Looking for an excellent spot for birdwatching, short hikes, fishing, snowshoeing, and other outdoor activities? If so, Rock Run Rookery Preserve (23065 S. Youngs Road, Joliet, IL 60436) is a perfect destination. The 224-acre preserve features 84-acre and 13-acre lakes (which were originally created and used for quarrying), as well as breeding areas (including islands) for birds and wetland and forest ecosystems. The preserve, which is managed by the Forest Preserve District of Will County (FPDWC), is open 6 a.m.-Sunset (April-October) and 8 a.m.-Sunset (November-March).
I visited Rock Run Rookery Preserve on Thursday. I was eager to get outdoors after not hiking since December. The temperature was in the low 40s, but a stiff wind made it feel like the high-20s in open areas. Still, the sun was shining, the moon rose early and looked beautiful against the cloudless blue sky, and the slabs of ice bumping against one another on the lake sounded like wind chimes as I walked along the shore. Winter nirvana (at least if you live in Chicagoland).
Here are 7 things you can do at Rock Run Rookery Preserve.
This is a popular pastime for visitors to the preserve. I decided to visit the rookery after seeing stunning photos of bald eagles, great blue herons, cormorants, great egrets, and other birds on the preserve’s Facebook page as well as at Will County Wildlife. Unfortunately, I did not see any eagles, nor herons, during my visit, but did see a few egrets and many ducks, geese, and swans, among other birds. There were thousands of birds at the preserve when I visited, so even though I didn’t see any eagles, I definitely got my “bird fix” in. If you plan to birdwatch, be sure to bring high-quality binoculars and some patience. While it’s easy to see large numbers of ducks and geese, you will have to search carefully for the eagles and other birds of prey. On the other hand, I’ve seen photos at the aforementioned websites that feature 5 to 10 eagles in one tree, so eagle-spotting is often a matter of timing and frequency of one’s visits.
There are 0.41 miles of flat, paved trail at the preserve, and probably 0.5 to 1 miles of foot trails. If you walk to the end of the paved path, there is a large wooden platform/walkway that is good for nature viewing and photography. Smaller viewing platforms can be found in other areas around the lakes. The foot trails begin at the end of the main viewing platform (and there are others throughout the preserve). Some traverse hilly areas along the edge of the lakes. Be careful on wet or icy days. During my hike, I was one false step and missed tree branch grab away from a frigid dip in the lake. Other trails head east through wetlands and around a pretty creek that flows into the nearby Des Plaines River.
Go canoeing or kayaking
The preserve features a canoe/kayak launch on the large east lake. You do not need a launch pass. Nippersink Creek is my favorite area kayaking destination, but I think I’ll check out Rock Run this spring or summer.
Enjoy a picnic
Bring some fun food and enjoy lunch or dinner in the great outdoors.
You can catch large or smallmouth bass, sauger, walleye, bluegill, sunfish, and channel catfish at the shore or by boat. Note: Part of the large east lake is off-limits to boats in order to protect the rookery, and boats are not allowed on the small west lake.
Go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing
You could do worse than watching eagles or herons hunting gulls and geese over the main lake as you enjoy these winter activities.
Pick up some plastic and other trash
Although Rock Run Rookery is a beautiful and serene place, there are ongoing issues with litter—especially microplastics. Some of this trash is generated by litterbugs who don’t have the class to throw out their garbage but, more significantly from trash deposited into the rookery by the adjoining Des Plaines River when it overflows its banks after heavy rains. This is not to say that the rookery is filled with trash, but there were isolated areas that had significant collections of garbage (mainly fishing supplies and the occasional plastic bottle). Consider bringing a garbage bag or two to pick up some garbage, or join the volunteer meet-ups that occur frequently at the rookery. Participating is an easy way to make the world a better place and teach your kids the importance of volunteering and protecting the environment. Click here for a video from the FPDWC about the plastic problem.
Rock Run Rookery Preserve is a great place to enjoy year-round, but I encourage you to bundle up and visit in the winter to experience the great birdwatching and other outdoor activities that are available. You won’t be disappointed.
Final Interesting Fact: As I conducted research for this article, I learned that Rock Run Rookery Preserve is one of the northernmost spots where the invasive Asian carp have been detected in the Illinois Waterway System. The lakes are periodically checked for carp. Most of these ecosystem-destroying fish are removed, while a few are mounted with tracking devices that scientists use to study their spread. Click here for an interesting story about these efforts.
While you’re in the area, check out:
- Lower Rock Run Preserve (just north of the preserve): Forest, prairie, savanna, and wetland areas
- Lake Renwick Heron Rookery and Nature Preserve (about 11 miles north): More great birdwatching and longer hiking trails; look for my article about Lake Renwick in the next week or two
- McKinley Woods (about 7.5 miles southwest): A beautiful, hilly preserve along the Des Plaines River and I&M Canal. Nearly 100 bird species—including cedar waxwings, purple martins, and bald eagles—have been sighted at the preserve. At the preserve, you can also access the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ 61.5-mile, crushed limestone I&M Canal State Trail.
- Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (about 13 miles southeast): Excellent hiking and bison and birdwatching; click here for my story about Midewin and 8 other places to see bison in the Midwest
Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes
Copyright (photos) Andrew Morkes, unless otherwise credited
Main photo collage photo credits (starting with top photo and going clockwise): Andrew Morkes; Doug Racine, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Andrew Morkes; Lee Roberts, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.