McKinley Woods: Enjoy Breathtaking Views of the Des Plaines River and I&M Canal, Excellent Hiking Trails and Birdwatching, and More

McKinley Woods is a beautiful preserve that features bluffs, deep ravines, and forests along the Des Plaines River and I&M Canal. There are two access points: Frederick’s Grove and Kerry Sheridan Grove. I recently spent several hours on a warm spring day hiking the trails at Frederick’s Grove, which has north and south parking areas. I first parked at the north parking lot and tried the Upland Ski Trail (.26-mile loop) and Riverbend Lookout Trail (.46-mile loop). Heavy rains had soaked the area in recent days, so the trails were wet and flooded in spots, but the spring flowers were stunning and I had fun sloshing through the boggy trail. When I’d tested the waterproofing on my boots enough (it held), I headed back to the parking lot and tried the Trail of the Old Oaks (1.15 miles)—which was my favorite trail of my visit. This rugged path gradually takes you through ravines; past redbud, blue ash, and chinquapin oak trees; and down to a pretty creek that drains into the I&M Canal. The Trail of the Old Oaks also provides nice views of the Des Plaines River at times, and some excellent birdwatching. Nearly 100 bird species— including cedar waxwings, purple martins, and bald eagles—have been sighted at the preserve. If you’re looking to get a workout amidst stunning scenery, take the Trail of the Old Oaks. If you prefer shorter hikes on a relatively level surface, take the Upland Ski and Riverbend Lookout Trails. Click here for a trail map.

I eventually headed to the south parking area. There are great views of the I&M Canal and Des Plaines River from the lookout. You can hike the Heritage Trail (a 0.4-mile loop trail) or—if you’re feeling ambitious—access the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ 61.5-mile, crushed limestone I&M Canal State Trail. If you walk 2.3 miles northeast on this trail, you’ll reach the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center. Interested in camping? If so, there is a campground with four primitive campsites near the south parking area. Other fun activities include picnicking, fishing, canoeing/kayaking (no launch pass is required), and bicycling (on the I&M Canal State Trail).

Once you’ve had some fun at Frederick’s Grove, get back in your car (or hike or bike the I&M Trail) and travel about four miles to Kerry Sheridan Grove, where there is excellent birdwatching (the area is known as a great place to see bald eagles, herons, American white pelicans, and other waterfowl). There’s also a 0.56-mile natural surface trail and a 1.75-mile paved trail. The Four Rivers Environmental Education Center is located at Kerry Sheridan Grove. It features public programs, facility rentals (especially for wedding ceremonies/receptions), and nature education opportunities. At the first parking area, you can look north across the DuPage River and see Briscoe Mounds, the site of the largest Native American burial grounds in Northern Illinois. The site is undeveloped, but a museum and visitor/cultural center has been proposed that will educate visitors about Native American history.

Looking for more outdoor adventures after your visit to McKinley Woods? If so, check out the following nearby nature destinations: Briscoe Mounds, Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area, Hammel Woods, Lower Rock Run Preserve, Rock Run Preserve, and Rock Run Rookery Preserve.

Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes


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. The book has 306 pages and 210+ photos and is only $18.99. Click here to purchase the book.



I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 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 OpeningsNontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDsThey 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 titlesThey 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. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.

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 CareersWhat 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.

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