What to do in Moraine Hills State Park

*This information was provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources*

From angling to hiking, from viewing rare plants to observing migratory waterfowl, Moraine Hills State Park offers you a recreational bounty. Located in the northeast corner of Illinois, the park is 3 miles south of McHenry. McHenry Dam, on the Fox River, is on the park's western border. Roughly half of the park's 2,200 acres is composed of wetlands and lakes.

History-Artifacts found on the park property indicate man's presence in the area within 1,000 years of the Wisconsin glacier's retreat. Seasonal habitation of the park area extends back to approximately 4,000 B.C. Native American tribes that occupied or passed through the area include the Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox and possibly the Miami and Winnebago. The Sauk and Fox tribes, originally from what is now Canada, claimed ownership of the land at the time of white settlement.

Horace Long was the first known settler in the park area and occupied a portion on what is now the southeast corner of the park. Part of the stone foundation from his cabin still stands along the main park road.

In 1907, the original McHenry dam was built and a hand operated lock was constructed. The facilities were donated to the people of Illinois in 1924 and construction of a new concrete block dam began in 1934. In the early 1960's, a portion of the park property on the west bank of the Fox River was provided for the locks and managed by the Division of Water Resources.

In 1939, the State of Illinois made the initial land acquisition of 15 acres for the McHenry Dam State Park, located on the east bank of the Fox River. Major acquisition of the Lake Defiance area began in 1971, and construction of park facilities took place in the spring of 1975. The present Moraine Hills opened in October 1976.

Geology-Moraine Hills derives its name from a geologic formation known as a moraine, which is an accumulation of boulders, stones and other debris deposited by a glacier. As glacial ice melted here following the Wisconsin glaciation period, it left gravel-rich deposits called kames that make up the park's wooded hills and ridges.

Natural Features-A 48-acre lake near the center of the park was formed when a large portion of ice broke away from the main glacier and melted. Lake Defiance is gradually filling in with peat from its unstable shoreline. The lake is one of the few glacial lakes in Illinois that has remained largely undeveloped, maintaining a near-natural condition.

Pike Marsh, a 115-acre area in the southeast corner of the park, is home to many rare plants. Its outer fen area (a very rare marsh wetland) includes Ohio goldenrod, Kalm's lobelia, dwarf birch, and hoary willow, while cattails and bulrushes grow in its interior. Pike Marsh also supports one of the state's largest known colonies of pitcher plants, which attract, trap, and digest insects.

The 120-acre region known as Leatherleaf Bog is an excellent example of kettle-moraine topography. In geological terms, a kettle is a depression formed when an isolated block of glacial ice melts. The bog consists of a floating mat of sphagnum moss and leatherleaf surrounded by a moat of water. Marsh fern, marsh mari-gold, St. John's wort, and several species of willow put down roots here. Because both Pike Marsh and Leatherleaf Bog are dedicated nature preserves, they are protected by law.

Moraine Hills offers three examples of wetland enhancements. Yellow-head, Black Tern, and Opossum Run marshes are samples of what can be accomplished with a little help from man.

Wildlife-For a wide spectrum of wildlife, Moraine Hills is home sweet home. Red fox, coyote, white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail, mink, opossum, and racoon inhabit the park, while more than 100 species of birds have been identified here. Great blue herons and green herons feed in the marsh areas in the summer, and the park is heavily used by migratory waterfowl, such as mallards, teal, wood ducks and Canada geese.

Recreation
Fishing-Fishing is available on both Lake Defiance and on the Fox River. Regulations are posted at both sites. To help preserve the natural state of Lake Defiance, and because of the dangerous peat shoreline, bank fishing is prohibited except from designated piers along the boardwalk. The McHenry Dam area provides access to the Fox River, and a fishing pier accessible to disabled visitors is available.

Hunting-Shotgun deer hunting is now available on the 1,400 acres northeast of River Road. Hunting is by permit only. For more information please read the Hunter Fact Sheets. Boating-Private watercraft are not allowed, but rental boats are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and electric trolling motors may be used. While trailers are prohibited in the park, private boats may be brought in by car top for use on the river.

Trails-More than 10 miles of trails make Moraine Hills popular for hikers, skiers and cyclists, and provide one of the park's main recreation features. Three trails, surfaced with crushed limestone, wind their way through the park and offer you exceptional scenic and wildlife viewing opportunities. Enjoy the 2-mile Fox River Trail, the 3.2-mile Leatherleaf Bog Trail, and the 3.7-mile Lake Defiance Trail. To keep you on track, trails are color coded and one way. Our fourth trail, the River Road trail is paved, and is 1.7 miles long.

Picnicking-If your visit to Moraine Hills includes picnicking, you can choose from tables in shaded or open settings throughout the park's 10 day use areas. Each area offers parking, drinking water, and rustic toilet facilities. Flush toilets are available at the McHenry Dam concession building and at the park office. Pike Marsh, Pine Hills, Whitetail Prairie and the Northern Woods day use areas provide picnic shelters.

Location
From the North: IL Rt. 12 south to Rt. 176, West on Rt.176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the South: IL Rt. 12 north to Rt. 176, West on Rt. 176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the East: Rt. 176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the West: IL Rt. 176 West to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

Climate
Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.

Address
1510 S. River Road
McHenry, IL 60051

Phone: 815.385.1624

Email: morainehills@mail.owc.net
  • Moraine Hills State Park Travel Q&A