IL McHenry County Glacial Park
McHenry County, Illinois
Scenic park with interesting glacial features. Plenty of hills, prairie, woodlands, kames, bog and marsh, prairie stream (Nippersink Creek) and over 5 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails.
- Terrain / Scenery: Mix of prairie, woodlands, river, and plenty of rolling hills.
- Fees / Permits: None
- Trail Conditions: Moderately wide (6 to 8 feet) mowed grass, wood chip, and natural trails with frequent rolling hills.
- Trail Markings: Trails are marked but inconsistent.
- Facilities: bathrooms, canoe launch area..
- Official Web Page: http://www.mccdistrict.org
- Getting There: Glacial Park is located a few miles south of Richmond Illinois off of Highway 31. Take Highway 31 to Harts Road. Go west on Harts road into park. Google Maps link to Clacial Park The main trailhead parking is south of Harts Road, however parking here is somewhat limited. There is a larger parking area at the Wedrich Education Center that provides easy access to the trails.
I first became aware of Glacial Park when I was paddling my canoe upriver on Nippersink Creek and was surprised to see a large hill (I later found out it is actually a Kame) sticking up out of the extremely flat prairie area along the river. It looked so out of place that I first thought it may be a massive landfill trash mountain. I was pleased to later find out that it is natural and is part of a large park. Always on the lookout for vertical relief, I knew I would need to get back here someday (without the canoe) and check out Glacial Park.
I was not disappointed. Glacial park is a very scenic park with areas of prairie and woodlands and plenty of rolling hills. The Kames are large hills created by melting glaciers. They are basically large piles of gravel that have eventually become covered with soil. The main large kame has a trail over the top of it that provides some great views of Nippersink Creek and the grasslands in the valley along the creek. Although I primarily come here for the hills and woodlands, I have to say that the prairie areas here are pretty special. Unlike the prairies that I encounter in other area parks that are often thick with thorns and bushes and other flesh eating vegetation, Glacial Park has vast areas of grasslands, which are very scenic in the Spring and early Summer.
Map Notes: My map is of the hiking and cross country ski trails in the main portion of the park. The entire park area is actually quite a bit larger and has additional horse/snowmobile trails running along the perimeter. I included a topographic map as the background for my trail map to give you some idea of the vertical relief in the park. The color coding and naming of trails on my map may not necessarily coincide with the official park trails. The reason for this is that it was a bit unclear to me which trails were which. The trail markings are a bit inconsistent; there were a few places where there were color coded markers, but again this was only in a few spots. There were sometimes signs at intersections that referred to trail names and other times referred to destinations along the trails such as "Kames", "Amphitheater", "Bog", etc. Probably the most confusing thing I ran into were a couple of places where there were "No Hiking" signs on the trail. The best I could make out was that these sign were placed where there use to be another trail connecting with the hiking trail, but since the other trail was now completely overgrown it looked like the no hiking sign was on the current hiking trail. It would have made more sense to set the sign back a little (a few feet) onto the old trail rather than placing them right on the main trail.
That being said, the trails are actually pretty easy to negotiate providing you take a map (or at least review one beforehand) and are aware that the signs on the trail are somewhat confusing. Many of the intersections are in open areas where you have a pretty good field of view to figure out where you are.
From the official park trail map, they list the following trail names and distances
- Coyote Loop Trail 1.2 Miles
- Deerpath Trail 2.1 Miles
- Marsh Trail 1.1 Miles
- Valley Rd Spur Trail 0.6 Miles
- Nippersink Trail 0.8 Miles from landing to bridge
The color coding I saw on the trail designated the Coyote Loop as Yellow and the Deerpath Trail as Blue. I drew the Marsh Trail as Green, the trail over the top of the kame as Red, and all other trails as Orange on my map, but this is just for demonstration purposes and does not coincide with any trail markings. I want to again mention that due to inconsistent markings on the trails (or ones I didn't notice), I'm not sure that the specific routes I show for the named trails on my map are the exact same routes the park has them designated as.
The Nippersink trail is the orange trail that runs along the river from the bridge to the alternate trailhead at the Keystone Canoe Landing (see Nippersink Creek page for info on Keystone Landing. The Valley Road Spur Trail is the orange trail that runs north on the east side of Nippersink Creek. The Nippersink Trail and Valley Road Spur Trail run through the flat flood plain along Nippersink Creek. All other trails are hilly.
For Bog enthusiasts, there is a short boardwalk (plastic boards) that takes you into the bog in the center of the trail system. There is also a wildlife viewing platform at the southeast end of the Marsh Loop. The "Ampitheater" (a stone seating area on top of a hill overlooking the rolling prairie below) is located on the trail just west of the Wedrich Education Center.
With the exception of the short trail that runs over the top of the Kame (shown Red on my map) and some of the smaller orange connector trails which is a little narrower and rugged in spots, all other trails are 6 to 8 feet wide mowed grass, wood chips, or natural surfaced trails that are very well maintained.
- Hiking: This is a great park for some moderately easy hiking. Though there are a lot of hills, they are not very steep and the wide well maintained trails means you won't be fighting overgrown vegetation or tripping over roots and ruts. The hills can make for some strenuous trail running though (that's a good thing). Dogs are allowed on the hiking trails.
- Cross-country skiing: I finally got out to ski these trails in late 2006 . As I suspected, they are not groomed (though I saw some references on the web saying they were) and have a lot of hiker traffic on them. To be honest though, I don't mind that hikers trample the trails because it provides a wider flatter base to maneuver the downhills. From the ski signs on the trails, my guess is the preferred direction for skiing the main Blue and Yellow loops is counter-clockwise, but skiers here will ski both directions. In fact, because this is a rather small system, skiing both ways helps to make multiple laps not seem so repetitive. There are quite a few hills here and the 6-foot wide trails can be a little challenging for the ungroomed winding downhills you will encounter here so I would have to call this an intermediate trail system. You may or may not be able to ski over the Kame depending on snow conditions. The Kame is wide open at the top and the combination of winds and sun exposure results in a combination of bare spots and drifts. The trail going down the south end of the Kame is the steepest and trickiest because of a couple of tight turns and the possibility of protruding rocks. I was able to ski it on my recent visit because of some pretty good snow conditions, but I would not count on it being skiable. Overall, this is a pretty nice ungroomed trail system with plenty of hills and nice scenery.
- Bikes are not allowed on the trails in Glacial Park. The hilly terrain here just screams for someone to create some separate singletrack for mountain bikers here, but I understand why they don't want them on the hiking/ski trails. The Prairie Trail bike path runs along the east end of the park and there is a nice parking area along Hart Road that provides access to that trail (you will cross it as you drive into the park).
- Paddling: Nippersink Creek provides some excellent paddling opportunities. Click Nippersink Creek Canoe Routes for more information.
This page is authored and maintained by Dave Piasecki