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Illinois State Parks

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USA Parks
Northern Region
Moraine Hills State Park
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Moraine Hills State Park Young Sandhill Crane © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park © Ken Schweder
Moraine Hills State Park Painted Turtles © Robert P. Whitney
If you walk the trails near the McHenry Dam you can easily find painted turtles by the dozens sunning themselves in channels along the trail.
Moraine Hills State Park Sandhill Crane © Robert P. Whitney
This Sandhill Cranes head is stained from digging in the wetlands muck for food. Its mate and chick were nearby.
Moraine Hills State Park Sandhill Cranes © Robert P. Whitney
The adult Sandhill Cranes head is stained from foraging in the wetland muck for food. Its mates head had similar staining.
Moraine Hills State Park Young Mink © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park Chipmonk © Robert P. Whitney
These little guys can be found foraging for food in wooded areas all over the park.
Moraine Hills State Park Great Egret Ardea alba © Robert P. Whitney
Egrets are a common sight in as they fish the wetland areas in the park.
Moraine Hills State Park Young Mink © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park Sandhill Crane © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park © Ken Schweder
Moraine Hills State Park Spring Flooding © Robert P. Whitney
In the spring, parts of the western area of the park, closest to the Fox River, flood and provide terrific sunset reflections.
Moraine Hills State Park © Ken Schweder
Moraine Hills State Park Sumac © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park © Ken Schweder
Moraine Hills State Park Foot Bridge © Robert P. Whitney
The park has miles and miles of trails with the occasional foot bridge to cross streams.
Moraine Hills State Park © Ken Schweder
Moraine Hills State Park Red-Winged Blackbird © Robert P. Whitney
Red-Winged Blackbirds are territorial and will let you know if you are invading their territory by squawking at you and sometimes hovering over your head. If you walk away they will stop.
Moraine Hills State Park Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus © Robert P. Whitney
These birds can be seen on trees in and near the wetland areas.
Moraine Hills State Park © Harris Wishnick
Moraine Hills State Park Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park Late Purple Aster - Symphyotrichum patens © Robert P. Whitney
These small pleasantly colored asters can be found in the late summer and early fall.
Moraine Hills State Park Golden Garden Spider © Robert P. Whitney
Golden Garden Spiders are the largest of the most commonly seen spiders in the park. In the prairie areas they build their webs among the grasses. I have never heard of one bothering a human, they have no interest in us.
Moraine Hills State Park © Ken Schweder
Moraine Hills State Park Lake Defiance © Robert P. Whitney
These boats are available to rent in the warmer seasons.
Moraine Hills State Park Water Lilies on Lake Defiance © Robert P. Whitney
Water lilies bloom in July and provide a beautiful reward to those who stroll the wetland boardwalks around Lake Defiance. They close at night and open in the morning so they are best viewed midday.
Moraine Hills State Park Purple Coneflowers © Robert P. Whitney
Beautiful prairie plants are found in grasslands throughout the park and deliberately planted in wonderful arrays near the entrance.
Moraine Hills State Park Compass Plants © Robert P. Whitney
Compass plants flower in the late summer/early fall.
Moraine Hills State Park Sunset at Moraine Hills © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park © Upendra
Taken Aug 7, 2010, 430PM
Moraine Hills State Park © Upendra
Moraine Hills State Park Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas © Robert P. Whitney
These very small birds nest in the wetland areas and can be photographed by strolling the boardwalks that meander through the wetlands.
Moraine Hills State Park Great Blue Heron © Robert P. Whitney
Great Blue Herons are not an uncommon sight at Moraine Hills. They are more skittish than Egrets and will often fly away if they believe you are coming closer. Try to photograph them from a distance so you dont disturb them.
Moraine Hills State Park Mink © Robert P. Whitney
Mink are extremely cute animals but admire them from a distance. They can spray like a skunk and are vicious hunters who can protect themselves quite well.
Moraine Hills State Park Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum © Robert P. Whitney
Small flocks of waxwings appear on the trees in the wetland areas from time to time. I have noticed they seem to show up about an hour before sunset. Its possible they come around at other times though.
Moraine Hills State Park Moraine Hills State Park © Joe Thill
This was taken from the Leatherleaf Bog Trail, located in the Northern Woods section of the park. May 31, 2008.
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1510 S. River Road
McHenry, Illinois   60051

Phone: 815-385-1624
Email: park email button icon
From angling to hiking, from viewing rare plants to observing migratory waterfowl, Moraine Hills State Park offers you a recreational bounty. Located in the northeast corner of Illinois, the park is 3 miles south of McHenry. McHenry Dam, on the Fox River, is on the park's western border. Roughly half of the park's 2,200 acres is composed of wetlands and lakes.
Nature of the Area

Moraine Hills derives its name from a geologic formation known as a moraine, which is an accumulation of boulders, stones and other debris deposited by a glacier. As glacial ice melted here following the Wisconsin glaciation period, it left gravel-rich deposits called kames that make up the park's wooded hills and ridges.

Natural Features:

A 48-acre lake near the center of the park was formed when a large portion of ice broke away from the main glacier and melted. Lake Defiance is gradually filling in with peat from its unstable shoreline. The lake is one of the few glacial lakes in Illinois that has remained largely undeveloped, maintaining a near-natural condition.

Pike Marsh, a 115-acre area in the southeast corner of the park, is home to many rare plants. Its outer fen area (a very rare marsh wetland) includes Ohio goldenrod, Kalm's lobelia, dwarf birch, and hoary willow, while cattails and bulrushes grow in its interior. Pike Marsh also supports one of the state's largest known colonies of pitcher plants, which attract, trap, and digest insects.

