One of the lesser known forest preserves in Champaign County, the Sangamon River Forest Preserve is a huge hit with kids of all ages
Families will love taking a stroll through some of the most peaceful wooded areas near Champaign-Urbana
Lake of the Woods, Homer Lake, Middle Fork in Penfield and River Bend are all pretty well-known forest preserves in Champaign County. But Sangamon River Forest Preserve, located in the county’s northwest corner, is a lesser known wooded area with much to offer to visitors looking to retreat for a little escape.
Its well-maintained walking paths work great for young adventurers; they are wide and well marked. You may want to bring that baby backpack if you normally have a stroller in tow – no paved trails here, just grassy, cleared ones.
The trails at Sangamon River Forest Preserve are short and sweet, and you can connect them together to make a longer hike if that’s what you’re looking for. They all function in a loop fashion. If you want to simply park in the lot and follow the white arrows on the Wildcat Slough Trail, you’ll have a nice little 0.5 mile hike for your family. Add all the trails together, and you can do 2+ miles.
Expect nicely cared for trails here at the Sangamon River Forest Preserve. They mow them well and they’re nice and wide. The Prairie Trail will be the one that has the most plant growth encroaching upon your hiking path, with the others much wider.
As we mentioned above, you may wish to bring a baby carrier or backpack over a stroller for these trails. We’re sure you *could* push a stroller here but it would be a challenge!
Bring Your Fishing Poles – Or Other Water Gear
The Sangamon River is a large, historic river running through Central Illinois, running nearly 240 miles and stretching through multiple counties.
If water is your thing, you can bring fishing gear to fish along the river. Illinois fishing licenses are required for adults and this is river fishing… so if you’re used to just casting in the water and watching a bobber that won’t be your experience here. You can kayak the Sangamon River, too (if you are bringing your own).
The woods here can be described as tranquil. There are no major roads near the forest preserve, you hike away from the parking lot on your journey and there really isn’t a whole lot of foot traffic here compared to some of the other forest preserves. If you’re looking for a tranquil, socially distanced escape, you’ll find it here.
This is also a great place for a picnic – there’s a perfect spot right near the parking lot and another spot just beyond that. This is where the restrooms are, too.
Didactics (see below for an example) throughout the Sangamon River Forest Preserve do a great job of educating visitors about the history of the location, the topography, and the prairie in general. This would be a great place for a field trip.
A few tips:
- Don’t confuse these woods with the Sangamon River Corridor Reserve, located in neighboring Piatt County and along the same river (though we love those woods for totally different reasons!)
- In the rainy season and early spring, be aware that some of these trails can be muddy. Plan accordingly.
- Don’t miss the giant Lincoln Ash Tree, which is more than 200 years old. There are also groves of very large oak trees.
- Bring bug spray and sunscreen, although depending on where you go, there’s plenty of shade.
The forest preserve is open daily from dawn to dusk (exact times vary by season). Note the gate closing time when you arrive at the preserve, please! Visit at your discretion based on weather conditions.
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