When you want to venture off the beaten path and visit a rugged trail near Champaign-Urbana, head to the Sangamon River Corridor Reserve in Monticello
We’ve got a little bit of everything when it comes to quality hiking in and around Champaign-Urbana. When you’re looking to “rough it” a bit without venturing too far or too deep into the woods, this best kept secret has you covered. Drive to Monticello and visit the Sangamon River Corridor Reserve, owned by The Land Conservation Foundation, to explore.
You may be familiar with the term “forest preserve.” So what makes a “reserve” different than a “preserve”? When you visit this reserve, you’ll notice quite a bit of natural growth in and around the trail as you trek. Our fabulous forest preserves in the area have this as well, but the trail at the Sangamon River Corridor Reserve will prove to be a little different than the trails you’re accustomed to navigating at our preserves. The trails are intentionally cared for and cleared here, but certainly not to the same degree as the preserves we’re familiar with. Be prepared to step over obstacles, duck under trees from time to time and definitely don’t bring a stroller! The trails are not paved so you’ll need to bring a baby or toddler hiking backpack if you have a little one.
The trail is open from sunrise to sunset, year-round. Visit at your discretion based on weather conditions.
Navigate to the Sangamon River Corridor Reserve, located near the Monticello Golf Club, and when you pull into the gravel parking lot you will see a bike rack and a small concrete bridge off in the distance. There’s a 0.3-mile approach to the Bruce Hannon Levee Trail here, so be prepared to do a little walking before and after the actual hike itself. The beginning isn’t marked very clearly so just know that you need to walk over that bridge and follow the orange signs on the mowed grassy trail as you walk.
We didn’t use the hiking app on our visit but I’m sure it’s interesting! And the brightly colored signs are your main navigation instructions for the duration of the hike, so we were grateful for them.
The trail itself is a 1.7-mile loop through the reserve. Remember, this is a rugged trail. Be prepared to work a bit on this adventure. This really is a best-kept secret though, as hardly anyone is out there. In fact, on our weekday visit, we didn’t see a single family on the trails and only saw people kayaking down the Sangamon River while we were hiking.
You certainly don’t have to hike the entire trail as you could enter at the access point and turn back when you feel like your kids are “halfway tired.” I will say that the first half or so of the hike is less challenging than the second half. So if you get going on the trail and feel like this is as challenging as your family can handle, perhaps turning around at the halfway point is the right call for you.
Our kids absolutely loved navigating off the path on our visit! And yes, since it’s along the Sangamon River and considered a floodplain, there will be lots of water. I can see how this would be tough with littles if they’re not being worn in a hiking backpack.
The website very clearly describes this location as “rustic trail” and lists the following safety recommendations for your visit:
- PLEASE USE CAUTION! There are potential hazards on the levee trail, especially after storm effects, when flooding occurs. There is no guarantee of your safety. You are welcome to access Land Conservation Foundation lands at your own risk.
- If water is rising, turn around, don’t drown! The trail could be flooded by the time you leave, trapping you on the trail.
- If water is flowing over the trail, turn around, don’t drown! Just one foot of rushing floodwater can move a car.
We had a lot of fun on this hike. Our kids felt it was more adventurous than many of the local places we’ve ventured. Wear long pants (poison ivy and poison oak were spotted), bring the bug spray if you desire (being along the water it’s bound to be mosquito-y during the peak of summer) and check for ticks after your visit. All good things to remember after any hike but especially this very rustic one in Monticello.