Chain O’ Lakes State Park
8916 Wilmot Road
Spring Grove IL 60081
Located in the heart of Illinois’ largest concentration of natural lakes, Chain O’ Lakes State Park is a water oriented recreation area with outstanding opportunities for boaters, anglers and skiers. The park borders three natural lakes – Grass, Marie and Nippersink – and the Fox River that connects the other seven lakes (Bluff, Fox, Pistakee, Channel, Petite, Catherine and Redhead) that make up the Chain. In addition, the park contains a 44-acre lake within its boundaries.
The 2,793 acre state park and adjoining 3,230 acre conservation area are located in the northeastern corner of Illinois in both McHenry and Lake counties. The park is 60 miles northwest of Chicago, 20 miles west of Lake Michigan and only 4 miles south of the Illinois/Wisconsin border. With nearly 6,500 acres of water and 488 miles of shoreline on the chain, Chain O Lakes State Park is the heart of water wonderland.
Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area
5010 N. Jugtown Rd.
Morris IL 60450
Early settlers to Illinois, in an attempt to describe the unfamiliar terrain they were encountering, referred to it as “a sea of grass with pretty flowers.” Today the Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area serves as testimony to the prairies that once covered nearly 60 percent of the state.
Located in Grundy County, Goose Lake Prairie is approximately 50 miles southwest of Chicago and 1 mile southwest of the confluence of the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers.
More than half of Goose Lake Prairie is a dedicated nature preserve, protected by law for future generations from any change to the natural environment. In addition to furnishing a look into Illinois’ past, the prairie provides important nesting habitat for endangered or threatened species of birds, such as the upland sandpiper and Henslow’s sparrow.
Besides being hugely informative, this Natural Area is a wonderful way to get some peace and quiet outside of the “Big City.” Enjoy!
Illinois Beach State Park Lake Front
Zion IL 60099
A full range of recreation opportunities complement the expansive shoreline of Illinois Beach State Park. Interested in jogging and bicycling? The trails are waiting! Or, is physical fitness your current pursuit? Whether you’re an active outdoor enthusiast or just interested in a quiet walk along some of the Midwest’s most scenic beaches, this is the place for you!
Stretching leisurely for six and a half miles along the sandy shore of Lake Michigan in northern Illinois, Illinois Beach State Park encompasses the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state.
Illinois Beach is a unique and captivating natural resource for all to enjoy. It was created by the titanic forces of glacial advance and retreat and the steady winds that breathed across expansive Lake Michigan. The park has dunes and swales with sprawling marshes, forests of oak and vast arrays of animal life and vegetation.
The 4,160-acre park, consisting of two separate areas, offers ample opportunities for swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping and just appreciating nature.
More than 650 species of plants have been recorded in the dunes area alone, including dozens of types of colorful wildflowers. Prickly pear cactus thrives in large colonies in the dry areas, and the wet prairies are carpeted with a wide variety of grasses and sedges. Large expanses of marsh in the swales support dense stands of cattail, bluejoint grass, prairie cordgrass, reed grass, big bluestem and sedges.
The sandy ridges are crowned by black oak forests with an open, savanna-like appearance, and several kinds of fragrant pines, introduced here a century ago, also prosper in the southern area.
Just north of these pines is the Dead River which actually is a stream that is blocked by sandbars much of the year forming an elongated pond. When the water finally rises high enough, it breaks through the sandbar and drains the surrounding marshes. The abundance of aquatic plants and fish flourishing in this changing environment belie its name.
Kankakee River State Park
5314 West Rt. 102
P.O. Box 37
Bourbonnais IL 60914
On land treasured for centuries – first by Native Americans, later by traders and farmers, and as early as the 1890’s by recreation seekers – the Kankakee River State Park offers you its proud heritage in an unspoiled setting. Anglers, canoeists, hunters, campers, hikers, bicyclers, and other outdoor enthusiasts find the park’s recreational opportunities unsurpassed. The naturally channeled Kankakee River, listed on the Federal Clean Streams Register, is the focus of the park’s popularity.
Enveloping both sides of the Kankakee River for 11 miles, in an area 6 miles northwest of Kankakee, the park consists of approximately 4,000 acres. Illinois Routes 102 on the north and 113 on the south frame the park, with Interstates 55 and 57 both providing convenient access.
Moraine Hills State Park
914 S. River Road
McHenry IL 60050
From angling to hiking, from viewing rare plants to observing migratory waterfowl, Moraine Hills State Park offers you a recreational bounty. Located in the northeast corner of Illinois, the park is 3 miles south of McHenry. McHenry Dam, on the Fox River, is on the park’s western border. Roughly half of the park’s 1,690 acres is composed of wetlands and lakes.
Rice Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area
19721 N. US 24
Canton, IL 61520
Providing a stop over area for migrating waterfowl, Rice Lake and the surrounding areas provide an excellent opportunity for wildlife observation. Because of an extensive habitat management program, this backwater wetland area is used by thousands of ducks and geese as they move through central Illinois during the changing seasons.
Visitors also may encounter one of several threatened or endangered plant and animal species such as the American bald eagle, which uses the bottomland timber for roosting. Fishing is a favorite pastime at the area with catches of largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, crappie, channel catfish, bullhead buffalo and carp. However, with seasonal fluctuations of the water levels, fishing may be limited during certain times of the year.
Duck hunting and archery deer hunting also provide opportunities for the outdoor sportsman.
