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Hike Severson Dells Forest Preserve

Severson Dells Forest Preserve
Entrance at 8502 Montague Road, Winnebago, IL

Come experience a rare, Illinois Dedicated Nature Preserve with a lot to offer! Severson Dells’ is home to a lively forest preserve with prairies, oak and hickory savanna, buzzing pond, diverse wetlands, limestone bedrock cliffs, maple and oak-hickory forests, and butterfly garden. The trails are an easy and lively hike. The Prairie Knoll picnic shelter on the preserve can hold up to 200 people and has a grill, a great outdoors place for an event. And, most importantly, make sure to visit the Education Center where you’ll find plenty of information on the forest preserve, programs and events, and friendly knowledgeable staff members.

Whether you walk the 2/3-mile-long paved Oak-hickory Trail, or hike the 2.5-mile dirt/wood chip trail, there will be wildlife waiting to be discovered around every corner. Severson Dells forest preserve is 369 acres of wildlife sanctuary. Keep your eyes and ears open while walking the paths to see what wildlife you can find!

Both trails start and end at the Education Center. Follow the trail from the Education Center into the oak-hickory forest and make a right at the first “T”. There will be signs for the shorter 2/3 mile, paved Oak-Hickory Trail, and the longer, 2.5 mile, dirt trail. While hiking, be aware of poison ivy, a three-leafed plant whose vines cover the forest floor. Notice the trees in this area; shagbark hickory, bur oaks, and wild black cherry trees. Severson Dells is home to more than forty species of trees! Turn right at the intersection. Soon you will come to an ecotone, a transition from forest to wetland. The bridge ahead goes over Hall Creek, named after Alonzo Hall one of the earliest settlers of Winnebago County back in 1843. To continue on the paved Oak-Hickory Trail go back to the intersection and head towards the pond to watch for wildlife. The dirt trail continues over the bridge into the forest again. Take the side loop to the right at the next intersection. Notice large white oak trees, with many holes in them, or homes for many insects, birds, and fox squirrels. When you reach the main trail again, go right. A ways up there will be a field on your right, step up very quietly to peak out onto the field; deer like to graze in this area. You do not want to walk around in the field since it is a sanctuary for wildlife, just quietly observe. Continue downhill along the trail into Hall Creek Valley. The trail here has many erratic rocks, brought here by glaciers long ago. Arrive at the floodplain and find a spot to silently watch for wildlife such as mink, fox, and kingfisher, all looking for frogs, crayfish, turtles, and fish to eat. Cross over the bridge and turn right to continue on the trail, getting closer to the dells, or exposed bedrock cliffs. The bedrock is fragile so do not touch or climb on it. These dells are made of limestone that has been dated at 450 million years old! Climb up and keep following the trail past oak-hickory savanna, and prairie. To your right, in the distance, you will see the Prairie Knoll Shelter house, and to the left you will see the huge, wide-spreading branches of bur oaks. At the next intersection going straight leads to a pond buzzing with life. Retracing your steps from the pond and going left at the intersection takes you back to the Education center. All the different habitats at Severson Dells are essential to sustain the wildlife there. With prairie, savanna, pond, wetland, and woodlands, you get to experience firsthand a natural, life-sustaining ecosystem.   Severson Dells is dedicated to nature education for our community, so make sure to check out their website for exciting programs and events at seversondells.org.

Click here for a printable Severson Dells trail map.