A Little Time and a Keyboard: Hiking Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois

Hiking Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Nature Conservancy's Nachusa Grasslands

Nachusa Grasslands near Franklin Grove, Illinois is one of the Nature Conservancy's most successful restoration stories. The conservation organization began its Nachusa journey with purchasing 130 acres of land to restore in August of 1986. Over the past 30+ years, Nachusa has expanded from 130 acres to over 4,000 acres. In addition, a herd of bison was welcomed to the prairie in 2014 returning the majestic beasts to the lands in Illinois where they once roamed.

Wildflowers at Nachusa Grassland

There are several hiking trails at Nachusa Grasslands. We chose the Stone Barn Savanna Trail for our first hike. Stone Barn Savanna features remarkable sandstone formations. The walk is primarily through a restored oak savanna but also features prairie and an optional wetlands section. Nachusa features both on trail and off trail hiking, so using the preserve's hiking app is quite advantageous!

Enjoying the woods of Nachusa Grasslands

The bison of Nachusa are located in an enclosed yet large swathe of the preserve. We traveled along part of the perimeter to arrive at the trail head. The enclosure is quite enormous, so spotting the bison is not guaranteed. Even though we did not see them on our visit, we still found Nachusa teeming with wildlife. During our visit, the preserve was dotted with colorful wildflowers and a large cache of birds. Easy to be swept up! The sandstone cliffs, of course, were particularly picturesque.

Tabular sandstone formation at Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois

Only expecting to spot one formation, I was pleased to discover several along the hike. Each was eroded into its own natural masterpiece.

Picturesque sandstone cliffs at Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois

For a time, we had a couple of Swainson's Thrush leading us on the trail. One of them is the photo below, if you can pick it out! We also saw blue jays, a Baltimore oriole, a heron, chickadee and more.

Trail at Nachusa Grasslands

Part of the trail is well marked and part is not so much. So, having the app proved very handy! Off trail hiking is quite liberating! We had quite an amazing escape for the day! I would love to visit the Stone Barn Savanna Trail again to see how the landscape changes with the seasons. Part of the hike bordered  on a prairie which I would love to see alive with blooms. I would also like to explore some of the other hikes and maybe, just maybe see the bison!

Gnarled tree at Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois

The Nature Conservancy is a charitable organization whose purpose is to conserve environments throughout the world. They work with communities, businesses, governments, other non-profits and more entities to address the challenges conserving our environment faces. As part of its mission, the Nature Conservancy purchases land in critical environments to restore it. The Nature Conservancy has sites in all 50 states and across the globe. Volunteers at each site are critical to restoration and management. They are doing amazing work!

To Know:

  • There is just one port-a-potty at the location of the future visitor center.
  • The downloaded app is very helpful and recommended.
  • Do not climb the sandstone cliffs.
  • Bring water, snacks, bug spray and sunscreen.
  • There is not a parking lot, just a place to pull off the road.
  • A visitor center is being constructed.
**Disclosure: No compensation was received for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.

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