'Definitely a big deal': Renovated lakefront hotel at Illinois Beach State Park ready to reopen

After closing more than two years ago, a hotel on Lake Michigan in northeastern Lake County is back in business with new management and a complete renovation.

Reservations for limited hotel rooms are being taken and a soft opening is planned July 5 for the Illinois Beach Hotel at Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park, which is centered in Zion and stretches 6.5 miles along the lakeshore.

The soft opening had been planned for July 1 but was changed due to delays in furniture delivery and completion of projects.

ExplorUS, which operates Starved Rock Lodge in Oglesby and White Pines Lodge in Mount Morris, won the bid to be the on-site operator for the 92-room hotel, according to Jayette Bolinski, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The IDNR owns the property and leases the hotel and bar/restaurant. The previous lodge operator closed in spring 2020 at the start of the pandemic, after running the property for 25 years, Bolinski said.

The building sat idle for about 18 months until ExplorUS began preparing the site to reopen. The company, previously known as Ortega National Parks, is based in Overland Park, Kansas and manages 59 properties in 14 states.

"They've done a tremendous amount of work remodeling the property, updating rooms and much more," Bolinski said. "They're now at the point of being able to reopen the lodge, now known as Illinois Beach Hotel, to guests."

Being the only hotel in Illinois on a Lake Michigan beach and its location between Chicago and Milwaukee provides a target audience of more than six million, according to Amy Trimble, vice-president of marketing for ExplorUS.

Special events such as outdoor festivals and concerts and bike and water equipment rentals, for example, are future possibilities, she added.

The reopening is welcome news for tourism bureau Visit Lake County, said its president, Maureen Riedy.

"It's definitely a big deal that the hotel is under new management and is going through a complete renovation," she said.

Lake County is slowly rebounding from the pandemic, she added.

"The leisure market is strong but hotels are not back to pre-pandemic levels due to the slow recovery of business travel," Riedy said. "The labor shortage also is impacting hotels' ability to fully recover."

The Illinois Beach Hotel renovation included a new lobby and room furnishings to present a "beachy feel." Other amenities include new LCD TVs, coffee makers and hair dryers, according to the company.

King and queen guest rooms are available for rent, as well as two-room suites that have a living room with microwaves, refrigerators and a game table, according Trimble.

Nolan's restaurant will be open to the public, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday and holiday brunches are expected to return and other dining and entertainment concepts are expected, according to Jason Smith, general manager.

"We want folks to know our hospitality extends beyond just our out-of-town guests and that we are grateful to be able to serve the local community as a whole," he said.

Dinner reservations can be made and a limited menu served for the first few weeks. Call (224) 259-2600.

The park also has a new convenience/camp store with full food concession and a gift store operated by Illinois Beach Hotel.

Illinois Beach is the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state, with dunes and swales, sprawling marshes, oak forests and a variety of animal life and vegetation, according to IDNR. There were 1.2 million visitors last year.

Remodeled rooms at Illinois Beach Hotel on Lake Michigan at Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park have a beach feel. The 92-room hotel near Zion is having a soft opening Friday after a complete renovation. Courtesy of Sprung Photo
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