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 in McHenry County. McHenry Dam,
on the Fox River, is on the park's western border. Roughly half of the
park's 2,200 acres is composed of wetlands and lakes.
Artifacts found on
the park property indicate human presence in the area within 1,000 years
of the retreat of the Wisconsin glacier. Seasonal habitation of the park area
extends back to approximately 4,000 B.C. Native American tribes that occupied
or passed through the area include the Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox and possibly
the Miami and Winnebago. The Sauk and Fox tribes, originally from what
is now Canada, claimed ownership of the land at the time of European settlement.
Horace Long was the
first known settler in the park area and occupied a portion on what is
now the southeast corner of the park. Part of the stone foundation from
his cabin still stands along the main park road.
In 1907, the original
McHenry dam was built and a hand-operated lock was constructed. The facilities
were donated to the people of Illinois in 1924 and construction of a new
concrete block dam began in 1934. In the early 1960s, a portion of the
park property on the west bank of the Fox River was provided for the locks
and managed by the Division of Water Resources.
In 1939, the state
of Illinois made the initial McHenry Dam State Park land acquisition 15 acres, on the east bank of the Fox River. Major acquisition
of the Lake Defiance area began in 1971, and construction of park facilities
took place in the spring of 1975. The present Moraine Hills opened in
Moraine Hills derives
its name from a geologic formation known as a moraine, which is an accumulation
of boulders, stones and other debris deposited by a glacier. As glacial
ice melted here following the Wisconsin glaciation period, it left gravel-rich
deposits called kames that make up the park's wooded hills and ridges.
The 48-acre Lake Defiance, located near
the center of the park, was formed when a large portion of ice broke away
from the main glacier and melted. Lake Defiance is gradually filling in
with peat from its unstable shoreline. The lake is one of the few glacial
lakes in Illinois that has remained largely undeveloped, maintaining a
Pike Marsh, a 115-acre
area in the southeast corner of the park, is home to many rare plants.
Its outer fen area (a very rare marsh wetland) includes Ohio goldenrod,
Kalm's lobelia, dwarf birch and hoary willow, while cattails and bulrushes
grow in its interior. Pike Marsh also supports one of the state's largest
known colonies of pitcher plants, which attract, trap and digest insects.
The 120-acre region
known as Leatherleaf Bog is an excellent example of kettle-moraine topography.
In geological terms, a kettle is a depression formed when an isolated
block of glacial ice melts. The bog consists of a floating mat of sphagnum
moss and leatherleaf surrounded by a moat of water. Marsh fern, marsh
marigold, St. John's wort and several species of willow put down roots
here. Because both Pike Marsh and Leatherleaf Bog are dedicated nature
preserves, they are protected by law.
Moraine Hills offers
three examples of wetland enhancements. Yellow-head, Black Tern and Opossum
Run marshes are samples of what can be accomplished with a little help
For a wide spectrum
of wildlife, Moraine Hills is home sweet home. Red fox, coyote, white-tailed
deer, eastern cottontail, mink, opossum, and raccoon inhabit the park,
while more than 200 species of birds have been identified here. Great
blue herons and green herons feed in the marsh areas in the summer, and
the park is heavily used by migratory waterfowl, such as mallards, teal,
wood ducks and Canada geese.
Fishing is available
on both Lake Defiance and on the Fox River. Regulations are posted at
both sites. To help preserve the natural state of Lake Defiance, and because
of the dangerous peat shoreline, bank fishing is prohibited except from
designated piers along the boardwalk. The McHenry Dam area provides access
to the Fox River, and a fishing pier accessible to disabled visitors is
Shotgun deer hunting is available on the 1,400 acres northeast of River Road. Hunting is by permit only. For more information please read the Hunter Fact Sheets.
Moraine Hills Archery Deer Sheet | Moraine Hills Firearm Deer Sheet
Boat rentals are available for Lake Defiance and the Fox River on a first-come, first-serve basis. While trailers are prohibited in the park, private boats may be brought in by car top for use on Lake Defiance and the Fox River. Watercraft must be registered with the state of Illinois. Electric trolling motors are allowed. Further information about boat rentals is available at www.mchenrydam.com or by calling (815) 385-5921.
Trails | Map
than 10 miles of trails make Moraine Hills popular for hikers,
skiers and cyclists, and provide one of the park's main
recreation features. Three trails, surfaced with crushed limestone, wind
their way through the park and offer you exceptional scenic and wildlife
viewing opportunities. Enjoy the 2-mile Fox River Trail, the 3.2-mile
Leatherleaf Bog Trail and the 3.7-mile Lake Defiance Trail. To keep you
on track, trails are color coded and one way. A fourth trail, the 1.7 mile River
Road trail, is paved.
If your visit to Moraine
Hills includes picnicking, you can choose from tables in shaded or open
settings throughout the park's 10 day use areas. Each area offers parking,
drinking water, and rustic toilet facilities. Flush toilets are available
at the McHenry Dam concession building and at the park office. Pike Marsh,
Pine Hills, Whitetail Prairie and the Northern Woods day use areas provide
picnic shelters. To reserve a shelter visit www.ReserveAmerica.com
The park features a conveniently located concession stand at the McHenry Dam. It provides not only refreshments, bait and tackle, but also boat rentals for both the Fox River and Lake Defiance. The McHenry Dam Concession is open at 8:00 A.M, 7 days a week from April until October. Information can be found at www.mchenrydam.com or by calling (815) 385-5921.
From the North: IL
Rt. 12 south to Rt. 176, West on Rt.176 to River Road, North on River
Road approx. 2 miles to entrance
From the South: IL
Rt. 12 north to Rt. 176, West on Rt. 176 to River Road, North on River
Road approx. 2 miles to entrance
From the East: Rt.
176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance
From the West: IL
Rt. 176 East to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance
|Gates Open Daily at 8:00 a.m.
*Gates Close at:
February - March
April - May
Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day
November – January
*Closing times are posted at park entrance, and are occasionally subject to change without notice
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times and clean up after them.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.