A Little Time and a Keyboard: Moraine Hills State Park: Hiking Through a Natural Gift Sculpted by the Ice Age

Monday, October 12, 2020

Moraine Hills State Park: Hiking Through a Natural Gift Sculpted by the Ice Age

Moraine Hills State Park: Hiking Through a Natural Gift Sculpted by the Ice Age

Moraine Hills State Park: Hiking Through a Natural Gift Sculpted by the Ice Age

Moraine Hills State Park welcomes hikers to wander trails traversing glacial remnants forming a moraine and around a glacial lake. The McHenry, Illinois preserve encompasses additional interesting geological features including a bog in a kettle created by the receding glacier. Over 200 species of birds, a plethora of common and rare plants and more call Moraine Hills State Park home. On two recent hikes, we quickly became enchanted by the fascinating blend of ecosystems at Moraine Hills State Park.

Peeking at Lake Defiance a glacially created lake in McHenry, Illinois.
Peeking at Lake Defiance a glacially created lake in McHenry, Illinois.

Wandering the Rolling Trails of Moraine Hills State Park:

Moraine Hills features a variety of trails totaling over 10 miles to roam. On our two visits, we wandered the Lake Defiance Trail which circles the glacially formed lake -- Lake Defiance. Other trails cross the Lake Defiance Trail. Well-defined guide posts help navigate intersections, so you can spindle off combining trails if you would like. Just remember which parking lot you are in -- we had a slight bobble recalling ours on our first visit!

Woodlands provide shade on the trail.
Woodlands provide shade on the trail.

The Lake Defiance Trail weaves through a variety of woodlands as well as along wetlands. The trail presents a mix of both tree covered and open stretches We found the preserve to be abuzz with birds during both of our visits. Our visit a few weeks ago unfolded a preserve ablaze with wild flowers. Some wildflowers remained to greet us today, however, they had yielded to the new season as fall colors emerged all around us.

Wetlands welcome a plethora of wildlife including egrets, heron, sandhill cranes and more at Moraine Hills State Park.
Wetlands welcome a plethora of wildlife including egrets, heron, sandhill cranes and more at Moraine Hills State Park.

Wetlands provided opportunities for unique scenery and wildlife viewing. Egrets, heron and ducks basked in the fall sunlight on Lake Defiance. While hiking, we noted the bugle of sandhill cranes looking up to catch several in flight. Human presence dates back to 4,000 BC. Native American tribes that once inhabited the area include the Fox, Potawatomi, Sauk and possibly the Miami and Winnebago. Walking through the preserve, we could feel the history around us whether that of past inhabitants or that of the geological past.

The rolling terrain at Moraine Hills reminds that trails are traversing over glacial debris.
The rolling terrain at Moraine Hills reminds that trails are traversing over glacial debris.

Hiking up and down over uneven terrain in spots, we delighted in trekking through a glacially formed landscape. As the glacier from the Wisconsin glaciation period receded, debris and gravel was left forming hills or kames molding a distinctive landscape. While posing a slight challenge in areas, the sculpted landscape certainly presents plenty of picturesque views! 

Returning to Wander in a Sea of Fall Colors:

Fall colors painted an interesting tableau across Moraine Hills State Park.
Fall colors painted an interesting tableau.

So enamored with Moraine Hills following our first hike, I eagerly suggested we head there in search of fall colors. We did not even have to leave the car to enjoy fall colors surrounding us as we drove to our trail. Just wow! Trees of all hues melded into a tableau in front of us.

Wandering through a sea of colors at Moraine Hills State Park.
Wandering through a sea of colors.

The gently undulating topography added more depth to the fall wonderland. We delighted in the wealth of colors encountering ranging from brilliant yellows to blazing reds to burnished browns to vibrant oranges. Stunning!

Fall colors enchant at Moraine Hills State Park.
Colorful trees look like brilliant paintbrushes!

Moraine Hills State Park certainly beguiled us with nature's wonders during our two visits. The range of ecosystems and wildlife craft a preserve that offers constantly changing scenes. Future wanderings will not only include returns to the Lake Defiance Trail but also explorations of additional trails. 

To Know about Moraine Hills State Park:

  • Plenty of picnicking areas are available.
  • Bike trails are available.
  • Dogs are permitted to join you on your hikes -- just make sure they are leashed!
  • Boating is welcome on Lake Defiance.
  • Nearby you will find the McHenry Dam. On our visit, the dam area was very busy so we just drove around. 
  • The Fox River Trail will take you out to the Fox River.
Moraine Hills State Park: Hiking Through a Natural Gift Sculpted by the Ice Age in McHenry, Illinois


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