The 120-acre region known as Leatherleaf Bog is an excellent example of kettle-moraine topography. In geological terms, a kettle is a depression formed when an isolated block of glacial ice melts. The bog consists of a floating mat of sphagnum moss and leatherleaf surrounded by a moat of water. Marsh fern, marsh mari-gold, St. John's wort, and several species of willow put down roots here. Because both Pike Marsh and Leatherleaf Bog are dedicated nature preserves, they are protected by law.

Moraine Hills offers three examples of wetland enhancements. Yellow-head, Black Tern, and Opossum Run marshes are samples of what can be accomplished with a little help from man.


For a wide spectrum of wildlife, Moraine Hills is home sweet home. Red fox, coyote, white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail, mink, opossum, and racoon inhabit the park, while more than 100 species of birds have been identified here. Great blue herons and green herons feed in the marsh areas in the summer, and the park is heavily used by migratory waterfowl, such as mallards, teal, wood ducks and Canada geese.
History of the Area
Artifacts found on the park property indicate man's presence in the area within 1,000 years of the Wisconsin glacier's retreat. Seasonal habitation of the park area extends back to approximately 4,000 B.C. Native American tribes that occupied or passed through the area include the Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox and possibly the Miami and Winnebago. The Sauk and Fox tribes, originally from what is now Canada, claimed ownership of the land at the time of white settlement.

Horace Long was the first known settler in the park area and occupied a portion on what is now the southeast corner of the park. Part of the stone foundation from his cabin still stands along the main park road.

In 1907, the original McHenry dam was built and a hand operated lock was constructed. The facilities were donated to the people of Illinois in 1924 and construction of a new concrete block dam began in 1934. In the early 1960's, a portion of the park property on the west bank of the Fox River was provided for the locks and managed by the Division of Water Resources.

In 1939, the State of Illinois made the initial land acquisition of 15 acres for the McHenry Dam State Park, located on the east bank of the Fox River. Major acquisition of the Lake Defiance area began in 1971, and construction of park facilities took place in the spring of 1975. The present Moraine Hills opened in October 1976.
Park Store
The park features two conveniently located concession stands, one at the McHenry Dam and another on the lower level of the park office, on Lake Defiance. Both provide not only refreshments, but also boat rentals, bait, and tackle. The McHenry Dam Concession is open 7 days a week from April until October. The Lake Defiance Concession is open on weekends and holidays, when weather permits. Information can be found on the web at or by calling 815-385-5921.
Private watercraft are not allowed, but rental boats are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and electric trolling motors may be used. While trailers are prohibited in the park, private boats may be brought in by car top for use on the river.

Moraine Hills State Park is located near Algonquin, Antioch and Arlington Heights

If your visit to Moraine Hills includes picnicking, you can choose from tables in shaded or open settings throughout the park's 10 day use areas. Each area offers parking, drinking water, and rustic toilet facilities. Flush toilets are available at the McHenry Dam concession building and at the park office. Pike Marsh, Pine Hills, Whitetail Prairie and the Northern Woods day use areas provide picnic shelters.
More than 10 miles of trails make Moraine Hills popular for hikers, skiers and cyclists, and provide one of the park's main recreation features. Three trails, surfaced with crushed limestone, wind their way through the park and offer you exceptional scenic and wildlife viewing opportunities. Enjoy the 2-mile Fox River Trail, the 3.2-mile Leatherleaf Bog Trail, and the 3.7-mile Lake Defiance Trail. To keep you on track, trails are color coded and one way. Our fourth trail, the River Road trail is paved, and is 1.7 miles long.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
June 17 Beautiful and Well maintained Park! by Penny
park review stars; one to five We go here several times a year for picnicking and hiking and bird watching!. Good trails and a nice lake area. Interesting trail areas.
March 1 Great park, unhappy staff
park review stars; one to five Moraine Hills is a beautiful park. But the staff have been rather unfriendly. In one case, a staff person was outright rude. My wife and I have had many long walks there, but on one day we made the mistake of staying a few minutes after the closing time. Despite our sincere apologies and the fact we had never done this before, he treated us as criminals and told us he reported our vehicle plates to the state police. If we did it again, we would have to call them and pay a fine to get out. I fully understand the need to be out by closing time,and for staff to tell us not to do it again. but its not right to be so hostile and unprofessional towards taxpaying patrons for a first time offense which was a unintentional.
March 3 Best park around for walking or relaxin by Tiffany Hoffers
park review stars; one to five Best kept up park in the area! Great facility, with all the natural beauty in site! This is a favorite spot of my entire family and many friends
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Area Campgrounds
Fish Lake Beach Resort
32223 N US Highway 12
Volo, IL
Fox River Recreation Inc
27884 West Route 173
Antioch, IL
Area Accommodations (over 20 miles away)
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Cottages and Cabins
Within a 10 minute drive from Starved Rock and even closer to Matthiessen State Parks you will find a gorgeous, tranquil property with spacious cabins on 50 wooded acres. All with full kitchens and outdoor fire pits. 3 dog friendly.
86.6 miles from park*
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Relax in the rustic beauty and comfort of Starved Rock Lodge, Cabins and Starved Rock Inn. The historic Lodge has 69 guest rooms, which include three bay-window rooms, plus cabins nestled in the woods. Fireplaces can be found in four of the eight sunset cabins near the pool area...
78.6 miles from park*
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You will feel right at home when you reach Carroll County, our corner of beautiful Northwest Illinois. The magnificent Mississippi River and outdoor spaces will refresh your spirit and touch our soul.
98.5 miles from park*
Nearby Hotels

From the North: IL Rt. 12 south to Rt. 176, West on Rt.176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the South: IL Rt. 12 north to Rt. 176, West on Rt. 176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the East: Rt. 176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the West: IL Rt. 176 West to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

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Illinois State Parks