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The largest state park in northern Illinois, Chain O Lakes is home to prairie, oak forest, and wetlands. This gently rolling hike offers a taste of the park’s varied terrain.
Start down the Badger Trail, enjoying views of open prairie and marsh lands. At mile .75, turn right on Cattail Trail for a 1-mile out-and-back that heads into a wetlands area where sandhill cranes nest. Continue south to complete the Sunset Loop before heading north through tallgrass prairie to the Gold Finch Trail. Loop by the peaceful Fox River before returning to the trailhead through an oak canopy.
-Mapped by Ted Villaire
- Distance: 9.1
Location: 42.4664463, -88.1901634
From the parking area, turn right on the Badger Trail. First half mile provides numerous sweeping views of the prairie, woods, wetland, and Fox River to the east.
Location: 42.4651413, -88.1891937
This is the sprawling mid-section of the park–a large open space dotted with marshes, ponds, prairie, and the occasional oak tree.
Location: 42.459509, -88.1846219
Turn right @ 4-way with Sunset Trail. Cross the park road. Pass one of many picnicking spots clustered in this section of the park.
Location: 42.4573599, -88.18555
Turn right @ 3-way onto Cattail Trail. The Cattail Trail takes you through the wetlands in the mid-section of the park. This is one of the few nesting sites in the region for sandhill cranes, an enormous gray bird with a red forehead.
Location: 42.4571838, -88.1969376
Once you reach the park road, turn around and retrace your steps to Waypoint 4 and turn right.
Location: 42.4538137, -88.1833291
Cross park road; turn left @ 3-way to finish Sunset Loop. The trail parallels the park road as it takes you by two picnic areas.
Location: 42.4594931, -88.1845576
Turn right @ 4-way onto Badger Trail; the trail drops down to a wetland area, and then enters a restored tallgrass prairie fringed by oaks and conifers.
Location: 42.4678234, -88.1884253
Turn right @ 4-way with Gold Finch Trail. The terrain flattens as you brush against a large planting of pine trees. In winter look for owls in the pine grove and hawks in the open areas.
Location: 42.4713402, -88.1790543
After passing the large cattail pond on the right, the trail arrives at a wild slice of the Fox River. If the weather is warm, have a seat on the grassy bank to revive a pair of tired feet with a bath in the river.
Location: 42.4725418, -88.1805649
Heading west away from the river, you’ll walk beneath a canopy of oaks; continue ahead through more woods, savanna, and stands of shrubbery.
Location: 42.4682587, -88.189863
Continue straight @ 3-way.
Location: 42.4678353, -88.188495
Turn right @ 4-way to complete the Gold Finch Loop and return to the Badger Loop. Arrive back at the parking area after passing the park office on the right.
Location: 42.4662722, -88.1895733
The first half mile of this hike provides numerous sweeping views of the prairie, woods, wetland, and Fox River to the east. © Ted Villaire
Location: 42.4651325, -88.1890798
This is the sprawling mid-section of the park–a large open space dotted with marshes, ponds, prairie, and the occasional oak tree. © Ted Villaire
Location: 42.4598375, -88.1845737
Restored tallgrass prairie fringed by oaks and conifers in Chain O Lakes © Ted Villaire
Location: 42.4714127, -88.1790619
After passing the large cattail pond, the trail arrives at a wild slice of the Fox River. If the weather is warm, have a seat on the grassy bank to revive a pair of tired feet with a bath in the river. © Ted Villaire
Location: 42.4725876, -88.1806793
Heading away from the river, you’ll walk beneath a canopy of oaks; continue ahead through more woods, savanna, and stands of shrubbery. © Ted Villaire