Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area
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Lace up those hiking boots, and pack your camera lens! Just a few minutes southeast of downtown Morris lies a 2,500-acre sea of tall grasses, lakes and walking paths known as Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, one of the largest restored prairies in Illinois.

  • Location: 5010 North Jugtown Road, Morris, IL 60450
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Information: (815) 942-2899 Goose Lake Prairie website
  • Hours: 10-4 most weekdays
Starved Rock & Matthiessen State Parks

With almost 5,000 acres combined, Starved Rock State Park and neighboring Matthiessen State Park contain a breathtaking collection of rivers, streams and valley trails winding through dramatic sandstone canyons! Each beautiful park is a must-see in central Illinois.

Starved Rock:

  • Location: 2668 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Information: (815) 667-4726   Starved Rock State Park website
  • Hours: Open 24 hours. Hiking after dark not recommended.

 

Matthiessen:

  • Location: IL-178, North Utica, IL 61373
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate. May be challenging to some guests.
  • Information: (815) 667-4868 Matthiessen State Park website
  • Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
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In this reconstructed grassland, formerly the location of the Joliet Arsenal, researchers, biologists, ecologists and local partners are working to restore this incredible, 30-mile area to its natural state.

  • Location: 30239 S. Route 53, Wilmington, IL 60481
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy, flat
  • Information: (815) 423-6370 Midewin website
  • Hours: The Welcome Center is open from 8am-4:30pm Mon.-Fri. in the winter and Mon.-Sat. April through October. Trails are open 4am-10pm every day.
Santa Fe Prairie Nature Preserve

Adventurers, historians and hikers, look no further. The “birth of the prairie restoration movement” took place right here in the Santa Fe Prairie, one of the smallest, rarest, and highest-quality remnants of Illinois’ original native landscape.

  • Location: 7100 River Road, Hodgkins, IL 60525‎
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate, no paths
  • Hours: Sunrise to sunset.
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Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
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Located just outside the historic canal town of Lemont is Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. Filled with prairies, savannas, oak-maple woodlands, and scenic overlooks, this preserve is incredibly popular as a cross-country skiing opportunity in the winter months.

  • Location: Northgate Road & Cass Avenue, Darien, IL 60561
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy, paved paths
  • Information: (630) 933-7200 Waterfall Glen website
  • Hours: Open daily one hour after sunrise until one hour after sunset.
Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve

A dedicated Illinois State Nature Preserve, Lake Renwick is a 150-acre lake with several small islands used for nesting by great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, double-crested cormorants and cattle egrets. Structures have been built on islands within the lake to provide nesting opportunities for the birds. Access to the nature preserve is limited on a seasonal basis to protect the nesting activities of migratory birds.

  • Location: 230 W. Renwick Road, Plainfield, IL 60544
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate. Crushed Limestone trail, benches available.
  • Information: (708) 946-2216 Lake Renwick Heron Rookery website
  • Preserve Hours: 
    • August 16-February 28: 8 a.m.-Sunset.
  • Visitor Center Hours:
    • May 1-August 15: Open for guided tours Wednesdays, 10-11 a.m., and bird viewing Saturdays, 8 a.m.-Noon.
Photograph Courtesy of Glen Buckner

Photograph Courtesy of Glen Buckner

Lake Katherine Nature Center
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Peaceful and serene, this 85-acre public park includes woodlands, prairie, wetlands, gardens and a 10-acre manmade lake. Nestled along a two-mile stretch of the historic Cal-Sag Channel, it’s easy to hop on the newly commissioned Cal-Sag Trail, visit the butterfly garden, or tour the nature center to learn about native wildlife and plants.

  • Location: 7402 Lake Katherine Dr, Palos Heights, IL 60463
  • Information: (708) 361-1873 http://www.lakekatherine.org
  • Hours: Dawn to dusk
  • Nature Center Hours: Weekdays 9am-5pm, Saturdays 10am-4pm
Lemont Heritage Quarries Recreation Area

Enjoy 3 miles of hiking and biking trails looped around the spectacular quarry lakes along the Lemont section of the I&M Canal. Four pedestrian bridges provide access for hiking, biking and fishing in a nearly 100-acre pristine natural area. During construction of the I&M Canal, fine-grade limestone was discovered here and led to a mining boom that lasted 50 years. After the quarry industry declined, underground springs consumed the depressions left behind, creating these freshwater lakes.

  • Location: Main Street & Talcott Avenue, Lemont, IL 60439
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy, Crushed limestone trails.
  • Information: (630) 257-1590 Village of Lemont’s Website
  • Hours: Dawn till dusk
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Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve
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This 270-acre nature preserve on the Des Plaines River showcases a rare geological feature, an almost pristine dolomite prairie. With dolomite limestone layered just beneath the soil, some areas of the preserve drain quickly and dry out in summer, while in other places the water table wells up through the dolomite bedrock, forming marshes and fens. These varied habitats provide environments in which more than 100 types of rare native plants and animals thrive, including several endangered species.

  • Location: Rt. 53 and Division St, Lockport, IL 60441
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Some prairie paths are unpaved.
  • Information: (815) 727-8700 Map of amenities at Lockport Prairie
  • Hours: 8 am to sunset
Keepataw Preserve

Home to the endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly and countless native plants and animal species, Keepataw covers 215 acres of incredible Illinois wetlands. A unique feature of the site is a 60-foot bluff carved from limestone deposits mined around the turn of the 20th century. The village of Lemont was originally named Keepataw.

  • Location: Rt. 53 and Division St, Lockport, IL 60441
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Information: (815) 727-8700 Map of Keepataw Preserve
  • Hours: 8 am to sunset
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Photograph Courtesy of John Trilik

Gebhard Woods State Park
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On the west edge of Morris along a particularly scenic section of the canal, the Gebhard Woods State Park houses the main office for the I&M Canal State Trail. Keep an eye out for heron, egret, beaver and other birds and animals. The park includes a visitor center, playground, limited campsites, fishing ponds and picnic areas.

  • Location: 401 Ottawa St, Morris, IL 60450
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Information: (815) 942-0796 Keepataw DNR website
  • Hours: 8 am to sunset
Four Rivers Environmental Education Center

A model of “green” architecture, featuring geothermal heat and air conditioning, recycled building materials, and water conservation features, this handsome facility is uniquely and beautifully situated at the junction of the Des Plaines, DuPage, and Kankakee rivers, which then combine to form the Illinois River. Birdwatchers, bicyclists, and those looking for a relaxing stroll will find what they’re looking for here.

  • Location: 25055 S. Walnut Ln, Channahon, IL 60410
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Information: (815) 722-9470 Four Rivers Center website
  • Hours: 8 am to sunset
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Illinois Waterway Visitors Center
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Water is still the least expensive way to transport large, bulky goods like grain, coal, sand and gravel. Back in 1933, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers replaced the I&M Canal when they rebuilt the Illinois River and created the Illinois Waterway. Today’s barges can carry 10 times as much cargo as an I&M Canal boat could, and one tugboat can push 15 of them – that’s 22,500 tons! At the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center you can see towboats and huge barges being raised or lowered in the lock daily and study exhibits depicting the waterway’s history.

  • Location: 950 N. 27th Rd., Ottawa, IL 61350
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Information: (815) 667-4054 Army Corps of Engineers Waterway website
  • Hours: Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day)
Fox River Aqueduct

As you cross the Fox River on U.S. Hwy. 6 in Ottawa, look south to see the enormous, 464-foot-long aqueduct that carried the waters of the I&M Canal over the Fox River. The original stone piers you see were recently restored and are a testament to the aqueduct’s original construction. The trough however, originally built out of wood, has been replaced by steel.

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Channahon State Park
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Channahon State Park is the official trailhead for the I&M Canal State Trail and includes Locks 6 and 7 and a restored locktender’s house – one of only two extant. On call 24 hours a day, locktenders operated the large wooden gates whenever a canal boat came along, sometimes breaking up fights between boat captains jockeying for position. In the 1860s, one busy locktender reported shepherding an average of 30 boats a day through the canal. Channahon is an Indian word meaning “the meeting of the waters” and signifies the joining of the DuPage, Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers.. A floating bridge over the DuPage River allowed mules to cross between Locks 6 and 7. Today, a dam and footbridge span the expanse between the locks.