The more I adventure travel abroad, the more I appreciate the beautiful areas near me in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and across the United States. In our thirst for adventure and a taste of something different, we forget what is in our backyard is just as exotic to someone who lives a thousand miles away as a Wat in Bangkok or a jungle in Guyana is to us.
I remember seeing a couple people in Grant Park in Chicago chasing a squirrel with their camera. This cracked me up, but I am sure when I am in Costa Rica chasing a scarlet macaw or a coati, the locals also probably think it is funny.
Northern Illinois is not place known for adventure and natural beauty, but I have found a few spots that I enjoy hiking. Starved Rock is the obvious and most popular state park in the area, but places like Rock Cut, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, and Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area (not to be confused with Goose Island, which is a local beer) are worth a day exploring.
Many consider Illinois to be boring outside of Chicago. The state’s nickname is the Prairie State because at one time over half of the state was covered with prairie. Now less than one percent of that natural prairie remains. In its place lies farmland and cities.
Due to the fact that Illinois is not very pretty and it is called the Prairie State, many consider prairie to be a dull ecosystem. I used to think this growing up, but when you visit places like Midewin, Nachusa Grasslands, and Goose Lake and see places where the natural tallgrass that existed when the settlers arrived here, you realize it is actually quite scenic. This is especially true in the summer when the prairie is ablaze with wildflowers.
While a prairie does not match a forest, lake, or mountains, it has a unique beauty all its own. One of the best parts about a prairie is the opportunity to see over long distances and the prairie is the best place to view cloud formations over the horizon thanks to the lack of trees and other obstructions.
Goose Lake Prairie is actually the largest remnant of natural prairie left in Illinois with over 2,500 acres set aside. The land here was sculpted by glaciers, so along with the prairie, you have rolling hills and glaciated lakes and ponds.
Normally, I take a picture of the entrance sign when I pull into a new park. This time I was greeted by a white-tailed deer alongside the road that preoccupied me from taking a picture of the sign. However, I think he is sticking his tongue out at me in the picture above, so I am not sure how qualified the deer is as official greeter.
There are only 6 miles of trails inside the park, so you can hike the whole system within a couple of hours. Besides the prairie, Heidecke Lake is nearby and is also part of the park, so there are other activities like fishing and boating that can be found there.
Goose Lake tips:
- There is very little shade, so be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and water especially during the summer
- There is no camping although there is a picnic area – Camping can be found at other nearby state parks like Starved Rock, Mathiessen, Kankakee River State Park, and Gebhard Woods
- Due to the rolling hills, Goose Prairie does offer cross-country skiing in the winter
- Bring your binoculars – With several ecosystems inside the park it is a great place to view birds including prairie birds like pheasants, bobwhites, and dickcissels, but also water birds like herons, kingfishers, and ducks
- If you are planning to visit the park in the fall, check for closures during the hunting season
- Directions: From I-55 to exit 240 Lorenzo Road/Pine Bluff Road travel west approximately 7.5 miles to Jugtown Road. Turn north on to Jugtown Road and travel 1 mile to entrance on the right side to Goose Lake Prairie State Park, Visitor Center, and park trails.
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