Apple River Canyon State Park is in the hilly northwest corner of Illinois in Jo Daviess County near the Wisconsin border. Limestone bluffs, deep ravines, springs, streams and wildlife characterize this area. Once a part of a vast sea bottom that stretched from the Alleghenies to the Rockies, the scenic canyon area was formed by the action of the winding waters of the Apple River.
The park was established by the State of Illinois in 1932, and today consisting of 1.907 public owned acres. Several other sites within Jo Daviess County are managed as part of the Apple River Canyon State Park Complex: Thompson and Salem Units, Iris and Jack Witkowsky Wildlife Area, Tapley Woods Natural Area, Hanover Bluff Natural Area, Hanover Bluff Nature Preserve, Wards Grove Nature Preserve, McKeague Unit Nature Preserve, Rall Woods Natural Area, and Apple River Canyon - Winston Tunnel Unit.
Henri Joutel, who accompained LaSalle on his Mississippi Valley expedition in 1687, recounted tales told by travelers of Indian lead mines int he "upper Mississippi." The first European explorer to see the lead mines was Nicholas Perrot, a French trader who settled on the east side of the Mississippi in 1690. Scottish adventurer, John Law was the first to explot the mineral resource. His Company of the West, founded in Paris in 1717 on the fraudulent claim that the Illinois lead mines were well-developed, collapsed with a thud, which was heard throughout France and in history as the "Mississippi Bubble." American settlers arriving in the nineteenth century, drove out the Sauk and Fox Indians in the Black Hawk War. Galena, thriving on the profits of lead mining, became a roaring boom town. By the hundreds, miners entered this country through a canyon, which now is one of the principal attractions of the Apple River Canyon State Park.
The town of Millville was established within what now is Apple River Canyon State Park, but not a trace of it remains. Named after its two sawmills, Millville became a stop on the Galena-Chicago stage route and flourished until 1854 when the Illinois Central Railroad, building its line from Freeport to Galena, passed 4 miles north of the town. A devastating flood in 1892 washed out the dam, swept away many buildings and drove the people out of the town forever.
Flowing for countless centuries, the Apple River has cut through limestone, dolomite and shale deposits carving the canyon and creating massive cliffs rising high above the water. Upon close examination, the colorful canyon reveals walls dotted with mosses, lichens and tenacious bushes rooted to the sheer walls by minute crevices.
The glacial sweep which leveled hills and filled valleys in other parts of the state left this area unscratched. Commonly referred to as the Driftless Area because of the lack of glacial episode, largenumbers of fossil remains are present on the surface in areas throughout northwestern Illinois. Lack of glaciation also was responsible for making lead veins easily available, which contributed to early development of the area.
The park contains such wildlife as deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, eagles, hawks and 47 varieties of birds. At least 14 different ferns and over 500 different herbaceous plants and 165 varieties of flowers including the diminutive Bird's-eye primrose, can be seen throughout the park.
Four picnic areas with tables, grills, accessible drinking water and toilets may be found along the river’s banks. Thus site also has three shelters, two of which are accessible. Shelter reservations are available through ReserveAmerica.
Campground Map | Youth Group Map
The park offers 49 Class "C" sites without showers in the Canyon Ridge Campground and 6 group sites in the Walnut Grove Youth Campground. Reservations are accepted through ReserveAmerica. Winter camping is available from 11/1 - 4/15 in the Walnut Grove Youth Campground. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the campgrounds.
Hunting is available in the Thompson and Salem Units, Iris and Jack Witkowsky Wildlife Area , Tapley Woods Natural Area, Hanover Bluff Natural Area, Wards Grove Nature Preserve, Rall Woods Natural Area, and Winston Tunnel Natural Area. Contact the park office for more information.
The Apple River has a variety of fish including smallmouth bass, sunfish, crappie, carp and suckers. The river is one of several in the state where the Illinois Department of Natural Resources releases keeper-size trout. Trout require clean, clear, cold water and in the spring, Apple River meets these requirements in the spring, however, the fish do not survive through the hot summer months so the stream is stocked on a put-and-take basis.
Five trails - Pine Ridge, Tower Rock, River Route, Sunset and Primrose Trail (accessible) - wind through the woods for several miles within the park. Trails can be hazardous, please stay on the trail.
Surrounding Area Attractions
Discover Jo Daviess County with wineries, antique shops, riverboat cruises, 10 golf courses, historic sites and museums, spa services and excellent dining all within 30 minutes of Apple River Canyon State Park. For more information, contact the Jo Daviess County Visitors Bureau at (877) 464-2536 or at www.galena.org.
Apple River Canyon State Park is located 2 ½ hours west of Chicago. Take I-90 West to US Rt. 20 located by Rockford. Take US Rt. 20 West for approximately 50 miles to Rt. 78 North. Turn right onto Rt. 78, go 6 miles to Canyon Road. Take a left on Canyon Road. The park is well signed on Rt. 20 and Rt. 78.
Apple River Canyon State Park is located in the northwest corner of Illinois. If you are traveling from the south, you can take I-39 to Rockford, then US Rt. 20 West to Rt. 78 North, go 6 miles to Canyon Road, take a left on Canyon Road. The Park is well signed on Rt. 20 and Rt. 78.