Isle a la Cache Museum: Midwest Fur Trade History, Great Views of the Des Plaines River, and 9 Other Reasons to Visit

Where: 501 East Romeo Road, Romeoville, IL 60446, 815/886-1467, Website, Facebook
Open: Visitor Center: Tuesday-Saturday: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sunday: Noon–4 p.m.; Monday: Closed. The preserve is open 8 a.m. to sunset daily.  
Quick Review: A well-organized and attractive museum on an island in the Des Plaines River. It provides information on the fur trade between the French voyageurs and Potawatomi. Things to do include visiting the museum and participating in its programs (bird hikes, craft club, etc.), taking a short hike and viewing and enjoying the forest, river, and wildlife; fishing; canoeing; kayaking; geocaching; cross-country skiing; and snowshoeing.

THERE’S A MUSEUM AND BEAUTIFUL NATURE AREA just waiting to be discovered amidst all these oil refineries and a hydrogen plant! That’s what I thought to myself as I headed southwest on New Avenue toward Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville, Illinois. The journey to the museum was not pretty (the sight of a Citgo refinery spewing pollutants is not what one wants to see if you’re a nature lover), but once you arrive at the museum and preserve you’ll forget that glimpse of post-fur-trade industrial Chicagoland.

The museum provides more information on the fur trade that occurred in the area between the French voyageurs (fur traders) and Potawatomi during the 1600s to the early 1800s. The Native Americans traded beaver and other animal pelts for European goods, including cloth, blankets, knives, brass kettles, silver ornaments, glass beads, liquor, guns, gunpowder, gun flints, and lead.

In French “Isle a la Cache” means “Island of the Hiding Place.” Some people believe that the French voyageurs and Potawatomi (or other Native American tribes) may have cached, or stored, goods on the island. Others opine that these groups may have met to trade there. The island’s actual use during the fur trade era remains a mystery, but that matters little because the Forest Preserve District of Will County has created an informative museum and protected a beautiful natural area that adjoins the Des Plaines River. It is well worth a visit. Here are 9 reasons why you should check out the museum and preserve:

1. There are plenty of activities for kids. They can feel an actual beaver pelt, experiment with making animal tracks, play in a wigwam, and check out a Potawatomi longhouse and traders’ cabin.

2. You can attend the museum’s annual “Island Rendezvous” celebration (which is scheduled for Saturday, June 8, 2019, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.). According to the museum, “rendezvous was a time when fur traders met to celebrate a successful season.”…[Visitors will] “experience the connection between the past and present with activities, games, and crafts. Feel what it’s like to pull back a bow and shoot an arrow. Try to start a fire with nothing but wood. See live birds of prey and celebrate historic farms with a petting zoo.”

3. You can follow the journey of a beaver pelt from a beaver lodge in what is now Illinois to a Paris hat shop (via a museum exhibit).

4. You can participate in educational programs in the museum’s longhouse, traders’ cabin, or outdoor amphitheater.

5. You can view Blanding’s turtles at the museum. The Blanding’s turtle has been on the state’s endangered list since 2009 due to habit loss and other causes. They can live up to 80 years in the wild.

6. You can take a hike on a short trail that runs along the Des Plaines River. When I visited, the area had just experienced heavy rains, so the river was running fast and some of the island was flooded. Muddy fun!

7. You can see tons of wildlife: bald eagles, osprey, and migratory birds; turtles; frogs; deer; and mink.

8. You can fish for northern pike, rock bass, carp, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish in the Des Plaines River.

9. There are opportunities to canoe and kayak. The preserve has a canoe/kayak launch site.

I’m amazed at how many great, local nature and historical museums we have in Chicagoland, and you can add Isle a la Cache Museum to this list. If you’re looking for an alternative to video-gaming, social media liking and posting, mall-visiting, or just hanging-out-at-home days, you should check out this museum and its natural areas, as well as these nearby nature spots that I’ve covered in past articles:  

Additionally, consider taking a hike on the Centennial Trail or the Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail (both just east down Romeo Road from the museum), or visiting O’Hara Woods Preserve (about 2.5 miles west), Prairie Bluff Preserve (about 5 miles south), Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve (about 5 miles south), and Pilcher Park Nature Center (about 11 miles southeast).

Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes

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