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Enjoy Illinois

Hiking Northwest Region  

Click here for map of sitesNORTHWEST REGION 1 MAP | KEY

Apple River Canyon When was the last time it took you an hour to hike a mile? Untouched by glaciers that leveled off other parts of the state, Apple River Canyon in the hilly northwest gives experienced hikers a run for their money. Pine Ridge Trail is the easiest, but even it is classified as moderately difficult. Four others, including the self-guiding Primrose Lane - not to be confused with the primrose path - are strenuous. Stay on the marked trails because grades are extremely steep. Your diligence will result in your viewing pine groves and other timbered areas teeming with wildflowers, ferns and birds of all kinds, plus deer, rabbits and raccoons.

Argyle Lake Smokey Bear is a bear of a trail at Argyle Lake State Park, but then so are 10 of the park's other 12 hiking trails. Don't let their serene names, like Little Fawn or Lonesome Oak, fool you into thinking they're simple. Only Blackberry and Pitch Pine trails can be classed as moderate. Steep grades account for difficult to very difficult rankings for most of Argyle's 5 miles of trails. Beaver dams highlight Shore Trail that winds along the lake, and wood duck houses are always a kick to check out. Admittedly, the poison ivy is bad here, but its berries help attract the more than 200 bird species that call Argyle Lake home.

Big River State Forest and Delabar State Park Lincoln's Trail at Big River State Forest is a 1.5-mile trail with a bit of history - Abraham Lincoln traversed here in 1832 when he led 2,000 militiamen to fight in the Black Hawk War. Two other moderate trails, Wilderness at a half-mile and Big Pine at 1.4, bring trail totals to right at 3.5 miles. Patterson bindweed, first found here in 1873, and wild turkeys are just as much a part of the natural scene as Big River's timber stands. Nearby, Delabar State Park's forested areas serve as a natural habitat for still more wild turkeys plus other birds. The Mills Slough Trail, with its old black oak trees and assorted wildflowers, is an easy hike the whole family can enjoy.

Castle Rock Hikers with intermediate skills find Castle Rock a dream come true. Six trails, ranging in length from a quarter-mile to 2 miles, take hikers through mature forest, native prairies and prairie restoration areas. The rock outcropping you'll see along some of the trails is St. Peter sandstone, which lies under most of the state but comes to the surface in only a few places. Pick up a brochure at the park office for Castle Rock's self-guiding nature trail, then load your camera to photograph not only scenic views, but also the birds and woodland animals you'll see along the way. As you should after any hike, check yourself for ticks. In the winter, return to the same trails with your cross-country skis.

Franklin Creek The 0.3-mile concrete-surfaced Mill Springs Trail for the disabled is only one reason people come back to Franklin Creek Natural Area again and again. Others include Pioneer Pass at 1.85 miles and Norwegian Hill, Black Bass and Quarry trails, each about a mile long and all moderate in difficulty. In the springtime you'll be treated to an abundance of wildflowers and songbirds. Check out Franklin Creek's many natural springs, including Mill Springs, among the largest in northern Illinois. Geology buffs will recognize New Richmond sandstone, the oldest exposed bedrock found in Illinois, dating back 500 million years.

Hennepin Canal Parkway If you've eaten a little too much at Sunday dinner, just stand up and stretch, pat your tummy, and head for the Hennepin Canal Parkway. With its 155 miles, you'll have those extra calories walked off in no time. Shorter lengths, of course, may be attempted, and the going is level and easy. That's because the trail is an old towpath originally intended for but never used by animals for towing boats along the canal's mainline and feeder routes. During the first half of the century, the Hennepin Canal linked the Illinois and Mississippi rivers for commercial shipping, and today you can still see lock and dam sites, aqueducts and some of the original houses used by the canal's maintenance workers. A wildlife observation blind is featured along a 4-mile trail at Sheffield. From the natural to the manmade, Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park offers a little of everything.

Illini Autumn colors of red and gold are all the more spectacular when contrasted with the green of pines, and Illini State Park is the perfect place to enjoy the season's kaleidoscope. The park's 3 miles of moderate hiking trails also have the advantage of being a haven for doves, cardinals and goldfinches. Try the 2-mile White Tail Run, which doubles as a cross-country ski trail in the winter. For shorter jaunts, there are the Chassogoac and the Marsottawa trails, each a half-mile. After your hike, pay a visit to the nearby LaSalle Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area and work on your own definition of R&R.

