From cross-country skiing in the winter to a lazy picnic in the summer, from a fishing trip in the spring to exploring fields of wildflowers amidst the fall colors of the giant oaks, Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area truly is a park for all seasons.
Located on a glacial moraine that forms the beautiful, rolling hills of Henry County in north-central Illinois, the park sits astride a trail that led Native Americans from Lake Michigan to the confluence of the Mississippi and Rock rivers.
Located off Illinois Route 78, Johnson-Sauk Trail is 6 miles south of Interstate 80 and 5 miles north of Kewanee. Originally known as the Henry County Conservation Area, a local newspaper invited the public to suggest names when the conservation area was going to be changed to a state park. Two names were popular with the public. One would name the park after State Senator Frank P. Johnson, a tireless advocate on behalf of the park, while the second suggested Sauk Trail as a fitting name, for the Indian tribes most associated with the park when Europeans began settling the area.
The two most popular choices were combined to form the park's official name. Today, Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area features 1,365 acres and abundant recreation opportunities.
Park hours are May 1 - November 1 from sunrise - 10 PM; November 1 - May 1 from sunrise - sunset. Lakeshore Loop Road is a day use area that is open May 1 - November 1 from sunrise - sunset.
Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area is located in a part of Illinois that was a vast, shallow sea millions of years ago. Two glaciers covered this part of Illinois,
the last being the Wisconsinian Glacier, which shaped the land as we know it today.
The state park is located on the southern edge of what once was the Great Willow Swamp, a marsh area covering the low-lying areas between the Mississippi, Rock and Green rivers, and is believed to have contained one of the most concentrated and varied wildlife populations in the central part of North America.
Attracting large numbers of both market and sport hunters, the area was considered a sportsman's paradise. The marsh eventually was drained for agricultural purposes.
The abundance of wild game and furbearing animals was what attracted Native Americans -- the area's first inhabitants -- to this part of Illinois. Although mound-building tribes were the first Native Americans to settle this part of the state, tribes of Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Kaskaskia, Peoria and Piankashaw later established villages in the area.
Winnebago Indians used the Sauk Trail and regularly camped at or near the park. The Sauk tribe moved from Wisconsin to the confluence of the Rock and Mississippi rivers and joined the Fox Indians to form a confederation. These tribes frequently sent hunting parties to this part of the marsh.
French trappers and traders were the first Europeans to pass through this area. The land encompassing Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area was part of the Great Northwest Territory claimed by France. Following the French and Indian War, the land was ceded to Great Britain in 1765, becoming part of the colony of Virginia. The land later was part of the Northwest Territory and Illinois Territory before Illinois gained statehood.
Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area features a varied terrain, with rolling hills covered with a mix of hardwoods and pines in the south half of the park, and a flatter landscape with wildlife plantings and grasslands making up the northern half of the park.
The park's centerpiece is a 58-acre lake that offers both fishing and boating, as well as nearly 2.5 miles of shoreline to explore.
After studying a number of sites, 369 acres of land known as Whiting's Woods were purchased and construction of a lake began in 1949. Work halted soon after, when engineers encountered unfavorable soil conditions, and resumed in the summer of 1955 after advanced methods of dam construction were developed.
The park also has Sauk Trail Pond, a scenic 3-acre pond near the park's round barn, that provides fishing opportunities in a more restful setting.
From spring through fall, visitors will find a wide array of woodland and prairie wildflowers, including bluebells, Dutchman's breeches, trillium, prairie anemone, yarrow, field daisies, vervain and goldenrod. While fewer than 1,000 natural areas exist in Illinois, one of them is located in Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area. The area contains a population of skunk cabbage, an early bloomer that sometimes blossoms in the snow which is rare for this part of the state.
White-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, opossums and rabbits are among the myriad wildlife found in the park. Birders have ample opportunities to catch sight of chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches and hundreds of other avian visitors.
The park features five picnic areas with tables and cook stoves/grills. Chief Senachwine Shelter offers electricity and can be reserved at ReserveAmerica.com.
The Chief Keokuk Campground features 70 pads with electrical hook-ups for campers or tents (Class A camping), plus 25 non-electrical, 'tent only' sites (Class C camping) that are not accessible by vehicle. A shower building and a sanitary dump station in the camping area, and all water are open May 1 and close November 1. The park does not provide water November 1 - May 1, however the campground is open during these winter months for electric or non-electric 'dry' camping.
In addition, "Blackhawk Group Area" on Lakeshore Loop Road is available for organized youth/adult group camping May 1 - November 1.
ReserveAmerica Reservations are available for the Chief Keokuk Campground, Cabin, Black Hawk Group Camp May 1 thru October 31.
