The area was poised to become a state park in 1903, but a veto by Governor Richard Yates prevented that from occurring. Supporters continued to press for the White Pines Woods, as it was once known, to receive state park designation throughout the period 1903-1927. In 1927 the park was established with help from supporters in the Chicago media. The park contains two freshwater streams, dolomite rock formations, and a variety of activities generally associated with Illinois state parks. Along Pine Creek, one of the park's two streams, fords were constructed instead of bridges allowing visitors to drive through the creek.
White Pines Forest State Park is located in what was once a part of the Sauk leader Black Hawk's territory and encompasses an area once known as White Pines Woods. White Pines State Park nearly became an Illinois State Park as early as 1903, when the state established its first state park at Fort Massac. Members of the Oregon, Illinois Woman's Council started the process by lobbying the Illinois legislature to set aside White Pines Woods as a state park. In 1903 the Illinois legislature appropriated US$30,000 for the purchase of White Pines Woods, the southernmost stand of virgin, native white pine trees in the state. The move was stalled when then-Illinois Governor Richard Yates vetoed the measure, citing costs. After 1903 and before 1927 (when the state park was established), the "Pines Woods Bill" was introduced several times without success. The designation of Starved Rock State Park in 1912 reportedly frustrated the supporters of White Pines Woods' designation as a state park.
The influential Friends of Our Native Landscape included the area around the Rock River between Dixon and Oregon on a list of 20 places in Illinois that should be designated state parks. Located in "Rock River country," along an old Indian trail, was White Pines Woods covering 500 acres (200 ha) in a canyon of dolomite rock carved by Pine Creek. At the time, within White Pines Woods, the tallest trees stood 90 feet (27 m) in height. The area was noted by Elia W. Peattie, a poet and member of the Eagle's Nest Art Colony (located at present-day Lowden State Park), who expressed the need for preservation of the White Pines Woods in one of her poems.
The Illinois Board of State Park Advisers was established under a 1925 state law. The law, which was amended in 1931, gave the director of the Illinois Department of Public Works jurisdiction over the state parks. The Public Works position was a result of 1917 reforms by Governor Frank Lowden. The law also mandated a system of state parks, under the Illinois Department of Conservation, later renamed the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Per the 1925 mandate, White Pines Forest became a state park in 1927 after its proponents enlisted the support of the Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio. That year, Governor Len Small moved to purchase White Pines for $63,949.
In 1933, with the Great Depression in full swing, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) sought to relieve the work needs of unemployed Americans. The National Park Service sought to work with state governments in an effort to meet those ends. Many of the projects the CCC was involved with were construction projects. The project at White Pines was originally meant to be the construction of a lodge building. From 1933 to 1939, two hundred men, many of them World War I veterans, worked on the State Park construction project.