Rock River Valley State Parks
Rock River Valley
The Rock River Valley, 100 miles west of Chicago, boasts three outstanding and varied state parks. This area is beautiful year-round, but especially in the Autumn. It also offers its share of interesting attractions should you get tired of hiking and wish to try something new. The area is a well-kept secret (for the moment), so take advantage of it soon! You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re interested in the southernmost stand of virgin white pine in the Midwest (and who isn’t?), make sure to visit White Pines Forest State Park. (6712 West Pines Road, Mt. Morris; (815) 946-3717). Officially this is Mt. Morris, but its only 8 miles west of Oregon. The park has seven well-marked hiking trails running through its 385 acres, and the entire area is rich in Native American history. This is the most-popular of the three local state parks; it boasts more amenities, including a lodge, gift shop, cabins, and restaurant.
Lowden State Park is right across the river from Oregon (go north on River Road from Route 64, to Route 2; (815) 732-6828). As you may well know, the 48-foot statue of Black Hawk if found here. The statue is the most-famous work of Lorado Taft, who started an artist’s colony here in the 1920’s called “Eagles Nest.” The beautiful 207-acre park is situated on a bluff overlooking the river.
Castle Rock State Park is the largest of the three state parks, with over 2,000 acres; this is the spot for the real nature-lovers (Route 2, Oregon; (815) 732-7329). For the geologists out there, this is one of the few places where one can view St. Peter Sandstone, which underlies nearly all of Illinois. For those less-nerdy, there’s a large wooden staircase to the top of Castle Rock that offers an outstanding view of the river.
Starved Rock State Park
Utica, IL 61373
This place has it all, and you won’t believe that you’re only 90 miles from Chicago!
Whether you enjoy hiking along the nature trails, or viewing the many spectacular overlooks along the Illinois River, recreational opportunities abound. From picnicking to fishing and boating, from horseback riding to camping to enjoying winter sports, there’s so much to do, you’ll want to come back again and again. It is truly a wonderful place to visit at any time of year.
The Illinois River Valley in the Starved Rock area is in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape. The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations that were laid down by a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago. These formations surfaced and were shaped by erosive forces. The valley was formed as glacial meltwater broke through moraines sending torrents of water surging across the land. This deeply eroded the sandstone and other sedimentary rock. Eighteen stream-fed canyons highlight the park’s setting. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for 5-6 miles.
Starved Rock State Park derives its name from a Native American Legend of injustice and retribution. In the 1760s, Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa tribe upriver from Starved Rock, was slain by an Illiniwek while attending a tribal council in Southern Illinois. During one of the battles that subsequently occurred to avenge the death of Chief Pontiac, a band of Illiniwek was attacked by a band of Potawatomi (allies of the Ottawa). The Illiniwek sought refuge atop a 125-foot sandstone butte. The Potawatomi surrounded the bluff and held their ground until the hapless Illiniwek died of starvation- thus giving rise to the name “Starved Rock.”
During the early spring, winter thaw and frequent rains create sparkling waterfalls in all 18 canyons. The vertical walls of moss-covered stone create a setting of natural geologic beauty uncommon in Illinois. Some of the longer lasting waterfalls are found in Saint Louis and LaSalle Canyons. If you come in the winter or spring, make sure to visit the lock directly across the Illinois River to view migrating bald eagles. Also, head into nearby Ottawa or Utica for dinner and a beer or a little gift shopping.
The lodge is the “headquarters” of Starved Rock, and is really something to behold. The stone and log lodge is situated on a high bluff just southwest of Starved Rock itself. Built primarily by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the lodge reflects the peaceful atmosphere of yesteryear. It has been refurbished, and a new hotel wing has been added. This addition features a registration lobby, indoor swimming pool, children’s pool, sauna, and outdoor sunning patio.
The lodge offers 72 luxury hotel rooms and 22 comfortable cabin rooms. The original Great Room, centered around a massive stone fireplace, is furnished with decorative rugs and art.
The restaurant is open daily and offers many house specialties. It can accommodate up to 250 people for banquets. There is also a small, cozy tavern adjacent to the main room where you can stop in for a cold one and look out over the mighty Illinois River from the beautiful clifftop patio.
Volo Bog State Natural Area
28478 W. Brandenburg Road
Ingleside IL 60041
If you’re looking for a truly unique outdoor adventure, head for Volo Bog State Natural Area in northeastern Illinois. Just 45 miles northwest of Chicago in Lake County, this natural area contains Volo Bog, the only “quaking” bog in Illinois to have an open water center. Yowza!
Volo Bog was first documented by W.G. Waterman of Northwestern Illinois University in 1921. It was originally named the Sayer Bog, after the land’s owner, dairy farmer George Sayer. Cyrus Mark, the first director of the Illinois Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, managed a fund-raising campaign that collected $40,000 in donations from school children, groups, and individuals for the purchase of the 47.5-acre bog in 1958. The land was deeded to the University of Illinois, which retained ownership until 1970.
In the late 1960s, land developers threatened Volo Bog’s survival. Local citizens formed a “Save the Volo Bog” committee and worked to ensure the bog’s survival. Dr. William Beecher was instrumental in the campaign, which resulted in the transfer of Volo Bog to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Volo Bog was dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve in 1970. Three years later, it was registered as a National Natural Landmark with the United States Department of the Interior. More than 800 additional acres of land were purchased to protect and enlarge the state preserve, which now includes marshes, prairie restoration areas, woodlands and two other bogs.
Volo Bog is an interesting, fun, and educational place to visit. Give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed!