Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a surprisingly beautiful place. When one thinks of picturesque environments, prairies are pretty low on the list. Lakes, rivers, mountains, hills, forests are all natural settings that trump a prairie for those who love outdoor scenic settings.
When I visited Midewin for the first time in 2010 I was impressed with my visit and intrigued with the vistas from the prairie. Since then I have been back a handful of times during different seasons and my appreciation for this overlooked ecosystem has grown with each visit.
I think my home state of Illinois spawns a misconception of the lack of beauty of the prairie. Illinois is known as the “Prairie State.” People who drive through Illinois mostly notice it is flat and full of cornfields. They therefore come to the conclusion that prairies are ugly and boring.
The Prairie State designation is a bit of a misnomer. It refers to the way the state appeared hundreds of years ago when the settlers arrived. Back then Illinois was two-thirds tallgrass prairie. A plaque at Younghusband Prairie in suburban Chicago reads “the Prairie State, was once about two-thirds prairie – now less than one tenth of one percent remains.”
Midewin and other restoration projects are trying to restore the original prairie in pockets around the state. Thanks to places like this, people can hike through what the state once looked like before the plow converted what was once prairie into farmland. People can also discover that although a prairie is not as amazing as a mountain or a lake, it has its own kind of charm. A charm that has a haunting enticing quality that will keep you coming back for another hike.
Besides being a restoration project from invasive to native species, there is another unique aspect to Midewin. The location was once home to the Joliet Arsenal. Military bunkers and roads built to make munitions for World War II have now been turned over to the prairie.
Walking through rows of bunkers covered with tallgrass prairie gives the landscape an eerie surreal feel. You feel like you are walking through some post apocalypse terrain. This sentiment is augmented by the fact that there are very few visitors to the park. Every time I have walked these fields, I am usually alone.
Midewin has a great trail network with over 20 miles of trails which are great for hiking, biking, and running. The prairie is also well known as a birding spot with rare prairie birds who have returned thanks to the restoration work like the dickcissel, loggerhead shrike, and the upland sandpiper.
Midewin is located just south of Joliet, Illinois only a few miles from I-55 at exit 241 about 60 miles from downtown Chicago. It is a great place to get out from the big city and take a hike in a wide open quit space.
Midewin hiking tips:
- Always wear a hat as there are very few trees, so protection from the sun is sparse
- Early spring is a great time to hike Midewin as you can explore cross-country when the prairie grass is not overgrown and there is no hunting. You are also safe from ticks in the early spring.
- Consider hiking at dusk or dawn in during the summer when it is too hot to be out on the prairie all day. This is also the best time to spot deer, turkey, pheasant, and coyote
- Check out a sunset from atop a bunker, you get a great view of the prairie from atop one of these structures
- Consider volunteering and helping out the restoration project
- Come during the summer for monarch butterflies and summer wildflowers
- Be mindful of hunting season, especially in the fall. I drove down to Midewin one early Saturday morning to find the parking lot inexplicably full of cars. Each car had a pink card in on their dash, and I realized they were all deer hunters. I found a different place to hike that day.
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Funny how I automatically associate Prairie with farmland! My only exposure has been Canadian prairie – and it has many of the same connotations! But, in the Canadian case, I am sure the percentages prairie to farmland to city still favour farmland considerable. Love your tips. Sounds like there is so much more to Midewin than meets the eye!
Anita Mac recently posted..Monday Morning Series: Painted rocks on the Camino de Santiago
Yes, and most people associate farmland with boring. I actually don’t think farmland is boring either, but real native prairies are much more scenic.
Love the feet and the coyote shots. I took a photo with my feet similar to yours when I went hiking last year on the Mt Judah trail.
Jeremy Branham recently posted..Malaga travel guide for budget travelers
Taking pictures of your shoes is kind of strange, but there was one dude who even talked to his shoes. Now that is crazy 🙂
I love the picture of the bunker – interesting piece!
kay dougherty recently posted..Places we’ve loved: The Garden Route, South Africa
It is no South Africa, but it is worth a look if you are tired of the Chicago metropolis.
What great pics – the snow is now totally gone?
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Thanks Mrs. O,
Glad you can finally speak your mind here.
What an interesting landscape! I’ve never been to a praire before, but I have a feeling I’ll have some opportunities to visit some this summer. 🙂
The World Wanderer recently posted..Music Monday: Out Of My League.
I look forward to hearing about it Erin.
I can’t believe you got that close to a coyote. Can’t say I’ve ever come across one..
Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..On Being Home
We have them all over the place here. I was running at night in a city park near my home and turned and there was one about 20 feet from me right out in the open. It startled me at first, but he was minding his own business and actually trotting in the other direction.
I love the big skies you get in the prairie- the quiet except for birdsong, and the sense of space. I wish more people would fall in love with the prairie and work on protecting that habitat. I got a big taste of prairie in Saskatchewan last fall and loved it.
Leigh recently posted..The A to Z List of Canadian Islands (Mostly) Worth a Visit
I saw some of those posts and was impressed with the Canadian Prairie. Would love to check that out sometime.
Cool experience…such a shame that so little of the prairie remains. We have a prairie just north of our town, and I have never once visited it. Perhaps I’ll broaden my horizons!
D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Dawn at Augusta National – Picture of the Week
I have heard of a few Florida prairies as I follow a few Florida bloggers. Actually, the Everglades is basically a giant prairie with a couple feet of water in it.
Great tips! I would not have thought about a viewing a sunset on a bunker! how romantic! This prairie does have its own charm!
lola recently posted..One Day Stay: Kennebunkport, Maine
It would be a nice place for a glass of wine!
It looks very peaceful. I imagine it is even more so in person since you say there are not a lot of people around. How do you find all these places to go hike?!
Raul (@ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted..Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 6 – Reaching Uhuru Peak on Summit Night
I remember reading about Bill Clinton signing the legislation that began the restoration of this land back in the mid 1990s when I was on break from college. I had always wanted to check it out, but I never had the chance until a couple of years ago. I had driven past it many times before finally visiting. I do a lot of driving and brown signs along the interstate always have my attention.
Nice job mi amigo! The bunker was interesting. Liked all the photos and appreciate you sharing the attributes of the ecosystem. My favorite though, was coyote standin in the trail! Safe Travels mi amigo!!!
Nomadic Texan recently posted..Are You Buying or Selling?
I came around a bend in the prairie and two coyotes were in the middle of the road. In this picture one had already fled to the tall grass, but the other seems to be sizing me up.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved prairies. Maybe it’s from my early childhood in Colorado? Regardless, I love all of the photos. The coyote shot is definitely my favorite.
Tawny of Captain and Clark recently posted..Getting fancy with London high tea.
Colorado definitely has some nice prairies. I was amazed the first time I drove through how much of the state is actually prairie and not mountain. I enjoyed driving through the prairies although not as amazing as the mountains.
if a zombie apocalypse ever becomes a reality, we know where we’re hiding out…
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I’ll meet you there lazy travelers!