Friday, August 21, 2015

Biking Moraine Hills State Park

Moraine Hills State Park opened in 1976 and is named for its predominant geologic feature, kanes composed of gravel deposited by a glacier, which formed the area following the Wisconsin glaciation period. The park is located in the far northwest suburban section of Chicagoland on River Road three miles south of the town of McHenry. There are three loops of crushed limestone (asphalt in areas where erosion is a problem) totaling 10+ miles, and all three trails are one-way trails for bikers to minimize accidents.  If you also bike the paved path that runs alongside River Road, the ride becomes 12.5 miles. Concession stands are available in season at both the dam (yellow trail) and the park headquarters (which the red trail passes). Terrain and scenery change quite a bit as you complete the loops, and water is available at many of the trailheads. 

There is no charge for entrance to the park and maps are available at the entrance. We bike it all three biking seasons, but fall is especially magnificent as seen in the next two photos below.


The yellow loop takes you under River Road, via an underpass, out to the McHenry Lock and Dam on the Fox River. There is a concession stand and restrooms are available.

Beyond the dam, the trail takes across a dike, with the Fox River on one side and water run-off and wetlands on the other side. Turtles and various waterfall populate these areas, so enjoy the view but stay on the trail!

Although there are many forested areas, about half of the park's 1690 acres are wetlands and lakes, and artifacts have been found because the area was home to five tribes of Native Americans dating back to approximately 4000 B.C., including the Fox and Sauk. Below are some mallards in the wetlands along the trail section shown in the photo above.

The "Moraine Hills" in the name of the state park warn that there is constant up and down biking, but there is only one prolonged uphill of a hundred yards of so. It is on the red loop as you begin to circle Lake Defiance and some may have to walk their bikes -- just consider it cross training!  The constant up and down over the moraine hills provides everyone a good workout as well as ever-changing scenery. Since this is a state park, the trail is maintained and always in excellent condition, and those sections which had over the years proven to be susceptible to erosion have been asphalted. The downhill in the photo below is just beyond the roller-coaster section of hills on the red loop.

Half of the state park's area is beautiful woods as seen in the two photos below.

A few years back, we rounded a curve on the blue loop and stopped quickly when we saw these newborn fawns on the trail. They were so young their legs were shaking as they tried walking, and being so young, they had no fear of people yet. In fact, they just stood there for a good five minutes as we enjoyed watching them shakily amble around a bit. And since they were so nicely posing for us, I took a number of photos of this remarkable sight!

Rest benches are scattered along the trails.

The 48 acre Lake Defiance, seen below in a panoramic photo, is the largest lake and one of only a few glacial lakes in Illinois still undeveloped and in near-natural condition. It is gradually filling in with peat from its unstable shore. Boat rentals and bait and tackle sales are available in the concession stand alongside this lake as well as the one at McHenry Dam.

Rest benches are located on each loop, as are restrooms and water fountains. One of many meadows is evident on the left of this photo below. All three loops are one-way trails for bikers and cross country skiers, so follow the arrows. All intersections are well marked with arrows and distances, and mileage is indicated on posts every quarter mile. Wildlife include red fox, deer, coyote, eastern cottontail, mink, opossum, raccoon, great blue herons, green herons, as well as over 100 other birds

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