A Little Time and a Keyboard: Coral Woods and Festival of the Sugar Maples

Coral Woods and Festival of the Sugar Maples

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Coral Woods and  Festival of the  Sugar Maples

Coral Woods Conservation Area in Marengo, Illinois hosts an annual Festival of the Sugar Maples Event each year. With the glorious weather in the Chicago area, we were able to visit today to explore the preserve and learn about maple sugaring.

Peaceful trail in Coral Woods in Marengo, Illinois

The spring weather inspired quite a few other visitors to this natural treasure. The festival included tours allowing visitors to witness the production of maple syrup from start to finish. Tours were given every 15 minutes. Even with the crowd, the event ran smoothly and everyone was engaged. The McHenry County Conservation District did an amazing job.

Dug out log as used by Native Americans to make maple syrup.
Dug out log as used by Native Americans to make maple syrup.
We first learned about the discovery of maple syrup by the Native Americans. Overall, the process has not changed too much - just some of the tools. Above the cut out log is an example of a trough used to collect the sap. They would boil the sap with hot rocks to boil off enough water leaving a sweet syrup.

Once kettles became available, Native Americans started boiling the sap in kettles.

The Native Americans collected the sap from their tapped trees in baskets. Today, we often seeing the tapped tree dripping sap into metal buckets. During our visit, we viewed quite a few throughout Coral Woods.

Learning how to tap a maple tree at the Festival of the Sugar Maples

Our next stop was a demo area where we actually were able to practice making a hole for a spile which is used to draw off maple syrup.

Trough collecting maple sap at Coral Woods in Marengo, Illinois

We also viewed the preserve's trough and its tube system for drawing the sap into the trough. Then, the sap is then transferred to the evaporator shack from the trough.

Maple syrup evaporated at Coral Woods

We learned so much during our tour. One thing that marveled our group was how much sap is boiled down in order to make a syrup of the correct thickness and sweetness. In fact, it takes 43 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup! Today, sap is boiled down into syrup in an evaporator. We were able to view the evaporator at work followed by a taste of syrup made at the woods.

Hiking in Coral Woods in Marengo, Illinois during late winter.

After our tour, we did amble through some of the trails at Coral Woods. The terrain was rolling at points. We encountered woods, prairie and wetland.

What I love about hiking this time of year is that so much is uncovered. Fallen trees, animal tracks in mud, nests and more were easy to view. Different things come into site as plants emerge and more birds return.

Above is a nice deer track we found.

There are a few different loops at Coral Woods with nearly 3 miles of trails. Plus, there are picnic tables and accessible restrooms at the head of the trails. So, really a nice preserve for a family adventure.

The Festival of the Sugar Maples does continue next weekend March 10-11 from 10AM-3PM each day. I highly recommend a visit! The event is free and you learn a lot! We did have to ask permission to walk the trails due to the event. In all seasons, Coral Woods is a preserve to have on your list. Cross country skiing is even permitted on one trail (bring your skis). We are in the Marengo area from time to time and look forward to visiting the nature preserve again in the future!

**Disclosure: No compensation was received for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.

Coral Woods and  Festival of the Sugar Maples in Marengo, IL


  1. Always wanted to go! Is it an easy hike with young kids?

    1. I found the areas that were marked as more difficult not too difficult. I think it may be more interesting for little kids once the prairie is in bloom because there will be butterflies. If you go during the festival, they may not let you back on the trails. But, the festival was great and is perfect for small kids. If they do let you back on the trails, it may be a little muddy but I don't think too bad. The good thing about mud is that you can see tracks.