Johnson-Sauk Trail Fields of sunflowers swaying with the wind, venerable pines rimming the lake and a variety of hardwood trees waiting till the second or third week of October to show their true colors are among the natural beauties hikers encounter at Johson-Sauk Trail State Park. The park's 3.75 miles of hiking trails, all easy to moderate in difficulty, carry the Native American names of Sauk, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Kaskaskia, Fox, Ojibwa, Winnebago and Piankashaw. Hawks, owls, pheasant and quail, as well as migratory birds and waterfowl, roost here. If you want to stay out of the way of sportsmen during hunting season, stop by the park office for information on which trails are not located in hunting areas. But know that whenever you visit, Johnson-Sauk Trail gives you an opportunity for some great nature watching.

Lake Le-Aqua-Na Lake Le-Aqua-Na has 7 miles of easy to moderate hiking trails. Go for it, and you won't be disappointed. Within the park are streams, springs, limestone bluffs and very mature pine plantations, plus a wide variety of birds and even an occasional badger. Gorgeous spring wildflowers and seasonal berries keep your eyes occupied for hours. The trails also are marked for equestrian and cross-country ski use, but don't worry there's enough pure nature to go around.

Marshall State Fish & Wildlife Area A 200-foot oak-and-hickory bluff overlooking the scenic backwater lakes of the Illinois River is the setting for your day of hiking at Marshall State Fish & Wildlife Area. More than 3 miles of trails give you an excellent chance for observing migrating songbirds in season and bald eagles in winter, while the area is always home to white-tailed deer, foxes, opossum and raccoons. Hiking trails are closed during firearm deer season, and hikers are asked to wear blaze orange clothing during squirrel hunting season in September, October and November. If there's more than 2 inches of snowcover in the winter, you might want to bring along your cross-country skis to use along Marshallís three interconnecting, multi-use trails. Mushroom hunting in spring and a superb wildflower array in April and early May are just two more traits that help turn each visit into a quintessential hiking experience.

Matthiessen It's difficult to say who, exactly, enjoys hiking at Matthiessen State Park the most. Is it birders? More than 200 species of birds have been observed there. How about botanical revelers? In excess of 100 types of woodland flowers pop up every spring and summer. Or do those with an interest in geology outnumber them all? That illusive sedimentary rock, St. Peter sandstone, makes an appearance in the form of bluffs at Matthiesssen, which also boasts canyons, steep cliffs, mineral springs and the beautiful Cascade Falls. The park's 5 miles of well-marked, well-surfaced trails keep intermediate and experienced hikers awestruck. Three pieces of advice, however: unmarked areas are dangerous; rock climbing and rappelling are forbidden; and keep out of the way of poison ivy.

Mississippi Palisades Ten marked hiking trails, moderate to strenuous in difficulty and totaling nearly 13 miles, make Mississippi Palisades a hiker's paradise. Generally easier to hike than its southern counter-part, the North Trail System includes trails ranging from 0.8 mile to 4 miles. But to really work up a sweat, head to the short but not so sweet trails on the park's south side. One of theseóthe mile-long Sunset Trailótakes you to an observation platform. Maybe you'll catch a glimpse of a pileated woodpecker for your efforts, but even if you don't, you'll enjoy the paper birch trees and ferns dotting the deep ravines. Be careful of poison ivy, nettles and, of course, the bluffs themselves.

Rock Cut Approximately 15 miles of trails winding through 3,000 acres prevent hikers at Rock Cut State Park from getting bored. The main trail circling Pierce Lake is 4.25 miles long, but all trails interconnect, so you could hike for days and never see quite the same terrain. Waterfowl are plentiful, as are wild turkeys and deer. Be advised the park's trails run the gamut from easy to moderate to difficult. Cross-country skiing is allowed on the park's multi-use trails when snow is deep enough. There are 7 miles accessible to mountain biking.

Rock Island Trail There aren't many trials that offer multiple parking lots, toilets and drinking fountains along the way, but then there aren't many like the Rock Island Trail. Stretching from Alta, near Peoria, to Toulon in Stark County, the path is the state's first rail-to-trail conversion, following a 27-mile portion of an old railroad right-of-way. You can access the trail at either Alta or Toulon as well as in Wyoming, in Princeville and in Dunlap. The trail's crushed limestone surface is 8-feet wide and also is used by cyclists and cross-country skiers. Where Peoria and Stark counties meet, the trail divides a spectacular remnant of Illinois tallgrass prairie at our nature preserve. A historic trestle spans over the scenic Spoon River just west of Wyoming. A renovated railroad depot in Wyoming serves as the Park Office/Interpretive Center for the trail. You're reminded to stay on the trail and off private property throughout your excursion.

