserable in the winter. We will try to be as active as we can in the other months, showcasing other activities available in the state for the winter. It will be very unlikely we will be hiking at all if there is snow/ice on the ground. We are pretty dang klutzy, and while we love this idea, we will be doing our best to not shed any blood along the way.
And while there will be a lot of effort and passion behind this project, it is certainly not our full time job, and does not pay the bills. So if we take time off between posts, or you don’t hear from us for a while, please understand we are human. There are going to be times when family obligations, our employment, our health, and other things take priority.
Visiting every state park in Illinois is an ambitious goal, but we are up for the challenge. We are always looking for travel and hiking tips and suggestions for places to go, so feel free to reach out with any! We are enthusiastic to begin this project, and we think it will turn out to be much more fulfilling than just marking off rows on a spreadsheet. So we invite you to follow along on our journey, and we hope you are just as excited as we are.