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Hike Rockford Rotary Forest Preserve

Rockford Rotary Forest Preserve
Entrance at 5390 Rotary Road, Cherry Valley, IL


Prepare to explore when hiking the trails at Rockford Rotary forest preserve. The paths tend to twist and turn, and branch off quite a bit, however, they always loop back before you can feel lost. The winding hiking trails lead through terrifically diverse woodlands that become even more spectacular as they change colors in the fall. Near three miles of dirt and grass hiking trails wander around a tall forest with mild elevation changes, and through a couple open space campgrounds for youth, and picnic areas. Any time of year is a good time to take a hike here but during spring, if you time it just right, you can get a peek at several spring ephemerals beginning to show their blooms. The walk up the paved road boasts numerous clusters of white-trout lilies. The dryer hillsides are practically covered with clusters of rue anemone, red trillium, and may apples. A careful eye will discover a path that continues along the Kishwaukee River, past a ravine, and aged remnants from when this area was owned by the Rotary Club as Camp Rotary in the mid 1900’s. The purpose of Camp Rotary, described in 1957 still applies to our preserves, “Camp Rotary exists because some men had a vision. Vision to realize that in a fast growing industrial center like Rockford there was a need for its boys and girls to have a healthful place to play. A place where, under proper direction, they could get close to nature – a thing not possible for all in a crowded, busy industrial city”.

Be prepared to walk to the trails, unless you take the initial equestrian trail, since parking is right off the road with about a half mile walk up a paved road that eventually leads to the walking trails. Even walking up said paved road is a joy since it is surrounded on either side by maple and oak dominated woodlands, and is also an excellent place to spy black cherry trees, with their signature dark, flakey bark. The paved road is a good reference point, as many paths eventually loop back to it. Make sure to hike down to the Kishwaukee River shoreline. The sound of the rushing water perfectly complements the sounds of the busy wildlife, such as cardinals and chickadees chirping while woodpeckers are noisily busy about their tasks.

There is an old, overgrown trail that was used back when this land was Camp Rotary. This trail is not marked on the map so visit at your own risk and caution. The trail goes west along the Kishwaukee River, ending across from the North Kishwaukee Gorge Forest Preserve. Keep in mind this preserve ends before I-39. When this land was Camp Rotary it was bustling year round with young campers. To accommodate the campers there were a handful of structures such as; shelter house, mess hall, large winter cabin, sleeping cabins, and even a 150 foot long outdoor swimming pool. Although these structures are gone now, hikers have found remnants, like an old chimney, along the river. Hikers be ready to discover the many treasures in the near three miles of hiking at Rockford Rotary forest preserve!

Click here for a printable Rockford Rotary trail map.