A primitive cabin, Chief Tecumseh, is available year round. The cabin is located on a slope overlooking Johnson Lake. During the months of May thru October reservations must be made using www.reserveamerica.com. December thru April call the Park Office 309-853-2425 for information on how to rent the cabin. There is no cooking, pets or smoking in the cabin. Fire grill, table and BBQ grill are provided outside. A full size bed, two sets of bunk beds, a table and benches are provided inside. The cabin has heat and air conditioning as well as two ceiling fans. Bring your own bedding. May thru October cabin guests may use the campground shower facilities and potable water is available within 150 yards of the cabin. The Park does not provide water or shower facilities November thru April.
The playground in Chief Keokuk Campground is available to campers.
The 58-acre lake has a maximum depth of 21 feet and features excellent populations of largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish and bullhead. Numerous fish cribs and attractors have been installed to enhance fishing. In addition, muskie and northern pike have been released in recent years, providing visitors with an exciting, new fishing opportunity. Fishing is permitted by boat (electric trolling motor only) and along the shoreline. Fishing hours are within the above park hours. Night fishing is not allowed. The park is open only to campers after park hours.
Johnson-Sauk Trail Lake's boat launch is adjacent to the marina near the dam. Only electric trolling motors are permitted on the lake.
Johnson-Sauk Trail has 4 miles of trails, ranging from 1/4 mile to 1 mile in length, from easy to moderate and taking hikers along the lake or through land ranging from rolling prairie to pine plantations and bottomland hardwood forests. Even the pickiest of hikers should find a trail to his or her liking. If additional miles are desired, the trails have been designed to connect so you can link one to another, providing up to an 8 mile loop around Lake Johnson.
Johnson-Sauk Trail is an all-season park, with summer hiking trails doubling as trails for 3 miles of cross-country ski trails. Trail maps are available.
The park's hills also are ideal for sledding, and the lake provides an excellent place for ice fishing or ice skating when conditions permit.
Hunting is a popular activity at the park. Johnson-Sauk Trail is one of the Department of Natural Resources' popular Controlled Pheasant Hunting sites, with pheasant released daily during the statewide hunting season (closed Mondays and Tuesdays, Christmas and New Years). A fee is charged and reservations can be made for our pheasant program.
The park also allows hunters to pursue deer with a bow and arrow, plus dove and squirrel with shotgun only. Spring turkey hunting is by permit only.
Archery Deer Fact Sheet | Spring Turkey Hunter Fact Sheet | Dove / Squirrel Hunter Fact Sheet | Upland Hunter Fact Sheet | Register for the Controlled Hunting Program
The Red Earth Café and Camper Store is open this season. The Red Earth Café will be serving breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, from 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM during the months of March and April. In May, they are open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM, Friday and Saturday from 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM and
Sundays from 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM.
The Camper Store will open in May from 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM, Tues – Sat and 7:00 AM – 2:00 PM on Sundays. The Camper Store will provide firewood, ice, snacks and various camping supplies. For more information please contact them at 309-85-EARTH (309-853-2784).
Ryan's Round Barn
of the most unique features of Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area is the large, round barn built in 1910 and located near the park entrance. One of the largest round barns in the country, this architectural marvel stands more than 80 feet high and is 85 feet in diameter.The barn has a full-size, 16-foot wide silo inside. Round barns originally were built by religious groups because they "left no corners in which the devil could hide." Today, the barn is available to be toured the 1st, 3rd and 5th Saturdays, May through October from 1 PM - 4 PM. Tours are provided by Friends of Johnson's Park Foundation. For more information and barn tour schedule, contact the park office.
Bishop Hill Historical Site: Located 20 miles southwest of Johnson-Sauk State Recreation Area, this National Landmark Village is the perfect place to spend an afternoon or full day. There are museums, eateries, unique gift shops and art galleries, as well as a variety of festivals. For details or assistance in planning your visit to Bishop Hill call 309-927-3890.
Francis Park: Located 5 miles southeast of Johnson-Sauk State Recreation Area, the unique home of Frederick Francis was built in 1890 out of brick, stone and native wood. The house features disappearing doors and windows, an air cooling system, radiant heat deflectors in the fireplace chimney and running water, all without the benefit of electricity. Admission for the Woodland Palace is $2 for adults, $1 for kids, and is open seven days a week from 1 PM to 5 PM from the end of April to the end of September. 309-852-0511.
Johnson Sauk Trail State Park is located in west central Henry County. The park entrance is located on the eastern side of IL Rt. 78 just five miles north of Kewanee or six miles south of I-80 (Exit 33) and Annawan. The entrance is well marked and easy to find.
- 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.
- 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.