Shabbona Shabbona Lake State Park invites blind and visually impaired visitors to hike an interpretive nature trail guided by its Touch the Earthî cassette tape. Cassettes and tape players, available at the park office, aim to make the one-eighth-mile trek both informative and enjoyable. Visitors in wheelchairs appreciate the trail's hard surface. Arrowhead Trail at 2.4 miles is equipped with benches for resting every mile or so. Tomahawk, Papara and the 7-mile long snowmobile trail offer the opportunity to experience the remarkable scenic beauty of Shabbona Lake. Wildlife is abundant with the opportunity to observe deer, turkey and occasionally even the elusive coyote as you hike through the park's woodland and prairie areas. Stop and view the waterfowl as you round the lake and listen for songbirds along the way. Be sure to bring along your wildflower and bird guides. Please contact the park office if hiking after October 1st for updates on hiking restrictions due to hunting in the park.

Spring Lake State Fish & Wildlife Spring Lake is simply a good place to enjoy the trees, the scenery and the wildlife and isn't it convenient because that's exactly what most hikers are after? Whispering Pines Trail on the north side of the lake features short (0.5), medium (1.5), and long (2.5) loops through fragrant pine timber. On the south, the short Deer Run and Stagecoach trails summon the whole family to join in a leisurely stroll. Myriad prairie wildflowers bloom every summer and, in keeping with their pastime, birdwatchers flock to the area. Spring Lake's trails prove time and time again that simple pleasures are the best.

Starved Rock When your psyche demands to be refreshed by spectacular vistas and the urge to stretch your legs becomes an obsession, pack it up and head for the 15 miles of moderate to difficult trails at Starved Rock State Park. Eighteen soaring canyons laced with trickling to cascading waterfalls set the stage for your hiking retreat. Guided hikes, lasting from one-and-a half to three hours, weekends and holidays from April through October and on Saturdays from November through March. An annual wildflower pilgrimage is held the first weekend in May, while fall color guided tours are scheduled the third weekend in October. Set aside the third weekend in January for viewing the park's scenic frozen waterfalls and watching eagles feed in the open water below the dam. Contact the Visitor Center at 815-667-4906 for guided tour hours. Don't be afraid of venturing out on your own, however, Starved Rock's elaborate yet easy-to-understand trail marking system should prevent even folks with a horrible sense of direction from getting lost. To prevent serious accidents, stay on the marked trails and don't climb the rock formations, which are primarily St. Peter sandstone. Kindly refrain from complaining about the poison ivy many of the park's 200 species of birds rely on its white berries as a primary food source.

White Pines Forest and Lowden Immerse yourself in the solitude of White Pines Forest State Park. Whether you choose an easy walking trail or a more difficult path, you'll no doubt come away revitalized. Vine-covered limestone bluffs, blossoming spring flowers and whispering pines combine to lend this area its special charm. White Pines offers seven marked trails aimed at treating you to all its natural beauty. Trails vary in length from .5 mile to 1.4 miles long with the complete trail system totaling over 5 miles. The trail system has .4 miles of limestone screenings to allow accessibility for disabled visitors. While you're in the area, you might also want to take in the trails at Lowden State Park, 12 miles to the east. Its 3.8 miles of moderate hiking trails could give you an opportunity to see the grand pileated woodpecker. Odds are extremely good, however, that you'll see a Scout or twoóLowden is one end of the 20-mile Black Hawk Trail that Scouts attempt in order to earn a hiking patch.

More Northwest Trails Early October is when you're most apt to enjoy the fall color at Jubilee College State Park, which offers a 10-mile trail with several loops, but return in the spring for a flourish of flowers. Near Donnelley and DePue State Fish & Wildlife Areas, Miller-Anderson Woods, with its 1.5 miles of moderate to difficult trails along Illinois River bluffs, also affords the hiker some spectacular autumn scenery. Morrison-Rockwood State Park's hiking trail through mostly wooded areas is moderately difficult and 3.5 miles long, but can be shortened by taking one of the three loops. Prophetstown State Park has an easy, one-third-mile trail named after Wa-bo-kie-shiek, the adviser and prophet to the great Sauk war chief, Black Hawk.

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