Everything you need to know about visiting Champaign County Forest Preserve District’s River Bend Forest Preserve in Mahomet
Gorgeous water, fishing, biking, hiking and the perfect backdrop for a picnic can be found at this hidden gem in Champaign County
Oftentimes, when we post pictures or video from River Bend Forest Preserve, our readers quickly comment, “where IS this located?” Thus, River Bend Forest Preserve gets the honorable distinction of “hidden gem” in Champaign County. Less than 15 minutes from Champaign after a short drive on I-72, you stumble upon a picturesque backdrop and everything it has to offer, far away from the sounds of highways or traffic.
River Bend Forest Preserve, owned and operated by the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, is well-known to area kayakers — and that may be about the only group that knows River Bend well. Truth is, no matter what you enjoy doing outside, River Bend is a great option. One of the key features here is the “Possibility Pier,” a universally accessible fishing pier, for visitors of all ages and abilities.
To break it down, some of the activities people enjoy at River Bend Forest Preserve are:
- kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards (any watercraft that does not require gasoline)
- walking or running
- biking (while a popular activity here, it is worth noting the trails are gravel and not paved)
- having a picnic at the pier or under the pavilion
- cross country skiing in the winter
Tips for your trip from other parents
- Planning for restrooms is important here! The only restrooms (which are in fact accessible restrooms) are located near the shelter and Possibility Pier. If you head out on the trails, you will be quite a ways from a restroom.
- Pack sunscreen. Especially if you plan to be hanging around on the pier, something about the metal makes us even more susceptible to sunburns when we visit. Those metal chairs can get quite warm, too, and we have seen people bring beach towels or blankets to put down before sitting on them.
- There is no swimming or wading allowed. We know it is tempting, but we encourage you to head to Homer Lake’s Playscape if that is what you are looking for.
- Realize you don’t have to do anything when you visit River Bend. This is a lovely place to visit with grandparents, small children, or just by yourself. It is far less trafficked than some of the other Champaign County Forest Preserves, so just know that you may not even run into anyone on your visit.
- Bring water. We haven’t found any water fountains on site.
- You may consider bringing a life jacket for your kids, even if you’re not going out on a boat. There’s a lovely pier for fishing but there is a steep and deep drop-off right off that location. One of the kids with our group even remarked at how careful they needed to be since you could see how deep it was.
Is River Bend good for toddlers?
Yes, we think so. We would encourage parents with toddlers to bring a backpack for the trails (since they’re rocky) or stick to the Possibility Pier instead of the spots with no sides. Possibility Pier offers a tremendous opportunity for families with young children to get right “out” on the water while still sort of staying on dry land. It does get a little icky with bird poop and fish guts so just watch out if you have crawlers or kids who still like to put everything in their mouths.
What amenities are offered?
River Bend Forest Preserve offers many amenities, including:
- Some great gravel trails, including a one-mile nature trail and a 1.2-mile multi-use trail
- Champaign County’s largest lake, with opportunities to fish and paddle your way through the waters
- “Possibility Pier,” a unique, accessible pier with features like tables you can roll right up to, an easy-to-maneuver and gently sloped path to the pier, and slats designed for fishing to be possible from a seated position
- The 9-11 Memorial Wetland, located on the west side of the preserve
- Picnic tables, grills, and a rentable pavilion
- Accessible restrooms, located near the pavilion and pier
- A great boat ramp for loading in whatever watercraft you’re bringing to River Bend
How are the bathrooms?
The bathrooms are pretty basic but they give room for you to maneuver in and out. Remember: There’s only one bathroom at River Bend.
Are there picnic tables and grills?
Yes. You’ll find picnic tables in a few different locations. Grills are located near the pavilion and are the standard “bring your own charcoal” setup you find at many parks. You can also rent the pavilion ahead of time.
Is there any shade?
Yes. The trails are quite shady. Around the water, you will be more challenged to find shade. If you hang out under the covering of the Possibility Pier, you will feel a bit shaded, but as we mentioned above, you are still likely to get a lot of sun there.
How is the fishing?
We have caught bluegill and bass. You’re likely to catch smaller fish on Possibility Pier and larger fish if you walk down the multi-use trail and find an access point to the lake. There are some large fish in this lake and you may just be lucky enough to catch one!
When is the park open?
River Bend is open at 7 a.m. year-round and closing times vary from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. seasonally. Click here for the full list of hours.
What about parking?
Parking is located along the pavilion or next to Possibility Pier. We suggest parking as close to the path to Possibility Pier if you are looking for the most accessible experience and to minimize time on the harder-to-maneuver gravel lot.
How do you get there?
The easiest route from Champaign-Urbana is to take I-72 west to the Mahomet exit. River Bend is a short drive north of the highway. You can also take I-74 but will have to meander through town to get to the forest preserve. River Bend is an old sand and gravel mine and you will feel like you’re driving to the middle of nowhere!
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